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January 31, 2010

New stimulus jobs numbers for Maryland, fresh ammo for campaign attacks

Recent polls show that most Americans take a dim view of the federal stimulus program, even as economists praise its impact and President Barack Obama calls it a big reason the nation avoided a second Great Depression.

Republicans almost universally opposed the measure (it got no Republican votes in the House and three in the Senate, including Arlen Specter, who switched parties and became a Democrat soon after).

Obama has pointed out that Republican politicians aren't shy about taking credit when the federal stimulus money hits their districts (attending "the ribbon-cuttings" is how he put it--twice--during the Inner Harbor debate with members of the House Republican Conference).

That won't stop the attacks, though. Not when 45 percent of people questioned in a recent CNN poll said most or nearly all the money in the stimulus had been wasted, and another 29 percent said about half has been wasted.

One of the easiest Republican targets is the Democratic game (mandated by a Democratic Congress and administration) of trying to count the number of jobs created by the stimulus. Seems simple enough, but it isn't. The first round of numbers, back in the fall, left Obama and congressional Democrats scrambling to explain why they were spending so much to create so few jobs.

Round two began this weekend, with a data release late Saturday night. The tally: 599,108 jobs paid for in the last three months of 2009, when about $50 billion in stimulus money flowed.

Hmmm, a quick seat of the pants calculation puts an $83,450 cost figure on each job. That's pricey for a job that may not have lasted more than a few months. But wait! Turns out that isn't an accurate way to look at it, according to the administration.

An explanation from an Obama advisor, posted on the White House Web site, points out what the numbers actually do -- and don't -- mean. It's a useful primer, but relatively few people will ever see it. What they will see, of course, are crude estimates like the $83,000-a-job figure above, calculations based on government statistics and used to score political points.

Recovery.gov puts the number of jobs funded in Maryland during the last quarter of '09 at 6,759. That represents slightly fewer jobs for the state, on a proportional basis, than for the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, there's no way to know whether that last statement is accurate or not.

For one thing, the quality of job-number reporting varies widely among the government entities and private companies that got the money. For another, the neighborhood that Maryland finds itself in makes the math even fuzzier. The federal establishment in Washington is throwing off so much stimulus money in all directions, some of the jobs attributed to Virginia and D.C. should actually be counted in Maryland, since that's where the recipients live, pay taxes and, in many cases, work. The reverse is also true.

In other words, the 6,759 jobs total for Maryland may be even less useful than figures for other states.

Nationwide, the largest number of jobs paid for with stimulus money were in education. In Maryland, the state Education department told the feds they had funded 1,257 jobs with stimulus money (assuming that two separate figures listed for the Maryland education department didn't reflect double-counting). Maryland state government reported 963.95 stimulus jobs during the same October 1-December 31 period.

Private businesses that paid for jobs in Maryland with stimulus money are also included in the totals. It's all at Recovery.gov, for those with the time and patience to dig it out, but you may need a lot of both.

According to the site, which is the federal government's official online source for stimulus information, a total of $1.18 billion in stimulus money has been spent in Maryland. Don't even try to find that number on the state's widely praised Recovery web site (where visitors find some information hasn't been updated since early August). The state site can be quite useful but it, too, requires patience and a level of computer sophistication that may be beyond most people.

And if attempts to make comparisons using federal stimulus data often turn into an apples-versus-oranges mismatch, as Ed DeSeve, the president's special advisor put it, trying to reconcile Washington stimulus numbers with figures out of Annapolis is even more mind-bending (though the overall story that the numbers tell is largely the same).

The stimulus program will almost certainly be a large issue in this fall's campaign, even if the fine distinctions get lost. But if politicians start spouting a lot of facts and figures about all the hard-earned tax dollars that got wasted in the stimulus disaster, consider the source.

Posted by Paul West at 12:55 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

January 29, 2010

Blackjack, poker, roulette, craps …

None of the five voter-approved casinos have opened for business in Maryland, but Howard County Del. Frank Turner is already seeking an expansion. He wants the all to have the option of offering table games and has drafted a bill that would put the idea to the voters this fall.

“We have to be competitive with other states,” Turner said when he stopped by The Baltimore Sun’s basement office in the State House this morning. He said neighboring states have already approved table games, making an argument that sounded strikingly similar to one laid out last week by the state’s slots commission.

Also, he said, time is of the essence. Maryland’s gaming rules are detailed in an amendment to the state’s constitution, so any major changes to the program require another amendment which must be passed by voters. Those initiatives can only go on the ballot every two years during a statewide election.

Turner said he’s not the largest gaming fan, but as a member of the House Appropriations Committee he feels duty-bound to come up with ways to enhance revenues. The voters “want more services and no taxes,” he said. “You need a source of revenue.”

Turner said he plans to introduce the bill next week.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller likes the idea. “We haven’t even got the slots issue off the ground yet and we are way behind the curve,” he said in an interview. “Hundreds of millions of dollars are building schools in Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Those are Maryland dollars that we need to keep within the state.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s spokesman Shaun Adamec said the administration “doesn’t have any interest in expanding” gaming. And House Speaker Michael E. Busch has been reluctant to press for gambling measures in the past.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:56 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Slots
        

Dixon says goodbye

In her final email newsletter, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said “It's difficult to find the words to describe what it has meant to lead this City” and “I love this City. Thank you for allowing me to serve you.”

The statement includes no apology, which some have asked her to make. Dixon will step down next week. She was convicted of a theft charges in December and pleaded guilty to perjury earlier this month. The final email lays out what Dixon views as her accomplishments.

Read Dixon's email at the jump.
It's difficult to find the words to describe what it has meant to lead this City: to lay out a vision for a cleaner, greener, healthier, and safer Baltimore and actually see that vision come to pass; and, to wake up every morning and feel both the blessing and the burden of so many hard choices and know the impact they can have.

But if I had to choose just a couple of words to describe my administration, the amazing staff that so humbly served me, and our many, many partners in the community, I would simply say this: we cared.  Though it sounds trite, in the world of politics it's hard to lead with your heart versus your ambition, but we did.   As I look back, there will be many great accomplishments for me to be proud of, but this one, perhaps, is the greatest of them all.  Every other accomplishment we made was a result of this simple action.

When it came to crime, we focused on saving lives not on statistics.  We targeted individuals that were the most violent offenders, created a gun registry to keep illegal guns off our streets,and spent countless hours on the ground in our communities.   The loss of one life is one too many, but I am proud to say that we experienced a lower homicide rate in the last two years than we have in the past two decades. 

We focused not just on bricks and mortar, but we focused on developing people.  We invested in our citizens from prenatal care all the way to the end of life.  We taught our children how to play volleyball and invited them to play free video games at ESPN Zone through our PEACE (Pledge to Engage Actions Considerate of Everyone) Baltimore initiative while we visited our seniors on Mother's Day and traveled all across the City to host free workouts through Be Fit Baltimore.  In 2008, with the input of community and advocates for children and the poor, we moved $14 million dollars in funding for afterschool programs from the supplemental budget to the base budget. 

By moving funding into the base budget for the first time, programs such as After School Matters, Home Visiting for Pregnant Women, and Community Schools, were guaranteed funding each year.  This step signaled that these programs were not ancillary; rather, a core part of our City's priorities.  These are not the programs that one chooses for political gain because the results are not reaped for years, sometimes even decades, but we knew the return on our investment from human development was too precious to let it pass us by.   

We cared for those who weren't yet able to care for themselves.  When there were snow storms and many of us had the chance to stay home from work, there were city employees that literally walked through the snow to ensure our homeless population sought shelter.  We had the courage to believe that we could end homelessness through our ten year strategic plan and as a result we have made huge strides.  We now have a record number of shelter beds for homeless individuals.  Over the past two years we have placed more homeless individuals in permanent housing than ever before.  This year, construction began on Baltimore's first permanent shelter for 275 homeless individuals, and we have created Baltimore's first 24-hour, year-round housing resource center.

Block by block, we cared for our neighborhoods.  We fixed our streets.  The City has repaved or repaired a record number of lane miles, over 600, over the past three years through its Operation Orange Cone initiative.  We cleaned our streets.  Each year, thousands of residents from all over the City joined us to rake leaves and pick up trash at our annual Spring Clean Up and over the past couple of years we have increased mechanical street sweeping services by 32%! 

We attended countless community meetings to talk to residents about single stream recycling and our One Plus One initiatives, helping them understand the benefits of recycling.  As a result, we doubled recycling in 2008 and AGAIN in 2009. We helped communities transform vacant lots into gardens, pulling neighborhoods together to breathe life into their communities and we reinvigorated our nation's oldest existing environmental program, the Afro Clean Block, to challenge citizens all across the City to clean and beautify their neighborhoods. 

In 2008, we created the Mayor's Office of Sustainability to create a roadmap to ensure that we meet the environmental, social, and economic needs of Baltimore without compromising the ability of future generations to meet those needs.  Now, according to SustainLane's 2008 rankings, we are one of the most sustainable cities in America. 

We planted seeds for our future.  Baltimore, there is an energy and vibrancy in our City that is rapidly gaining momentum as more and more young professionals, empty nesters, entrepreneurs, and artists are discovering the hidden jewels of our City and the authenticity of our charm.   Our downtown now ranks 7th in the nation for population density and 8th for number of residents that make more than $75,000 a year.  We have made getting around downtown easier and greener through the launch of the Downtown Circulator, and soon, our City will be connected from east to west by the Red Line.  Everywhere you look in Baltimore you see development.  From the Westside Superblock to advancing the development of EBDI, we made investments that will bring jobs, vibrancy, and economic success. 

We even changed how people see Baltimore.  Despite the challenging economic times, Visit Baltimore's convention sales bookings have increased. In Fiscal Year 2008, the sales team booked 451,608 future room nights, 70,000 more room nights and an 18 percent increase over bookings in Fiscal Year 2007.  

And these are just a few of our accomplishments.   Much more of the fruits of our labor will be realized way beyond this year or even our lifetime, but I am so thankful that we have had the opportunity to plant the seeds.  

 As I prepare for my final days in office and reflect, I am thankful for my dedicated staff and all of our community partners.   I am humbled by all that we have been able to accomplish in such a short period of time and I firmly believe we have built a foundation that will reap progress and change for Baltimore for generations to come.  But out of all our accomplishments, the one I am most proud of is, perhaps, the simplest of them all: we cared for people. 

It is because we led by our hearts and we cared that we were able to accomplish all other things.  As I learned through my career in public service-through my successes and my failures, through my good times and bad times- in life, if you can accomplish that one thing, the one that is the greatest one of all, that's all that really matters. 

I love this City.  Thank you for allowing me to serve you.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:32 PM | | Comments (5)
        

The death penalty debate returns

The Senate last year rebuffed Gov. Martin O’Malley’s push for a full repeal of capital punishment but instead narrowed the circumstances under which it could be used. Prosecutors now must present a jury with DNA evidence, a videotaped confession of the killer or a video recording of the crime to seek execution.

This morning, Sen. Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County) introduced a bill reopening that debate. His measure adds fingerprint or photographic evidence to the list of evidence that, if presented to jury, could trigger the death penalty in first-degree murder cases. Stone is a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which will hear the bill.

Earlier this month Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller told The Baltimore Sun he’d support such a measure, saying that leaving fingerprint and photographic evidence off the list was “a mistake that needs to be corrected.”

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:44 PM | | Comments (10)
        

O'Malley's potential opponents not ready to rumble

Two widely discussed gubernatorial contenders say that they will wait a few more months before deciding whether to get in the ring this fall.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican whom some strategists have said would be wise to ride the wave of voter discontent with incumbents, said at a recent fundraiser for state lawmakers in Washington County that he'll wait until March before announcing, according to a story this morning in The Gazette.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell just sent us this statement:

"Like every other taxpayer, Governor Ehrlich will be watching the legislative session to see if the state will finally stop spending money it doesn’t have. As a result, it is unlikely he will arrive at a final decision before March. Though no date has been circled on the calendar, he will make his decision known at a time that he believes is right for his family, his many supporters over the years, and the state he loves."

Meanwhile, former Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, who is pondering a primary challenge, also wants to remain the queue for now.

The Washington Post reports that Curry said on WTOP radio this morning that he, too, will wait until the end of the legislative session (April 12) to make his decision.

He noted that if he runs against O'Malley, it's not because he dislikes him.

"This has nothing to do with our personal sentiments," Curry said on WTOP. "He's a great guy to have a beer with."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:52 PM | | Comments (0)
        

January 28, 2010

James N. Robey: Senatorsicle

This early in the legislative session, things have yet to really heat up. But one senator is already about to chill out.

Beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, Sen. James N. Robey will dunk himself into the chilly Chesapeake Bay once an hour for 24 hours. Crazy?

"A good number of people think I'm insane," Robey said. "But I'm not getting any younger, and this is something I've always wanted to do."

Robey, who just turned 69, is the former Howard County executive and police chief. Now he has become a "Super Plunger" to raise money for the Maryland Special Olympics.

It's the extreme version of the Polar Plunge, an annual event sponsored by the Maryland State Police that draws thousands of shivering participants to Sandy Point State Park. Traditional plungers, who this year will include Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., usually take one quick dip.

Robey has been a regular plunger since the event began in 1997, missing only three years. For the Super Plunge, he'll sit in a folding chair in heated tent awaiting the top of each hour. He says he's bringing two bathing suits and sweatshirts.

He's no ankle-wader, either. He said each time he'll run in up to his knees and fall over into the water.

This morning's Baltimore Sun article describes Super Plungers this way:

As for the plunge itself, anyone thinking, 'That's easy for him to say; why doesn't he get out there and try it?' should know that (Maryland Special Olympics executive Tom) Schniedwind does, scores of times every year. As part of a die-hard subset of quick-frozen lunatics known as "Super Plungers," he'll be one of 82 men and women out there beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, jumping into the icy water - and making the 100-yard trek back to the warming tent - at least once every hour for 24 hours. Each of the 82 has raised at least $10,000. Other Super Plungers include former Oriole B.J. Surhoff and Ravens offensive tackle Adam Terry, who's been doing the plunge for three years now.

As Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said this morning, Robey, a fellow Democrat, is "sacraficing his body" for the cause. Miller also noted that the repeat dipping would have been easier when Robey was 100 pounds heavier. The senator dropped lots of weight about 18 months ago.

Miller pledged $240 to Robey, figuring $10 per hour was good pay. He urged other senators to contribute, as well. Robey said many have. He's raised more than $11,000 so far.

Update: Del. Jon S. Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, is doing Saturday's traditional plunge as part of the Young Lawyers Division of the State Bar. His team of about a dozen plungers has raised more than $10,000, he says. Cardin says he plunges every year and has his technique down: "Keep it as short as humanly possible. I go in, dip my head in and get out of there."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:11 PM | | Comments (0)
        

January 27, 2010

State of the Union: What you didn't see on TV

The annual State of the Union speech, with its ritual standing ovations and cheering by politicians from both parties, is one of the great set-pieces of American politics. But the camera only catches so much--relatively little, actually, of what goes on in the chamber.

For the most part, the lens is zeroing in on the president, with side shots of the VP and the House speaker, and at certain moments, members of the audience, made up of hundreds of senators and congressmen, cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and other notables.

Seldom, though, do voters get to see their member of Congress in action (or inaction). So here is a selective guide to what you didn't see if you happened to watch President Barack Obama on television.

First the good news. If any Marylanders dozed off, they did it surreptiously.

Yes, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski snuck a peek at her smart phone, before the speech began, something that would be against the rules in the Senate, where electronic communications devices are banned. But the House, where the event is held, does permit the use of “unobtrusive handheld electronic devices” such as a BlackBerry.

You probably missed seeing Mikulski, a staunch Obama supporter, on one of the rare occasions when she didn't join other Democrats in jumping to her feet at an applause line.

That was when she sat stonily, with arms folded, as the president called on the House and Senate to put limits on one of their most treasured perquisites: the power to spend money on congressionally directed projects (more popularly known as earmarks).

Or freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil of the Eastern Shore, as he stood and clapped when Obama extolled the virtues of the Democratic stimulus program--which Kratovil voted for (after he initially voted against it).

Kratovil laughed heartily when Obama said that "it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics." Kratovil, the most endangered Marylander in Congress this year, knows the politics of health care intimately: he voted against the sweeping Democratic measure, even though he supported its objectives.

Another peculiarity of State of the Union night: a handful of congressmen arrive hours early, hoping to stake out a seat on the aisle, so that they can shake hands with every dignitary that enters the chamber, from the President on down, and be seen on TV.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore snagged one of those prize seats Wednesday, two rows from the rear of the House chamber. He also joined a small group of Democrats that chanted "We're number one!" after Obama said that he would "not accept second place for the United States of America."

Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince George's County was among the more enthusiastic members of the audience, repeatedly rising to applaud the president's words. A notable exception: when he called for building a new generation of nuclear power plants. (Kratovil, Cummings and House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland were among those who thought that idea was worthy of a standing ovation, but Edwards is a longtime skeptic of nuclear power.)

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick, the state's only Republican in Congress, generally sat or stood along with his Republican colleagues. A leading promoter of the theory of "peak oil," which holds that a majority of the Earth's petroleum has already been found, Bartlett joined in the applause when Obama called for America to become the world's leading clean-energy economy, though he got up from his seat rather belatedly to join the bipartisan ovation.

Obama made a point of noting that the Senate had blocked action this week on a measure that would have created a budget commission to tackle the problem of skyrocketing costs for mandatory benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin was among those who voted to block the measure, and he didn't join most of his Democratic colleagues in applauding when the president promoted the idea.

Cardin said later that he favors Obama's solution--an executive-created budget panel--since it would not surrender Congress's taxing and spending power to others, as opponents like Cardin argue that the original commission would have done.

Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger didn't leap to his feet like most in the hall. That's because he was already standing for the bulk of the president's lengthy, hour-plus speech. The Baltimore County Democrat said he had been working out at the House gym, and by the time he arrived in the chamber, at about 8:45 p.m., every seat was already taken.

And apologies to Rep. John Sarbanes of Baltimore. If he was present, he wasn't visible from the press gallery.

UPDATE: Sarbanes' staff says that he was there. He was seated directly below the press gallery, which made it difficult to see him.

The most memorable audience spectacle of the evening came when Obama chose to take a whack at the justices of the Supreme Court, most of whom were sitting directly in front of him. By custom, they don't join in the applause game (they are, after all, the branch of government that is often called upon to adjudicate disputes involving the president or Congress).

Then, too, presidents don't usually unleash an in-your-face attacks on a major Court decision, as Obama did last night. He said that last week the justices had reversed "a century of law, to open the floodgates for special interests" when they ruled that corporations could spend "without limit" in political campaigns.

In response, Justice Samuel Alito, a Republican nominee who joined the 5-4 majority in the case, scowled, shook his head and stared daggers back at the president.

Some believe Alito also muttered the words "not true" when Obama claimed the ruling would allow foreign corporations to put money into American campaigns. Judge for yourself. It was one for the history books, a YouTube moment that, unlike many others last night, did manage to get captured onscreen.

Posted by Paul West at 11:50 PM | | Comments (17)
        

Prescription pot this session …

In a year when lawmakers seem to have their minds focused only on the budget and the election, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller sounded optimistic about legislation introduced Tuesday to legalize medical marijuana. (The Sun’s Kelly Brewington wrote about that legislative proposal today.)

After session Miller held his regular gaggle with reporters said:

“I think if it comes to the floor of the Senate it will pass. We have Senator [David] Brinkley here who is a cancer survivor who a cancer survivor and he supports the bill. ...

"The secret is not to let it get abused. People come from California, these young people, they have cards. You have to make sure it is for truly medical purposes and there is some check and balance and if that happens in a meaningful way it could have a positive effect. If some bureaucrat in California decides to let everybody to have them it is a misuse of the system.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:22 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Cold campaign cash.

About a dozen state senators and delegates stood on Lawyer’s Mall outside the State House disparaging the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent repudiation of campaign finance laws and outlining their own package of reforms. Julie Bykowicz previewed their announcement on the front page of today’s Baltimore Sun.

Here is what some of the legislators said on a chilly January morning.

Sen. David Harrington
(Prince George’s County, Democrat): Wants a disclosure message attached to any campaign ad funded by a corporation. He says “you can’t have free speech without transparency.”

Sen. Jamin Raskin (Montgomery County, Democrat): Worried that corporations might also be able to receive a tax deduction for their campaign contribution.

Del. John Cardin (Baltimore County, Democrat): Says the U.S. Supreme Court “has overturned more than 100 years” of campaign finance reform precedent.

Del. C. William Frick (Montgomery County, Democrat): Says “corporations are not citizens.”

Del. Elizabeth Bobo (Howard County, Democrat): Makes very interesting point that “a large percentage” of businesses in Maryland are Limited Liability Corporations. She says that individuals can easily manipulate current state campaign finance rules by creating multiple LLCs, each with slightly different ownership structures, and use them to funnel an unlimited amount of money to politicians. Those who watched the State Prosecutor’s investigation in Baltimore City Hall spending will recall that Mayor Sheila Dixon’s former boyfriend Ronald H. Lipscomb used a similar technique to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to state lawmakers.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Of new and old sex offender study groups

Word came yesterday that Gov. Martin O'Malley has activated the state's dormant Sexual Offender Advisory Board as he pushes for six sex offender reforms this year. This morning, the governor's office released details of the plan.

The Democratic governor selected former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. to serve as board chairman, and Curran said last night that he is getting right to work and believes the board "can make a real difference."

The O'Malley administration has previously detailed why the board, which was formed by a 2006 emergency state law, never met and never fulfilled its duty to write a report due at the end of last year.

The original chairman of the board, former Prince George's County Sheriff James Aluisi, said he tried in vain over the years to get the group to meet. The state Department of Public Sfaety and Correctional Services secretary says he never heard from Aluisi.

Del. Barbara A. Frush, a Democrat representing Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, reached me yesterday to say that Aluisi, who is a longtime family friend, "really did make every effort to get something going." She said she called the governor's office years ago to tell them Aluisi was trying to reach them, "but no one at the top end of the office got my message."

"I feel badly about this," she said.

Other sex offender provisions have also gone unused. Only twice in three years have judges ordered mental health evaluations for child sex offenders, as required by a 2007 law. The Maryland court system has yet to explain why, saying only that they are "researching the issue."

There was supposed to be a hearing about all of this one week from today in the House Judiciary Committee. Word is, it has been cancelled as of this morning.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:53 AM | | Comments (15)
        

January 26, 2010

MD Senate Dems seek ethics, transparency reforms

The state's Democratic senators today announced their legislative priorities for the year. The press conference came a day after Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, laid out his legislative agenda.

The senators' ideas hit a number of hot topics this year:

* Ethics: Sens. Jamie Raskin and Douglas Peters want all local governments to follow state ethics filing procedures. "We all read the newspapers," Raskin said, referring to the recent conviction of Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. Her theft case also revealed inconsistent ethics filing practices in the city. Raskin said state lawmakers fill out comprehensive ethics forms, and "citizens have the right to expect uniform high standards." All filings would be due at the same time and centrally warehoused.

* Sex offenders: Sen James DeGrange said he will seek to expand the state's sex offender registry, bringing Maryland into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act. The senator referenced the December killing of an 11-year-old girl on the Eastern Shore. A registered sex offender is a suspect, which has pushed sex offender reforms back into the spotlight this session. The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services also wants the state to revist its sex offender registry requirements. Among the provisions in DeGrange's bill are quarterly registration instead of twice a year for the most dangerous offenders and retroactive registration for offenders convicted before 1995. The state stands to lose $2 million in federal funding if it does not comply with the Adam Walsh Act, DeGrange said.

Health insurance: Sen. Nancy King wants a 45-day cushion for people whose insurance allows them only one wellness checkup every year. Sens. Robert Garagiola and Delores Kelley want insurance companies to directly pay out-of-network health care providers, if the coverage is approved. Now, insurance companies typically mail payments to the patients, who then have to turn them over to doctors, creating "administrative inefficiencies," Garagiola said.

As the press conference concluded this morning, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller addressed a transparency issue that flared up at the start of this session. Republican leaders were among those who requested better public access to votes taken in committee. Such votes decide the life or death of every piece of legislation.

Miller said his chamber has ordered that committee votes be posted online at most 10 days after voting sessions. He hopes the votes become available much more quickly -- within a day or two. On the House of Delegates side, Speaker Michael E. Busch recently ordered that all committee votes be placed online before bills come to the floor for full consideration.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:18 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

January 25, 2010

Phantom sex offender board chairman speaks out

The man who was to serve as chairman of the Maryland Sexual Offender Advisory Board says his inquiries about board meetings fell on deaf ears -- for years.

His response came after a Sunday Baltimore Sun story about why several get-tough provisions of the state's sex offender laws have barely been used. The board, created during the special legislative session of 2006, was to have spent the past three years studying every aspect of how Maryland handles sex offenders and make reform recommendations to lawmakers in a Dec. 31, 2009, report.

But the board never met.

Former Prince George's County Sheriff James Aluisi said he was honored to have been appointed to the board in late 2006 by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, defeated the Republican governor that fall and took office at the start of the next year.

Aluisi said he quickly contacted O'Malley's new public safety secretary (Gary Maynard, appointed March 20007) to arrange board meetings. The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was to oversee and provide support staff for the 13-member board. Board members are primarily cabinet members and appointees of the governor. By law, the chairman was required to call at least two meetings per year.

Those phone calls, Aluisi said, were not returned. Public Safety officials dispute that Aluisi ever tried to contact them.

Next, Aluisi said, he attended the Maryland Association of Counties summer conferences in 2007 and 2008 to leave messages about the inactive board with various administration members. (Aluisi correctly notes that MACO's summer conferences in Ocean City are "the best place to get in touch with anyone in state government.")

Still nothing, he said.

"I had no support staff and no place to hold a meeting," he said. "I had no information whatsoever."

It's worth noting that there is a staff member listed in the Maryland Manual's section about the advisory board.

Aluisi also said he has spoken over the years with numerous lawmakers -- he specifically remembered Del. Barbara A. Frush, a Democrat representing Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties -- to tell them the board was not meeting and could they please talk to O'Malley about that. Aluisi said he doesn't know the governor personally.

"I pushed them," Aluisi said. "On a matter of such importance, I don't know why no one ever contacted me."

I have a call in with Frush's office and will report back when I talk to her.

For more about sex offender laws that aren't being carried out, please see this blog post. The Maryland court system hasn't yet said why judges don't seem to be ordering mental health evaluations on child sex offenders, as required by law.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:33 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Governor lays out legislative wish list

*** UPDATED with Race to the Top information.

Governor Martin O'Malley has just released his 2010 legislative agenda, and there aren't a lot of surprises in it; he and his aides have been touting the big items for weeks. In this election year, the Democratic governor is undoubtedly hopeful that most of these proposals will go over well with the General Assembly.

First up for consideration, most likely, are proposed changes to the state's unemployment insurance system. The insurance fund stands to gain a huge infusion of federal cash -- $127 million -- if the state increases the period of time that can be considered when someone applies for unemployment benefits. Both the House and Senate are to hold hearings this week.

Notably, the governor's agenda does not specifically address teacher tenure and incentive pay, changes that state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick believes are necessary if Maryland wants to compete for up to $250 million in federal Race to the Top money.

*** UPDATE *** However, those bills appear to be on the way in short order. In a press release about O'Malley's legislative agenda, his office writes, "The Governor also plans on introducing legislation at a later date to better position Maryland for federal Race to the Top funding. The Governor continues to work with stakeholders to craft reforms that will further improve the nation’s number one public school system."

Here's a quick rundown of other O'Malley agenda items:

Sex offenders: Require lifetimes supervision for certain offenders.

Jobs: "Jobs, jobs, jobs," O'Malley has repeatedly said when asked about the three most important issues of this session. He wants to give businesses that hire unemployed Marylanders a $3,000 tax credit and stimulate small-business lending.

Energy: O'Malley isn't pushing for energy reregulation this year. Instead, he has proposed accelerating the state's solar energy use, giving the Public Service Commission the authority over offshore wind facilities and reuathorizing the renewable energy production tax credit.

Foreclosures: As the administration has said over the past few months, O'Malley will push for mandatory mediation before an owner loses his or her home.

The governor is also again pursuing a Medicaid false claims bill, which didn't succeed last year.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:43 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Kratovil seat tilting Republican, analyst says

Rep. Frank Kratovil, the congressman from the Eastern Shore, had his 2010 re-election chances downgraded today by independent analyst Stu Rothenberg.

The Maryland freshman, whose endangered status is nothing new, has been gearing up for what will likely be one of the toughest races in the country for a Democratic incumbent this fall.

His district, Maryland's First, is now rated "Toss-Up/Tilt Republican" by Rothenberg, publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report. Previously, he had listed the race as a "Pure Toss-Up."

Rothenberg told The Baltimore Sun last month that he considered it likely that state Sen. Andy Harris, the current favorite for the Republican nomination, would unseat Kratovil in November. But the analyst said that he had been waiting to shift the district more in the Republican direction until he saw additional information, including whether Republican state Sen. E. J. Pipkin would challenge Harris in this September's primary.

Pipkin has yet to announce his intentions.

Last week's Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election and new polls showing many Democratic incumbents in danger make it clear that "the Republicans unquestionably have momentum as 2010 begins," wrote Rothenberg, who moved 28 House seats toward the Republicans in his latest national analysis.

He currently expects Republicans to gain between 24 and 28 seats this fall, with higher totals possible.

There are a total of 72 competitive House elections (out of 435) nationwide, 58 for seats currently held by Democrats and 14 by Republicans, according to Rothenberg's district-by-district survey.

The possibility of a Republican wave this November that washes Democrats out of the majority in the House can no longer be dismissed, he concludes. But he stresses that he currently expects Republicans to fall short of the 40 seat gain they would need to reclaim the majority.

Kratovil's district, which takes in the entire Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, is the only Maryland contest on the national radar at the moment.

According to Rothenberg's rating, Kratovil ranks as one of the 9 most vulnerable Democrats in 2010.

Posted by Paul West at 9:40 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Sex offender laws: What we have, what we need

*** UPDATED (sort of) with response from the Maryland court system.

Today, Gov. Martin O'Malley is set to unveil his legislative agenda for the year. His aides say it will include a proposal requiring lifetime supervision of certain sex offenders. Lawmakers are expecting dozens of sex offender reforms, after an 11-year-old girl was abducted and killed in Salisbury last month. A sex offender is a suspect in the crime.

But what laws do we already have on the books? And how useful are they. My Sunday story examined two get-tough laws that are years old but have barely been used. Some lawmakers who worked on those provisions are livid, but the governor's office says they are simply unworkable, if not illegal.

Here's what we're not using:

"Emergency legislation from 2006 called for extra supervision of certain sex offenders, ranging from three years to a lifetime. Not a single person has been subjected to that extension, despite predictions it would affect at least 475 offenders every year.

That same measure created an advisory board to recommend overhauls of the entire sex offender system and issue its findings at the end of last year. The 13-member board was to include members of the governor's cabinet and citizens appointed by him.

The board has never met, and no report was produced.

Another law, enacted Oct. 1, 2007, requires judges to order mental health evaluations of all child sexual abusers at the time of sentencing as a way to help differentiate one-time offenders from dangerous predators.

Just two such evaluations have occurred, a tiny fraction of the people convicted of sexual abuse of a minor."

One major question that I couldn't answer in the story: Why aren't judges ordering mental health evaluations for child sex offenders, as required by law? Those evaluations were supposed to help put sexual predators away for longer terms.

From the story:

"As for why just two mental health evaluations have been conducted on child sex offenders, despite the 2007 law requiring judges to order them, "We've sort of wondered why, as well," said W. Lawrence Fitch, director of forensic service for the state Mental Hygiene Administration.

Fitch said half a dozen psychologists on contract with the agency are trained to perform the evaluations. The state sentencing commission told Simmons that nearly 300 people have been convicted of sexual abuse of a minor in the past three years.

"We really don't know why we're not being called," Fitch said. "We can speculate ... it's possible the bench and the bar just don't know about the law."

The executive branch has no enforcement authority over state courts.

A spokesman for the Maryland court system did not return phone calls and e-mails requesting information Friday. Several Circuit Court-level judges, who did not want their names used, said they had no idea they were supposed to be ordering mental health evaluations of child sex offenders."

The court system spokespeople still haven't returned my calls. I'll let you know if they do.

*** "UPDATE"

Received this e-mail at 3:30 p.m. today (more than 72 hours after calling with questions):

Good afternoon,

Our comment is as follows:

"We are currently researching the issue."


Darrell S. Pressley
Deputy Director
Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Maryland Judiciary

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:54 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

January 21, 2010

Miles & Stockbridge gets paid.

Powerful Maryland Senator Ulysses Currie used his campaign account to pay Baltimore law firm Miles & Stockbridge $41,555.27 in the past year, according to campaign filings that were made available today.

The documents show the firm received four payments in the past year:
$15,000 in June;
$20,457.86 in July;
$5,429.80 in October;
and $667.61 this month.

Currie's attorney, Dale P. Kelberman, is a partner with Miles & Stockbridge.

The feds have been examining whether the Shoppers Food and Pharmacy grocery store chain hired Currie to garner favorable legislation and decisions by state agencies. The grocery chain paid Currie more than $200,000 over a five-year period, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The investigation came to light when the FBI raided the senator's home in May 2008. Currie, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, never disclosed his employment by Shoppers on General Assembly ethics forms.

The senator has not been charged with any wrongdoing and it is unclear from the filing what he hired Miles & Stockbridge to handle. A notation next to each payment says "legal fees."

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has in the past ruled out using the campaign money to pay for criminal defense unless the case involves campaign finance violations.

Kelberman also represented Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon who pleaded guilty to a theft and perjury charge earlier this month.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:52 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Baltimore senate delegation wants Young to lead city council.

Baltimore’s six state senators sent a letter to mayor-to-be Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake asking that she support City Councilman Bernard “Jack” Young as the council’s next president. The position becomes open on Feb. 4 when Mayor Sheila Dixon said she will resign and Rawlings-Blake, the current council president, becomes mayor.

The city Senate delegation cited Young’s “work ethic, passion and commitment to Baltimore ”and his “principled leadership” as reasons for their support. The full letter is below.

Young and freshman Councilman William H. Cole IV are the two top contenders for the seat. Young’s considered an independent voice and has a fiery temper. He’s supported Rawlings-Blake on key issues including rejecting Dixon’s most recent budget.

Cole brings Annapolis and federal experience and has developed close ties with Rawlings-Blake, who frequently turns to him to do the legwork on key issues. (For more reading about the Baltimore City Council race see this story.)

Signatories to the letter are: McFadden, Gladden, Conway, Della, Conway, Jones and Pugh.

(TIP: The letter refers to Young by his given first name “Bernard” in some sentences and his nickname “Jack” in others.) Senate delegation's endorsement
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:52 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Obama's first presidential visit to Baltimore next Friday

President Barack Obama will make his first visit to Baltimore since taking office next Friday, when he addresses a House Republican retreat at an Inner Harbor hotel.

The president's trip to Baltimore is his first appearance in the city since he spoke at War Memorial Plaza on Jan. 17, 2009, when his inaugural train stopped en route to Washington.

Unlike that speech, which attracted an estimated 40,000 people, Obama's upcoming visit will take place before an invited audience only.

The House Republican retreat is scheduled for Jan. 28 through Jan. 30 at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel.

"House Republicans chose Baltimore because it is a working class city that has a 10.8 % unemployment rate," said Mary Vought, a spokeswoman for the House Republican Conference.

Last year, the Republicans met at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va. This year, sensitive to appearances in an election year when millions of Americans are out of work, House Democrats, who met last year at the Kingsmill Resort & Spa near Colonial Williamsburg, Va., did not even leave Washington for their recent retreat.

Posted by Paul West at 3:37 PM | | Comments (7)
        

With Dixon headed out, Baltimore back on Obama invite list

Baltimore City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was among a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors invited to the White House this afternoon.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the group about the administration's urban policy and its plans to generate jobs in cities and towns across the country.

The delegation of mayors in the East Room wasn't exactly an exclusive group: More than 200 names were on the guest list, from around the country and even from outside the U.S.

Rawlings-Blake was the only Marylander on the list, which the White House released earlier today (and also the only person on that roster identified as a council president, not mayor).

The invitation that was extended to Baltimore's next mayor was significant in at least one regard: Mayor Sheila Dixon had been cold-shouldered by Obama because the Baltimore Democrat was under indictment (and, of course, ultimately convicted).

Dixon did meet with Obama in Chicago before she was indicted. And she even made arrangements to fly from Florida to Washington to attend last year's Conference of Mayors event with the president (however, the invitation was withdrawn after The Baltimore Sun called the White House to double-check on the decision to put Dixon on the invite list).

Full list of mayors (and one council president) after the jump.

Members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors delegation expected to attend today’s meeting at the White House:

Alabama

Mobile-Samuel Jones

Arizona

Mesa-Scott Smith

Tucson-Robert Walkup

Arkansas

Little Rock-Mark Stodola

North Little Rock-Patrick Hays

California

Alameda-Beverly Johnson

Apple Valley-Peter Allan

Beverly Hills-Nancy Krasne

Cerritos-Bruce Barrows

Danville- Mike Doyle

Fresno-Ashley Swearengin

Irvine-Sukhee Kang

Long Beach-Robert Foster

Los Angeles-Antonio Villaraigosa

Manhattan Beach-Mitch Ward

Modesto-Jim Ridenour

Napa-Jill Techel

Newark-David W. Smith

Newport Beach-Keith Curry

Oakland-Ronald Dellums

Pleasanton-Jennifer Ann Hosterman

Redondo Beach-Michael Gin

Sacramento-Kevin Johnson

San Francisco-Gavin Newsom

San Leandro-Anthony Santos

San Pablo-Leonard McNeil

San Ramon-Abram Wilson

Santa Ana-Miguel Pulido

Sunnyvale-Melinda Hamilton

Turlock-John Lazar

Colorado

Colorado Springs-Lionel Rivera

Denver-John Hickenlooper

Connecticut

Bridgeport-Bill Finch

Fairfield-Kenneth Flatto

New Haven-John DeStefano, Jr.

Norwalk-Richard A. Moccia

Delaware

Wilmington-James M. Baker

Washington, D.C.

Adrian Fenty

Florida

Clearwater-Frank V Hibbard

Coral Springs-Scott Brook

Deerfield Beach-Margaret Noland

Doral-Juan Carlos Bermudez

Eatonville-Bruce Mount

Fort Myers-Randall P. Henderson, Jr.

Hallandale Beach-Joy Cooper

Key West-Craig Cates

Lauderhill-Richard Kaplan

Miami Beach-Matilde Herrera Bower

Miami Lakes-Michael Pizzi

Miramar-Lori Moseley

North Miami-Andre Pierre

Orlando-Buddy Dyer

Pembroke Pines-Frank C. Ortis

Riviera Beach-Thomas Master

Sunrise-Roger Wishner

Tallahassee-John Marks

Tamarac-Beth Talabisco

West Palm Beach-Lois Frankel

Georgia

Atlanta-Kasim Reed

Hinesville-James Thomas

Macon-Robert Reichert

Valdosta-John Fretti

Hawaii

Hilo-Billy Kenoi

Honolulu- Mufi Hannemann

Kauai-Bernard P. Carvalho, Jr.

Maui-Charmaine Tavares

Idaho

Boise-David Bieter

Illinois

Arlington Heights-Arlene J. Mulder

Bartlett-Michael Kelly

Chicago-Richard Daley

Evanston-Elizabeth B. Tisdahl

Freeport-George Gaulrapp

Hoffman Estates-William McLeod

Normal-Chris Koos

North Chicago-Leon Rockingham

Oak Lawn-Dave Heilmann

Oak Park-David Pope

Springfield-Timothy Davlin

Urbana-Laurel Prussing

Indiana

Carmel-James Brainard

East Chicago-George Pabey

Elkhart-Dick Moore

Indianapolis-Gregory Ballard

Iowa

Davenport-William Gluba

Des Moines-T.M. Franklin Cownie

Dubuque-Roy Buol

Kansas

Kansas City-Joseph Reardon

Kentucky

Bowling Green-Elaine Walker

Louisville-Jerry Abramson

Louisiana

Alexandria-Jacques M. Roy

BatonRouge-Melvin Holden

New Orleans-C. Ray Nagin

Shreveport-Cedric B. Glover

Maryland

Baltimore-Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (Council President)

Massachusetts

Chicopee-Michael Bissonnette

Everett-Carlo DeMaria

Malden-Richard Howard

New Bedford-Scott W. Lang

Salem-Kimberly Driscoll

Somerville-Joseph Curtatone

Michigan

Detroit-Dave Bing

Grand Rapids-George Heartwell

Rochester Hills-Bryan Barnett

Southfield-Brenda Lawrence

Westland-William Wild

Minnesota

Burnsville-Elizabeth Kautz

Rochester-Ardell Brede

St. Paul-Christopher Coleman

Mississippi

Hattiesburg-Johnny L. DuPree

Jackson-Harvey Johnson, Jr.

Meridian-Cheri Barry

Missouri

Columbia-Darwin Hindman

Kansas City-Mark Funkhouser

St. Louis-Francis Slay

Nebraska

Omaha-Jim Suttle

Nevada

Las Vegas-Oscar Goodman

New Jersey

East Orange-Robert L. Bowser

Edison-Antonia Ricigliano

Elizabeth- J. Christian Bollwage

Hamilton-John F. Bencivengo

Hope-Timothy C. McDonough

Irvington-Wayne Smith

Lambertville-David Del Vecchio

Perth Amboy-Wilda Diaz

Piscataway-Brian Wahler

Trenton-Douglas Palmer

Washington Township-Dave Fried

New Mexico

Albuquerque-Richard J. Berry

Las Cruces-Ken Miyagishima

New York

Brighton-Sandra Frankel

Freeport-Andrew Hardwick

Hempstead-Wayne J. Hall

Niagara Falls-Paul A. Dyster

Rochester-Robert Duffy

Schenectady-Brian Stratton

Syracuse-Stephanie Miner

North Carolina

Chapel Hill-Mark Kleinschmidt

Charlotte-Anthony Foxx

Concord-Scott Padgett

Durham-William V. Bell

Gastonia-Jennifer T. Stultz

Salisbury-Susan Kluttz

Waxhaw-Daune Gardner

Winston-Salem-Allen Joines

North Dakota

Fargo-Dennis Walaker

Grand Forks-Michael Brown

Ohio

Akron-Donald Plusquellic

Cincinnati-Mark Mallory

Columbus-Michael B. Coleman

Dayton-Gary Leitzell

East Cleveland-Gary Norton, Jr.

Oklahoma

Edmond-Patrice Douglas

Muskogee-John Hammons

Oklahoma City-Mick Cornett

Oregon

Gresham-Shane Bemis

Portland-Sam Adams

Pennsylvania

Allentown-Ed Pawlowski

Bethlehem-John Callahan

Easton-Salvatore Panto, Jr.

Lancaster-J Richard Gray

Philadelphia-Michael A. Nutter

Reading-Thomas McMahon

Wilkes Barre-Thomas Leighton

York-C. Kim Bracey

Puerto Rico

Barranquitas-Francisco Lopez

Cayey-Rolando Ortiz

Cidra-Angel L. Malave Zayas

Comerío-Jose Santiago

Corozal-Roberto Hernandez Velez

Fajardo-Anibal Melendez

Guanica-Martin Vargas Morales

Guayama-Glorimari Jaime

Guayanilla-Edgardo Arlequin Velez

Jayuya-Jorge Gonzalez Otero

Las Piedras-Miguel Lopez

Naranjito-Orlando Ortiz Chevres

Quebradillas-Heriberto Velez Velez

Rincon-Carlos D. Lopez Bonilla

Sabana Grande-Miguel G. Ortiz-Velez

Salinas-Carlos Rodriguez

San German-Isidro Negron Irizarry

Vega Alta-Isabelo Molina

Villaba-Waldemar Rivera Torres

Rhode Island

Central Falls-Charles Moreau

Providence-David Cicilline

South Carolina

Charleston-Joseph Riley

Columbia-Robert Coble

Myrtle Beach-John Rhodes

Sumter-Joseph McElveen

West Columbia-Bobby Horton

Tennessee

Chattanooga-Ronald C. Littlefield

Hendersonville-Scott Foster

Memphis-A C Wharton

Texas

Arlington-Robert Cluck

Austin-Lee Leffingwell

Carrollton-Ronald Branson

Dallas-Thomas Leppert

Deer Park-Wayne Riddle

Denton-Mark Burroughs

Euless-Mary Roseberry Saleh

Frisco-Maher Maso

Garland-Ronald Jones

Laredo-Raul Salinas

McKinney-Brian Loughmiller

Sugar Land-James Alfred Thompson

Waco-Virginia DuPuy

Utah

Salt Lake City-Ralph Becker

St. George-Dan McArthur

West Valley City-Mike Winder

Vermont

Burlington-Robert Kiss

Virginia

Alexandria-William Euille

Portsmouth-Dr. James W. Holley, III

Washington

Auburn-Pete Lewis

Redmond-John Marchione

Seattle-Michael McGinn

Spokane-Mary Verner

Tacoma-Marilyn Strickland

West Virginia

Charleston-Danny Jones

Wisconsin

Green Bay-Jim Schmitt

Manitowoc-Justin Nickels

Racine-John Dickert

Waukesha-Larry Nelson

International

Matteo Matteo-Florence, Italy

Marcelo Ebrard Casubon-Mexico City, Mexico

Tadatoshi Akiba-Hiroshima, Japan

Posted by Paul West at 2:40 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Proposal ties lawmaker pay to state unemployment figures

The General Assembly Compensation Commission report landed on Senate desks this morning with a resounding thud.

Their proposal says lawmakers salaries should be frozen for two years unless the economy improves and gives each lawmaker a $150 bump for in-district travel allowances. The 188 state lawmakers earn at least $43,000 a year, and those in leadership earn more.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the prospects were dim that lawmakers would support anything resembling a pay raise for in an election year as they furlough state workers.

“I’m confident they’ll reject it,” Miller told reporters this morning.

The proposal gives lawmakers a $2,000 pay bump Jan. 1, 2013 only if the number of people on the state unemployment figure drops to five percent or less. If that doesn’t happen their salaries remain frozen, but they have another chance for a raise in 2014 - again only unemployment gets to five percent.

Preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Maryland with an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent as of Nov. 2009.

The Sun’s Laura Smitherman has written about a separate commission that recommended a $10,000 pay raise for Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:31 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

January 20, 2010

Poll: O'Malley leads Ehrlich by 9

A new statewide opinion survey, released early Wednesday, shows Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley leading Republican ex-Gov. Bob Ehrlich by 9 percentage points in a hypothetical rematch.

The two-point drop in O'Malley's advantage, compared with a September survey by the same pollster, is not statistically significant (the poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points). In early November, a published poll by another firm showed O'Malley ahead by a slightly smaller margin, 7 points.

Still, many Ehrlich supporters will likely view the new results as evidence that the Republican is gaining as an unannounced challenger.

While O'Malley may be nervously looking over his shoulder--understandably, given the electorate's sour mood--the other major candidate in a 2010 statewide contest has yet to see a serious threat emerge.

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, running for another six-year term this November, when she'll be 74, enjoys a job-approval score of 64 percent in the new poll by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies of Annapolis.

Mikulski "appears headed toward another easy re-election," Gonzales concluded in a report accompanying the survey results.

Her latest poll number seems to re-establish the Baltimore senator as the most popular politician in the state. Not even President Barack Obama can match her at this stage.

Obama received 56 percent job approval from Marylanders in the poll, a significantly higher grade than in the rest of the country in recent surveys.

But last January, the president's approval score in Maryland stood at 80 percent. Obama's current job numbers in the state remain very high among Democrats and African-Americans, with more than 80 percent of each group giving him a positive rating.

In a test matchup for governor, O'Malley was the choice of 48 percent of likely voters, compared with 39 percent for Ehrlich. Eleven percent described themselves as undecided.

Ehrlich, who looks, sounds and acts like a candidate but hasn't committed publicly to running, trailed O'Malley by 11 points in a Gonzales survey in September, 2009. In November, a Clarus poll showed O'Malley leading 47 to 40, which matched his 7-point victory margin in '06, a strong Democratic year, when he unseated Ehrlich.

This year is starting out as a dangerously weak one for Democrats, though there are still more than nine months to go until the November election.

O'Malley's job approval rating stands at 46 percent, down three points from the same time last year. That's not exactly confidence-inducing voter support for the governor's performance, but it may not be surprising, given the state's economic condition and the public mood.

More than nine in ten Marylanders say their family's financial situation is the same or worse than it was a year ago, when fears that the Great Recession might turn into a depression seemed very real. There have been signs that the state's economy has bottomed out, but the recovery appears sluggish and voter attitudes about the economy are traditionally a lagging indicator exiting a recession.

In the poll report, Gonzales drew attention to Ehrlich's 16 percent support among Maryland's Democratic voters. In 2002, when Ehrlich won, he picked up 30 percent of the Democratic vote.

"Any GOP candidate in 2010 will need to draw near Ehrlich's showing in 2002," concluded Gonzales.

But if Democratic voters are discouraged by the national political climate this fall, it could make it easier for Ehrlich to come close to the 30 percent level again.

Independents, the focus of much media attention right now, are splitting their allegiance between O'Malley and Ehrlich, according to the new poll, with the current governor favored by 39% and the old one getting 36%. Fully one in four independents described themselves as undecided.

However, true independents--those not registered with any party--make up a smaller share of the overall vote in Maryland than many other states. The latest voter-registration numbers show "unaffiliated" voters making up just under one-sixth of the overall total in Maryland.

In other findings, the poll shows that the economy is the issue of greatest concern to voters, with 54 percent listing it as the most important issue facing the state. Health care was far behind, at 11 percent, along with taxes (10 percent), the budget deficit (8 percent) and education (7 percent).

Attitudes toward the state's budget shortfall fell largely along partisan lines. When asked whether the deficit is the result of declining tax revenues in a slumping economy or too much spending by government, Democrats blamed the economy, by a two-to-one margin. Republicans faulted government spending, by an even more lopsided margin.

One of the few upbeat findings in the telephone survey of 816 likely voters, conducted between January 13 and January 17, was the outlook by Marylanders for the coming year.

More than two in five of those surveyed said they expected economic conditions in Maryland to be better a year from now than they are today. About half that proportion--one in four--said things would be worse and one in three said they expect conditions to be about the same.

For the complete poll report, try Gonzales Research online.

Posted by Paul West at 12:01 AM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

January 19, 2010

Maryland pols react to GOP win in Massachusetts

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland was the first Democratic leader to react to Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown's victory Tuesday night in the special election for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat from Massachusetts.

Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which faces an uphill fight to maintain the current Democratic advantage in Congress. Early forecasts about the 2010 election project a loss of 20 or more Democratic House seats in November, and some analysts have said the Democrats could lose their majority.

The Maryland Democrat attempted to shift attention away from Democratic candidate Martha Coakley's failed campaign and accusations by some Democrats that party leaders and President Barack Obama should have done more to prevent the loss of their 60th vote in the Senate.

Instead, Van Hollen zeroed in on the problems that Obama inherited when he took office a year ago after eight years of Republican President George W. Bush.

"Bush and House Republicans drove our economy into a ditch and tried to run away from the accident. President Obama and congressional Democrats have been focused [on] repairing the damage to our economy," Van Hollen said in a statement issued minutes after Brown's victory became apparent.

“Elections are about choices and this year’s midterms will be a choice between continuing the economic progress and independent leadership that House Democrats are delivering for their districts versus Republicans who are eager to turn back the clock to the same failed Bush-Cheney policies that brought our economy to the brink of collapse," the Marylander said.

But Van Hollen also conceded the obvious: that Democrats face a "very challenging election cycle" in 2010. He said his committee, the party's main House campaign arm, is "not taking anything for granted."

The DCCC "is aggressively focused on ensuring House Democrats have the resources, strategy, message, and get-out-the-vote operation necessary to win in tough districts," according to Van Hollen, who also serves as a senior adviser to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele said Brown's "message of lower-taxes, smaller government, and fiscal responsibility clearly resonated with independent-minded voters in Massachusetts who were looking for a solution to decades of failed Democrat leadership. There is no doubt in my mind that Scott will provide the representation and leadership they have asked for and deserve."

The former Maryland lieutenant governor, picking up on a theme he has been pushing on national TV and in press statements, repeated his demand that the Senate "move quickly to seat Senator-Elect Brown so that the people have their chosen representative in the Senate as soon as possible."

Steele and other Republicans are concerned that Democrats may use the period between the election and official certification of Brown's victory to ram health care legislation through the Senate, before the 41st vote against Obama's agenda can take his seat. Democrats have said, however, that they have no plans to do that.

Steele, associating himself with recent Republican victories that figure to boost his own reputation, said that "independent voters in Virginia, New Jersey and now Massachusetts have made their voices heard by sending a clear message that they’ve had enough of the binge spending and government-growing agenda coming from Washington – Democrats everywhere are officially on notice.”

Posted by Paul West at 9:42 PM | | Comments (9)
        

Maryland not in Race to the Top for education money

*** UPDATED

This will come as no surprise to education and politics insiders, but Maryland was not among the 40 states (plus D.C.) that submitted applications today for federal Race to the Top funds.

Maryland stands to gain about $150 million in reward money if it can show it is progressive in a number of areas, including charter school laws and teacher performance evaluation. State officials have said they will apply in Round Two this summer.

"I would have preferred to see us in the first round," Gov. Martin O’Malley said this afternoon. The governor had previously noted that Maryland -- which has been named the country's best school system two years in a row by Education Week magazine -- is in an excellent position to win the money.

The state's failure to submit a Round One application came after a serious disagreement between O'Malley and state schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick about what exactly the state needed to do to be competitive for the money.

In November, The Sun's Liz Bowie wrote about how Maryland was notably quiet in preparing its application, compared with others states that had raced to change laws and renegotiate with teacher unions.

Soon after, O'Malley said the state was definitely working on an application.

Grasmick told The Sun's editorial board that the state was in a strong position to qualify for the money, but by Dec. 10 was saying the state had decided not to apply.

Her change of heart clearly irritated O'Malley.

"I find it very unusual that in the area where we're recognized as the best in the nation, that this is the one department that's not applying as aggressively as every other department has for these things," O'Malley said in an interview days later.

The Sun's editorial board has opined several times on Maryland's failure to Race to the Top. Here's more recent editorial.

And here is the list of states that did not apply, courtesy of Education Week's Politics K-12 blog: Alaska, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.

O'Malley said he is expecting "an open and transparent" process when Maryland does apply, saying the state is probably going to put its submission online for all to see.

This session, Maryland lawmakers are likely going to consider a number of bills that Grasmick said the state needs to pass in order to be progressive enough for Race to the Top.

Liz Bowie will have more details for us in tomorrow's Baltimore Sun.

Update: Liz writes that one education scholar views Maryland as "miles behind."

"Maryland could still catch up, but Grasmick believes the state will need to make some significant changes. Whether O'Malley is willing to push for legislation and ask the teachers union to make concessions is still a question," said Andy Smarick, a visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. O'Malley, for instance, has said he is not sure a change is needed in the charter-school law. Last week, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said the state had the nation's weakest charter-school law.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:07 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Baltimore Crime Beat: Cell phones behind bars to become felony?

The crime blog's Peter Hermann examines a bill to increase the penalties of having a cell phone in prison.

"Gary D. Maynard, the secretary of Maryland's Public Safety and Correctional Services, is testifying in Annapolis today on a bill to turn having a cell phone in a prison into a felony worth up to five years more behind bars. At the moment, it's only a misdemeanor.

The issue has been a priority especially since the Carl Lackl case which a man behind prison walls was able to put a successful hit on a witness while using a pilfered cell phone. Since then, authorities have stepped up their fight against smuggled phones and there are attempts to change the law to allow police to block cell phone signals at prisons."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:55 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

B'More Green: O'Malley looking to boost Bay fund?

We'll know more about the budget later this afternoon, but check out what B'More Green's Tim Wheeler has to say about the Chesapeake Bay restoration fund:

"While cutting and juggling to close a massive $2 billion budget gap, could Gov. Martin O'Malley be planning to ask the General Assembly to increase funding for a signature Chesapeake Bay restoration fund?

The Washington Post, citing an unnamed administration source, reports that O'Malley will ask for $20 million for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund in the state spending plan he's to present to lawmakers in Annapolis today.

That's more than double the fund's current level, but still well short of what it was supposed to be when lawmakers created it more than two years ago."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:54 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Obama advisor: President would have done more to save Teddy's seat if asked earlier

President Barack Obama's top political advisor, David Axelrod, said today that if the White House had been asked earlier, more could have been done for embattled Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley in Massachusetts.

Axelrod, in a question and answer session with reporters, said it was too soon for "post-mortems" on the special election to fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat. And for the record, he said that he still expected Coakley to win.

But it didn't take much reading between the lines to see that the president and his team are preparing to back-pedal as swiftly as humanly possible to distance Obama from a disastrous result tonight.

The Obama strategist volunteered praise for the Massachusetts Senate campaign run by the Republican, Scott Brown, and seemed to find nothing good to point to in the Democratic effort. He said he didn't want to "delve deeply into post-mortems on the day people are voting."

Axelrod appeared to reject the criticism that he and his team had been taken by surprise and should have done more to head off a Democratic collapse. He said it was "not exactly a revelation to us" that voters are angry and anxious after a year in which millions of Americans have lost their jobs and millions more see no evidence in their lives that the economy is recovering.

Axelrod also said that there were "local issues at play" in Massachusetts and that the Republican had run "a very clever campaign."

"As a practitioner in politics, my hat's off to him," Axelrod said.

He was asked whether Obama should have done more than make an eleventh-hour effort to head off a defeat that would be calamatous for his agenda.

"The White House did everything we were asked to do," he said. "I think if we had been asked earlier, we would have responded earlier."

Axelrod sought to cast the events of the day in the context of the president's first year in office, which ends at noon Wednesday.

A Democratic defeat in Massachusetts would imperil, if not outright destroy, the health care overhaul that has consumed Obama and Congress for most of the past year.

It would also become a pivot point for Obama's presidency, a calamity at the ballot box that would force him to shift his approach to governing. His rhetoric and efforts to forge bipartisanship, baldly rejected by Republicans, would have to be redoubled, at the very least. Unless Republicans reach out in response--which seems unlikely--the country faces a year of stalemate in Washington leading up to the November elections.

Meantime, liberal Democrats, who invested hope and enthusiasm in Obama, would have to dramatically recalibrate their expectations and deal with the fact that any realistic chance of advancing their issues in the foreseeable future have been dealt a decisive blow.

Axelrod denied a published report in Politico that Obama would respond combatively to a Republican victory.

"It didn't refelect any thinking that I know of," he said.

But the White House strategist outlined an election-year blueprint for Obama which suggested that Massachusetts is the beginning of a new, more populist-themed approach to governing, as many analysts have said.

The president plans to hit the road domestically more often than he did in 2009, when much of his attention was focused abroad.

A visit to Ohio this week marks the start of a more frequent travel schedule, including extended road trips, presumably to key states in the midterm voting.

"We're going to be doing a lot of this," Axelrod said of this week's Midwest trip. "This is just the first."

Axelrod said he wasn't "Pollyanna-ish" about the political situation-- a "tough environment for incumbents generally" and for the Democratic Party.

Ultimately, he said, voters will have to "make a judgment" about which party and its candidates offer "the best possibility for progress for them and their families" and "is fighting for the middle class." And which party is beholden to "powerful interests" and protecting "the status quo."

Posted by Paul West at 12:34 PM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

January 17, 2010

Cryor to BCEG: YOU JUST LOST ONE.*

Michael Cryor -- the Maryland face to the group bidding on a Baltimore slots emporium -- has dropped out.

He told us that he wrote a letter to Canadian home builder Michael Moldenhauer, the head of the Baltimore City Entertainment Group, informing him of the decision. Cryor said: “I wished him well. I severed my tie.”

The Baltimore City Entertainment Group (BCEG) was the sole group bidding to build a casino in Baltimore. They estimated they could earn $500 million a year in gaming revenues by building a slots parlor near the M&T Bank Stadium.

Their first plan was to construct a mirco facility with 500 slots machines on city land, but they quickly pledged to create a larger venue. The group was unable to deliver the necessary fees for the bigger casino and could not convince the state slots commission that their enhanced proposal would be viable. Their bid was rejected in December.

Moldenhauer and the BCEG have appealed the state’s decision. Cryor said in a brief interview that his interest in the slots project was to bring jobs and revenue to cash-strapped Maryland. “A protracted appeals process lengthens that time,” he said. A contentious appeal “is not the relationship I want to have with my city and state.”



*apologies to Lauryn Hill
Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:33 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Slots
        

January 14, 2010

O'Money

Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign released preliminary campaign finance numbers this afternoon. They’ve say they’ve raised $4,780,000. That gives them $5,720,000 in the bank, they say.

“We feel like it is a good strong number,” said O’Malley campaign manager Tom Russell. “It puts us in a strong place for the election year.”

The campaign says they've raised from 6,200 donors -- but they don't have figures yet on the size of the average donation.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:07 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Miller to push slots in Prince George's County this session

*** UPDATED with reaction from the governor and speaker of the House of Delegates. ***

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he wants to expand Maryland’s fledgling slots program to Prince George’s County. And he'd like it done this year.

Miller, a Democrat, represents that part of that county and Calvert County, said he’s in discussions with Prince George’s officials and with Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a Democrat, about how bring gambling to the county as a way to help save Rosecroft Raceway, in Muse’s district. Miller proposed having slots at one of three locations: Rosecroft, the National Harbor or an equestrian center in Upper Marlboro.

Muse, a reverend, said he has a “social opposition” to slots but added that he is “open to looking at all possible options” to save Rosecroft. Muse said he’d prefer to see high-stakes card games at Rosecroft, something Miller said he could also endorse.

It’s likely that either slots or card games would need to be approved by voters. In fall 2008, Maryland residents overwhelmingly voted to legalize slots at five specific sites. The state slots commission has since granted three of those licenses; two sites, on the Eastern Shore and in Cecil County, could open within the year.

Muse said gambling in Prince George would fall right in line with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s “jobs, jobs, jobs” agenda for this legislative session. The two senators said they have yet to craft a bill or discuss any plans with the House of Delegates, which is led by Speaker Michael E. Busch, a longtime slots opponent.

*** UPDATE ***

Busch and O'Malley, both Democrats, reacted to Miller's plan in interviews this afternoon. Both said they were taken aback by a new push for slots in Prince George's but reserved judgment until they hear from county leaders and see a specific plan.

"No one from Prince George's County stepped up to the plate" to ask for slots during the session in which lawmakers approved a plan to present to voters, Busch said. "In fact, that county was adamantly opposed at the time."

The governor also noted that the "extensive debate" on slots in 2007 did not include Prince George's County because elected leaders there opposed slots in their communities. Asked about Miller's comments this morning, O'Malley said, "This is the first I've heard of it."

He said he is "not looking to go backward" this legislative session to discuss issues that have already been settled.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:24 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

January 13, 2010

O'Malley selects Jenkins. NAACP (kind of) annoyed.

Over the (initial) objections of the Frederick County NAACP, Gov. Martin O’Malley Wednesday selected Frederick County Republican Charles Jenkins to fill the House seat vacated when Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr. left work for the city of Frederick.

Jenkins was sworn in this morning and said he was “humbled” and “honored” by the appointment. He was also a little overwhelmed.

“The day has been a whirlwind,” he said. He said he was informed of O’Malley’s decision at 7 a.m. and immediately submitted a letter of resignation from his slot on the Frederick County Commission.

The local branch of the NAACP has battled Jenkins over issues including his effort to declare English the county’s official language and his desire to count all of the illegal immigrants enrolled in the county school system.

“We’ve been fighting for some time,” said Guy Djoken, the President of the Frederick NAACP. “Hispanic people feel like they are second class citizens as result of some of the policies that Jenkins has put forward.” Djoken expressed his concerns in a letter to O’Malley – but a chat with the governor caused him to change his mind.

“After talking to the governor’s office we realized that the other person had the same views so the opposition is moot,” Djoken. That other person? Mike Hough, a legislative aide to ultra conservative Maryland State Sen. Alex X. Mooney.

O’Malley said when presented with the two candidates he picked the only one who had held a local elected office.

The governor got to pick from two choices because the legislative district being filled encompasses both the Frederick and Washington counties -- and the respective republican central committees couldn’t agree on a candidate to put forward.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:01 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Making cuts.

An audience member at Marc Steiner’s annual Annapolis Summit this morning asked Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch a question that got everyone’s attention: Should repeat pedaphiles in Maryland be “neutered”? (Apparently the more traditional term for such a remedy is “chemical castration.”)

Miller supports the idea saying such a punishment, in his opinion “would be extremely light.” He added: “I would want them neutered even in prison.”

Busch was more circumspect, stressing his faith in the criminal justice system. “I’m against neutering, let me just say that,” the speaker said. “I don’t think neutering is the answer.”

*******

Miller’s full quote is transcribed below – and you can listen here (hour 2, 30:53).

"I don't oppose neutering -- I can tell you that right now -- for repeat sex offenders. I've got 13 grandchildren. And I think that would be extremely light. And I'd want them neutered so they can't do any more damage in prison while they are in prison for life."

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:34 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Obama visit cancelled

UPDATE:

President Obama's visit to Maryland this afternoon has been cancelled. He is busy today with the U.S. response to the Haitian earthquake and talks with congressional leaders about health care legislation.

President Barack Obama figures to get a friendly greeting when he tours a business-labor training center in Maryland this afternoon.

But the visit to the Lanham facility, which will serve as a platform for Obama to pitch his green-energy jobs initiatives, comes against a backdrop of simmering union anger over the president's agenda and performance during his first year in office.

Our "patience is wearing thin," Chuck Graham, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 26, writes in the new magazine published by the labor unit, which serves Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

In the piece, Graham describes himself as angry, disappointed and frustrated over being "strung along" by Obama.

"Where is the relief middle-class Americans were promised by the Obama campaign and our members of Congress leading up to the last elections? Where is the stimulus money that was supposed to create jobs and put Americans, especially our Local 26 members, to work?"

In a telephone interview, Graham said that about 1,500 of the local's 8,500 members are out of work. That translates into 17 percent unemployment, more than twice the Maryland jobless rate.

Graham is critical of Obama's "focus, perhaps obsession, with health care reform when American jobs are becoming extinct." He urges Democrats in Washington to concentrate first on finding decent jobs for those who want to work.

"President Obama and Congress, it's time that you start supporting those who supported you," Graham concludes.

Graham said he hopes that plans to build a third nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs in southern Maryland become a reality. That would mean over 500 jobs for members of his union and thousands for those in the building trades.

"I do need jobs for my members," he said. "That my job."

So, will Graham give Obama a piece of his mind and let him know exactly what he thinks when he meets him during the president's visit to the apprenticeship center for electricians in Prince George's County?

Uh, apparently not.

"I'm going to tell him he's doing a great job," said Graham.

He explained that Obama inherited a boatload of problems after eight years of Republican President George W. Bush.

Obama "was handed a job that--I wouldn't want to have to do it," said Graham. "He knows we need jobs. He's trying to create jobs."

Posted by Paul West at 10:01 AM | | Comments (3)
        

January 12, 2010

$2.10 for a Miller Lite?

With Gov. Martin O’Malley about a week away from unveiling $2 billion of cuts to the state budget, public health advocates are fretting that their programs will be among the snips. This morning, they rallied behind a new source of funding: A ten cent per drink hike to the alcohol tax.

Del. Bill Bronrott and Sen. Rich Madaleno will introduce the bill and they estimate it will net $200 million for the state. The money would pay for programs to treat and prevent substance abuse and fill other funding gaps in health-related services. A coalition of health advocates supporting the tax predict what they call an extra benefit: More expensive booze will reduce drinking.

A similar bill advocating a five cent increase didn’t go anywhere last year and supporters acknowledged they’ve got an uphill battle. “You’ve been hearing there is no way an alcohol tax can pass,” said Vincent DeMarco, the President of the Maryland Citizen’s Health Initiative at this morning’s news conference. But he compared the effort with a previous successful campaign to increase the tax on cigarettes. “Just as the tobacco industry fell, the alcohol industry will fall,” he predicted.

Industry reps are not so sure. They say the tax will siphon off jobs as fewer people drink. But, nobody’s called us back to talk on the record yet, so we’ll update this when they do/ Jack Milani, legislative co-chair of Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, says bars and restaurants are already hurting. “It would be another blow,” he said. Also, he predicted the tax would caused Marylanders who live on the DC board would travel to the nation’s capital to buy their beer.

The bill would essentially add a ten cent tax per eight ounces of alcohol – that would add 60 cents to a six pack of beer, and about 55 cents to a bottle of wine, said Bronrott. Currently consumers pay about a penny in taxes per drink, advocates for the change said. The beer and wine tax rate hasn't been touched since 1972. And spirits haven't had a tax increase since 1955.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:53 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Waiting for Pipkin, 2010 edition

Bob Ehrlich isn't the only Maryland Republican that both parties are closely watching these days. Will he duck a rematch against a foe that got the better of him last time? Or give it another try?

The same questions apply to E. J. Pipkin.

The state senator, whose district takes in four counties on the Eastern Shore, has been tantalizing--some would say terrorizing--fellow Republicans by refusing to say whether or not he'll jump into the race for the congressional seat currently held by endangered freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil.

A contested primary would complicate Republican efforts to pick up a second House seat in Maryland. Republican Wayne Gilchrest won the First District in 1990 and kept it until 2008, when state Sen. Andy Harris of Baltimore County launched a successful challenge from the right, with help from the conservative Club for Growth.

Pipkin, a late entry in the 2008 Republican primary for the same seat, is widely believed to be eager for a grudge match. If this year's primary were to turn ugly, it might hurt Ehrlich, a Harris supporter, who wants a united party behind him if he's the Republican nominee for governor.

National Republicans have been trying to steer money and momentum toward Harris, who narrowly lost to Kratovil in the general election. Their theory: pump up Harris, who appears to be the strongest primary candidate, in hopes of heading off an internecine fight.

Ehrlich has said that he personally tried to play peacemaker in the First District. But Pipkin has steadfastly refused to go away.

"Getting closer" is all he's saying about the timetable for his go/no-go announcement. Like Harris, he would have to surrender his current position in the General Assembly to run for Congress, since both seats are up this year.

Pipkin's ability to self-finance, or at least heavily subsidize, a congressional campaign is one reason he can take his time in making an announcement. He spent $1 million of his own money last time.

Harris has been touting his improved fund-raising operation, but he'd get outspent if Pipkin put as much money in as he did last time.

The prospect of having a broke nominee (Harris) going into a short general election campaign in the fall gives national Republicans hives.

If it happens, the GOP will almost certainly have to send more campaign money than they'd like into Maryland One, as close to a sure-thing pickup for Republicans as any place in the country this year, instead of investing those same dollars on riskier challenges elsewhere. And that would be a boost for Democrats, who'll need all the help they can get to prevent substantial losses in the first midterm election of Barack Obama's presidency..

The filing deadline isn't until July 5 for the primary election, scheduled for Sept. 14.

Watch this space for E. J.'s next move.

Posted by Paul West at 11:50 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

January 11, 2010

Ravens win means lobster for O'Malley

Gov. Martin O'Malley's YouTube message to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick speaks for itself.

The Democratic governors had made a friendly bet over yesterday's playoff match. A Patriots win would have netted Patrick some crab cakes. But the Ravens prevailed, meaning O'Malley has his bib on and butter melted.

So what's this weekend's bet going to be?

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese confirms the governors' offices are in serious negotiations about that now. O'Malley may send a Smith Island Cake in the event of a Colts win, Abbruzzese said, while Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, may offer up a Sugar Cream Pie if the Ravens win.

Abbruzzese adds these fighting words: "Should be Sugar Cream Puffs -- just like the Colts."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:54 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Roundup: Maryland General Assembly 2010

Under the shadow of the looming fall election, state lawmakers return to Annapolis on Wednesday. They'll try to close a $2 billion by retaining last year's deep cuts and slashing even more. Can they do it without isolating voters?

Here are the top policy issues that have emerged so far:

Energy re-regulation: Repeal the state's 1999 decision to get out of the business of regulating energy.

Education: Increase the number of years it takes for teachers to achieve tenure and require unions to bargain over alternative pay.

Unemployment insurance: Require employers to use "alternative base period" in determining eligibility for unemployment insurance.

Death penalty: Add fingerprints and still photographs to the list of evidence acceptable in capital cases.

Gangs: Standardize reporting requirements between schools and law enforcement about gang activity.

Sex-offender registry: Review how major sex offenders from other states who move to Maryland are classified on the state sex offender registry.

Jobs: Give $3,000 tax credit to businesses for every unemployed Marylander they hire and put $10 million toward state guarantees of bank loans made to small businesses.

The Sun's editorial board promises a session with more headlines than a typical election year.

Other media weigh in with General Assembly predictions:
Associated Press
The Capital
The Gazette
Washington Post
The Daily Record (subscribers)
MarylandReporter.com (a roundup of roundups)

We'd like to hear from you. What do you think will -- or should -- be front and center for Maryland lawmakers this year?

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Cardin, Sarbanes get high marks for Obama support; Mikulski's attendance slips

Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. John Sarbanes were among the strongest supporters in Congress of President Barack Obama's legislative agenda in 2009, according to a new study.

The annual report of presidential support scores by Congressional Quarterly magazine ranked Cardin as Obama's fifth biggest Senate backer, tied with five other senators. Cardin, a first-term Democrat, supported Obama's initiatives 98.7 per cent of the time.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was close behind. She agreed with Obama 98.6 percent of the time, making her the president's 11th strongest Senate supporter.

Among House members, Rep. John Sarbanes sided with Obama a reliable 98.6 percent of the time. That tied him with seven other Democrats for second place out of the 435 members of the House.

All of those scores, while pushing 100 percent, weren't far off from the overall average, which allowed the Democratic president to set a new record during his first year in office.

Obama won the backing of Congress on 96.7 percent of votes for which he had articulated a clear position, a historic high, according to CQ, which has been compiling presidential support scorecards since 1953.

The previous record-holder was Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, who got his way 93.1 percent of the time 44 years ago.

At the other end of the spectrum, freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, who represents a Republican district on the Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, had the fifth highest opposition score among House Democrats.

The Blue Dog from Queen Anne's County was on the other side of the president's position a total of 31.9 percent of the time last year.

A related CQ scorecard--which measures party unity--also gave Cardin high marks. The magazine ranks senators and representatives who vote most often with a majority of their party against a majority of the opposing party.

On the party support score, Cardin tied for sixth place last year, with a 99.3 percent party-unity grade. That put him in a tie with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Kratovil, on the other hand, opposed fellow House Democrats 32.3 percent of the time, CQ found.

The state's lone Republican in Congress, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick, opposed his own party 10 percent of the time, precisely in line with the average for all House Republicans. Bartlett voted for Obama's agenda 18 percent of the time, which was less supportive than the 26 percent average for all House Republicans.

Four Marylanders in the House got 99 percent party unity grades: Sarbanes and Reps, Donna Edwards, Chris Van Hollen and Steny Hoyer, all Democrats. Hoyer and Van Hollen are, of course, members of the House Democratic leadership.

Finally, Cardin got a gold star for attendance, joining 14 other senators who got perfect 100 percent marks by participating in all 397 roll call votes. The overall average for members of the Senate was 97.0 percent.

Mikulksi, meantime, ranked third from the bottom among current senators, with an 89 percent attendance score. The 74-year-old senator was hospitalized for a broken ankle suffered in late July and spent weeks in rehab.

Look for Republicans to highlight her attendance mark as a way of building a case that it's time for Maryland voters to make a change this year. Attendance records are a time-honored--and sometimes quite effective--campaign issue for challengers attempting to unseat longtime incumbents. That is the main reason that many members of Congress go overboard to make sure they participate in roll call votes, including the most insignificant ones.

Among the eight members of the House from Maryland, only one had a below-average attendance record below the average for the chamber.

Democratic Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger of Baltimore County participated in 95 percent of the 987 roll call votes in the House during 2009. The average attendance record for all House members was 96 percent.

When it comes to showing up for votes, Marylanders in Congress have an important built-in advantage over most of their colleagues: their districts and their homes are all within a reasonable drive of the Capitol. Many, if not most, congressmen and senators from other states have to hop a plane to travel back and forth from Washington.

CQ based its rankings on a variety of key votes. The presidential position scores, for example, were generated on the basis of 79 Senate and 72 House roll call votes.

Posted by Paul West at 12:10 PM | | Comments (5)
        

January 7, 2010

No resolution on new Western Maryland delegate

Local Republican committees last night were unable to agree upon who should become the next lawmaker representing Frederick County and a small portion of Washington County. A vacancy was created last month when the sitting delegate resigned to work for the new Frederick mayor, and Republicans are responsible for selecting a replacement.

Republicans from both counties interviewed Mike Hough, Charles Jenkins and John Lovell, all Frederick residents. Hough sits on the Frederick Republican Central Committee, which seemed to cause part of the strife. His committee voted for him last night, while the Washington County Republican Central Committee picked Jenkins.

The discord means Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley might get to choose the lawmaker representing a very Republican part of the state. He'd pick between Hough and Jenkins.

Kelly Schulz, chairwoman of the Frederick Republicans, said earlier this week that she had hoped the committees would be able to reach a singular conclusion. Last night she released this statement:

"After thoughtful discussion and deliberation, Mike Hough, was the chosen candidate to fill the vacant seat by the FCRCC. Charles Jenkins was chosen as the candidate by the WCRCC.

The final nominations will be hand delivered the Governor’s Office on Thursday morning. The Governor will have up to 15 days to make the appointment official. It is anticipated that the Governor will perform this important task prior to January 13th which is the beginning of the 2010 General Session."

But wait!

This morning, Hough dispatched a statement of his own:

"In light of the unexpected split decision late Wednesday night (January 6, 2010) regarding the vacancy in District 3B, I am requesting that you not deliver my name nor Charles Jenkins’ name to Governor Martin O'Malley for twenty-four hours.

We were successful at Wednesday night’s meeting in narrowing down the choices to two names. Since the legislative session does not begin until next Wednesday, January 13, 2010, I am confident that we have time to resolve these differences so that we can present one name as our Republican delegate.

The Maryland Constitution clearly gives our party the responsibility to determine this replacement. Let us not abdicate our obligation as the Republican parties of Frederick and Washington Counties to make this important selection by leaving this decision to a Democrat Governor."

I'll post an update as soon as I hear more about what's going on.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:38 AM | | Comments (0)
        

January 5, 2010

No raises for us, legislative leaders declare

The speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and president of the state Senate released a joint statement today saying, in no uncertain terms, that they will reject a proposed legislative pay raise.

The General Assembly Compensation Commission this morning recommended a small increase for the 188 lawmakers, to be applied several years from now. If the state's unemployment rate drops to 5 percent or below (it's now around 7 percent) in 2013, lawmakers would get a one-time $2,000 bump, said salary commission Chairman Sean W. Glynn.

But Speaker Michael E. Busch and President Thomas V. Mike Miller said it's inappropriate to talk about raises -- even ones that would come in the future -- when state workers have frozen or reduced salaries.

"Now is not the time to accept pay raises for legislators," Busch said in the statement. "We respectfully decline the salary recommendation of the Commission."

Miller called the proposed pay increase "inappropriate."

Added to a previous four-year salary freeze, the leaders' decision means lawmaker salaries will likely remain frozen at $43,500 until 2014. Busch and Miller make $56,500, The salary commission meets every four years to review lawmakers' pay.

By state law, the nine-member independent commission's recommendation must be introduced as a bill during the legislative session. Lawmakers can either accept it or reduce the amount. The leaders' joint statement indicates it will most likely be rejected outright.

In a Baltimore Sun story published Sunday, Miller and Busch indicated they might be open to a salary increase that comes in the future and is tied to an economic indicator. Turns out, they aren't.

Governor Martin O'Malley, who makes $150,000 per year, also shot down an effort to increase his pay.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:42 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Candidate Watch: Ready to run

Justin Ready, the 27-year-old former executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, announced today his bid to become a state lawmaker.

Ready, who lives in Westminster and owns a small consulting and design business, will try to unseat one of two Republican delegates in the September primary. The District 5A representatives are Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, 75, and Del. Tanya T. Shewell, 65. Stocksdale has been a delegate for 15 years, and Shewell was appointed to a vacant seat in 2004 and elected 2006.

Ready said he is "not specifically targeting one or the other" of the sitting delegates. "We just need a change," he said

In July, Ready was fired by James Pelura, then the chairman of the state Republican Party, for what Pelura called "personnel reasons." The ouster contributed to a no-confidence vote in Pelura, who stepped down late last year.

In a press release announcing his candidacy, Ready, who also has worked as a staff member in the state Senate and House of Delegates, said he is "saddened and disappointed by the lack of fiscal discipline" in Annapolis.

"It is clear that we need a new direction, new leadership, and fresh ideas,” he said.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

January 4, 2010

Harris launches 2010 campaign on earmark, deficit themes

Like other Republican candidates around the country, Andy Harris is stressing fiscal responsibility as he attempts to unseat Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in this fall’s election.

Harris vows to abstain from earmarking if he becomes the congressman from Maryland’s first district, which covers the Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties.

“Some people run and promise to be independent,” Harris said in an interview. “A no-new-earmarks pledge clearly makes you independent from both political parties right now.”

If he wins, and keeps his promise, Harris would become one of a relative handful of senators and representatives who shun the earmark system.

All current members of the Maryland congressional delegation, Democrat and Republican alike, aggressively and unapologetically seek federal earmark funds for pet projects in their district and the state. During 2009, they succeeded in steering hundreds of millions in taxpayer money to Maryland.

But Harris says those efforts reflect an “inside-the-Beltway” mentality that most Americans don’t share. Increasingly, he said, voters “view earmarks as political payoffs.”

The earmark process, which has been criticized as wasteful and potentially corrupt, results in fewer dollars coming back to Maryland than taxpayers sent in the first place, according to Harris. Earmark money, and unspent funds from last year’s stimulus law, would be better off left in Washington to help reduce the federal budget deficit, he said.

The 12-year state Senate veteran from Baltimore County is giving up his office in the legislature for another try at the House seat he nearly won in 2008. He could still face a September primary contest against Republican state Sen. E. J. Pipkin, who has yet to announce his plans.

On Tuesday, Harris will make a day-long swing across the district to let people know what he’s been doing for months: running for Congress again.

He’ll formally declare his candidacy in Bel Air, where he is to receive the endorsement of Harford County Executive David Craig, a fellow Republican. In 2008, Craig supported then-Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a longtime incumbent who lost to Harris in a highly divisive Republican primary that, some believe, kept Harris from winning the general election.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the national party's House campaign arm, has been working to bolster Harris' 2010 campaign and limit any damage from a contested primary. In addition to his 10 a.m. kickoff event in the Harford County seat, Harris has stops scheduled in Annapolis, Easton and Cambridge.

A physician who works as an obstetric anesthesiologist, Harris, 52, said he hopes to join the Republican drive to seek repeal of portions of a new health care overhaul law, if, as many expect, Congress enacts the legislation early this year. He described as “absolutely crazy” a provision of the legislation that would tax medical device companies, and he said he would favor the creation of bipartisan commissions to deal with the long-range funding problems of Medicare and Social Security.

The New York native is pledging to impose a term limit on himself, promising to spend no more than a dozen years in the House. He’ll also push, he said, for a constitutional amendment to term-limit Congress, an idea that failed to win sufficient support after Republicans gained control of the House in the 1994 election.

One point that Harris said he’ll be making throughout the district is that “the most important vote that most congressmen cast is for the Speaker of the chamber.” Like all other House Republicans, he’ll vote “’No’ on Nancy Pelosi” because “her far-left agenda is not what’s good for the first district of Maryland,” he said.

Harris said that as a member of the Maryland legislature he tried to take positions based “on principle, not on party.” But he could not come up with any issues during the current Congress on which he would have bucked the Republican Party, which has voted with near-unanimity against the initiatives of President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

“I’d have to think about that,” he said, “because their agenda has been so radical.”

Posted by Paul West at 4:37 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Candidate Watch: Shank whips up bid for Maryland Senate

** UPDATED ** See below.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, the minority whip in the Maryland House of Delegates, announced through his Facebook page on New Year's Eve that he will challenge Sen. Donald F. Munson for his seat this fall. Shank, a Washington County Republican, will make a more traditional announcement 5 p.m. Friday at Parkway Neuroscience in Hagerstown.

Munson, 72, has been a senator for almost two decades. Shank, in his Facebook announcement, wrote he respects Munson but that "it is time for someone who will challenge the status quo that is leading this state in the wrong direction." Shank, 37, said Munson has "either been silent and not provided this leadership or, worse yet, voted the wrong way."

** This is a message from Shank: "Just to clarify, I have no plans whatsover to abandon my House seat, nor did I ever. I am seeking election to the Maryland Senate. Our current term does not expire until the 2010-2014 term begins in January 2011 and I will be serving until the completion of my current term in the House of Delegates. Should I be fortunate enough to be elected by the voters of Washington County, I would begin that term in 2011."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:30 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Final three selected for Frederick County delegate seat

The Frederick County Republican Central Committee has selected three finalists for state delegate, paring down a list of eight applicants. Mike Hough, Charles A. Jenkins and John R. Lovell, Jr., will interview for the job on Wednesday, one week before the General Assembly's 90-day session begins.

The vacancy was created several weeks ago when Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr. stepped down to become executive assistant to Frederick Mayor Randy McClement. Weldon was a Republican until September 2008, when he left the party to become an independent. Because Weldon was elected as a Republican, the local party committee selects his replacement, who would have to run for election this fall.

The district includes a small part of Washington County, which has been involved in the process, said Kelly Schulz, chairwoman of the Frederick Republicans. "We are working together amicably, and the goal is to forward one name to the governor," she said. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, must approve the selection. Interviews will take place Wednesday evening, and a delegate will be chosen that night, Schulz said.

Jenkins is a Frederick County commissioner, Lovell is a former county commissioner and Hough, who announced his candidacy before Weldon stepped down, works with Republican Sen. Alex X. Mooney.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:13 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Anti-Arundel slots signature drive begins

The race is on to stop a planned slots emporium at Arundel Mills Mall.

Rob Annicelli, head of an anti-slots coalition in the area, reports today that the county Board of Elections and attorneys have certified a peititon to send a zoning decision allowing the casino to referendum this fall. If 19,000 county residents sign the petition, voters will be able to choose whether to reject the casino site.

The Anne Arundel County Council, after months of debate and delays, approved the zoning Dec. 21.

But the clock is ticking. Slots opponents have little more than a month to collect at least half of the signatures. Annicelli says that if they can meet that goal by Feb. 5, they get another 30 days in which to reach 19,000.

There's another horse in this race.

Assisting the anti-slots residents is the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel County. Magna, the track's owner, unsuccessfully bid for the county's sole slots facility license but was rejected because it didn't pay the required state fees. (The Canadian company is bankrupt and is auctioning Laurel Park and Pimlico racetrack later this week.) Magna has also filed a protest of the state's decision to reject its bid.

Horse racing officials have warned putting a casino at the mall would spell financial ruin for the racetrack, which they say needs slot machines to stay viable.

Annicelli says the residents are mobilized near the mall and the Jockey Club could assist with signatures of southern Anne Arundel residents who are involved in the horse racing industry.

He says the opponents should have a feel for how they're doing late next week and will likely hold signature-gathering events in addition to going door-to-door.

Meanwhile, developer David Cordish, whose Baltimore-based company plans to erect a 4,750-machine slots facility on a parking lot near the food court at Arundel Mills Mall, has already gotten to work. He says he does not anticipate the anti-slots group will succeed in its signature drive and has made initial filings for building permits. The emporium is to be called Maryland Live!, and Cordish says he thinks it could open by late 2011.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:42 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Slots
        
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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