Democrats Reject a Vote On Their Own Pay, Raises Will Be Automatic

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Cathy vitale at podium

Del. Cathy Vital

A Republican attempt to force legislators to vote on their own pay-raise was defeated in the House of Delegates Tuesday, with Democrats overwhelmingly rejecting the move.

Introduced by Del. Cathy Vitale, R-Anne Arundel, the motion asked the House to suspend the rules so that a resolution to reject a proposed salary raise for legislators elected this fall could be considered on the House floor. An almost identical resolution has been sitting in the House Rules Committee without a vote since its hearing in late February.

Under the Maryland constitution salary raises for legislators are recommended by an outside commission every four years. If the legislature does nothing to stop or lower the pay hike by next Monday, the raise goes into effect.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Vitale said. “There was an earlier introduction of a resolution to address the salary, pension and pay packet of the General Assembly. That resolution is sitting in the Rules Committee. It did not come out of Rules, it did not get referred to a committee. The choice you are going to make on the suspension of the rules really is whether or not you want to be heard on this issue.”

Vitale introduced the motion under a provision in the House rule book which states that the rules may be suspended to consider a bill without referring it to a committee if a copy of the bill or resolution is distributed to the desk of each member. In order for the rules to be suspended at least two-thirds of the 141-member House must vote in the affirmative.

Majority leader calls it bad precedent

Many delegates spoke against the motion, arguing that it was a bad precedent to set.

Del. Kumar Barve

Del. Kumar Barve

“I intend to handle this motion the way we would handle any other motion,” House Majority Leader Kumar Barve said. “It is true there have been instances where bills have been directly referred to committees, but you need 94 votes to do it, and in those specific instances it might have made sense. But I don’t ever remember seeing a bill considered by this body without it first being considered in committee. Period. In 24 years I’ve never seen it.”

Many delegates, however, argued that the unique nature of the situation made it necessary for an exception to the regular order.

“It has been suggested that this motion should be treated like any other motion,” Del. Herbert McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, said. “Well guess what? It’s not like any other bill because it’s about your pay. It’s about how much you get paid, and that’s what makes this bill different.

“This just underscores the perception that many people have that legislators simply want to feather their nest,” McMillan said. “They’re not even willing to bring their pay wages up to a vote in the light of day. And that’s wrong.”

In the end, however, the motion came nowhere near garnering the 85 votes it would need to pass, and was voted down 48-87.

Six Democrats joined 41 Republicans in voting for the resolution. The Democrats were Dels. Pam Beidle, Anne Arundel; Mary-Dulany James, Harford; Kevin Kelly, Allegany; Heather Mizeur, Montgomery; David Rudolph, Cecil; Ted Sophocleus, Anne Arundel; and Johnny Wood, St. Mary’s.

This will be the first pay hike for legislators in eight years. Their salaries will go up $1,707 every year for four years, raising their total annual salary from $43,500 to $50,330.

By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

Margaret@MarylandReporter.com

Read more: http://marylandreporter.com/2014/04/01/house-rejects-attempt-to-force-vote-on-legislative-pay-raise/#ixzz2xmfD6o1E
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Senate Votes 20% Pay Raise for Top State Officials

State House

The Senate voted Tuesday to provide a 20% salary increase over the next four years to the attorney general, comptroller, state treasurer and secretary of state.

The attorney general, comptroller and treasurer each earn $125,000 annually. The secretary of state makes $87,500 annually.

Under the bill, which Senate members approved 36-10, the attorney general, comptroller and treasurer would earn $149,500 in 2018, and the secretary of state would earn $109,500.

In years past, the General Assembly has rejected salary bumps for the state officers, despite consistent recommendations from the Governor’s Salary Commission.

Based on the resolution of the commission, lawmakers have already allowed the next governor to get a 20% raise to $180,000 by doing nothing to stop it in the first 45 days of the current session.

Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley, R-Frederick, voted in favor of the measure, though he said he would have preferred to also vote on the salary hike the legislature is due to receive.

“We were hoping to put some amendment on this to address legislative salaries … We’re still exploring some other options,” Brinkley said prior to the vote. “I want to go ahead and encourage the passage of this bill, but we still think there ought to be a vote on the Senate floor for any type of salary increase.”

The House of Delegates must still act on the measure.

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

jeremy@marylandreporter.com

Read more: http://marylandreporter.com/2014/04/01/senate-votes-20-pay-raise-for-top-state-officials/#ixzz2xmcw6ne2
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When Obamacare Website Failed, Oregon Took a Different Approach than Maryland, By Barry Rascovar

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Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein at a news conference on the new health care exchange.

Monday is the deadline for folks in Maryland to start the application process for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If you miss this deadline, you face a tax penalty next year.

The good news is that tens of thousands of people have health insurance who couldn’t — or wouldn’t — obtain it before.

The bad news is that Maryland’s health exchange has been an unmitigated disaster — a painfully small number of people actually applied and paid their initial insurance bill.

Those responsible for this stupendously costly debacle aren’t going to be held accountable.

The deeply flawed computer software continues generating daily horror stories. Failure to adequately advertise community sign-ups led to sparse turnouts till the deadline neared.

Stonewalling at the topScreen Shot 2014-04-01 at 1.27.32 PM

Those at the top of Maryland’s political food chain still stonewall this issue hoping it fades from public view.

State legislators have ordered a slow-motion assessment of the damage by their own analysts. It’s doubtful this will be a detailed, CSI-style examination of what went wrong.

By the time the report surfaces in mid-summer it will be too late: The decision on what comes next – most likely connecting Maryland to Connecticut’s software system — will be made as early as Tuesday.

By the time that legislative report appears, the June 24 primary will have come and gone — and with it any danger Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s gubernatorial campaign might be fatally damaged by the findings.

It’s also possible any legislative report will be sanitized by House and Senate leaders so as not to embarrass Brown (by then he could be planning his inaugural) and Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has national aspirations.

What a shocking lack of accountability to the public.

The Oregon Way

It stands in stark contrast to the way another liberal, Democratic state, Oregon, handled its own Obamacare calamity.

Oregon, like Maryland, has a two-term Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber. It has Democratic majorities in both houses of its Legislative Assembly.

But unlike Maryland, Oregon has a strong second party. Republicans hold 26 of 60 House seats and 14 of 30 Senate seats.

With such a potent countervailing force, it’s no wonder Gov. Kitzhaber wasted little time launching an independent probe of his state’s dysfunctional health exchange, known as Cover Oregon.

Its Oracle-based software crashed so badly that all insurance applications since Oct. 1 have been done by hand. Yet Oregon still signed up more people for health insurance than Maryland.

What the independent review in Oregon found is likely to be mirrored in Maryland — if there’s ever a similar third-party critique.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 1.27.51 PMAmong the Oregon findings:

–”There was no single point of authority on the project.”

–The governance structure “was not effective.”

–There were “competing priorities and conflicts between [state] agencies.”

–Cover Oregon failed to hire a prime contractor or a system integrator.

–The governor and others were repeatedly warned by Cover Oregon’s quality assurance firm, Maximus, that the project was seriously off-track. These warnings started years ago and were ignored.

–In 2011, Maximus wrote that the state was acting as its own prime contractor and thus was assuming “more of the overall project risk.” How true.

–There was no Plan B as required by federal law – but there was a backup plan in case the lights went out.

–Cover Oregon picked off-the-shelf software; Oracle claimed it required only 5 percent customization. The actual number was 40 percent.

–The selected software ”was not stable” and to this day “more items are breaking than are being repaired.”

–Top state officials “did not understand or acknowledge the significance of the website issues” until it was too late.

–There was a lack of “a consistent, cohesive enterprise approach to management of the project.”

–There was “no authoritative direction.”

–There was “Ineffective and at times contentious” communications and a “lack of transparency.”

Critical of oversight

The Oregon report is highly critical of the Executive Steering Committee leading the project — similar to Maryland’s oversight panel co-chaired by Brown and Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein:

–”Oversight authority was inconsistent and at times confusing or misinterpreted.” This led to “unclear or incorrect understanding about the true state of the project approaching the Oct. 1, 2013 deadline.”

–The steering group lacked “formal meeting notes and decision tracking and documentation.”

–Perhaps worst of all, the Oregon project did not have “a single enterprise decision-tracking tool to document and manage decisions across entities.”

When Kitzhaber received the damning 77-page report in March, he cleaned house.

He fired the state’s top health official — a longtime friend and ally – who had been running the exchange since January. The chief operating officer and chief information officer of Cover Oregon also got the heave-ho. (The exchange’s original leader had been forced out in December.)

The Maryland way

Don’t expect such drastic action in Maryland. It doesn’t fit the image O’Malley and Brown want to project going forward. Accountability is giving way to practical political considerations.

Still, the Oregon autopsy rings many familiar bells in Maryland. What happened in Oregon seems to have happened here.

Here’s what a forensic analysis of Maryland’s failed healthcare sign-up effort is likely to show:

  • O’Malley and Brown created the exchange as an independent agency unshackled from the state’s formal procurement process. Support services and the normal chain of command within state government were lacking.
  • Brown and Sharfstein never gave the project the intense oversight and strong, authoritative leadership it needed.
  • They hired the wrong contractor — a minor-league player in the world of healthcare IT — who then quarreled bitterly with the sub-contractor it hired to do the IT project’s heavy lifting.
  • No one was riding herd on the contractor.
  • The state’s IT gurus picked off-the-shelf software to save money and time, software that never had been used in this way.
  • There was no back-up plan in case Plan A failed (as it did).
  • Quality assurance and system integration were lacking. There was no general manager and no effective tracking system.
  • There was no exhaustive trial period built into the schedule. 
  • There was a lack of clear and honest communication up and down the line. Transparency continues to be a problem.

What citizens deserve

That pretty much sums up what went wrong in Maryland — even without an impartial investigation by outside experts.

But it is worth considering whether Maryland citizens deserve the same type of no-holds barred forensic autopsy Oregon conducted into its health insurance debacle.

In a lopsided one-party state like Maryland, that may prove far too embarrassing for those in power to let it happen.

March 30, 2014 at 7:14 pm
By Barry Rascovar|
f
or MarylandReporter.com

Read more: http://marylandreporter.com/2014/03/30/rascovar-when-obamacare-website-failed-oregon-took-a-different-approach/#ixzz2xemRlvI2
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Conservation Groups, Counties Fighting Proposed Cap on Open Space Funding

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Partners for Open Space prepared this infographic to oppose the diversion of open space funds.

Partners for Open Space prepared this infographic to oppose the diversion of open space funds.

Environmental and land conservation advocates, along with county officials across the state, are gearing up to fight a Senate Budget Committee proposal to limit Program Open Space funding to $100 million a year.

The Maryland Association of Counties said the cap on open space funding would result in “devastating” cuts of as much as $263 million over the next five years.

“These reductions … would affect the State’s and local government’s ability to preserve open space, shorelines, and waterways while providing recreational opportunities,” MACo’s blog told local officials, urging them to contact their senators and delegates.

Program Open Space is funded by 1/2% tax on all real estate transfers, but this dedicated pot of money has been repeatedly raided to fund other programs.

Extra money for stormwater remediation

Sen. James Ed DeGrange called for any money the transfer tax generates over $100 million to help with stormwater remediation. He said it should go to the State Highway Administration as part of its Watershed Implementation Plans.

The state has in effect been replacing cash with loans by diverting over the years much of the open space money from the transfer tax to the general fund, and replacing it with bond funds.

DeGrange, who serves on the state’s Capital Debt Affordability Committee, said, “We’re concerned about getting close to our limit” for bond debt.

By capping the amount spent on open space programs, the Senate committee would reduce the amount of bond debt the state would use to replace the open space money diverted for other programs.

Any extra money would go to fix polluted stormwater runoff from state highways, rather than for buying or maintaining state and local parks and recreation areas.

Open space money can not only be used to acquire farmland and forest, but it also goes toward development and rehabilitation of recreational facilities built on open space.

Unmet needs

“The funds are urgently needed,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins of 1000 Friends of Maryland, one of the Partners for Open Space, a coalition of environmental, conservation and recreation groups.

According to a fact sheet from the Partners for Open Space, $1 billion has been diverted from the transfer tax for open space over the four-decade life of the program.

Some of those unmet needs include:

  • 148 family farms which are waiting to sell the state development rights to their farmland
  • $1.7 billion in local park and recreation projects,
  • and $178 million in what the partners call “high quality ecological, recreational, public access, coastal resilience and community connections projects” in the pipeline.

“It’s not a slush fund to be used by the Senate for other purposes,” Schmidt-Perkins said.

She said the House Appropriations Committee in the past has sided with the Program Open Space advocates in resisting attempts by the Senate to divert the money.

“Yes, we’ll see this in conference,” when the House and Senate attempt to resolve any differences on the state operating and capital budget.

By Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com

Read more: >

If Legislators Don’t Vote, They Get a 16% Pay Raise

By: Refracted Moments™

If legislators do nothing to stop it in the next 19 days, members of the Maryland General Assembly elected this fall — including probably two-thirds of the current members — will get a 16% raise over the next four years, bringing their annual salaries to $50,330. They currently make $43,500 for what is technically a part-time job.

Lawmakers have already allowed the next governor to get a 20% raise to $180,000 by doing nothing to stop it in the first 45 days of the current session.

The lawmakers have not had a raise in eight years; the governor’s salary has been $150,000 for nine years.

The raises come through the decisions of two separate salary commissions created in the Maryland constitution that requires outside bodies to recommend changes in salaries, pensions and expenses for the top elected officials. If the legislature does not lower or reject them, they go into effect automatically — without any senator or delegate having to take a vote on their own pay or that of the governor.

Republican resolutions reject pay hike

The only potential roadblock to next year’s pay hikes are resolutions introduced by all 12 Republican senators and 38 of the 43 Republicans in the House of Delegates.

Both resolutions sit in the Rules Committee of each house, committees dominated by the Democratic leadership where most resolutions are sent to die.

The Senate Rules Committee has not even had a hearing on the resolution late-filed on Feb. 27 and the House has had two brief hearings where only two delegates spoke in favor of rejecting the pay hikes.

“I just think salary increases should be based on some goals, like unemployment figures,” said Del. Wade Kach, the lead sponsor who is a 40-year House veteran running for the Baltimore County Council.

On Dec. 16, the General Assembly Compensation Commission recommended the pay hike based on the cost of living increases for the past eight years and likely COLAs in the next four years. Kach said at the very least the increase based on projected inflation should be cut.

May be no opportunity for a vote

“As time goes by, the chances of [the resolution] passing are diminished,” Kach said. “If it’s put in a drawer in Rules, we won’t have an opportunity to vote it up or down.”

Rules Committee Chair Anne Healey pointed out that, “We hardly ever do resolutions at all,” and wouldn’t predict whether the committee would take a vote.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, one of five Republicans on the 24-member committee, said, “We’re going to try to see what we can do to get it out.”

One possible move is to petition it out of the Rules Committee, but that would require the signature of 47 members — meaning some Democrats would need to sign on.

Here is the report of the General Assembly Compensation Commission. It includes history of pay increases, comparisons with other Maryland officials and other states, and reports on use of expense accounts.

In 2010, the legislature rejected a recommended pay increases that would have been based on reducing the unemployment rate.

Here is the report of the Governor’s Salary Commission, and the story about its recommendations.   

Original story>

By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

Higher Wages for State-Funded Construction Pass Senate, House

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Construction workers by RICarr on Flickr Creative Commons

Construction workers by RICarr on Flickr Creative Commons

Workers on many local school construction projects would be paid at a higher rate under a prevailing wage bill approved Tuesday by the Maryland Senate.

The bill would increase overall construction costs by as much as 5%, estimates the state Department of Legislative Services.

Republican legislators were critical of SB 232, sponsored by Baltimore County Democrat Norman Stone. The bill passed 32-15 and requires that local governments pay the prevailing wage if the state has contributed 25% of funding or more to a school construction project.

Any other public work project valued at $500,000 or higher will be built by workers paid at prevailing wage if the state has subsidized 50% of the project, which is current state law.

Prevailing wage intended to promote fair compensation

The measure, along with prevailing wage requirements as a whole, is pro-union and meant to ensure construction workers are paid adequately. The state Commissioner of Labor and Industry determines the fair prevailing wage.

The bill would likely only affect 10 of Maryland’s 23 counties — those with school boards which accept roughly 50% from the state to fund school construction projects. The Department of Legislative Services estimated that overall construction costs would rise as much as 5%.

Construction Photo by RICarr on Flickr Creative Commons

Construction Photo by RICarr on Flickr Creative Commons

The areas likely impacted would be Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Garrett, Kent, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Worcester counties.

Republicans question higher project costs as result of bill

Republican Sens. Allan Kittleman of Howard County and Stephen Hershey Jr. of the Upper Shore were particularly critical of the legislation, citing high labor costs for prevailing wage workers.

Kittleman, a member of the Task Force to Study the Applicability of the Maryland

Prevailing Wage Law, called it unfair that the local governments would need to scrape together money themselves to supplement the higher pay for the workers.

Kittleman’s task force has investigated the issue of prevailing wage laws for more than a year, but has yet to conclude whether projects associated with prevailing wages cost more in the long-term.

“By adopting this legislation, we’re going to make it harder for our local school systems to build more schools,” Kittleman said. “We’re going to make it harder to have better quality in those schools and I just think it doesn’t make sense to encourage our school systems to pay more.”

Hershey also raised concerns about the cost.

“I’ve been in construction management for many years,” Hershey said. “And with prevailing wage – union-rate jobs — they cost more up front.”

Varies by county

Prevailing wage rates vary by county and type of worker. For instance, an electrician in Montgomery County would be paid $40 an hour under prevailing wage, while in Carroll County an electrician is paid $35.10 an hour. All prevailing wage positions pertain to construction or other workers, such as bricklayers, painters or plumbers.

While legislators are considering raising the minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 an hour from $7.25, a common or unskilled construction laborer in Anne Arundel County would make $15.47 an hour according to prevailing wage state guidelines. In Frederick County, the same laborer might make $18.67 an hour, or $12.70 in Queen Anne’s County.

The bill supersedes local laws exempting certain projects from prevailing wages. In Montgomery County, for instance, the law states that school projects are exempted from prevailing wage requirements. But all counties would be subject to the stipulations of the bill, according to Sen. Thomas Mac Middleton, D-Charles County and chair of the prevailing wage task force.

All projects within the University System of Maryland and private nonprofit higher education institutions are also exempt from the bill.

Proponent argues prevailing wage would promote skilled workers

Middleton called on the legislature to look past the costs on paper.

“With prevailing wage, you get more skilled workers and if you don’t get skilled workers you get the job training component vs. the non prevailing wage where you just don’t have that. Besides the dollar value, you have to look at … the millions of dollars the state of Maryland has just dropped in job training,” Middleton said.

The House version of the bill, HB 727, passed 90-46 Monday, with some Democrats joining near unanimous opposition by Republicans in both chambers.

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

Jeremy@MarylandReporter.com

Senate Rejects GOP Cuts to $39 Billion Budget, Miller Gripes About Environmental ‘Whackos’

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With minimal debate, the Maryland Senate rejected a half dozen Republican attempts to further trim Gov. Martin O’Malley’s $39 billion budget Wednesday, and gave preliminary approval to the spending plan that will be sent to the House this week.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee ultimately cut $492 million from the current budget and O’Malley’s proposal for next year, partly to make up for lowered revenue estimates in both years.

The overall fiscal 2015 budget will spend $1.7 billion more than last year, a 4.5% increase. Some of the biggest gains are in spending on medical assistance and welfare, with federal dollars funding most of those gains.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 2.55.58 PMBudget Committee Chairman Ed Kasemeyer called it a “lean budget.”

“The committee worked very hard to protect programs and services, to honor the recently ratified collective bargaining agreement, and to leave a fund balance [surplus] of at least $100 million in addition to 5% in the rainy day fund,” Kasemeyer said.

Much of the budget cuts came from a $200 million reduction in extra pension contributions that were originally intended to be $300 million each year.

 1% across-the-board cut proposed

Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley proposed an additional across-the-board reduction of 1% in the general fund, saving another $162 million. State agencies “should be able to function properly” with 99% of what they requested.

“The current crisis that we’re in was manufactured by the governor,” Brinkley said. “He wasn’t willing to make the tough calls.”

Kasemeyer said the committee had discussed across-the-board cuts, but determined “that’s a meat-clever approach.”

Brinkley’s amendment failed 12-34 in a straight party-line vote.

The Senate also rejected attempts to cut funding for stem cell research and for state-paid abortions based on the mental health of the mother. Republicans said the state had paid for 49,485 abortions since the year 2000 based on the “mental health” provision of state law for Medicaid-funded abortions.

The anti-abortion item picked up a few Democratic votes, but failed 16-29, as did an attempt to cut funding for stem cell research, and proposal to withhold money to fix the Health Benefit Exchange website.

Miller decries use of bay fund votes by environmentalists

mike miller

Senate President Mike Miller

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, sought to prevent any further diversion of money from the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund.

“People support the bay overwhelmingly,” said Simonaire. “People want us to clean the bay.”

He said $125 million had been diverted to other programs over the past five years.

His amendment to prevent that was rejected 12-33. Senate President Mike Miller warned that such votes have been used by environmental groups to lower the rating of senators who basically support the environment.

“That’s how these whackos work,” Miller griped, clearly annoyed. He eventually calmed down, calling them “uncalled for remarks.”

“This is about the elections,” he said.

March 13, 2014 at 7:43 am

By Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com

Senate Passes Compromise Bill On Dog Owner Liability

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In a unanimous vote Friday, the Maryland Senate passed legislation that would hold owners of all dog breeds liable for bites, but allow owners to challenge that liability in court and let a jury decide.

The bill has been the subject of lengthy debate. In what lawmakers called a “compromise” between the House and the Senate, the measure holds the owner liable if their dog attacks someone, but the owner also has a right to offer a defense to a court jury. The measure states that evidence that the dog caused an injury or death creates the rebuttable presumption of whether the owner knew, or should have known, that the dog had dangerous propensities.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, voted for the bill despite earlier, strident opposition. “I think it is a much better compromise,” Zirkin said.

Zirkin had publicly opposed prior versions of the measure, stating that it did not provide adequate protection for dog-bite victims. In prior interviews, Zirkin said that he wanted to make sure the right bill passed and that he would not relent. “I don’t care if I am the only one left standing.” Zirkin said early February.

Lawmakers have tangled over similar measures in the wake of a 2012 Maryland court ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous.

The bill is next headed to the House of Delegates, where Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, said Friday that he would support the measure.

Simmons said that there were parts of the initial bill that both the House and the Senate did not like, but he and Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, worked together on a compromise.

Simmons said the matter of “strict liability” was one of issues from the bill that needed compromise because no other area of law places strict liability on the owner, including automobile accidents.

He also said that the widely debated “one free bite rule” is not applicable under the measure. The measure passed Friday does not require proof that a dog has previously bitten someone. Instead, it requires that a dog has shown a past propensity for violence, such as aggressive behavior.

“I can live with it.” Simmons said of the amended measure passed by the Senate. “I am going to support the bill that comes over.”

Simmons said that he doesn’t have a problem with the amendments, but thought it “unwise” for the Senate to add amendments, because it undermines the process and may complicate passage in the House.

“If we amend it, it isn’t a compromise,” Simmons said he previously told House members on the subject of possible amendments. He said that now, because the Senate bill passed with amendments, this may “open the floodgates to everyone that has amendments.”

By 
Capital News Service

Marijuana Legislation Could Save or Cost Taxpayers More

By: Brett Levin

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.10.32 AMTwo bills aiming to decriminalize or legalize marijuana heard in a Senate committee last week could potentially bring in millions in new revenue for the state, or could wind up costing taxpayers more than ever.

Proponents of the bills point to possible savings on jail time, courts and police, not to mention extra income from taxes on what is now illegal.

To get at these potential savings and earnings though, Maryland taxpayers will have to shell out $8 million on implementation.

Even if the bills do not wind up being the pay-dirt some are envisioning, however, sponsors still say the funds would be well worth spending to keep people from having their lives ruined by arrest and incarceration for a minor crime.

What doesn’t work

“What we’re doing now doesn’t work,” Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Carroll-Howard, said of existing laws. “It’s as simple as this. It doesn’t work, and we need to do something.”

Kittleman is co-sponsor of SB364 with Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D – Baltimore County, to make possessing marijuana a civil offense subject to a $100 fine like a speeding ticket. Similar legislation passed the Senate last year but did not get out of committee in the House.

Implementation of the measure would have a one-time cost of $112,600 and the state would lose some money from lowering fines for possession of less than 10 grams from $500 to $100.

Following these initial expenditures, the state would save money on enforcement going forward. Sixteen states so far have decriminalized marijuana, and 11 states that studied the effect saw savings in law enforcement and court costs, which were, in most cases, diverted to pursuing and prosecuting cases of more serious drug trade.

“If you’ve ever been in the district court before then you’ve seen rows of police officers sitting there,” Zirkin said. “They’re subpoenaed to court, they have to be there, everyone in the chain of custody will be there for what essentially will be a PBJ  [probation before judgement] or a stet [inactive docket] or a nolle-pros [dropping criminal charges]. And they sit there for hours upon hours, not out on the street, not dealing with crime.”

Legalization brings in dollars

The much broader measure legalizing pot, SB658, sponsored by 10 senators led by Sen. Jamie Raskin, D- Montgomery, would have considerably more far reaching consequences for the state’s finances. For starters, the net expenditure for implementing the bill comes in at $8 million, spread over five years.

As steep as the cost of the bill would be, however, the projected revenue from the legalization of marijuana could cover its total cost almost 10 times over within the first year.

Precise revenue estimates are difficult because marijuana is a controlled substance, but the fiscal note on the bill predicts revenue from taxes would be around $71 million in the first year. Further estimates call for revenues of up to $95 million in subsequent years.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.11.29 AM“We will be able to make a lot of money in revenue,” Raskin said. “Someone said to me today, ‘Well look at Colorado, they’ve already sold tens of millions of dollars of marijuana.’ I said that’s right, that’s tens of millions of dollars that won’t go into the coffers of drug dealers and organized crime in that state. They will be able to tax it and that money will be put back into public health and public education.”

Colorado, Washington state will report revenues

Colorado, which began commercially selling marijuana in January, had its first tax day on Feb. 20.  In initial predictions Colorado had estimated its earning from taxes would be around $40 million. Now, the state is placing the figure at closer to $100 million.

Many skeptics, including a few economists, say these numbers are too optimistic, and don’t take into account increased costs of enforcement and regulation. Law enforcement officers say the move will lead to increased cases of driving accidents caused by marijuana use, but how much is in dispute.

When revenue numbers do come in for Colorado, and for Washington state, which begins selling commercial marijuana in June, that information will impact the debate in states like Maryland considering legalizing the drug.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.11.43 AMFor many lawmakers, however, it will be human factors which lead them to decide whether or not to support the bills, not financial.

Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, is the lead sponsor of legalization in the House, HB880, along with 31 co-sponsors. The same bill which failed last year had only four co-sponsors.

“The reason I sponsored these bills is that there is an overwhelming number of African American males being arrested in the state of Maryland and being convicted and getting criminal records for simple possession of marijuana,” Anderson said. “You get a criminal record you can’t get a job, you can’t get into some schools, can’t get a loan, in some cases you can’t get into housing. That’s just unfair.”

March 02, 2014 at 6:44 pm

By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

Margaret@MarylandReporter.com

Original Story>

Maryland’s Obamacare Fiasco Continues, By Barry Rascovar

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 9.50.19 AM

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 9.39.30 AMHow high will it go? How much more will it cost the O’Malley-Brown administration to fix or totally replace the dysfunctional online health insurance system that it bragged about until the software crashed on Day One?

It already is the most costly debacle in state history.

None of the state’s options are appetizing.  Meanwhile, problems keep mounting, the latest being $30 million in extra taxpayer expenses due to the Internet computer software’s inability to identify recipients no longer eligible for free Medicaid insurance.

Just fixing this deeply flawed software will cost untold tens of millions of dollars. Moving to a new, proven system used in another state could send new spending into the stratosphere. Converting to the federal system has heavy costs as well as severe limitations and the potential for more breakdowns.

Frantic scramble            

“It seems like we’re shooting in the dark,” said an exasperated Del. Addie Eckardt, an Eastern Shore Republican at a hearing last week. She’s right.

State officials have been frantically scrambling ever since the administration’s highly touted online system froze and refused to work as promised on Oct. 1.

Officials are still grasping for straws, hoping the new prime contractor can make lemonade out of this lemon of an IT jalopy.

As for the next step once insurance enrollment closes on March 31, it’s another shot in the dark. Whatever the choice, it will be very expensive.

But will it work? There’s no guarantee that it will.

What a mess.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 9.40.01 AMLooming loss of federal funds

Complicating matters is the looming end of federal largesse. Come 2015, the state is supposed to foot the entire bill for its health insurance exchange.

Maryland has expended $182 million in federal funds with little to show for it.  How much the state will be on the hook after Jan. 1 is another unknown, but we do know it will no longer by Martin O’Malley’s problem.

What a distasteful present he’s leaving on his successor’s desk.

It’s baffling that no one running the administration is insisting on an immediate and thorough investigation of this historic screw-up. This won’t be viewed favorably by future historians.

Not only is accountability lacking but the O’Malley-Brown administration is running away from this question as fast as it can.

Where’s Anthony Brown?

Note that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the widely promoted point man on healthcare reform, continues to be missing in action. Yet he owes the Maryland public a full and frank explanation of his central role in this debacle.

How this affects Brown’s candidacy for governor remains of pivotal importance.

Does his “deer caught in headlights” performance disqualify him from serious consideration?

Is this the type of evasiveness on vital issues we can expect from him if he’s elected governor?

Do we want a governor who takes cover when controversies rage and lets underlings take the heat for him?

As Desi Arnaz famously said to Lucy, Brown has got “some ‘splainin’ to do.”

More sinkholes ahead?

Meanwhile, legislative committees continue to treat this disgraceful public embarrassment with kid gloves. History will not look kindly on their performance, either.

Digging out of this enormous sinkhole hasn’t been easy. The road ahead looks susceptible to similar perils.

What’s lacking is responsible, accountable leadership. That could become a dominant bone of contention as the June 24 primary approaches.

Read other columns by Barry Rascovar at www.politicalmaryland.com