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Outlook: Maryland General Assembly’s 90 Day 2014 Session

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The Maryland General Assembly reports to work today to start off a 90 day legislative session for 2014. Democratic leaders are hoping to raise the minimum wage, legalize marijuana, and spend more money on school construction and other projects. Republican leaders are hoping to cut taxes, including the highly controversial “Rain Tax”, and will also take major issue with Maryland’s fumbled Healthcare Exchange and website. Below are some expanded highlights of what we can expect in the upcoming session.

Minimum Wage
Currently the minimum wage in Maryland is $7.25. There have been some proposals to raise it over $10 per hour. Gov. Martin O’Malley, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller have all stated that they would like to make this a priority for this year. Despite Republican opposition this will be likely to pass, the question is will it effect the whole state, and how much will it go up.

Rain Tax
There are possible changes to the “Rain Tax” storm water management fees in this session. Republicans plan to bring this issue to light given angry backlash from in some parts of Maryland. Republicans will likely call for a full repeal. Most likely there will only be small tweaks to the law, and they will likely only help non-profits. Will the citizens in the most effected counties make this a big issue for the Democrats?

Fracking
There is already a sort of moratorium on “fracking” in Maryland, which is the process of using hydraulics to fracture the ground deep below the surface to mine for natural gas. Governor O’Malley already has ordered an environmental study of the relatively new technique. Pennsylvania and other nearby states are already working hard on fracking, but environmental groups are expected to try to get legislation passed barring fracking in this state.

Legalizing Pot
Senate President Miller is likely to support marijuana legislation to keep up with Colorado and Washington’s new legalization. Hopefully they will follow House Speaker Busch’s suggestion to wait and see how the new laws effect Colorado and Washington.

Early Education
From the campaign trail, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown has been pushing for pre-Kindergarten in Maryland. You can expect to see some legislation toward creating a pre-K program that may be voluntary and would be half day.

Other Issues
The Baltimore Sun is reporting that the Assembly may also debate increased school new construction and building a new jail in Baltimore to replace the current scandal plague detention center.

Several Maryland Taxes Go Up Today

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Today marks the first of several Gas Tax increases, each 1 % or about 3.5 cents per year. The tax increase starts today, with additional increases on 1/1/2015 and 7/1/2015. The current gasoline tax in Maryland is 23.5 cents, and supporters of the tax claim that the tax hasn’t been raised since 1992 and that the highways and bridges are crumbling. Additionally Brian Witte of the Cumberland Times is reporting that if “Federal legislation allowing the states to collect a sales tax on Internet sales does not pass, the sales tax is scheduled to rise another 1% in January 2016.

Tolls on Maryland bridges and tunnels are also set to increase today. Some of the toll increases are 50% increases over the current tolls. The Chesapeake Bay bridge is increasing for 2-axle vehicles from $4 to $6, and tolls on Routes 95 and 40 will increase from $6 to $8.

In other tax-increase news, 10 of the most populous counties in Maryland are required to have raised taxes to clean up the Chesapeake Bay today. Carroll County voted to not collect a new tax but will instead shoulder the burden by using existing revenue. Frederick County raised their taxes by 1 cent, while Anne Arundel County voted to tax most residents $85, while some residents may see a bill as high as $170. Howard County is debating lowering the tax increases that they already passed, but currently many single family homeowners will pay between $90-150.

Howard County Delays “Rain Tax” Implementation

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Ken Ulman’s hardship relief is itself a hardship

WBAL is reporting that Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will not start collecting the “Rain Tax” starting July 1 as had been scheduled. Citizens of Howard County had been outraged by the Howard County Council version of the mandatory fee increase (read: Tax) known officially as the Watershed Protection and Restoration Plan.

At last month’s County Council meeting, many residents showed up in opposition of the 4-1 Council’s support for the highest rain tax rate for the whole state. Some churches and other non-profits might have to pay up to $30,000 in taxes. Single family homeowners would have to pay anywhere from $100-200 for an average size house. Councilman Greg Fox reported that some homeowners were over $200, with some even as high as $1000.

The County Executive admitted that they expected some businesses and non-profits would experience hardships because of the Rain Tax that is supposed to start on July 1st, 2013. Ulman is now saying that they will look after those businesses and non-profits that will experience a hardship. But the hardship relief itself is a hardship. Imagine having to prove to a County bureaucrat that your business can’t afford to pay the new rain tax. Imagine having some county worker examine your books and then arbitrarily decide if you can afford the tax. Businesses should not have to beg the county to go easy on them!

Ken Ulman thinks that if he can charge residents a smaller fee of $15 to $90 a year (townhouses and single family houses respectively), that the average citizen will just rollover and take the new tax. He must believe that businesses can just take the new Rain Tax in stride. In some estimations, larger churches who have large parking lots and large roofs will be unfairly taxed to the tune of $10,000-30,000. So Ulman’s new solution is to limit the tax to 25% of their annual property tax bill which could still cost $1,000s. Ulman’s plan does not propose any cap to limit the highest amount of tax for any group, homeowner or business.

I have a solution to Ken Ulman’s hardship problem, give every business a lower Rain tax. How about $250 for religious organizations and non-profits, and $500 for-profit companies who revenue exceeds a certain dollar amount.

Ken Ulman has stated that the new bill will need to pass the County Council, and he is pushing to have it go into effect on December 1st. The county’s “Impervious Surface Calculator” has seemingly been removed from their website.

Two New Posts Coming Shortly

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Since I haven’t posted an update in a couple of days, I just wanted to send you a quick note. I am currently working on two stories for Turning Maryland. The first story is about the new petition from MDPetitions.com to overturn the Death Penalty Repeal. You can learn more and sign the petition now at http://mdpetitions.com/. The second story I am working on will take me a little longer, as I am working on getting several sources on the complex issue of Governor O’Malley’s “Rain Tax” and whether or not it will be effective.

Stay tuned!

2016 Elections

Primary - 4/5/2016
General - 11/8/2016

Races to Watch

U.S. Senate

Barbara Mikulski (D) is retiring.

Top (D) Candidates
Donna Edwards
Chris Van Hollen

All 8 House Seats are up for election.

Current Representatives
1st - Andy Harris (R)

2nd - Dutch Reppersberger (D)

3rd - John Sarbanes (D)
Top candidates Dr. Mark Plaster (R).

4th - Donna Edwards (D) - running for Senate
Top candidates Anthony Brown (D), Glenn Ivey (D), George McDermott (?)

5th - Steny Hoyer (D)

6th - John Delaney (D) - may run for Senate
Top (R) candidates David Vogt (R), Kathy Afzali (R), Neil Parrott (R), Mike McKay (R).

7th - Elijah Cummings (D) - may run for Senate
Top candidates Calvin Ball (D), Corrogan Vaughn (R).

8th - Chris Van Hollen (D) - running for Senate
Top (D) candidates Kumar Barve, Valerie Ervin, Kathleen Mattews, Jamie Raskin
Top (R) candidates Frank Howard - potential