First Click -- Maryland
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Wednesday, March 3, 2010:
Alcohol tax campaign showing increasing sophistication
This election year, Democratic leaders in the General Assembly would like to keep all of the state's budget fixes on one side of the balance sheet. "This is going to be the year for more cuts and not taxes," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said in January. He and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) stress that it's especially not the year to raise taxes that could drive away jobs or leave voters lamenting the legislature every time they drink a beer between now and Election Day.
Not everyone under the big tent of Maryland's Democratic majority agrees. Last week, Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George's) and Del. Justin Ross (D-Prince George's) held a news conference to tout their bills to raise more than a $100 million annually by closing a loophole that would require the state's largest corporations to calculate what they make within Maryland and pay state taxes on those earnings.
And Wednesday, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) is expected to ratchet up pressure on state lawmakers to approve a new 10-cent per-drink tax on alcohol. Montgomery Del. William A. Bronrott and Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. say their measure could raise more than $200 million annually for the developmentally disabled, programs for the drug and alcohol dependent and the state's general fund -- all of which have seen revenue shrink since the start of the recession.
Leggett is scheduled to attend a rally for the tax today in Annapolis, where he will arguably become the most high-profile backer to date of the legislation. Leggett's appearance in an election year hints at the rare level of coordination in Annapolis behind the effort to pass the tax.
Last fall, health-care advocates began contacting reporters in the State House to drum up stories about the potential benefits of the tax -- as well as to point out that Maryland's tax on hard alcohol hasn't been increased since 1955 and that levies on beer and wine have remained unchanged since 1972.
In December and January, there were rallies and news conferences made for television announcing the legislation. Then the polling began. Leggett's appearance comes a day after the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence released a poll it said showed four out five Marylanders would support a new tax on alcohol if the fee was going to the groups the advocates have said. Leggett cited such strong support for the measure in a letter Tuesday to the chairs of the state's budget committees.
Whether Miller, Busch -- and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) -- believe the numbers and would back an alcohol tax remains to be seen. They have not done so in better economic times when there was no election looming.
On Tuesday, the prospects they would support the so-called "combined reporting" bill backed by Ross and Pinsky also decreased. A report by David F. Roose, director of the state's bureau of revenue estimates, showed that the manufacturing sector would take a bigger than previously expected hit if large corporations were required to pay Maryland tax on in-state earnings. The state's largest manufacturer? Northrop Grumman, the Fortune 100 company that Maryland, Virginia and the District are all desperately trying to lure from California.
News You Should Know
Prosecutors urge toughening of state's gangs law
"Prosecutors and police officers from across the state pleaded with legislators Tuesday for tougher anti-gang laws, saying they want to define who is a 'gang member' and broaden the number of crimes that trigger longer prison sentences," writes The Baltimore Sun's Julie Bykowicz. "Law enforcement groups told the House Judiciary Committee that the Maryland Gang Prevention Act, enacted two years ago to stiffen penalties for gang members, isn't working because it fails to define 'gang member,' doesn't include enough gang-related crimes and carries no mandatory prison time. While it was used as leverage in one guilty plea in Prince George's County, no one has been successfully prosecuted under the act."
O'Malley calls for better training for 'middle-skill' jobs
"Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley called Tuesday for more training efforts to prepare the workforce to meet an expected surge in jobs requiring certification beyond a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree," writes The Post's V. Dion Hayes. "The state's unemployment rate has risen steadily throughout the recession, with the most significant losses having occurred in manufacturing and construction. But a study released Tuesday said that by 2016, the state will gain 434,000 so-called middle-skill jobs -- including police officers, firefighters, computer specialists and nurses. Only 37 percent of the state's workforce has the credentials to fill those jobs, however."
Swaim-Staley wins delayed Senate approval
"The Maryland Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved Beverley Swaim-Staley as Gov. Martin O'Malley's transportation secretary, after having twice delayed votes on her confirmation," writes The Post's John Wagner. "Swaim-Staley was appointed by O'Malley (D) in September and had been serving in an acting capacity pending Senate confirmation. The first woman to lead the department, she succeeded John D. Porcari, who joined President Obama's administration as deputy transportation secretary."
Davis: House will take Senate unemployment compromise
"Del. Dereck E. Davis, the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, said Tuesday he will move the Senate's version of the compromise legislation on Gov. Martin O'Malley's unemployment benefit expansion," Nick Sohr of The Daily Record writes in his Eye on Annapolis blog. The Associated Press reported Tuesday afternoon that the Senate Finance Committee voted "to approve the measure for consideration by the full Senate."
PSC to hold hearings on snowstorm performance of utilities
"The state Public Service Commission plans to hold a hearing March 23 on the performance of Pepco and other utilities in the recent snowstorms," writes Douglas Tallman and Margie Hyslop in The Gazette. "Word of the hearing follows a Feb. 18 letter from Del. Kumar P. Barve to PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian seeking an investigation into electric power outages that plagued Montgomery County during the two snowstorms ... 'The situation that Montgomery County residents faced was not acceptable and was certainly a threat to public health and public safety,' wrote Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg."
"In committee hearing that GANG MEMBERS are victims of society. They are not really criminals. This makes my head hurt. WHAT ABOUT THE VICTIMS KILLED AND BLEEDING IN THE STREETS? Your comments?"
--Del. Don Dwyer Jr. (R) posting a Facebook status update Tuesday during the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on proposed changes to the way gang crimes are prosecuted.
"I know you will be shocked but the Attorney General issued yet another unbelievable opinion. This one says that he cannot be removed from office by inpeachment. You got it. He doesn't want to be impeached so he simply issues an opinion that say's he can't be. Brilliant, simply brilliant."
-- Dwyer, who is trying to impeach Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), in another Facebook posting later Tuesday responding to an opinion from the Attorney General's Office saying Gansler would need to be removed by the courts, not the legislature
"This means session will be over sooner."
--Warren Deschenaux, chief fiscal analyst for the state's Department of Legislative Services responding on Facebook to Patrick Murray, deputy chief of staff to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who posted a link to a Yahoo News story that scientists think the earthquake that struck Chile may have changed the earth's rotation and shortened the length of days.
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Aaron C. Davis
March 3, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner
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