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First Click, Maryland -- O'Malley's March

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Friday, March 26, 2010:

The Agenda

Aaron.jpgGov. Martin O'Malley (D) is fond of an analogy that the ship of state -- or "USS Maryland," as he likes to say -- is much like a steady ocean-going vessel navigating rough economic waters.

It may not be big enough to affect Maryland's economic trajectory, but it became clear on Thursday that the governor's legislative agenda is now sailing smoothly through the General Assembly this election year.

Bill-Sign.jpgThe year's first two bills that O'Malley signed into law were drafted by his administration, and among the top priorities he laid out last month in his State of the State address.

His proposal to set aside $20 million to create a tax credit for employers to hire and a plan to provide employers some relief from rising unemployment insurance costs are now law.

O'Malley's jobs bill was changed from a $3,000 credit per-new-employee-hired to a $5,000 one, meaning the state's pot of money would go a shorter distance and help hire about a third fewer employees, but O'Malley didn't seem to mind following a congratulatory bill signing.

"It won't create as many jobs, but the ones it does create, it will create them, I think, a lot sooner because of the additional credit," O'Malley told reporters, adding that he's still hopeful a federal jobs tax credit working its way through Congress could have a multiplier effect to promote hiring.

Middleton mug.jpgO'Malley also scored a victory -- with thanks to Senate Finance Chairman Thomas "Mac" Middleton (D-Charles) -- on tweaks to the state's unemployment insurance fund. So-called "UI" costs are going up 300 percent for Maryland employers this year under a trigger in a state formula designed to return the fund to the black following big losses from rising jobless claims.

Negotiations between business and labor broke down multiple times, and at one point it appeared the fixes might become a pawn in election-year politics, but Middleton successfully brought a scaled-down bill over the finish line. It will give employers more flexibility in paying the insurance costs, and will harness $127 million in federal stimulus funds that O'Malley wanted to secure in anticipation of a federal law change that will ramp up annual costs to employers by making it easier for the unemployed to prove they qualify for the benefit.

At the bill signing, Senate President Thomas Mike V. Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said O'Malley's remaining priorities -- which include a package of bills to tighten restrictions on sex offenders, mandatory mediation before home foreclosures, another tax credit for rehabilitating historic buildings, and a bill to make it easier for the state to go after those perpetrating Medicaid fraud -- were "in good shape" heading into the final two weeks of the session.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Anthony Brown.jpgLifetime supervision, the centerpiece of O'Malley's sex offender plan, plus a handful of related pieces of legislation have passed the House and appear to be heading toward approval in the Senate, with some changes. The House could take up the home foreclosure bill on Friday, though the Senate hasn't yet acted on it. Earlier this week, the Senate did pass the Maryland False Claims Act, the Medicaid fraud measure Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) has been spearheading, and the House is expected to take up the bill before a Monday deadline.

It's unlikely that all of O'Malley's economic measures combined can put a dent in Maryland's 7.5 percent unemployment rate, and he will likely continue to face some questions about whether his administration has done enough to keep sex offenders under wraps.

But in an election year, O'Malley appears to have secured a few more bullet-point accomplishments to tick off on the campaign trail.

-- Aaron C. Davis

News You Should Know

Critics question impact of tenure reform proposal
Alonso.jpg"Some education leaders and advocates say they are concerned a proposal that would change the tenure law for teachers in Maryland might backfire and make it more difficult to get rid of ineffective teachers early in their careers," writes The Baltimore Sun's Liz Bowie. "Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso said this week that he is worried that a bill that was intended to make tenure more meaningful is actually making tenure meaningless. The proposal would extend from two years to three the time Maryland teachers must put in before receiving tenure and is part of a larger education reform act introduced by Gov. Martin O'Malley. The reform measures are intended to make Maryland more competitive as it applies for $250 million in federal funds called Race to the Top."

Democratic incumbents taking temperature of constituents
"With the threat of an anti-incumbent movement looming this fall, some state legislators are polling constituents on issues important to them," reports The Gazette's Alan Brody. "The Maryland House Democratic Committee is spending $165,000 in an ongoing mail campaign in 10 legislative districts that Republicans could target for takeover this fall. The targeted mailers includes a contact card and survey already sent to between 6,000 and 10,000 registered Democrats and independent constituents in each district, according to a Democratic official familiar with the effort. A town hall invitation and legislative wrap-up will be mailed in the coming weeks."

Slates complicate Prince George's candidate funding
"Voters intent on figuring out who is funding the campaign of a Prince George's County Council member had better clear their schedules," writes The Post's Jon Mummolo and Meg Smith. "Simply reviewing the donations to a member's personal campaign fund won't account for all the cash -- not even close. That's because most of the money that members have access to in this election year is being raised through slates: joint accounts shared by two or more candidates. Donations go into a common pot that slate members can draw on in unlimited amounts, and identifying the intended recipient of contributions is next to impossible."

Feds probing Montgomery tuition-assistance program
"A Montgomery County tuition-assistance program that allowed police and other law enforcement officials to purchase sharply discounted firearms for their own use has prompted a federal investigation, a senior county official said Thursday," write The Post's Michael Laris and Dan Morse. "There is 'now an ongoing criminal investigation related to this program,' said Timothy L. Firestine, Montgomery's chief administrative officer. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said federal authorities have shown interest in the gun transactions and how the firearms were valued."

Baltimore police chief warns of budget impact
"Baltimore could lose as many as 300 police officers, significantly more than initial projections, under Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's preliminary budget, the police commissioner said Thursday," writes The Sun's Julie Scharper. Chopping $16 million from the department would decimate it and destroy years of progress in reducing homicides and violent crimes, Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said. 'We estimate it would take 10 years for the city to recover from a blow like that,' Bealefeld said."

Unspun

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Barnes.JPGDel. Benjamin S. Barnes
"We can do it civilly"
An offbeat interview with a Maryland politician
Party Democrat
Age 34
Home College Park
Position Delegate representing District 21 in Prince George's County


Which television show would you never miss growing up?
There were probably three shows I would never miss, some by choice and some by force. My mother would never let me miss "60 Minutes" or "MacNeil/Lehrer." My personal tastes were more along the lines of "Diff'rent Strokes" and "Knight Rider."

Sonny.JPGWhat do your colleagues say about you behind your back?
I know some of them call me Sonny, the character from "The Godfather," because I feel so passionately, sometimes I can have a temper.


Check back with Maryland Politics at 10 a.m. for the complete interview by John Wagner, in which Barnes also discusses his musical tastes, what surprises him about Annapolis and the length of his hair in college.

-----

Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each weekday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And Look Ahead, Unspun, News Makers, and Week in Review keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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By Aaron C. Davis  |  March 26, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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Next: Unspun -- Del. Benjamin S. Barnes

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