Archive for February, 2009

O’Malley Unveils Stimulus Web Site

Friday, February 27th, 2009

ANNAPOLIS – The passage of the federal stimulus package not only negated the need for Gov. Martin O’Malley to cut 700 state jobs and allowed him to restore proposed education cuts, it gave him a chance to show off a new toy.

O’Malley unveiled a state Web site Friday designed to track the $3.8 billion expected to flow into Maryland from the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Web site is modeled after the national initiative.

The governor spent 30 minutes explaining the site, which was projected on the wall behind him. O’Malley left no question as to his favorite part.

“I’m very proud of this map,” O’Malley said as an aide clicked on various counties on the interactive map feature, prompting graphics to appear highlighting the estimated number of jobs created or saved in each locality.

“Pretty cool, huh?” O’Malley asked.

Leaving the podium several times to point to figures on the screen, O’Malley touted the state’s commitment to being “open, transparent and accountable to the public.”

“Every resurfaced road, every repaired bridge, every local school system that will benefit from the Recovery and Reinvestment funds will be tracked on an interactive map,” he said.

Data-driven assessment has long been a valued tool in O’Malley’s toolbox. As mayor of Baltimore, he launched “CitiStat” using data analysis to more efficiently manage the city’s resources.

As governor, he has developed StateStat and BayStat to review state government functioning and the Chesapeake Bay restoration progress, respectively.

O’Malley showed he appreciates more than just numbers and graphs, though.

“That’s my charming, beautiful television face,” O’Malley joked, referring to his image on the site’s front page.

But O’Malley couldn’t resist going back to the map when discussing the complexity of tracking the massive and complex stimulus expenditures.

“It all relates to the map,” O’Malley said. “The map is what allows us to make sense of all of this and be able to track it.”

A few minutes later a reporter asked him whether the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas will receive a disproportionate amount of money and how he will ensure statewide equity.

“That’s why the map is so important,” O’Malley responded.

As his presentation was winding down and before reporters could ask him about an upcoming Senate committee vote on the proposed death penalty repeal, O’Malley slowed down and looked toward his aides.

“Anything else on here that I’m not aware of?” O’Malley asked. “Any other neat tricks?”

–By Capital News Service’s Dylan Waugh

Advocates Converge in Annapolis for Developmental Disabilities Day

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

ANNAPOLIS – With a husband deployed in Afghanistan, Mountain Knotter needs help from the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration to care for her two autistic children, but she’s been told to wait six more years.


Knotter is one of 18,750 individuals who has requested services from the administration but has been forced to wait for years because the state does not have enough money, said agency representatives.


Charged by the desire to fix the funding shortage, hundreds of people, including Knotter, converged on Annapolis Wednesday for Developmental Disabilities Day to support legislation to increase the state tax on alcohol by 5 cents.


The tax would generate about $80 million annually, with $29 million of that to be used exclusively to fund the agency’s services. Another portion would be diverted into the state’s general fund.


Advocates also came to the capital to back legislation that would remove the word “retarded” from state codes and laws and replace it with “intellectual disability.” The bill passed unanimously in the House Feb. 20.


Abolishing the use of a hurtful word may be easier than raising the alcohol tax in a tough economy.


Delegate Bill Bronrott, D- Montgomery, a sponsor of the bill, did not appear swayed by the challenging fiscal outlook.


“I am with you with respect to the resources that are needed to address this outrageous waiting list,” he said in his address to the audience gathered in the Miller Senate Building.


When the meeting ended, the crowd led a charge across the street to the legislative offices, armed with signs, photos and personal stories of strife. Knotter made her first plea to a legislative aide in the office of Senator Norman Stone, Jr., D-Baltimore County.


“My son is the main issue because he requires 24-7, one-on-one care,” she said, before handing the aide a small tin with a plastic nickel inside to represent the alcohol tax that could get her the services she needs.


Knotter spent $15,000 last year to make changes to her home that would accommodate her son, Noah Knotter, during his frequently violent outbursts, including building fences and a padded room.


Now, she says she has no money left to hire the help she needs to care for her son or her daughter, who is also autistic and “has to stay in her room all the time” to shield her from her brother’s tantrums.


“The situation actually became so desperate that a couple of months ago I took my little 8-year-old boy to a residential facility — it’s a group home for autistic boys.” Knotter said.


She said things would improve if she could get two hours of help per day.


“I’d really like to bring him home, but I can’t do that unless things are different than they were before,” she said.


By Capital News Service’s Erika Woodward

O’Malley, Religious Leaders Rally Against Death Penalty

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

ANNAPOLIS – During a rally held near the State House Wednesday, Gov. Martin O’Malley called for the end of “state-sponsored death” in Maryland this year, and said he had already convinced several senators who had been on the fence about the issue.


“I believe there will be 24 votes to resolve it consistently with our most important principles as a people,” said O’Malley, flanked by religious leaders.


Although identical legislation stalled in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee two years ago, and the committee’s membership has not changed, O’Malley was optimistic the bill would reach the Senate floor. He said it could happen with either an affirmative recommendation from the committee — or without a recommendation at all.


O’Malley said he felt that even the senators who wanted to keep the death penalty would like to see the issue resolved this year, calling that “a shift that has happened over the course of these last two years.”


A recent survey by The Baltimore Sun showed that 19 senators intended to vote for the bill, while 24 did not. Four senators declined to answer, including Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, who some consider a possible swing vote on the committee.


When asked if he could get the 29 votes needed to prevent a filibuster, O’Malley said, “I believe we can.”


As for how confident he was, O’Malley shared what the Most Rev. Dennis Madden, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, had just whispered in his ear: “Faith before reason.”


O’Malley thanked the religious leaders for their participation and their help in lobbying legislators one-on-one, saying, “You know who the senators are who haven’t made up their mind yet.”


By Capital News Service’s Michael Frost

Slots Developer Sees Happy Returns

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

ANNAPOLIS – The developer who wants to put slots at Arundel Mills Mall has a rosier outlook than most when it comes to the state’s revenue generating prospects from the controversial machines.

“The revenue that the state hoped to receive is going to be exceeded,” said David Cordish on WYPR’s “Midday with Dan Rodricks” radio show Thursday.

His company, Cordish Cos., intends to build a massive entertainment and gambling facility next to the shopping mall off of Route 100 in Anne Arundel County.

The state received only four complete bids for fewer than half of the 15,000 machines allowed under a referendum Maryland voters passed in November. Even if all 6,550 machines are approved, the state stands to lose about half of the $600 million it promised slots would generate for education.

It might take an extra year for the state to reach its revenue estimates, but it will happen, Cordish said.

Cordish expects other developers, all of whom have submitted bids for fewer than the maximum number allowed for each site, to increase their requests over time.

Cordish has already requested the maximum number of slots for the Anne Arundel County license, 4,750. A state commission isn’t expected to decide on any of the proposals for several months.

One way Cordish doesn’t want to increase slots earnings — putting machines 15 minutes away from Arundel Mills, at BWI-Marshall Airport.

“It would clearly be inappropriate at the airport,” Cordish said. “It would not be a good idea.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, said Tuesday that putting slot machines at Maryland’s biggest airport would be a great way to capture out-of-state money and wouldn’t interfere with the Arundel Mills proposal. Delegate Eric Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, has introduced a bill to put slots at the airport, but it’s not expected to pass the House.

Cordish also said his gambling facility will benefit the surrounding neighborhood by increasing the level of security and adding additional free parking spaces which could be used by mall shoppers.

And despite the state throwing out a bid to put slots at Laurel Park race track for failing to include the licensing fee, Cordish believes his facility will help Maryland’s racing industry more than the Laurel Park bid could have.

“We will do more for racing by having it at Arundel Mills than if we are actually connected to a race track,” he said. “We will maximize revenues for the state.”

Of the slots proceeds, 9.5 percent is designated for horse racing interests.

By Capital News Service’s Dylan Waugh.

Cardin Claims Two Subcommittee Leadership Spots

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., was named to two Senate leadership posts in organizational meetings this week. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife.“Since joining the Judiciary Committee two years ago, Senator Cardin has been one of our most active members,” said Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., according to a statement.

Cardin was appointed chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission in January and has been active in issues relating to national security and foreign relations since joining the Senate in 2007 and during his 20 years prior as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Our top priority in Congress is to protect the American people. We must make sure that our law enforcement and intelligence professionals have the tools they need at their disposal to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks,” Cardin said, while also indicating that this priority must be balanced against protecting civil liberties.

Cardin plans to lead the committee toward renewing parts of the Patriot Act that are set to expire and in reviewing the White House policy toward detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, also praised Cardin's leadership.

"I am so pleased to name one of the Chesapeake Bay's strongest champions," to the chairmanship  of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, she said. Cardin "has always been a leader in ensuring our drinking water is safe, restoring the health of America's waters and protecting our wildlife and their habitats."

-By Capital News Service's Maren Wright

O’Malley Holds Town Hall on Education

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

ANNAPOLIS – They came to Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School Wednesday to ask him the tough questions, but before they could confront the guest of honor, they had to file past career fair-style booths, listen to live jazz and do him a favor.

“Turn to your neighbor and tell them we have the best public school system in America,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said, before taking questions from the audience. “Turn to your other neighbor and tell them we have the best public school system in the United States of America.”

That was nearly an hour into the show.

Hundreds of people filed into the school auditorium for the 6:30 p.m. kickoff of O’Malley’s Town Hall on Education and the Economy in Upper Marlboro, the second stop on his tour that will travel across the state.

As the audience strolled in sporting suits and designer bags, the Henry A. Wise Jazz ensemble, seated in front of a large projection screen decorated with the state seal and the name of the event, played popular tunes on stage.

Kim Seidel, principal of Greenbelt Elementary School, bypassed the sign-up sheet near the entrance where people registered to ask the governor a question because she was there to listen to what the governor had to say.

But in the nearly 45 minutes before he took the floor, she was there for the jazz.

“I think it’s great,” Seidel said of the ensemble. “It’s an opportunity for the kids to have a large audience to perform for.”

The entertainment didn’t stop there.

After the color guard led a processional down the aisle and a student saxophonist played the “Star Spangled Banner” and the Teacher of the Year was introduced and the student crew who was responsible for the lighting and sound were thanked, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown took the floor.

It was 7:04p.m.

He introduced the “O’Malley-Brown team” — heads of state departments from education to transportation to health and mental hygiene. They were seated at a long, banquet-style table in front of the jazz ensemble.

Brown then thanked the crowd for the academic gains made by the students of Prince George’s County schools, and he thanked the administration for its efforts to improve public safety.

“But I don’t want to steal the show. I want you to help me bring to the podium my friend, our governor, Martin O’Malley,” he said, as the crowd applauded.

“I have been in Washington, D.C., all day and I can’t tell you how good it feels to come to gorgeous Prince George’s County,” O’Malley said, also to a round of applause.

Before taking questions, O’Malley rallied the audience with a call for action.

“In the course of this week, I want you to tell five people — at work, at home , at church, at the barbershop or beauty parlor — tell five people that Education Week Magazine named Maryland as having the best public school system in the United States of America,” he said, again to a round of applause.

O’Malley took the first question at 7:28p.m.

-By Capital News Service’s Erika Woodward

Has the Recession Hit Home?

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

How is the recession affecting you personally?

And what should our lawmakers be doing to try to alleviate the crisis?

Share your stories, as these seniors did.

Legislators Skeptical Of Health Insurance Proposal

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

ANNAPOLIS – Lawmakers in the House Health and Government Operations committee appeared skeptical Wednesday of a bill that would increase the percentage of premium money that insurance companies must spend on health care.

Maryland Insurance Administration Commissioner Ralph Tyler tried to convince the committee that by raising the minimum ratio, which currently sits at 60 percent for individual policies and 75 percent for small group policies, the insurance administration could protect consumers from premium rate increases and force insurance companies to be more efficient.

But Delegate Robert Costa, R-Anne Arundel, argued the actions could do the opposite, forcing insurance companies to increase their rates to maintain a profit, or leave the market. He suggested a more gradual increase of loss ratios.

“My concern comes from the fact that we have smaller [insurance companies] already here,” Costa said. “Would it be better to make sure we’re not squeezing all of the juice out of the orange, and instead of having the good sweet orange juice we’re just going to have tomato juice.”

The skepticism about the bill’s effectiveness was bipartisan. Delegate Eric Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, said he feared insurance companies would leave if the medical loss ratios became unprofitable.

“Not that I think we’re in a perfect situation, it’s that I’m afraid of losing what we have,” Bromwell said.

The bill faces fierce opposition from the health insurance companies. Debbie Rivkin, a lobbyist representing the League of Life and Health Insurers and America’s Health Insurance Plans — two insurance trade groups — said that CIGNA is considering returning to Maryland markets, but not if this bill passes.

“The fact that they’re considering to come back in the individual and small group markets is something we should be applauding,” Rifkin said, “And not passing laws that have the potential to stop them from coming into the state.”

- By Capital News Service’s Erich Wagner

Red Scarf Day in Annapolis

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

ANNAPOLIS - Several Republican lawmakers showed up to work Tuesday sporting red scarves, joining members of the Maryland Federation of Republican Women for the group's annual "Red Scarf" Legislation Day.

Members of the women's group, also wearing red scarves, attended House and Senate sessions and planned a brunch with their Republican legislators. The group also planned to testify at bill hearings later Tuesday.

The "Red Scarf" name stems from the scarves the group's members wear to stand out at session and legislative hearings. The group started the annual event four years ago.

Delegate Jeannie Haddaway, R-Talbot, wore a scarf and acknowledged the importance of Republican women's clubs.

"I have been involved in Republican women's clubs for a long time," she said. "I certainly know how hard the Republican women work and what a great contribution they make to our political process."

-By Capital News Service's Dylan Waugh

Comptroller Takes High Road on Slots

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

ANNAPOLIS – Two days after the state revealed it received only six bids — two without payments — to construct slot parlors in Maryland, one of slots’ strongest critics during last year’s referendum is calling for teamwork with slots supporters.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot, who once called slots a “fiscal fairytale,” said Wednesday it’s time for state leaders to work toward unity despite past differences over the divisive issue.

“Whether slots performs well or not is frankly irrelevant. The fiscal crisis is so big that we’re all going to have to work together,” Franchot told reporters. “I’m linking up with Gov. (Martin) O’Malley, the Senate president and the speaker to really have a team effort.”

O’Malley strongly supported slots during last November’s statewide referendum.  Franchot campaigned against the measure, which was passed, but said he’s ready to work with the governor.

“We had an adversarial relationship on slots,” Franchot said. “I’ve tried to turn the page on that.”

Franchot cited his transfer of $380 million from a local income tax reserve fund to help offset the state’s budget woes as an example of his willingness to work together.

“In normal years,” he said, “I would have said, ‘no, don’t use that.’”

-By Capital News Service’s Dylan Waugh