Monday, April 9, 2012

Down to the Wire

(Annapolis) – For most of this Maryland Legislative session it’s been about the budget and on Sine Die night, it’s still about the budget. The state has a structural shortfall. To remedy this various gimmicks, and revenue enhancements (i.e. taxes) were floated. The Governor who gets the first say, offered up a number of ideas. He couched his position around the idea we “must maintain” the states number one school rating. Also he used this to expand the idea around green energy (windmills off Ocean City) and clean up of the bay (Septic Fee).

Those issues played out this legislative session, but the bigger win came in the same sex marriage debate. The bill failed last year and was sent back to the committee. Like last year, it was the House debate which was riveting and telling. The opposition coalition included Republicans, Conservative Democrats, and some church going Black Democrats in population centers. They were central to opposition. It was clear once again a lot emotion ran through this debate. Defenders tried to couch this as a “civil rights issue.” The bill turned on a pair of Delegates with embattled Delegate Tiffany Alston offering an amendment which allowed the measure not into effect until January 1, 2013. This will allow the measure to go to referendum. It will become one of the governor’s signature initiatives.

Budget Stalled

It was amazing to arrive today without a budget. Usually, the budget has been passed by both houses and its pretty much a foregone conclusion. There have been so many moving parts it been dizzying. It started with neither house wanting to give an inch. Speaker Michael Busch suggested the house was right to hold out for 95 percent of what they wanted. According to the Speaker, “we need them to come the other 5 percent. By 9:30 pm a Budget Bill was crafted the Senate did it’s work, the House finished its work at 10:00 pm.

This must pass legislations has had its critics. The governor suggested a gas tax initially to pay for road construction and while many wanted it, it was going nowhere fast. The governor lost several other initiatives including a wind turbine bill, and septic tank increase.

Expansion of Gaming

At the time of the time this writing the bill finally made it out of the House Ways and Means committee. It looks nothing like the bill the Senate sent over. The sub-committee dealing with the issue was headed by Delegate Frank Turner. The bill by Sen. Douglass J.J. Peters was revised. It now has provisions which would send the creation of a six slot location to the voters of Prince Georges County. If they approve the measure a location would be created with a 10 mile radius of the Wilson Bridge (think the National Harbor facility).

Also to allow those facilities which have been awarded a license to operate the committee go approval for the National Harbor facility not to come online until 2017. A number of the casino’s want to add table games. There will be a statewide referendum on this issue. Lots of opponents and some want the deal sweetened, especially in Baltimore.

The Year of Referendums

This being a Presidential election would mean there would be intense interest in the election. Adding to this interest will be a number of referendums. We know of five, The Dream Act, Same Sex Marriage, Redistricting, and the Expansion of Gaming.

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