Zipcars hit Baltimore streets

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake usually travels in modern elected official style — in the back seat of a black SUV with tinted windows, driven by a law enforcement officer of some kind.

But on Tuesday, the mayor hopped into a Mini Cooper convertible and valeted it from the cobblestones in front of City Hall to a parking space just a few hundred feet away.

The occasion? The launch of the city’s Zipcar network, which I wrote about in today’s paper. The Mini is one of 20 Zipcars that will be parked around downtown Baltimore, waiting for Zipcar members — they call themselves “Zipsters” — to rent them by the hour or day.

City officials and Zipcar executives say car sharing will cut down on traffic and alleviate parking hassles by making it easier for residents and workers in the city to get by without owning a car.

“Many see the problem as there are too few parking spaces,” said Mark Norman, president and COO of Zipcar. “We see it as there are just too many cars.”

Baltimore’s network includes 18 cars on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, and 20 around the Inner Harbor and downtown. Two more will be added to Federal Hill.

There could be up to 70 cars in Baltimore in the next year. And the company has agreed to put at least four cars in neighborhoods with low car ownership within the next 18 months. The locations are available here, on the Zipcar site.

“This service will free many residents from the burden of car ownership and free them from the costs of owning a vehicle,” Rawlings-Blake said.

The company estimates one shared car can replace 15 to 20 individually owned cars.

Each Zipcar has its own name, so members can keep track of a favorite vehicle. Some here have distinctly Balitmorean names, like “Charm City,” “Crab Cake” and  “Edgar Allen,” a Ford Escape in Harbor East.

Characters from The Wire, the HBO series, appear to be the inspiration for at least two of the 20 downtown Zipcars. “Stringer” is a red Volvo S40 at Penn Station, and “McNulty” is based on Charles Street. I’m having a hard time picturing the brash city detective in the fire engine red Mini Cooper that bears his name.

Usual suspects spending, earning lobbying dollars

The lobbyist scoreboard is up and the top earners and spenders in Annapolis in 2010 look very similar to those of 2009. Well, at least the names are the same. The dollar figures attached to them are much, much lower.

Here’s our story on the biggest earners and some of the big spenders. And I’ll post the full lists of lobbyists with more than $50,000 in earnings and corporations and organizations that spent more than $50,000 after the jump. The data comes from the State Ethics Commission.

Some other tidbits that didn’t make it into the story:

The health care industry and energy companies once again were strongly represented on the big spenders list. Given the size of the industries and the companies involved, and the issues at play in the General Assembly in recent years, that’s not surprising.

The Maryland Hospital Association ($327,000), MedChi ($285,000) and CareFirst ($238,000) were among the top 10 biggest spenders. So were Pepco ($324,000) and Constellation ($259,000).

There were a handful of bills in the past session that dealt with the relationship between doctors and insurers, but the big one was the Medicaid False Claims Act. The new law protects whistle blowers who reveal fraudulent claims and increases the penalties for the entities that file them. The state estimates $300 million in false claims are filed every year, and it catches less than 10 percent of those.

Energy companies monitored bills that strove to make electricity rates more transparent and likely had visions of the re-regulation battle waged in 2009 fresh in their heads. Constellation was the top spender last year with $681,000 paid to lobbyists.

More general business interests also had a busy year, grinding out a hard-fought compromise on unemployment insurance, successfully watering down shift-break requirements for retailers, upping tax credits for hiring unemployed workers and striking a deal on optional mediation during mortgage foreclosures.

The Maryland Bankers Association ($254,000) was 7th on the list, Maryland Association of Realtors ($238,000) placed 9th and, Maryland Chamber of Commerce ($189,000) was 16th and the Maryland Retailers Association ($188,000) placed 18th.

The list of top earners also shows some former legislators with lucrative careers following their time in the State House. American Joe Miedusiewski, who split nearly 20 years between the House and Senate and later ran for governor, pulled in $383,000 in 2010, good enough for 15th on the list. Barbara A. Hoffman, who spent eight years leading the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, earned $234,000. And former Speaker of the House Cas Taylor pulled in $191,000.

Continue reading

Franchot seeks TV time for good behavior

Every two weeks, the governor, comptroller and treasurer gather for normally stodgy Board of Public works meetings to approve the acquisition of conservation land, construction contracts, lawsuit settlements and payments to private snow plowers.

They usually single out a handful of items to question, to criticize, or to use as illustration for a point they’re trying to make. In these cases, it is most often Comptroller Peter Franchot leading the charge, haranguing bureaucrats and cabinet secretaries for overspending and under-analyzing.

On Wednesday, part of the way into the first half of the soccer match in which the U.S. was playing for its World Cup life against Algeria, he offered to change all that.

“Actually, governor,” he said during his opening remarks, gesturing toward the television in front of the board, “if I could get the game on that screen, I’d be very quiet for the whole meeting.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who chairs the board and presumably controls the remote, left the board’s agenda up on the screen. And Franchot kept up his side of the bargain, lambasting once again state gaming officials who sought approval to spend $16 million on slot machines. (The board eventually approved the deal, voting 2-1.)

Franchot did, however, provide occasional score updates from the match, delivering the news of the nil-nil halftime tie (which would have eliminated the U.S. from the tournament) and the 1-0 final result after a goal in stoppage time. The comptroller said a family member was text messaging him with the updates.

Wednesday also marked the test run of the streaming video of Board of Public Works that, starting on July 7, will show its meeting live online.

“My question for you people right now is, why aren’t you watching the U.S. soccer team,” Franchot asked Web viewers at the beginning of the meeting.

At least a few reporters were wondering the same thing.

One other note: Now that it’s election season (OK, World Cup season, and then election season) we’re going to get things rolling here at Eye on Annapolis once again. Activity dropped off here after lawmakers wrapped up their session in April, but I’ll be back blogging with a mix of Maryland politics and policy in the run up to November, and with occasional transportation and other interesting tidbits sprinkled in along the way.

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered, questions you have or even complaints, my e-mail is Feel free to drop me a line anytime.