Maryland committee presses for debt ceiling deal

Maryland lawmakers urged their federal counterparts Thursday to raise the country’s debt limit without hashing out a deal to reduce the long-term debt and deficit.

Del. Tom Hucker and Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, both Montgomery County Democrats and co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Federal Relations, pressed the state’s congressional delegation to “do the right thing for Maryland and vote to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions.”

A U.S. default on its debt and long-term cost cutting would both hurt Maryland more than most other states, fiscal analysts say. Moody’s Investor Service is reviewing the credit rating of Maryland and four other states heavily dependent on government spending. And the legislature’s top fiscal analyst, Warren Deschenaux, told senators on Tuesday they should increase the state’s cash cushion to ease painful federal spending retrenchment or default.

The statement from Hucker and Forehand warns the “political brinkmanship” threatens Marylanders and the “millions of dollars in critical federal support” for schools, roads, bridges, mass transit (Montgomery and the Baltimore region are both looking for big federal bucks for light rail lines) and the Chesapeake Bay.

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Pat McDonough considers U.S. House and Senate runs, too

Del. Pat McDonough, one of the most vocal Republican lawmakers in the Maryland General Assembly, announced Thursday morning his aspirations to higher office have expanded.

McDonough, of Baltimore and Harford counties, said he would seek the GOP nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin if a run in the 2nd Congressional District looks too challenging.

“Radio and television exposure over many years and support for issues such as opposition to illegal immigration have provided me with high name recognition and voter approval,” McDonough said in a press release. “Despite these advantages, that district still remains a challenge. Of course, the re-districting and the new district will not be revealed until October. At that time, if the 2nd Congressional District transforms from ‘uphill to impossible,’ my personal decision will become clear.”

McDonough has been most outspoken in Annapolis on the subject of illegal immigration, and he has been the leading opponent of legislation that would expand rights for undocumented workers and their families in Maryland. More recently, he has taken on the state’s proposed toll increases and even Kegasus, the 2011 Preakness mascot. That effort landed him in prime real estate in a New York Times story on the spokescentaur.

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Federal debt, deficit negotiations loom large in Maryland

Maryland’s top budgetary analyst told senators Tuesday the best defense against fiscal uncertainty at the federal level is to get the state’s own balance sheet in order.

Warren Deschenaux urged the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to address the state’s structural deficit — Gov. Martin O’Malley will face about a $1.1 billion deficit when crafting his fiscal 2013 budget this fall — and leave a larger pool of money to cushion the state’s finances.

“Fund balance is the key variable that is in the state’s hands exclusively,” he said. “The one manipulative variable is our budget and how we manage it.”

The analyst suggested expanding the state’s Rainy Day Fund to 7.5 percent of general fund revenues. Lawmakers now set 5 percent aside and expect $681 million to be there at the end of fiscal 2012.

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Major gaming company interested in Baltimore

Developer Patrick Turner is working with a mega resort and casino company to win the Baltimore gaming license and build a slots parlor south of M&T Bank Stadium.

Turner attended the state slots commission meeting Wednesday with Jim Seay, another partner in the venture. The pair declined to comment then, but Seay sent a statement later that night confirming the group’s interest in the license.

The full statement is as follows:

Our local development team, which includes MGM, was certainly working diligently towards the anticipated submittal date. Our team has invested significantly in the process in both time and expense. We respect the decision to extend the bid date and are hopeful that during the extension an effort is made to make the overall business model more attractive to the investment community.

MGM is one of the biggest names in Las Vegas, with the massive MGM Grand rising on the south end of the strip. Beyond that, the company  owns 14 other gaming properties, including big names like Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage.

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Ocean City beset by foreclosures

The road on the left is Coastal Highway, bordered by the hotels and condos that, in good times, are full of the beach-going vacationers that drive Ocean City’s economy. The sign shows that even as tourists trickle back to Maryland’s beach town, Ocean City still has a long way to go to recovery.

This picture was taken outside the Long & Foster office at the corner of 118th Street and Coastal Highway after a drive through town last week. The south end of the main drag was full of “Vacancy” signs on the hotels closer to the Route 50 bridge. It was a weekday, of course, but the week of July 4 is primo vacation time.

Agents inside the office were good to the sign’s word, handing out packets with a dozen foreclosure listings. There’s a two bedroom, two-bath condo two blocks from the beach listed at $92,000. Two bedrooms, two baths and your own dock will run you $265,000. That one is two blocks from the beach, too, and a little larger and a little newer.

If you want waterfront, try two bedrooms and two baths in a bay-front condo for $309,900.

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Maryland highway contractor questions SHA audit

An engineering executive said Wednesday his firm saw no problem with a State Highway Administration bidding process that yielded his firm a $16 million contract in 2008, and has since come under the scrutiny of state auditors.

“I think some of these things are unfair and create a pretty poor perception of some public officials who are doing a pretty good job for the public,” said Steve Zentz, a partner with Rummel, Klepper & Kahl.

RK&K and KCI Technologies won the contract Oct. 15, 2008. Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson Inc. was awarded a similar five-year, $16 million contract for construction management and inspection services in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties about two months later.

The Department of Legislative Services report found SHA did not follow its normal procurement process in awarding the contracts.

They were awarded just months before the winning bidders made donations to a charity golf event promoted by a company part-owned by an SHA official. And other former SHA employees took jobs in the private sector that positioned them to work on contracts they helped craft during their time with the state.

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