Garagiola to launch U.S. House run

State Sen. Rob Garagiola is making it official.

The Montgomery County Democrat will begin his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday at the BlackRock Center for Arts in Germantown.

The announcement Friday said Garagiola, who is now the Senate majority leader (the second ranking Democrat in the chamber), will “protect seniors living on Medicare and Social Security” and push “an aggressive jobs agenda.”

Garagiola, who has been a major proponent of raising transportation revenues in the state through a higher gas tax and other means, will run in a revamped 6th Congressional District that now includes western Montgomery County and southern Frederick County.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican, has has held that seat since 1993.

Garagiola, who has long been discussed as a candidate for the 6th, picked up endorsements earlier this week from 17 state lawmakers.

Garagiola’s support comes from four state senators — Jennie Forehand, Nancy King and Karen Montgomery, all of Montgomery County, and Sen. Ron Young, of Frederick and Washington counties.

He also picked up endorsements from 13 delegates, including House Majority Leader Kumar Barve and three Western Maryland Democrats: Galen Clagett, John Donoghue and Kevin Kelly.

Got a regulatory gripe? Post it online

After signing an executive order last week that started a two-month review of state regulations, Gov. Martin O’Malley is looking for suggestions on ways regulations can be changed or streamline.

Suggestions can be posted to the state’s Maryland Made Easy website.

The website already had 185 comments posted by Thursday afternoon. They cover a wide range of topics and go beyond regulations. One suggested doubling the cost of a replacement driver’s license to $40 in some cases and another, that state agencies stop using paper time sheets (which can be easily faked) and switch to computerized systems.

O’Malley launched the MME effort in January with the hope of cleaning up the state’s regulatory processes. He added a piece in June that will allow developers working on big projects to seek expedited review. And, on Oct. 17, he signed an executive order requiring all state agencies to review their regulations over the next 60 days.

That review was part of O’Malley’s most recent job creation push. The governor said he will call for more infrastructure spending in the upcoming General Assembly session in hopes of spurring construction hiring.

Who would feel the proposed Maryland gas tax hike?

While a 15-cent bump in the state’s gas tax may seem steep —  the increase would amount to nearly 64 percent — members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding were divided on how much of the burden the state’s drivers would bear.

The state’s 23.5-cent gas tax is assessed at the wholesale level. (This is, incidentally, why a local gas tax would be problematic, because gas stations in one jurisdiction may buy fuel from dealers in another county.) And the 15-cent increase per gallon recommended by the commission would also go to the wholesale price in 5-cent bumps over three years.

“Fifteen cents added on to the price at the wholesale level may translate to 5 or 6 cents at the pump because retailers take in a whole variety of factors,” said Del. Tawanna P. Gaines, D-Prince George’s.

Beverley K. Swaim-Staley, the state’s transportation secretary, agreed. She added that her department monitors fuel costs in Maryland and elsewhere and sees fluctuations that go beyond the difference in state’s gasoline taxes. (Here’s a map of state gas taxes with the 18.4-cent federal tax added in. And here are the diesel taxes.)

Some commission members said the gas tax hike would be eaten by oil companies, but others expressed doubt that the Exxons of the world would eagerly shoulder the burden.

“There’s not a direct pass through … but over a long period of time it’s definitely reflected at the pump,” said Lon Anderson, director of public and government information for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Don Bowman, founder of D.M. Bowman Inc. near Hagerstown, agreed.

“There’s no [fuel] dealer in this state that can absorb a 15-cent, or even a 5-cent cut to his margin,” said Bowman.

Now, more on those big, bottom-line numbers:

The commission’s goal was to suggest a funding package to bring in $870 million more a year to meet state and county transportation needs. What the commission will actually recommend, however, totals only $808 million.

The difference, according to Department of Transportation Spokeswoman Erin Henson, will come from the gas tax. After three years of 5-cent hikes, the gas tax would be indexed to inflation and eventually climb high enough to meet the commission’s goal.

Garagiola picks up endorsements in new 6th District

State Sen. Rob Garagiola hasn’t made it official, but the Montgomery County Democrat looks like he’s closer and closer to running for Congress.

The Senate Majority leader, along with a sizable chunk of Montgomery County’s Democratic voters, was drawn into the 6th Congressional District in the the map approved by the General Assembly last week.

The map was given final approval and signed by the governor Thursday. On Monday, Garagiola announced endorsements from Democratic state lawmakers. (The press release, by the way, says Garagiola is “seriously considering a run for Congress…”)

Garagiola’s support comes from four state senators — Jennie Forehand, Nancy King and Karen Montgomery, all of Montgomery County, and Sen. Ron Young, of Frederick and Washington counties.

He also picked up endorsements from 13 delegates, including House Majority Leader Kumar Barve and three Western Maryland Democrats: Galen Clagett, John Donoghue and Kevin Kelly.

“I am appreciative of the early support of so many of my colleagues,” Garagiola in a written statement. “I have heard from many state and local elected leaders, as well as others, who have urged me to run for Congress.”

The 6th District is now held by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who has been in office since 1993.

Maryland county, city leaders push for more transportation money

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was in Annapolis on Tuesday to press lawmakers to restore funding for the city’s road and transit networks after years of budget state raids that have sapped local transportation funds.

During a hearing on that topic, she was asked by a Republican delegate what Baltimore was doing to expand its tax base.

The mayor spoke of easing permitting and regulations and working to attract high-tech companies to the city.

“We just had a business relocate from Prince George’s County…” Rawlings-Blake said, trailing off as many in the hearing room started to laugh.

Sitting two seats to the mayor’s left was Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. Continue reading

Congressional map has Senate support, Miller says

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who is going through his third redistricting session atop the upper chamber, said Monday he thinks he has the votes to pass a new map that would give Democrats a chance to unseat Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in Western Maryland.

“I haven’t polled a single member, honestly and truly. It’s the governor’s bill,” said Miller after a press conference with Gov. Martin O’Malley and legislative leaders. “But I know how people are going to vote before they do, and I think the votes are there. I don’t think I’m going to get a single Republican vote and there will be some dissident Democrats. It’s going to be close, but I think the votes are going to be there.”

Miller said the Western Maryland district, which would pick up Democratic voters in Montgomery County, “is going to be very competitive.”

“There’s a good possibility that a person from Frederick or Washington County, or Garrett, or Allegany or Montgomery can win it,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola, a Democrat from Montgomery County, has expressed interest in the seat.

Miller dismissed the notion that some of the state’s districts aren’t drawn compactly enough. (Full disclosure, I think I live in the mantis’s thorax.)

“If I could take my eight congressmen and put them out in the Atlantic Ocean, I could draw eight circles,” said Miller. “If you’re on the outs, you say ‘Let’s get these SOB’s out so our people can get in.’ That’s what redistricting is about nationwide. We didn’t do that. We made the Eastern Shore as Republican as it could possibly be.”

The 1st District, held by former state Senator Andy Harris, will be Republican for at least “10 or 15 years,” Miller predicted.

Maryland tolls legislation put on ice

A Baltimore County senator’s effort to get the General Assembly involved in the planned, statewide toll increases during the special redistricting session this week will likely have to wait.

Sen. Norman Stone, D-Baltimore County, said Monday the legislature should hold hearings on the issue that has riled lawmakers and drivers of all stripes.

“By the time we get to the regular session, it’ll be etched in stone, no pun intended,” he said.

The Maryland Transportation Authority approved the toll increases last month that will hit in two waves — the first Nov. 1 and the second, July 1, 2013.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said MdTA needs the toll revenue to maintain its bridges, tunnels and highways. He said the toll issue could be raised during the regular session, but that it would likely be overshadowed by debate over an increase to the state’s gasoline tax.

“The issue of tolls will look like  a flea compared to an elephant,” said Miller.

O’Malley seeks animal waste power plant for Maryland

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s latest effort to bring more green energy to the state is clean only in the strictest of energy-industry terms.

The state is soliciting proposals for a 10-megawatt power plant fueled with animal waste — “such as poultry litter or livestock manure.” The plant would have to be connected to the power grid and be up and running by New Year’s Eve 2015. Proposals are due Nov. 30.

“Maryland is leading the nation’s efforts in clean energy and sustainability, and our state’s growing ‘green’ jobs sector is vital to our ability to create jobs and complete globally in the new economy,” O’Malley said in the statement announcing the state’s dung-to-power project.

The effort is called “Clean Bay Power” — state officials hope turning animal waste into fuel reduces nutrient run-off, like nitrogen and phosphorus, into the bay. Animal waste-powered plants would also be categorized as a Tier 1 renewable source, meaning their juice would move the state closer to its goal of electric utilities buying 20 percent of their power from clean energy sources by 2022.

A 10 megawatt project wouldn’t move the needle all that much, however. The governor’s wind energy legislation that failed earlier this year called for generating capacity 40 to 60 times greater. A standard wind turbine generates about 1.5 megawatts of power.

(For more comparisons I turned to Wikipedia, which told me 10 megawatts is about four times the peak output of a blue whale, a little more than three times the power generated by a diesel locomotive, and slightly less than the electrical output of Togo.)

“We are seeking to purchase our power from a variety of renewable resources for a better and more sustainable future,” said Alvin Collins, secretary of the Department of General Services. “Obtaining electricity from poultry manure or animal waste helps Maryland to reach its goal of generating 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources, all while improving Bay water quality and supporting the agriculture industry.”

Anti-slots bill moves forward in Prince George’s

The Prince George’s County Council advanced a bill Tuesday that would ban slot machines from the county.

The bill cleared a committee vote 3-0 and still faces a vote of the full council. The legislation, as The Washington Post reports, could put County Executive Rushern Baker in a tough spot in Annapolis. Banning slots could take a bargaining chip off the table for Baker in his dealings with legislative leaders.

Further complicating the situation, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George’s County Democrat, has supported bringing gambling to Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill.

Penn National Gaming Inc., the owner of Rosecroft, is gearing up for a big push in the General Assembly to bring casino gambling to the track. The gaming company, which also owns Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County, released a pair of studies last week that touted billions of dollars in potential economic impact and tax revenue a mega-casino at Rosecroft would have on the county and state.

Poll shows support for Maryland offshore wind power

A majority of Marylanders are willing to shell out more for electricity to buy power from offshore wind farms, according to a poll released Monday by a coalition of environmental groups.

The survey’s respondents were asked, “Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘I would be willing to pay $2 more per month on my electric bill if a greater percentage of my electricity came from clean, local offshore wind farms, instead of coming from coal, oil, and gas?’”

Nearly 62 percent agreed (39.1 percent strongly, 22.6 percent somewhat) and 34.3 percent disagreed (10.4 percent somewhat and 23.9 percent strongly).

Don’t worry if these poll numbers don’t stick with you the first time around. You’ll hear them a lot in the run-up to and all throughout the 2012 General Assembly session. Continue reading