O’Malley highlights transportation projects

Gov. Martin O’Malley outlined his transportation funding initiative Monday, and Tuesday he began tying his proposal to specific road, bridge and transit projects around the state.

Throughout the day, administration officials revealed through email blasts — every half hour, starting at noon — and posts on the governor’s blog “projects that could be impacted” in all 24 local jurisdictions.

They also mounted posters showing schematics, renderings and photos of the projects between the galleries above the Senate and House of Delegates, in the hallway through which dignitaries will travel on their way to Wednesday’s State of the State address.

The projects include the Red Line in Baltimore City, development around the Martin State MARC station in Baltimore County, widening Route 32 in Carroll, a MARC line extension through Cecil and improvements to an intersection in Anne Arundel.

The promise of funding for local projects will likely be key to winning votes for O’Malley’s proposal.

For the last two years, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said the support of local political leaders in vote-rich Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City will be critical.

“If you believe they’re going to vote for it and not expect to get projects, you still believe in Santa Claus,” the speaker told a Maryland Economic Development Association conference earlier this month. “That’s the way it works.”

Senate President Mike Miller said Tuesday the sales tax on gasoline will be “a tough sell.”

The proposal would phase in over three years, adding about 6 cents to a gallon of gas a year, based on Tuesday’s statewide average of $3.50.

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The Eye on Annapolis Podcast

The Eye on Annapolis Podcast is back after a busy week at the State House.

This week, Nick and I talk about Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gas tax proposal and how his legislative agenda might fare in this year’s session. We also preview O’Malley’s State of the State address — will he be talking to Marylanders while also advancing a national platform? — and Nick’s upcoming story from his interview with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.


Senate moves to exempt Maryland family farms from estate tax

A bipartisan group of Senate leaders is backing legislation that would exempt family farms from Maryland’s estate tax.

“When someone who owns a farm passes, so often the farm is lost to congestion, to sprawl,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s.

The Senate’s bill will exempt up to $5 million in agricultural property passed to a “qualified recipient” who will use the property for farming purposes.

If the property is sold and not used as a farm within a decade, the estate tax would then have to be repaid.

Senators said too often, family members who inherit farms are forced to sell off pieces of their land to pay the estate tax bill.

“I hear this from a number in the industry, that they’re land rich but cash poor,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery.

Garagiola, who is running for the 6th Congressional District seat in Western Maryland, was joined in promoting the bill by Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Republican who has also thrown his hat into that race.

“The best farm preservation tool we have is anything that makes farming profitable,” said Brinkley, R-Carroll and Frederick.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has said he will propose a similar measure to defer estate taxes on family farms until they are subdivided or developed.

The bill was not part of the legislative agenda the governor rolled out on Monday, but his administration has said it will be coming soon.

Millionaire’s tax, combined reporting back again

Two proposals that consistently rankle business interests big and small in Annapolis resurfaced Wednesday for their annual appearance in the State House.

They are, of course, the millionaire’s tax and combined reporting. (S.B. 249 and S.B. 269, respectively, if you’re keeping score at home.)

Both are viewed by liberal lawmakers as untapped revenue streams that could be used to ease the state’s persistent fiscal woes.

The millionaire’s tax would raise the individual income tax to 6.25 percent for people who make more than $1 million a year. Business leaders argue that the tax rate – it was passed in 2008 and expired in 2010 – make the state unfriendly to top earners and is unfair to small businesses that file tax returns as individuals.

Combined reporting is a way of assessing corporate taxes based on an apportioned share of company’s revenue nationwide. The goal is to stop companies from stashing revenue in states with lower tax burdens.

Both bills have made frequent appearances in Annapolis in recent years and have failed to gain traction as business groups have fought to keep them from emerging from tax committees in both chambers.

There does not appear to be any more interest in the proposals this year, but with a $1.1 billion budget gap looming and a host of already unpopular balancing measures pushed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, the bills are worth keeping an eye on.

O’Malley meets with his tweeps

Gov. Martin O’Malley held his first “Tweetup” Monday morning, fielding a handful of questions from 16 Twitter followers who met in person to discuss issues in the state.

“We have an opportunity in these times to be better connected than ever before,” O’Malley said, kicking the event off.

The questions ranged from softballs — “What book are you reading now?” was the first one — to specific policy questions, like whether libraries would also have to shoulder a share of pension costs along with the counties.

O’Malley said that issue, along with how school funding requirements would be affected by the proposed pension shift, are yet to be decided.

The governor said the state has a “tremendous opportunity” this year to bring in tourist dollars associated with the bicentennial of the War of 1812, an event that could also help clean up Baltimore’s image.

“You have to talk about the good things happening in the city,” O’Malley said. “It’s not a good way to sell newspapers, but it’s a good way to sell the city.”

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Coin show threatens to leave Baltimore over O’Malley budget

The general manager of three annual coin shows in Baltimore threatened to move the events to another state following a proposal by Gov. Martin O’Malley to eliminate a tax break for sales of precious coins and bullion.

David Crenshaw, general manager of Whitman Coins and Collectibles Expo LLC, said the measure included in O’Malley’s budget would “result in significant loss of economic benefit to Maryland and Baltimore since our three shows would most likely move to a friendlier state with no sales tax.”

“Other attractive cities have been anxious to host the national shows due to their overwhelming success in generating economic benefits to city businesses,” Crenshaw wrote to The Daily Record on Thursday.

O’Malley included the proposal to close the precious coin sales tax loophole in the budget he outlined Wednesday. The budget, and the closure of the loophole, still face legislative changes.

The Daily Record wrote extensively about the precious coins tax loophole and the billions in tax breaks the state gives away every year. The tax break in question exempts sales of coins and bullion of more than $1,000 from the sales tax.

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Poll: Most Marylanders oppose gas tax hike

More than three-quarters of Marylanders oppose proposals to raise the state’s gasoline tax, according to a study released Wednesday.

Some 76 percent of voters oppose raising the tax by 10 cents, according to the poll conducted for the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies Inc.

A gas tax hike was viewed favorably by 23.1 percent.

Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to announce a package of tax and fee increases to raise more money to spend on transportation.

Opposition to the gas tax hike — the state’s gas tax has been 23.5 cents per gallon since 1992 — is widespread

Some 90 percent of Republicans oppose raising it 10 cents, as do 68 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents.

All but a handful — 96 percent — oppose indexing the gas tax to inflation to allow for automatic increases without legislative approval, and 84 percent strongly oppose such a measure.

Only 3 percent came down in favor of automatic gas tax increases.

“This survey confirms what we hear from our customers on a daily basis,” said MAPDA president Peter Horrigan. “Gas prices are too high and now is not the time to raise fuel taxes causing us to pay more.”

The telephone poll of 808 registered voters was conducted from Jan. 9-15. The margin of error is 3.5 percent.

Wait, what’s that number?

Gov. Martin O’Malley unveiled his fiscal 2013 budget proposal in an hour-long press conference complete with a three-page news release and 38 PowerPoint slides that left members of the media swimming in proposed cuts, taxes and spending figures.

One number, however, never made an appearance. The big one. The actual size of O’Malley’s proposed budget.

The answer can be found on page 7 of the budget highlights book  – more of a Patriots blue this year as opposed to Ravens purple last year.

The budget proposed by O’Malley contains $35.9 billion in spending, up 3 percent from the $34.8 billion budget for fiscal 12.

Maryland could tighten high-income tax exemptions

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Tuesday he did not see “a whole lot of proposals to increase taxes” in the Gov. Martin O’Malley’s upcoming budget proposal.

“We talked about adjusting some of the exemptions that currently exist in the law, particularly on high earners,” said Busch, D-Anne Arundel, after a meeting with O’Malley and legislative leaders that lasted more than an hour.

The governor’s budget will also seek to shift some of the cost of teacher pensions to the counties, Busch said, but would also “give the counties revenue opportunities to make up the difference.”

The speaker said O’Malley’s budget includes an increase of $108 million in K-12 education funding for a total of about $6 billion.

“It’s a huge investment,” he said. “Almost half of our budget goes to education and higher education.”

Busch said the group discussed transportation funding, but said “there was no specific proposal.”

Raquel Guillory, the governor’s spokeswoman, said transportation funding, including a gas tax hike, is still being discussed, but would not be part of the governor’s budget proposal on Wednesday.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said earlier Tuesday that he likes where the governor is headed on that issue.

“We’ve talked about the numbers back and forth,” said Miller, D-Calvert and Prince George’s.

Miller likes O’Malley’s approach to Maryland transportation funding

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Tuesday he thinks Gov. Martin O’Malley’s yet-to-be-revealed transportation proposal would raise enough money to spend on roads, bridges and other transportation projects.

Miller wouldn’t disclose what the governor will propose, but has said that he and the chief executive have discussed the plan.

“We’ve talked about the numbers back and forth,” said Miller, D-Calvert and Prince George’s. “I’m going to meet with him at noon and I’m going to meet with him at four to discuss votes.”

Miller has expressed support in recent interviews for raising less new money for transportation than the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding recommended.

Miller has said the 15-cent gas tax hike proposal is “too much” and said a plan to raise $500 million more a year is more likely than one to raise $800 million.

Business leaders have also tempered their expectations for a transportation revenue package.

Miller also indicated O’Malley has backed off a trial balloon the governor lifted last week as the General Assembly reconvened.

“I’m glad he’s abandoned the sales tax,” the Senate president said.

Miller said the governor is likely to propose a flush tax increase and a shift of teacher pension costs to the counties.

“It’s not what I would like. It’s a compromise,” said Miller. “Compromise is not a dirty word in politics. The governor gives something to the counties, he takes something away. He makes the counties happy, he makes them sad. Not everyone can be happy in these very difficult times.”