Don’t forget your umbrella…

A few visitors to rainy Annapolis neglected to glance at the weather forecast before leaving home Wednesday morning, and afternoon hearings are sure to be a bit soggier for it.

Solutions for those without umbrellas varied. One man walking along State Circle wore his trench coat over his head, though his slacks from the knee down surely suffered the consequences.

Another man, hair soaked and droplets falling from his forehead, sighed while hopelessly patting his sports coat with paper towels from the men’s restroom.

The award for best prepared goes to a group of several hundred Realtors protesting on Lawyers’ Mall on Wednesday morning, some carrying umbrellas large enough to fit three.

What’s the lesson here?

When traveling to the state capital, it never hurts to throw an umbrella in the car.

Realtors say capping tax deductions for mortgages would hurt market

Few in Annapolis want new taxes proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to be levied against Maryland citizens, and now state Realtors are saying the governor’s plan to cap itemized tax deductions on wealthy homeowners would further damage an already weak housing market.

The Gazette reported Monday that real estate agents across Maryland warned that doing anything to change tax deductions available to homeowners ought to wait until a recovery is complete.

O’Malley’s budget calls for itemized deductions to be reduced by 10 percent for people making over $100,000 a year and 20 percent for those making over $200,000 a year.

The move is part of the governor’s plan to eliminate a projected deficit of $1 billion.

Hundreds of Realtors are expected to descend upon Annapolis to protest the proposal 9 a.m. Wednesday, The Gazette reported.

It would appear the tax wars have begun.

General Assembly eyes O’Malley’s budget proposal

It’s now all about the money in Annapolis.

With the landmark approval of same-sex marriage legislation in the Senate last week, the 2012 Maryland General Assembly will turn its attention from one of the session’s biggest social issue bills to the fiscal proposals of Gov. Martin O’Malley, including a budget that appears unpopular.

O’Malley’s budget calls for income tax increases for individuals making over $100,000 a year and also shifts some of the cost of teacher pensions to county governments, The Baltimore Sun reported.

The measures are meant to close a projected $1 billion budget deficit. Maryland’s constitution mandates the budget be balanced.

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The Eye on Annapolis Podcast

Daily Record columnist and WYPR Senior News Analyst C. Fraser Smith joined me Monday to examine the prospects for a referendum on the same-sex marriage bill, preview Tuesday’s workshop on prisoner reentry and discuss the holding pattern that has become the budget process. Enjoy.


Transportation Secretary says public-private partnership aided Port

A big shipping container company signed on at the Port of Baltimore Friday, and Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley used the opportunity to further laud the importance of public-private partnerships in Maryland.

Germany-based Hapag-Lloyd, the fifth-largest container shipping company in the world, is starting weekly service to the Port, a Maryland Port Administration statement said.

The new business could create as many as 600 jobs in Maryland and –  according to Swaim-Staley — is thanks to a partnership the state entered into with Ports America Chesapeake, which runs day-to-day operations at the Seagirt Marine Terminal.

The company is also constructing a 50-foot berth to capitalize on the Panama Canal expansion, the statement said, and the improvement was a key factor in luring Hapag-Lloyd.

The timing couldn’t have been better for Swaim-Staley and Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is championing legislation that would create rules to govern public-private partnerships, like the one at Seagirt.

“The Seagirt port has been a  national model in how to do public-private partnerships,” Swaim-Staley said in a Environmental Matters Committee hearing on the legislation Friday afternoon.

The Eye on Annapolis Podcast

Daily Record columnist and WYPR Senior News Analyst C. Fraser Smith joins me once again on a super-sized podcast to review the big news from Friday: the House of Delegates passing same-sex marriage legislation and the Senate unanimously voting to censure Sen. Ulysses Currie.

Fraser provides some big-picture perspective on both events and recalls the last day the General Assembly made so much historic news in one day. (Hint: It was in 1984.)

We also look at Gov. Martin O’Malley’s role in the gay marriage bill and how involved he might be in legislation throughout the rest of the session. Enjoy.


Hail to the chief? Not so fast

For most of the nation, presidential campaign politics are playing out in far-away places like Michigan, Florida, New Hampshire and Iowa as Republican candidates take turns eviscerating one another and swapping leads in the polls.

But do not despair, residents of the Free State. We have a sideshow of our very own, which is taking shape daily in Annapolis. It’s about the 2016 presidential race and Gov. Martin O’Malley’s apparent ambitions in that regard.

For some time now, the governor’s attempts to burnish his national profile while serving as head of the Democratic Governors Association have been the topic of conversations over coffee and cocktails in state political circles.

A popular pastime has been speculating what cabinet post the governor might go for — Homeland Security seems to rank high among the speculators – if President Obama wins a second term.

But now that speculation is spilling into public view, often accompanied by barbed rhetoric.

After Comptroller Peter Franchot assailed O’Malley’s proposal to raises taxes on gasoline as “an absolute punch to the gut of the middle class,” the governor responded by calling fellow Democrat Franchot “kind of our version of Mitt Romney.”

Franchot retorted, ”I’m sorry if I’m getting in the way of his presidential efforts, but I’m doing my job as comptroller.” (Interesting words from a man who is presumed to be running his own campaign for governor of Maryland.)

O’Malley was also pummeled with the p-word when he testified before two House committees in favor of his same-sex marriage bill, a popular issue with Democrats nationally.

The Washington Post reported that Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., D-Baltimore County, a leading opponent of the bill, “suggested that O’Malley must want to match New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat who helped pass a same-sex marriage bill last year and who, like O’Malley, has been talked about for national office in 2016.”

“I would love to see our governor as president of the United States, but not on the backs of his own people,” Burns said. Ouch.

So there you have it — presidential politics, Maryland style. And it’s just beginning.

The Eye on Annapolis Podcast

Daily Record columnist and WYPR Senior News Analyst C. Fraser Smith joins me on the podcast to review the week that was in Annapolis. Among the topics we discuss is the long-running rivalry between Gov. Martin O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot that flared up when O’Malley referred to Franchot as “Maryland’s Mitt Romney.”

We also take a look at what punishment Sen. Ulysses Currie could face from a legislative ethics panel and what it might mean for business as usual in Annapolis. And we get into why Smith thinks the “tone” of this legislative session is different than in years’ past.

(And when I say “we,” I really mean “Fraser Smith.” Few people can offer perspective on Annapolis the way he can.)


The wind lobby and more to watch this week

The O’Malley Administration is enlisting support for the governor’s offshore wind energy bill from people in all walks of life.

Emails went flying out to the media last Friday. First came word that 30 religious leaders from Prince George’s County would deliver letters Monday supporting the bill to P.G. delegates and senators on the committees that will handle the legislation.

Then we heard that on Tuesday, about two dozen Maryland health professionals – wearing lab coats and scrubs no less — would join business leaders Tuesday morning on Lawyer’s Mall near the State House to express their support for the bill, which they claim would save more than 400 lives and nearly $2.5 billion in health costs while creating more than 1,000 jobs.

And at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Gov. Martin O’Malley himself will testify in favor of the bill before the Senate Finance Committee.

And so, the legislative theater season is in full swing. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Tax credit evaluation bill returns to General Assembly

An effort to shed more light on a small slice of the billions of dollars in tax breaks that Maryland doles out every year is back, revived by a pair of Montgomery County lawmakers.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. introduced The Tax Credit Evaluation Act on Tuesday. And Del. Bill Frick, the architect behind the effort, said he’ll drop twin legislation in the House of Delegates as soon as Wednesday.

The bills would require General Assembly committees to review a handful of tax credits every five years to determine if the state should continue to offer them.

The reviews would look at the intent of the tax credits, whether they are actually meeting those goals and whether the tax revenue lost the state is worth it.

“We have to find a way to systematically review our tax credits. You put things in to address a specific need or policy goal and they stay on the books forever, said Madaleno. “We should have some way to periodically review all of these programs to see if they’re serving their intended purpose, and to see if they’re still affordable or worthwhile.”

Madaleno, who serves on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said that lawmakers deal regularly with some tax breaks that are funded through the state’s budget.

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