Eye Opener: Gansler seeks minimum wage hike

Here’s a few government and politics headlines for Friday:

MDOT: No major changes coming for Red Line

Red LineJC06The Maryland Department of Transportation says it will listen to concerns about Baltimore’s proposed light rail Red Line but that major changes to the project aren’t coming.

“The alignment and mode selected in August 2009 after extensive stakeholder input achieves benefits comparable to the best transit projects in the country,” said Erin Henson, a transportation spokeswoman on Wednesday night. “To make major changes to the route and mode at this point would only increase the project’s overall cost or reduce ridership.

“Nonetheless, reasonable suggestions to make the project even more competitive and attractive for federal funding must be part of our on-going dialogue with stakeholders.”

The department’s response came after four state lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley on Wednesday citing “grave concerns” while pleading with the governor to overhaul the Red Line project.

The 14.1-mile, $2.6 billion dollar transit project — if kept on track — could start moving passengers from Woodlawn to East Baltimore by 2021.

Regulators approve opening of Maryland Live’s poker room

Maryland gambling regulators on Wednesday approved Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall’s application to open a poker room, an expected but needed sign-off that came just hours before the Cordish Cos. planned to begin opening ceremonies.

Maryland Live Casino’s poker room. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency conducted a controlled demonstration Monday with 300 people in attendance. Money gambled at the controlled demonstration is being donated to charity, the agency said.

“The room’s operations were carefully analyzed and reviewed,” said Lottery Director Stephen L. Martino.  “We are confident that the poker room operations are consistent with our requirements for transparency, accountability and the promotion of fair play.”

The 14,800-square-foot poker room includes 52 poker tables and employs 300 people. The casino already operates 122 table games on its main gambling floor, in addition to more than 4,300 slot machines.

Maryland Live is one of the largest casinos in the nation and is Maryland’s most successful gambling facility, having generated more than $472 million in the recently ended fiscal year.

Opening ceremonies are expected to begin Wednesday at 11 a.m. and the poker room is scheduled to open to the public at noon.

Eye Opener: Cardin says he’ll try to undo sequester

Here’s a few government and politics headlines for Tuesday:

Department of Agriculture withdraws regulations after farmers protest

In a matter of hours on Monday, Eastern Shore lawmakers and farming interest groups went from outraged to satisfied with the path of proposed state regulations.

After the Maryland Department of Agriculture asked the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review to place an “emergency” stamp on a new phosphorous management tool so that it could be put into place before the fall planting season, lawmakers and advocates for dairy and poultry farmers cried foul.

Farmers said the regulations would immediately prevent them from using animal manure produced at their farms, creating myriad storage and management issues. The opposition caused Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Lower Shore, to call for a public hearing and drove Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-Middle Shore, to write to Gov. Martin O’Malley to stop the regulations.

“In our discussions with them and in their discussions with the industry, there seemed to be a gentleman’s agreement that these regulations weren’t going to be adopted for a while, and that would give an opportunity for all the stakeholders to work together and find a resolution,” said Haddaway-Riccio, who is Harford County Executive David R. Craig‘s running mate in his campaign to be Maryland governor.

Haddaway-Riccio said in an interview Monday that four busloads of people were prepared to travel to Annapolis on Wednesday to testify. Less than an hour later, the Department of Agriculture withdrew the proposed regulations.

“In order to ensure farmers have time to adjust to the use of this new tool and to respond to questions regarding certain elements of the regulation raised by the environmental community, the department is withdrawing the emergency regulation,” Agriculture Secretary Earl F. “Buddy” Hance said in a statement. “The department has decided to meet with key stakeholders and will resubmit the proposal next month.”

The committee hearing was canceled shortly thereafter.

The sudden reversal came as the Maryland Farm Bureau and Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. voiced their opposition to the state’s plan to limit phosphorous pollution caused by manured applied to farm fields. Delmarva Poultry includes among its membership Perdue Farms Inc., a major chicken processing company based in Salisbury.

A Perdue spokeswoman said the company was involved through Delmarva Poultry but had not individually lobbied state officials regarding the proposed regulations.

“Perdue is participating through DPI in working on that issue,” Julie DeYoung said.

Pat Langenfelder, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said in a statement that “this was a wise decision by the administration.”

“This will allow MDA to work with the farm community to develop a reasonable schedule to phase-in the new phosphorus tool,” Langenfelder said.

Only environmental groups were disappointed by the Department of Agriculture’s change of course but admitted that disallowing the use of animal manure created a storage problem that farmers needed time to solve. The groups had also proposed the regulation be amended to better reduce phosphorous pollution in waterways and Chesapeake Bay.

“We are disappointed about the delay,” said Josh Tulkin, executive director for Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “But what is most important is to get this tool right.”

Maryland legislators earn better-than-average money

moneyMembers of the Maryland General Assembly earn more than your average state lawmaker, but they’re not exactly diving into vaults full of state money when they go home.

The 188 legislators that meet for 90 days each year in Annapolis earn a salaryof $43,500 a year, according to a Washington Post report that cites data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

That makes Maryland lawmakers the 13th-highest paid in the nation. Compare that to $90,526 for for the best-paid legislators in California and $0 for members of the New Mexico Legislature. (Lawmakers in New Mexico do receive a per diem.)

Most legislators are part-time and are able to hold down other jobs throughout the parts of the year when they’re not required to be in session. Maryland lawmakers are, for example, lawyers, school teachers, college professors and small business owners the other 275 days out of the year.

Eye Opener: Young nixes gubernatorial bid

Frederick County Commissioners President Blaine R. Young (Photo: Maryland State Archives)

Here’s a few government and politics headlines for Monday:

Eye Opener: The battle for Pipkin’s Senate seat

Here’s a few government and politics headlines for Friday:

Franchot wants sales tax holiday expanded

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot would like to see the governor and General Assembly expand what merchandise is covered under Maryland’s tax-free week during the annual state-subsidized sale.

The week-long tax break for clothes and shoes under $100 wrapped up last weekend, and Franchot said during Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting the temporary tax break came as a relief to Maryland families, especially those with children preparing to go back to school.

With the students in mind, Franchot said eligible merchandise ought to be expanded to include back-to-school items such as backpacks.

“Other states do that and I think it would be equally well received and successful” in Maryland, Franchot said.

Franchot’s office estimates that the state forgoes $5 million in tax revenue during the sales tax holiday but drums up lots of business for local retailers.

The Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation was critical of the tax break this year, saying it does not increase purchases but instead  just changes when people make their purchases.

Tense moments color nearly 6-hour Board of Public Works meeting

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot at a recent Board of Public Works meeting in Annapolis. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Gov. Martin O’Malley did not appear to enjoy himself during a nearly six hour meeting of the Board of Public Works on Wednesday.

Of course, it’s unlikely that many did. A number of controversial issues at the panel’s first meeting in nearly a month brought crowds of people to testify in the horribly crowded second-floor room where the usually biweekly meeting of the state panel is held.

The tension in the room was often most apparent during questioning from Comptroller Peter Franchot, who often disagrees with O’Malley. The governor peppered Franchot with questions about why he was opposing a loan to a Greene Turtle restaurant in Towson and could not ignore Franchot’s criticism of tax, fee and toll increases the comptroller said have sucked money out of the economy and stunted job growth.

“The jobs that we keep wanting to come back to the state just have not appeared,” Franchot said. “I don’t want to stir up DBED and have them send a bunch of data about how well we’re doing.”

“You’ve stirred me up,” O’Malley said, briefly interrupting Franchot, who went on to say he was not picking on Maryland but noting the region as a whole has struggle.

Once Franchot was finished, O’Malley couldn’t help but respond.

“The latest jobs report showed the entire region’s been hurt by the short-sighted and reckless sequester that was thrown into place supposedly against the objections of everyone in our House of so-called Representatives,” O’Malley said. “If you were to factor out those states that have a lot more minerals than they have people, Maryland’s leadership and our comeback from the recession in this recovery is pretty striking.

“Last year we achieved the best rate of job creation of any state in our region — a rate of job creation that was nearly twice that of our neighbors, our good neighbors, in the commonwealth of Virginia.”

The governor went on to say that “Maryland bashing may be popular in some circles” but independent parties including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had put Maryland at the top of lists measuring things like entrepreneurship, innovation and upward economic mobility.

Franchot chose not to argue — earning a “thank you” from O’Malley — but before the day ended the pair took aim at each other numerous additional times while trying to wade through the deep board agenda.