The Maryland Senate voted Tuesday to raise state income taxes and shift some pension costs—an expected move that would bolster state revenue and prevent steep budget cuts.
The tax bill—which passed with a 27-19 vote—would raise income taxes on people earning more than $100,000 a year or couples making more than $150,000 a year.
The pension bill—which passed 33-13—would shift a portion of teacher pension costs from the state to counties, saving the state more than $400 million.
According to The Washington Times, the bills passed largely along party lines with objections from Republicans and some moderate Democrats.
The legislation will now move to the House.
* The boss of Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Thorne-Begland—the openly gay man who lawmakers denied a judicial appointment—said Thorne-Begland would have made an outstanding judge and this incident is an “embarrassment” for Virginia.
According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring said Thorne-Begland is a fine “man, father, lawyer Navy pilot, and would have been an outstanding judge.”
“It's hard to think about what happened in the General Assembly and not conclude that it's a form of bigotry,” Herring told reporters during a lunchtime news conference outside his office at the John Marshall courthouse in Richmond.
“It casts a definite pall on the state,” he said, adding that he was not sure how Virginia will overcome the perception that it anti-gay.
Democrats similarly charged many of the House Republicans with “bigotry” for not supporting the judicial nomination of Thorne-Begland.
"In the final hours of a legislative session defined by right-wing reactionaries attempting to remake Virginia in their own radical image, Republicans in the General Assembly set a new and unthinkable standard for their backward agenda," said Brian Moran, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
"As chief deputy commonwealth's attorney for Richmond and a decorated veteran, Tracy Thorne-Begland is qualified to serve as a General District Court judge by any conventional measure. By rejecting him after a debate that centered almost exclusively on Mr. Thorne-Begland's sexual orientation, Virginia Republicans proved that a person's experience and qualifications are irrelevant to them if they object to whom that person is.
"It is difficult to consider last night's vote without using the word 'bigoted,' just as it's difficult to consider this period of unified Republican government without using the word 'disaster.' "
Bearing Drift—a blog that dubs itself as Virginia’s conservative voice—wrote that the vote was
“disgusting” and another “black eye for Virginia”
The vote last night was wrong. We let irrelevant issues cloud the real question – whether Thorne-Begland was qualified and would be competent in doing the job of a General District Court judge – with conjecture and character-assassination. Those are the only questions that matter, and we ignored them by bringing his past activism into play, especially when it would have little impact on the job.
The fact that Thorne-Begland was discharged from the Navy for being gay is irrelevant. He believed that his rights were being trampled upon and spoke up, going to court to defend them. There is nothing wrong with that. This is the exact same behavior we Republicans praised when Dick Heller and the other second amendment activists filed suit to overturn DC’s unconstitutional gun laws. We praise activism in defense of rights, especially where someone gives up so much for the fight. In the Heller case, Dick Heller didn’t have to get arrested or lose his job – he simply had to apply for a permit and be denied. Here, Thorne-Begland gave up his Navy career to fight for something he believed in. How can we condemn that, especially when the Navy didn’t? He wasn’t brought up on charges. He wasn’t court-martialed. He was given an honorable discharge and he left the service. If they Navy didn’t punish him, we have no need to.
The argument that Marshall makes that questions Thorne-Begland’s integrity and claims he couldn’t take the oath to support the Virginia Constitution is, quite frankly, disgusting. Not only has Thorne-Begland already taken that oath as an attorney and in his official capacity as a deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney, there is nothing in his background to indicate he has ever violated it. Advocacy against laws one disagrees with isn’t violating an oath – it’s something inherently American and something we Republicans have long valued.
* A federal judge has ordered D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to give a deposition in the wrongful termination case of Eric Payne, a former city employee who says he was wrongfully fired for protesting the politicking over the city’s lottery contract.
Gray has objected to giving a deposition, but the judge upheld a previous court ruling Monday requiring him to do so, according to WCP.
* The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board wrote that for the second time in six weeks, lawmakers will leave Annapolis without having done a thing to address Maryland’s transportation deficit.
On Wednesday, lawmakers are likely to wrap up a special legislative session called to pass a state budget more palatable than the "doomsday" version they left behind in April. But they will have done nothing to address the state's "other deficit" — the lack of funding to cover billions of dollars of needed transportation projects, from road improvements to expanded public transit.
Maryland's gasoline tax remains at 1992 levels, and the prospect for maintaining decent roads and other transportation infrastructure, including around such important job-generators as Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the Interstate 270 technology corridor in Montgomery County and the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore, is woeful.
We don't blame people for being unhappy with paying more in taxes, whether there's a recession on or not, but they need to make a distinction between spending that ought to be regarded as optional and that which is needed to protect the future. It's not unlike the difference between money a family might spend on luxuries, such as restaurant dinners and vacations, and what it needs to fix a leaking roof. Neglect the leaking roof, and the destruction only escalates the longer you put it off.