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Morning Read: Maryland Lawmakers Meet For Special Session Today

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AM Read: Md. Lawmakers' Special Session

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, center, receives applause from Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, left, and Speaker of the House of Delegates Michael Busch, right, after delivering his State of the State speech Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 in Annapolis, Md. O'Malley urged lawmakers to invest in the future to spur job growth. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

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Maryland legislators will reconvene in Annapolis today to pass a tax plan and overhaul the “doomsday” budget.

But the Washington Times reports that details of the budget are all but set in stone, leaving many to wonder whether this was actually a transparent process.

VIA Washington Times:

“It’s all for show,” said Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Dorchester Republican. “They reached their agreements and they are adamant about having a session without controversy.”

Gov. Martin O'Malley and leading Democrats have said it was important to reach a relative consensus before a special session in order to prevent the bickering and drawn-out negotiations that forced the assembly to adjourn its regular session last month without passing two key revenue bills.

The expected-to-pass tax plan would raise income taxes on the wealthiest Marylanders.

A family, for instance, making more than $175,000 will pay at least $254 more in income taxes this year under the new revenue-raising plan, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The same family of joint tax filers with two children reporting more than $1.1 million in gross income would pay an extra $3,269.

By many mathematical measures -- dollar amounts, percentage increases and relative size -- the $247 million tax plan agreed to by Gov. Martin O'Malley and top legislative leaders is relatively small. But politically, there is no such thing as a small tax increase.

About 16 percent of the state's earners would be affected.

"It might not seem like a lot," said Gene Curran, president of Victory Realty Group, a real estate investment firm in Baltimore, "but when you put together all of the fee increases there is a true impact." Curran didn't want to share his salary, but said his family of five would feel the pinch.

The Washington Post has an article explaining that although Virginia has been an outspoken critic of Obamacare, the state has been actively preparing to create the foundation to implement the law if the Supreme Court upholds it.

Other states like Florida and Texas have done nothing to pave the way for the law.

"Although deep-blue Maryland remains a leader among states enthusiastically preparing for the health-care overhaul, Republican-led Virginia is no longer the standard-bearer for “Obamacare” recalcitrance.

Unlike some other states opposed to the law, whose elected officials are proudly doing little or nothing to get ready, Virginia has been grudgingly but diligently laying the foundation for a law that it hopes will go away.

“We know the [Virginia] governor has very significant concerns about the law, and the governor’s not been shy about expressing that, but at the same time [he] is making sure that, at the very least, they’re prepared to move if they need to,” said Andrew D. Hyman, senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has provided technical assistance to both states.

That nuanced approach may have less to do with Virginia’s purple political identity than with a practical realization on the part of Republicans controlling state government: If the law stands, failing to plan would give Washington even more sway over the state."

* Mitt Romney was in Virginia over the weekend to deliver the commencement speech at Liberty University -- an evangelical university founded by Jerry Falwell.

The New York Times put its coverage of this appearance on the front page of its Sunday paper, highlighting the importance of Romney trying to win over evangelical voters.

According to The New York Times, Romney never mentioned his Mormon faith as he made the case that he is bound theologically and politically to the same belief and value system as Christian conservatives.

"In the same week that President Obama galvanized his base by endorsing same-sex marriage, Mr. Romney’s message was that evangelicals could count on him to operate as president under “a common worldview,” including his position that marriage should be between only a man and a woman.

American values, he said, “may become topics of democratic debate from time to time. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”

It was Mr. Romney’s most extensive and direct discussion of religion since his 2007 speech about his own faith and was intended to help him reassure conservatives, some of whom do not accept Mormonism as a Christian religion."

* After Mayor Vincent Gray’s announcement that he would significantly increase the use of automated enforcement on the city’s streets, D.C. council members are looking for ways to reduce traffic fines, according to The Washington Times.

Mr. Gray’s spending plan for the coming year calls for a dramatic uptick in “traffic calming initiatives” - such as cameras to catch moving violations at intersections, crosswalks and other traffic scenarios - to raise $24.8 million in revenue as part of his attempt to close a $172 million budget gap without new taxes or fees.

Any changes in fees would likely not go into effect this budget.

* The Metro’s $2.22 billion budget that goes into effect July 1 does not include any wage increases, beyond those that come with seniority, The Washington Examiner reports.

But those expenditures do not take into account that the transit agency is still at the bargaining table with its largest union, which represents about 70 percent of Metro's 11,000-strong work force.

Metro has frequently been forced to give raises to the bus and train operators, station managers, mechanics and custodians who make the system run, most recently by the courts. That means the agency could be on the hook for millions of unanticipated costs.

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