2014 Legislative Issues
The Maryland League of Conservation Voters (Maryland LCV) has released its top issues list for the 2014 Session and will focus on four key issue areas: (1) a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas pending completion of impact studies; (2) defending the stormwater utility fee requirement enacted in 2012 (referred to as a “rain tax” by opponents and a “contaminated runoff fee” by Maryland LCV); (3) increasing the clean energy requirements under Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard from 20% t0 40% by 2025; and (4) creating a pesticide application reporting database. From the Maryland LCV website:
Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas
Fracking is a dangerous drilling method used to extract natural gas from shale rock. Around the country, natural gas fracking has attracted widespread attention as surrounding communities have been subjected to drinking and ground water contamination, climate pollution, and land scarring. Due to the threat of these consequences in Maryland, it is imperative that the General Assembly hold off on fracking until careful, independent analyses are completed to determine whether the risky drilling practice makes sense for Maryland.
Defending the Contaminated Runoff Fee Program
In developed areas, water can’t soak into the ground like it normally would, so it washes off of hard surfaces like roads, roofs, and parking lots and carries contaminants like oil, antifreeze, and sediment into local streams and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. This contaminated runoff is the only source of Bay pollution that is still increasing, and yet some politicians want to repeal the state law passed to address this problem. They mock the contaminated runoff programs as a “rain tax,” deliberately obscuring how the programs work and the seriousness of the pollution they are designed to fix. We intend to uphold the law already passed and educate Marylanders on how the program works to improve the quality of the Bay.
Global warming is accelerating faster than scientists predicted even five years ago. Now it’s even more critical that we shift away from fossil fuels, and yet nearly half of Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions still come from burning coal, oil and gas for electricity. The good news is Maryland has a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires electricity suppliers to buy a growing share of their power from renewable sources. The current goal is to reach 20% clean power by 2022 and make sure the right types of energy are being incentivized but we need a bold new goal of 40% by 2025 to achieve clean energy faster.
Pesticides Reporting Database
Pesticides pose a serious risk to our health, to the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways- but Maryland lacks the information we need about pesticide use. We need pesticide applicators, as well as sellers of restricted use pesticides, to report the information they are already required to maintain so research scientists and environmental and public health experts will have data they can use to determine if and when pesticides are affecting our health and our waters. This legislation will be coming out of the 2013 Pesticide Reporting and Information workgroup that met over the summer. The database will be paid for a moderate fee increase to pesticide manufacturers.
Maryland LCV plans on hosting its 20th Annual Environmental Summit on January 21. The event is attending by members of the Administration, General Assembly, environmental community, and other interested stakeholder groups.
Somerset County Commissioners are considering proposals that would limit assessment increases on properties destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Commissioners are concerned that tax increases from improvements could create financial hardships, especially for lower-income homeowners.
As reported by the Salisbury Daily Times, County Finance Director Gene Adkins recently presented options to Commissioners.
Adkins presented an option that would fix values to reflect assessments as of Jan. 1, 2012, then cap annual value increases at 5 percent, which is half a homestead tax credit in place countywide. The option would be available to all qualified property owners, regardless of income.
Another option would be to limit a tax credit to low-income homeowners as defined by a tax credit aligned with state code, although Adkins told commissioners the option could reduce annual tax revenue by a potential $30,000 per property. For 65 structures, he calculated the loss at $460 each.
Any proposal approved by the County Commissioners would also need approval by the Maryland General Assembly.
As reported by the Cumberland Times-News, the fiscal 2015 financial forecast for Garrett County looks bleak as it continues to struggle with declining property tax revenues. From the article:
A previous estimate of a $2.5 million projected loss of real property tax revenue has increased by $700,000, to $3.2 million, based on the revision of assessable base calculations, according to Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator. On Nov. 30, the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation produced valued assessable base calculations that confirmed the projected loss in real property tax revenue. This additional loss, coupled with the loss of $2.2 million in revenue for the Garrett County Public School System, equates to a total projected loss of $5.4 million.
To assist with closing the gap, Garrett County Public Schools is moving forward with the closure of three elementary schools. Additional information on school closures in Garrett County can be found on Conduit Street.
County Commissioners and staff have been working on a long-term plan to address the county’s budgetary shortfall. The plan will be released publicly in the near future.
As reported in the Washington Post, Delegate Alonzo Washington of Prince George’s County plans to propose a state bill that would prohibit Prince George’s County Board of Education from issuing credit cards to its members.
As described in the article, the Prince George’s County School Board recently stripped a former member of her credit card after finding several unauthorized purchases.
The proposal comes months after the board stripped former school board member Carletta Fellows of her credit card after she used the district-issued card to pay hundreds of dollars in utility bills.
Del. Alonzo Washington. . .said he decided to offer the bill after hearing from his constituents about improving government oversight.
“I’m not looking at anything in the past, I’m just looking toward the future,” he said. “This is about transparency and accountability.”
For more information, see the full story from the Washington Post.
MACo will be holding two panel discussions on the Affordable Care Act at our upcoming Winter Conference. Report From the Front: Rolling Out Maryland’s Health Benefits Exchange will focus on Maryland’s implementation of the federal law, including the work of connectors, navigators and the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange to enroll participants in the new healthcare plans.
A recent editorial in the Washington Post critiques Maryland’s implementation, drawing comparison with other states and describing issues with the State’s contractor and subcontractor, and requesting that the General Assembly investigate the reasons behind the issues. The editorial describes,
States like Kentucky have looked smart in hindsight for developing relatively bare-bones websites and adding functionality as time went on. States like Maryland that attempted more robust sites have struggled.
For more information see the editorial from the Washington Post.
In the wake of the passage of minimum wage legislation in Montgomery and Prince George’s County, discussion about statewide minimum wage legislation continues, though few details have been revealed. Depending on the form of the legislation, it is possible that these new local laws could be in conflict. As reported by the Washignton Post, Montgomery and Prince George’s County recently voted to increase their minimum wages to $11.50 per hour by 2017.
As noted in the Maryland Juice, there is a possibility that the General Assembly will enact a law that jeopardizes Montgomery and Prince George’s County’s recent minimum wage increases. They recently reported,
[T]oday’s AFL-CIO “Union City” newsletter indicat[es] that efforts are afoot in Annapolis to veto the MoCo & Prince George’s Councilmembers through state legislation. . .
For additional commentary, see this write-up from the Maryland Juice.
As reported in the Washington Post, Governor O’Malley is working on a minimum wage bill to introduce this year, but he has not revealed the details of his legislation.
O’Malley’s office has been working on a bill to introduce in next year’s legislative session, but the governor has not said how much he would increase the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or how quickly.
For more information, see the full story from the Post.
As referenced on the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) website, Maryland’s minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. In addition,
Employers are allowed to pay tipped employees (defined as employees regularly earning more than $30 per month in tips) not less than $3.63 per hour, provided each employee earns enough tips to bring their average hourly wage to at least the State minimum wage $7.25 per hour. Deficiencies must be supplemented by the employer to bring the employee to the minimum wage level.
For more information see the complete fact sheet from DLLR.
As reported in the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore County teachers shared their frustration over the fast pace of state-mandated education changes, including common core, with their Superintendent, Dr. Dallas Dance at a town hall meeting last week. More than 100 teachers attended the meeting, according to the Sun.
Teachers, some in tears and some angry, said the first year of the county’s introduction of its new curriculum tied to the Common Core had significant problems that have yet to be addressed.
The Sun provided background on the common core implementation in Baltimore County,
Each school district has been writing its own curriculum to go with the standards. But Baltimore County’s rollout of its curriculum has been particularly troubled, and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County filed a grievance last month, saying teachers had been working long hours and had not been supplied with the curriculum and materials in time to do their jobs.
For more information, see the full story from the Baltimore Sun and our previous posts on Conduit Street: