Annapolis Report Week 11 – Nearing the Home Stretch

As we near the home stretch in Annapolis we’re working around the clock (and on weekends) to pass a budget as well as all our bills with enough time for consideration in the opposing chamber before the session concludes April 9.  Monday is Crossover Day: the deadline for the House to get its bills to the Senate and vice versa to guarantee consideration.  (Remember that a bill must have three readings and pass in the same posture in both chambers before it can get to the Governor’s desk for his signature.)

April 3 is Maryland’s primary election!  Early voting begins this Saturday.  Our friend Ben Cardin is up for re-election against 8 opponents this year.  He has consistently fought for us – now let’s support him.  Ben will be in our district, at the Randallstown Community Center, this and next Saturday morning rallying with volunteers and members of Congress in advance of the primary.  Join us!  And please remember to vote!  With turnout expected to be low, every vote counts more than ever.

As you may have heard, on Monday night the Ways and Means Committee held an important vote on the Senate’s controversial proposed budget.  After much negotiation, we eliminated many of the Senate’s proposed tax increases, including an online sales tax and the 5.75% “super bracket” for people who have adjusted gross incomes of more than $500,000.  Instead, under the House budget, the highest 13% of Marylanders wage earners will lose the 1996 Glendenning tax cut resulting in a small, progressive .25% increase.  This budget will raise less revenues and therefore requires an additional $250 million in budget cuts.  This is a huge departure from the Senate’s proposal, which would have raised taxes on nearly every Marylander.  The House budget also includes increased taxes on tobacco snuff and the elimination of a tax loophole for out-of-state mailings. 

Under the House plan, counties will assume roughly one-third of the total cost of teacher pensions, only paying expenses associated with their current employers.  This represents a significant savings to the county in contrast to the Governor’s initial 50/50 pension sharing proposal.  The Maryland State Education Association favors our proposal over the Governor’s.  Maryland is one of the few states that currently pays teacher-pension benefits without help from county governments, which set salaries and benefits for their employees.

This budget reduces Maryland’s structural deficit and accomplishes spending cuts.  Last year, the General Assembly reduced ongoing spending by $800 million, cutting the structural deficit from roughly $2 billion to the current $1.1 billion.  This year, the House budget reduces an additional $400 million of ongoing spending, again cutting the structural deficit in half.  Among the tough choices we’ve had to make, since 2002, six thousand state employee positions have been eliminated despite population growth and increasing workloads.  I expect this legislation to pass the House today and go to a House/Senate conference committee sometime next week.

I am pleased to report the House passed two important bills related to the oversight of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) this week.  The extraction of natural gas from deep shale deposits threatens our precious water supplies.  Many unanswered questions and serious risks remain.  In response, HB1123 imposes liability for drilling license holders to replace impacted water supplies in surrounding areas under specified circumstances.  HB1204 imposes a fee of $10 per acre on owners of natural gas interests, with the funds going toward the governor’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission to study the risks and impacts of hydraulic fracturing in Maryland.  Finally, the Ways and Means Committee favorably reported HB907, a bill to impose a severance tax on the removal of natural gas in Maryland.  This special fund would be used for clean up and management of potential future damage which cannot be attributed to a specific responsible party.  It is imperative that we look before we leap into natural gas drilling in Maryland, especially given our invaluable water resources and ongoing drilling in neighboring states.

Don’t forget the upcoming Democratic primary election taking place on Tuesday, April 3.  I am proud to support the candidacy of my uncle, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin.  With 8 opponents turnout expected to be very low, Ben needs our support.  Please cast your vote in the primary next Tuesday, or take advantage of early voting, beginning this Saturday, March 24.  Click here for further information about voter registration.  Click here to request an absentee ballot.

Jon S. Cardin