Week 4: A Balanced Approach

As we conclude week 4 of the legislative session, my wife hits week 36 of her pregnancy and the General Assembly is in full swing: committees are scheduling a full slate of daily hearings, nearly 600 bills have been introduced, my staff barely has time to grab lunch, and the baby could come anytime now.  Furthermore, the Governor gave his annual State of the State Address, which certainly deserves some commentary.  Finally, if you make it to end of this Report you can read about one of my legislative proposals that I believe has the potential to save the state millions while keeping Marylanders healthy and productive.

In his annual State of the State Address, titled "A Balanced Approach" (co-opting a title of a previous Annapolis Report of mine), the Governor stressed efficiency in government, investment in our workforce, and protection of the middle class and the quality of life we Marylanders proudly enjoy.  To close a budget gap of approximately $1 billion, the Administration's FY 2013 budget includes almost $800 million of reductions, bring­ing total reductions during the O'Malley-Brown Administration to $7.5 billion.

While I believe the Governor has always taken a balanced approach to governing, I proceed cautiously in how I evaluate his proposals in light of their potential impact on Maryland families, particularly as we scratch our way out of the throws of the recent recession.  My staff and I will continue to study the issues and proposals closely before determining how to handle each individually and the entire package as a whole.  Thank you to those of you who have contacted my office to share your thoughts on these issues, and especially those of you who have offered creative suggestions for legislative solutions.  I applaud those who approach difficult, often contentious issues with respect for contrary viewpoints, and I challenge others to rethink how they communicate and consider how their effectiveness is likely compromised by a lack of civility.

Since taking office, I have consistently promoted the balanced approach the Governor stressed in his address, as well as stewardship of our environment and our economy through long-term solutions.  I have many of my own ideas for addressing the pressing issues we face (the elephant in the room being our $1 billion deficit).  As Speaker Busch said, the General Assembly is "going through all the options we see out there" to solve the problems we face.  The Health Improvement and Cost Savings Act is one proposal I am introducing to reduce the State's crushing health care costs, which continue to escalate at a scary pace.  It is well documented that individual responsibility and engagement in health and fitness reduces health costs across the board, especially issues of cardiovascular health and our obesity epidemic, as well as emergency care – which the State is often left paying for.

I would love for Maryland to become the national leader in spurring a sense of ownership for health and fitness among all citizens by offering an incentive for enrollment in evidence-based health improvement programs.  In this age of obesity and inactivity, I am introducing a proposal to encourage health and fitness as preventative health maintenance.  My legislation will provide an incentive in the form of a reduction in premium payments for employees able to document their enrollment and participation in approved programs with the dual aims of improving the productivity of our employees and drastically reducing the state's exorbitant healthcare expenses.  Many Maryland businesses are already demonstrating the success of similar programs.

As debate continues in Annapolis over the myriad amount of revenue growing legislation currently on the table, we welcome your thoughts on one particular bill: the so-called plastic bag bill.  This legislation would levy a 5 cent fee on all bags distributed at qualifying businesses for the purpose of encouraging patrons to reuse their own bags, reducing bag litter throughout Maryland, and saving businesses the expense of providing these bags.  Similar legislation has already been passed in Washington D.C., resulting in $3.5 million in revenue for the city.  I believe in the aims of the bill, but I am not 100% convinced this is the appropriate time to impose this fee on Maryland families.  As I weigh both sides of this issue, please contact my staff to share your thoughts on the Community Cleanup Act of 2012.

Finally, the Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics Maryland was a huge success.  I raised nearly $900 and my team from the State Bar's Young Lawyer's Association raised over $6,000.  Furthermore, congrats to Delegates Aruna Miller and Herb McMillan, who both say they raised more than $3,000 each.  As you are aware, the MSP Polar Bear Plunge benefits Special Olympics Maryland and the thousands of children and adults with intellectual disabilities who experience the life-changing benefits of participating in the organization's year-round training and competition programs.  The day was very emotional with lots of laughs and tears.  The Governor, Olympic gold medalist Kimmie Meissner, an entire class of midshipmen, and lots of huggers joined me, and the 15,000 other participants, charging into the Bay to raise money and awareness.

Jon S. Cardin