Legislative checkup, 2007 special session (midpoint)

This will likely be the first of two parts, with the second coming about this time next week when the 2007 Special Session is supposed to be wrapped up. What I’ll do here is review what our local Delegates and Senators from Districts 37 and 38 have done and some of how they voted. Unfortunately, the MLS website hasn’t put up the roll-call votes yet but I have some idea on a broad scale of how all the state Senators voted thanks to O’Malley Watch.

I’ll begin with District 37. Delegate Rudy Cane is a co-sponsor of two bills in this special session.

  • HB24 changes the disparity grant formula for counties so that additional counties become eligible. Instead of needing to be under a 75% percentile, the threshold increases to 85%. According to the fiscal note, Wicomico County would stand to gain quite a bit but nowhere near what Baltimore City and PG County receive in additional real dollars. (This is also crossfiled as SB32.)
  • HB30 is a reintroduction of the infamous “if you buy a gift certificate and allow it to lapse, the state takes the money” bill. It establishes another of those nefarious “funds”, in this case the Maryland Education Fund.

HB24 had a hearing last week, none has been scheduled for HB30.

Meanwhile, Delegate Addie Eckardt has co-sponsored three measures this time around.

  • HB25 is a different slots bill than what the O’Malley Administration has put up, in particular selling the licenses for a total of $850 million to six operators, with a fixed number of terminals ranging from 1,500 to 3,500 at each location and a maximum statewide of 15,000. More importantly, it doesn’t place the measure up to a vote at the November 2008 election but takes effect next January 1st, with license bids due by the end of 2008. Delegate Jeannie Haddaway is also a local co-sponsor.
  • HB27 enhances fiscal accountability by requiring “an itemized statement of mandated appropriations to be included in the budget books.” I see it as a one-stop shop for seeing where tax dollars are slated to go, since a lot of bills create particular funds that are never heard from again except as line-items on the budget. This is an “emergency” measure so it would be in effect immediately after passage. Both Delegates Elmore and Haddaway are co-sponsors, Eckardt is lead sponsor.
  • HB36 establishes a “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” in the Maryland Constitution.

All of these bills did get a hearing but no further action has been taken.

For her part, Delegate Jeannie Haddaway has co-sponsored HB25 and HB27 above, also she’s a co-sponsor of:

  • HB7, the “Maryland Funding Accountability and Transparency Act” which promises to require “the Department of Budget and Management to develop and operate a searchable website that includes specified information for State financial assistance and expenditures over $5,000.” It’s crossfiled as SB9.

That bill also had its hearing, so the majority Democrats must feel generous with their time.

District 37 State Senator Rich Colburn has not co-sponsored any bills as of this writing. However, he was the lead sponsor of an amendment to exempt the Eastern Shore from the penny increase in the sales tax, but it failed 31-16.

Moving east and south into District 38, District 38A Delegate Page Elmore is a co-sponsor of HB27 above but no other bills at the moment.

The duo in District 38B, Norm Conway and Jim Mathias, are both co-sponsors of one bill, to wit:

  • HB22, another alternative slots bill, is different from the GOP version in that the total number of video lottery terminals cannot exceed 13,000 or 3,000 at any one location and establishes six regions. This also places an amendment on the November 2008 ballot. In theory, if all of the counties in a particular region voted “no” then VLT machines couldn’t be placed in a region since the bill states that counties voting against their placement can’t be forced to host them. It also delays implementation for almost a full year and leaves much of the detail in HB25 as yet to be written.

As of this writing, District 38 Senator Lowell Stolzfus has not co-sponsored any legislation during the session.

Because I believe it’s pertinent to the 2008 Congressional race, I’m also including what District 7 State Senator Andy Harris is sponsoring or co-sponsoring. He has four proposals under his wing:

  • SB7 is a Constitutional amendment for voters to decide that would require a 2/3 majority to raise taxes. Given the current makeup of the General Assembly, fewer Democrats would be allowed to take a pass as needed for electability when it comes to raising taxes if this somehow made it through. Harris is the sole sponsor of this bill.
  • SB8 exempts kindergarteners from school day/hour requirements, allowing half-day kindergarten.
  • SB9 is the crossfiling of HB7 that Jeannie Haddaway is a co-sponsor of, above.
  • SB10 eliminates a mandate for a needle and syringe exchange program in Baltimore City and bars the expenditure of state funds on that program if established.

Only SB 7 and SB10 have had hearings, the other two await their time (which probably won’t come in this session.)

With the help of O’Malley Watch, this is how our Senators and Andy Harris voted on three key issues:

  • On the sales tax, all three voted no.
  • On the income tax increase, all three voted no.
  • On the slots bill that eventually passed, Harris and Stoltzfus voted no and Colburn voted yes.

I’m hoping by next week the roll-call votes will be up for both the House and Senate so we can see who voted for what. But I’m sure the fix is in for higher taxes and a VLT vote at next year’s general election. That means the ballot will be crowded by at least two ballot issues – don’t forget early voting is on the 2008 election docket as well.

Obviously the O’Malley focus for that campaign will be on how far we’ve come in solving the budget issue, but how it would fall short if video gambling is not included and they’d simply have no choice but to raise taxes again. And besides, it’s for the children.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

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