April 2018Campaigns

MD general assembly enters final two weeks in a hyper-political year

The Democratic-controlled Maryland General Assembly and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan are readying their stances for this year’s Nov. 6 General Election, when the popular-ish Hogan is seeking a second term.

And of course it’s during the Assembly’s 2018 session, due to end April 10, that the battle lines are conti nually and dynamically  drawn. As the session rumbles toward a close, and a crowded field of Democratic contenders to face Hogan jostles on the way to the June 26 primary election, the atmosphere in Annapolis is morphing from un-cordial to just plain toxic.

The Democrats in the legislature, with a few exceptions, are well owned by the state’s business forces and their lobbyists, among the highest-paid people in the state.

First, a schedule explainer: If a bill is passed by both houses of the Maryland General Assembly by TODAY (Friday, March 30) Hogan has to sign or veto it during the session – so a Hogan veto can still be overridden during this session. That means the political resonances, whatever they might be, can be amplified during the 2018 election cycle, when Democrats hope to beat Hogan and end his tenure at one term.

That’s why the most immediate dust-up between Hogan and the Democratic-controlled assembly is cooking this week:

SUDDEN BIG “ROCKET DOCKET” BATTLE OVER CONTROL OF SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION FUNDS

The Senate is pushing a high-speed bill (a rarity) that would put $400 million in school construction funds in the hands of a new nine-member Interagency Commission on School Construction. This would take it away from the governor’s satrapy, the Board of Public Works, dominated by Hogan and his buddy, Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot. Franchot, a showboating ex-liberal, votes cozily with Hogan on most matters, marginalizing the third member, State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a Democrat.

The new commission would have some of the governor’s appointees on it ex officio but it would still be chancy whether Hogan or a successor could sway the proceedings as he does in the Board of Public Works. The annual “beg-a-thon” in which county officials had to grovel before Public Works for construction money – a posture they hated – would be considerably altered.

As a power play – especially if it involved a veto override that didn’t have to wait till next year – it would be a tasty move by the Assembly in their jockeying for advantage in the public eye vis a vis Hogan.

Other legislative moves have a special election edge this year, too.

LAWMAKERS CREATING PROTECTIONS FOR UNIONIZED STATE WORKERS

Glynis Kazanjian, who writes for the aggregator Maryland Reporter, recounts “… Republican lawmakers are crying foul over Democratic efforts to pass a bill extending “evergreen” employment terms for thousands of unionized state employees after negotiating parties agreed not to make statutory changes.”

The legislators are protecting unionized state workers against the possibility of savage cutbacks should Hogan win a second term and suddenly stop being the smiling friend of the working stiff.

“The proposed bill, SB654, sponsored by Sen. Jim Mathias, D-Lower Shore, would allow contract terms for approximately 30,000 state employees to stay in place after a negotiated employment contract has expired if the two parties — the state and its public employee unions  — are unable to come to agreement on new terms.

“The Senate passed this and several other union-backed measures Monday night in party line votes of 33-14 on each of them. All 14 GOP senators opposed the bills designed to help the unions in the face of strained relations with the Republican Hogan administration.

A March 8 Department of Budget and Management position paper stated the administration opposes the bill because it says the bill diminishes the negotiation process and negates the need for the union to negotiate with the state.

PROGRESSIVE MARYLAND GOT IN A SPITTING MATCH with members of the Md. Senate, especially Bobby Zirkin of Baltimore County and Anthony Muse of Prince George’s, over a retro omnibus criminal justice bill that gives extra tools to prosecutors to lock ‘em up and retain mass incarceration policies. Larry Stafford of Progressive Maryland notes that some Dems bought into the Hogan administration-backed package (which included some money for crime reduction in Baltimore) because “it made them look tough.”  Here is the Sun overview on the bill

BALLOT ACCESS LOOKING GOOD
Several moves to improve ballot access in the state seem to be on track for passage. One would change the law that allows Marylanders to “opt-in” to be registered to vote when doing business with the Motor Vehicle Administration or several other state agencies. Now, they will be automatically registered to vote unless they “opt-out.”

Another bill sponsored by Del. Kirill Reznick, D-Montgomery, HB532, would put a question on the ballot asking if Marylanders should be allowed to register to vote at the polling place on Election Day. Several progressive organizations including Working Families Maryland are backing both bills. The Sun recounts:

“Residents would be automatically placed on active voting rolls using MVA records from driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards. Verification of home address and signing a legally binding statement confirming the voter’s eligibility would be required, according to state election officials.

“Voters must first approve the constitutional amendment before implementing legislation is passed, which wouldn’t be until 2019.”

Speaking of that crowded Democratic primary field,

JEALOUS GETS HIGH PROFILE ENDORSEMENTS, BUT NOT IN STATE

California Sen Kamala Harris endorsed Ben Jealous in the Maryland governor’s race, Harris, who has become a leading voice on immigration reform and a rising star in the Democratic Party, joins U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) in backing Jealous’s bid in the crowded primary.

He has also received backing from key progressive groups in the state, including Progressive Maryland, the Service Employees International Union and Maryland Working Families. Jealous has been slow to receive the same type of support from the Democratic establishment. Rushern Baker, the Prince George’s County Executive, most recently added Rep. Steny Hoyer to the long list of members of the state’s Democratic old-guard heavyweights to back him.

THREE SOURCES OF FUNDING SEALED FOR WMATA. IS IT A DEDICATED, PERMANENT COMMITMENT?

Robert McCartney writes in the WaPo that “Maryland will give Metro its full share of $167 million a year in new, permanent funding, the governor and leaders of both legislative chambers said Thursday, putting the transit system on track to win a historic regional deal to support it.

“Virginia and the District have committed to provide their share for a total of $500 million a year in the dedicated funding that Metro says it needs for capital investments to ensure safety and reliability.

With Maryland’s assent, and barring last-minute hitches, the system will receive a reliable revenue stream for the first time since its trains began rolling in 1976”

There does not seem to be the kind of dedicated tax-based allocation that could survive the ups and downs of a political year in the two states and the District, we note.

“Each of the three is raising the money in a different way,” the WaPo reports. “Maryland has planned to tap its state transportation trust fund, which will reduce the total available for road and bridge projects throughout the state.

“Virginia is using a combination of state funds, an increase in regional wholesale gasoline taxes and the diversion of funds from Northern Virginia road and transit projects.

“The District plans to rely in part on raising the sales tax, commercial property tax and tax on ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.”

ENVIRO BILLS EXCITE, THEN FLOUNDER

As several veteran Maryland legislators are fond of saying, it takes three years to get a good bill through the Legislature (but only one year for a bad bill).

The state’s environmental groups generally hold a coalition together and grind it out for up to three years to get a bill like the 50 percent renewable requirement bill filed this year. It would require the state’s electric utilities to get half their power from renewable sources by 2030. The current standard, just enacted over a veto from Gov. Larry Hogan, requires 25 percent renewables by 2020.

Then the 50 percent bill suddenly acquired a House majority of co-sponsors, exciting the green coalition and making it look as though it could be passed this year. A general case of animal spirits in the enviro front led to a split, with some coalition members like the Sierra Club instead backing a bill that would require 100 percent renewables. Both bills foundered in the usual swamps – the House Economic Matters Committee and Senate Finance Committee, killing floors for pro-people bills where the influence of the state’s business forces is concentrated. So the effort will start over in the 2019 session.

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