Wed February 19, 2014
Another Poll On The Governor’s Race, MD’s Health Insurance Exchange, & The SHA’s Snow Removal Budget
We look at the results of another poll on the MD Governor’s race. Plus: news on the state’s online health insurance exchange, speed cameras, offshore wind, MDs’ income tax, snow removal budgets, Baltimore City Schools’ new CEO, SSA disability claims, and the Baltimore County Executive’s race.
Deck Stacked Against Baltimore County GOP in Executive Race: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is running for re-election, and he’s holding a very strong hand. The Democrat’s cards include a sizable campaign war chest. He also presides over a county that’s becoming increasingly Democratic. WYPR’s John Lee reports that time is running out for county Republicans to find a credible candidate to challenge Kamenetz. The deadline for candidates to file for the primary is this coming Tuesday, February 25th.
Maryland's Favorite Candidate: "Undecided" WYPR's Fraser Smith and Karen Hosler talk about a Baltimore Sun poll released over the weekend that revealed a large number of likely Democratic and Republican voters have not made up their minds about who they favor in the governor's race. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics. After that segment was recorded, the Washington Post released its own opinion poll examining the governor’s race. And the results were essentially identical to the Baltimore Sun / Opinionworks poll that Fraser and Karen discussed. Both polls show that around 40 percent of Democrats haven’t picked a candidate; with a more than 30 percent favoring Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, and about half Brown’s total supporting State Attorney General Doug Gansler. In both surveys, Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur comes in behind Gansler. Both polls also show that about two thirds of Republicans haven’t chosen a candidate, with the plurality of those who have backing Larry Hogan, founder of Change Maryland. Harford County Executive David Craig follows Hogan in both polls. The primary election is four months away, and with so many undecided voters, there’s a lot of room for things to change.
Brown Faces Criticism From Gubernatorial Rivals: With Lieutenant Governor Brown marked as the frontrunner in both opinion polls, his Democratic rivals are taking swipes at him. Delegate Mizeur challenged Brown yesterday about his role in the state’s troubled online health care exchange; the Baltimore Sun reports that she questioned whether Brown can be trusted to create and implement complex projects. Mizeur’s comments were echoed by Attorney General Gansler… who also said yesterday that Brown doesn’t have the “executive experience” necessary to take the state’s top job. The Baltimore Sun reports that Gansler suggested that Brown’s running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, is more qualified.
Most Information Requests About Health Exchange Now Require Fees: It’s about to become a little more difficult to find out what went wrong with Maryland’s troubled online health insurance exchange. Since the website’s rocky launch in October, staff have had to deal with dozens of requests for information under the state’s public records laws – and the interim executive director of the exchange says that responding to those requests has become time consuming. As the Baltimore Sun reports, she says those responses have become a quote “undue burden” on the lawyers and staffers who work for the exchange… and the exchange’s board has approved a policy change that will require people to pay whenever they request information about it. The charges will vary, depending on how much time it takes for staffers to fill the requests (the first two hours of work will be free). Maryland had a goal of enrolling 150-thousand people in private coverage through the exchange by the end of March. As of February 8th, just about one-fifth of that total had done so.
Craig Proposes Reduction, Elimination Of MD Income Tax: Harford County Executive David Craig says he would work to phase out Maryland's income tax if he's elected governor. The Republican released a plan yesterday that would incrementally lower the income tax rate to a flat three-percent before eliminating the tax altogether. Craig says such a move would stimulate Maryland's economy and keep residents from moving to other states with lower or no income taxes. The Baltimore Sun has more on Craig’s plan here.
Dr. Gregory Thornton Named Baltimore City Schools CEO: The current superintendent of the Milwaukee public school system will take the helm at Baltimore City’s schools in July. And Dr. Gregory Thornton says he’s eager to begin his new job. Dr. Thornton once served as a deputy superintendent of Montgomery County schools; he’s been in charge of the Milwaukee Public School system for almost four years – a system about the same size as Baltimore City’s. Thornton will take over from Tisha Edwards, who’s served in the post in an interim capacity since former CEO Andres Alonso resigned last spring. The Baltimore Sun has more here.
SSA To Streamline Disability Claim Process For Veterans: The Social Security Administration is planning to speeding up disability claims for Maryland veterans. Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin will announce the policy change in Baltimore today. The Baltimore Sun reports that the move would put disabled veterans on the list of high-priority groups whose claims are put at the top of the list for review. Nearly 63-thousand of Maryland's 450-thousand veterans collect disability from the Veterans Administration.
Lawmakers To Consider Bill Requiring CO Detectors In Hotels: Legislation that would require all Maryland hotels to have carbon monoxide detectors is up for consideration in the General Assembly. State Senator Joan Carter-Conway introduced the bill, after an incident last weekend at a Westin hotel… where at least nine people were treated for carbon-monoxide poisoning. Hotels built before 2008 currently do not have to install carbon-monoxide detectors in rooms. WJZ has more.
Speed Camera Reform Legislation Up For Debate: In Annapolis yesterday, a House of Delegates committee began to debate legislation that would reform the state’s law governing automated speed camera systems. Delegate Jon Cardin introduced the measure yesterday which could allow for the possibility of fines for speed camera operators. The proposed law would also formally eliminate the so-called "bounty system" in which speed camera manufacturers get a cut of each ticket. Each speed camera ticket would also be required to include two time-stamped images of the vehicle involved so that a driver can test the accuracy of the alleged infraction. The proposals follow high-profile problems with Baltimore City’s speed camera system, which was taken offline last year. The reform bill’s got the backing of driver advocacy group AAA Mid-Atlantic. Similar legislation was proposed during last year’s session, but didn’t make it through the State Senate. There’s more here from the Annapolis Capital and here from the Baltimore Sun.
MD Cybersecurity Center To Expand: A Maryland cybersecurity center will soon be undertaking a big expansion. Governor Martin O'Malley and Senator Barbara Mikulski announced yesterday that $24-million in federal and state grants will go making Rockville’s “National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence” far larger. The center’s currently 7-thousand square feet; its new headquarters will be more than 9 times larger, some 65-thousand square feet. Governor O’Malley tells the Baltimore Sun that the expanded center will foster investment in the state’s economy, and Senator Mikulski says that cybersecurity itself is a place that more investment should be made. Mikulski added: "we want Maryland to be the epicenter of cybersecurity." There’s more here from the Daily Record and here from the Baltimore Business Journal.
Smoking Ban In Baltimore County Parks Clears County Council: The Baltimore County Council has approved a bill banning smoking in parts of County parks. The measure forbids smoking at playgrounds, athletic fields, dog parks, and within 30 feet of recreation buildings. Violators would face fines up to $50. The Baltimore Sun notes that the measure wouldn’t ban smoking at ALL county parklands; for example, smoking would still be allowed at pavilions, which are rented out for events like family reunions. If Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz signs the measure into law, it would take effect in 45 days.
Dominion Eyes Offshore Wind: Virginia-based Dominion Resources Inc is looking to get involved in Maryland’s renewable energy market. The Daily Record reports that Dominion is planning to bid on a lease for the 80-thousand acres of Atlantic ocean seabed that have been designated for offshore wind turbines. The US Department of Energy says that once wind turbines are built off the coast of Ocean City, they could produce enough energy to power 300-thousand homes. If successful, Dominion’s bid would expand its entry into the offshore wind market; it’s already got a lease for some 113-thousand acres of land off the coast of Virginia. There’s more here from the Daily Times.
SHA Way Over Budget On Snow Removal: The State Highway Administration says it's been an expensive winter. SHA spokesperson Valerie Burnette-Edgar tells WJZ that, so far, the state has spent more than twice its $46-million snow budget. In all Maryland has spent about $100-million this winter on necessities like salt, fuel and contractors to keep the roads clear. And that’s just at the state level; many local jurisdictions are also seeing their snow removal budgets dip deep into the red.