Tue October 8, 2013
The Government Shutdown, The MD GOP’s New Executive Director, and Baltimore’s Tax Billing Problems
The latest on the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government: most civilian military workers are back at work, thousands of furloughed workers file for unemployment benefits, a delay on the groundbreaking of the Harbor Point development, and much more.
Federal Government Shutdown Roundup: Most of the civilian workers at Maryland military installations who had been furloughed last week are back on the job, thanks to a decision made over the weekend by the Department of Defense. The Capital Gazette says most of the 29-thousand civilian employees at Fort Meade and another 15-hundred at the Naval Academy in Annapolis got the word over the weekend. The vast majority of previously furloughed civilian workers at Fort Detrick and Aberdeen Proving Ground are back on the job (according to the Frederick News Post and the Aberdeen Patch, respectively). Because of a law passed by Congress before the shutdown, the Washington Post reports that the returned civilian workers will get paid on time. The return of the military workers has prompted government contractor Lockheed Martin is reducing the number of furloughs for its employees. The aerospace company last week said it would temporarily lay off about 3 thousand employees. But yesterday, the Bethesda-based firm said the Pentagon’s policy shift means it will only furlough about 24-hundred workers, for the time being; the Daily Record has more here. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of federal employees who live in Maryland remain on furlough. They’re likely to get back pay once the shutdown ends – but with no resolution in sight, many are filing for unemployment benefits; the Baltimore Sun reports that more than 16-thousand of Maryland’s furloughed federal workers have done so. Once the shutdown is over, and the now furloughed workers are paid, they’ll have to pay back the benefits they receive. Federal employees who don’t work for the Department of Defense, and are still on the job because their positions are considered essential, will NOT be paid until the shutdown is over… and because they’re working, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits. The groundbreaking for Baltimore’s Harbor Point development has been put on hold because of the federal government shutdown. The Environmental Protection Agency had planned a meeting about construction at Harbor Point for yesterday – but the shutdown forced the EPA to cancel that meeting. The Baltimore Business Journal reports that Harbor Point’s developer has agreed not to move forward until the EPA can get back to work. The government shutdown has also prompted the postponement of the annual pony roundup at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which is located on the Virginia portion of Assateague Island. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company rounds up approximately 130 ponies every fall for a medical checkup… but says that the shutdown’s put that on indefinite delay. The fire department's president tells the Daily Times that any health problems that arise with the ponies during the shutdown will be taken care of; the department says it’ll announce a new date as soon as it has been set.
Mayor Touts Reforms to Reduce Tax Errors: Baltimore City officials have announced a series of reforms aimed at reducing tax credit errors that resulted in the loss of more than $11-million in revenue over the last ten years. But City Councilman Carl Stokes is wondering how much longer it will be before the city stops leaving money on the table. Stokes is calling for an audit, and city Comptroller Joan Pratt is ordering one. WYPR’s Kenneth Burns has more; there’s more here from the Baltimore Sun.
Cluster Named State GOP Executive Director: The Maryland Republican Party has a new Executive Director. Joe Cluster has been tapped for the role; he’s the son of Baltimore County Delegate John Cluster Jr, and previously served as an aide to former Governor Bob Ehrlich and former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele. The state GOP’s Executive Directorship went vacant when David Ferguson left the post in August. New Executive Director Cluster says he’ll put a priority on fundraising while on the job. The Washington Post has more here; there’s more here from the Baltimore Sun.
Baltimore Police Reverse Twitter Policy Change: Baltimore’s Police Department has changed its mind about a change in social media policy it announced over the weekend. The Baltimore Sun reports that police have used Twitter for years to notify the public about shootings in the city… but over the weekend, the department did not update its feed when four shootings took place in separate incidents. At the time, a spokesman for the department said that police were not going to tweet “criminal on criminal crime.” But a backlash ensued, with Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott saying the police should not “value one life over another.” The Sun reports that City Police have now decided to return to the original policy of tweeting all shootings, no matter who is involved.
New Contract For Baltimore County AFSCME Workers: Unionized employees who work for Baltimore County's Public Works' department and Property Management have a new labor deal. The contract, which runs through fiscal year 2016, was approved by a two-to-one margin by members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The Baltimore Sun notes that those workers had been without a contract for more than a year.
Casino Revenue: Maryland’s casinos saw a big boost in revenue last month. The Baltimore Business Journal says the three facilities that were open in September of 2012 brought in about 45 percent more money in September of 2013. Maryland now has four casinos… when the revenue from Western Maryland’s Rocky Gap facility is factored in, September’s total take was $65.3-million. State lottery officials say that the addition of table games to casinos’ offerings has likely led to the casinos’ growth. The Baltimore Sun has more here.
Court Martial In Super Pond Deaths: Four U.S. Navy sailors are facing court martial on charges related to the deaths of two divers at the Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Super Pond. The charged sailors are members of the Navy's mobile salvage and diving unit. They have not been publicly identified, but their names will be released when they are arraigned this week. The deaths occurred in February at the underwater explosive test facility when the underwater breathing units being used by the divers failed and their line to the surface became tangled. The Baltimore Sun has more here.
Mugshot Website Reaches Settlement: A website accused of posting deceptive criminal histories online is agreeing to a settlement with the state of Maryland. The state Attorney General's Office claimed the website posted exaggerated traffic offenses and charged consumers $9.99 just to view information about themselves. They had to pay between $40 and $90 to have the information taken down. As a result of the settlement, the site is now down, and its operator is returning the money consumers paid him. The Baltimore Sun has more here.