Wed March 19, 2014
MD’s Health Exchange, Baltimore’s Budget, The Minimum Wage, and Baltimore County’s School Board
Many people trying to buy insurance through Maryland’s online health benefit exchange are going to get some extra time to complete the process. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will unveil a $2.5-billion budget proposal today. Plus: the minimum wage, Baltimore County’s school board, a new location for the Baltimore Book Festival, and more.
Maryland Exchange Will Work Past Deadline To Finish Enrolling People: The end of this month marks the end of open enrollment on the state’s health insurance exchange. But even after the enrollment benchmarks were lowered last month, Maryland still lags in people signing up for private plans. And now, the state is now making its old deadline a little more flexible; state officials say anyone who calls a new hotline by the end of the month will be able to get coverage. The phone number is 1-800-396-1961. WYPR’s Christopher Connelly has more. The policy change was approved yesterday by the board that governs Maryland’s health benefits exchange, which the Baltimore Sun reports also voted to extend the contracts of 12 companies involved in managing the website.
Baltimore’s Budget: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake is set to unveil a $2.5-billion budget plan today. The Baltimore Sun reports that the plan reduces property taxes while giving city workers a 2 percent raise. It also includes $26-million for new capital investments. This will also be the first budget since 2008 that does not cut city services. Andrew Kleine, the mayor’s budget director, tells the Sun that Baltimore is now on firmer financial footing than it was before the recession: Kleine says that the mayor’s budget “keeps us on the path toward fiscal sustainability.” The City Council can make changes to the mayor’s proposal before approving it. The new budget must be in place before the start of the coming fiscal year, which is July 1st.
Gansler Gets Much-Needed Endorsement: WYPR's Fraser Smith and Luke Broadwater of the Baltimore Sun talk about the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance's endorsement of Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler for governor and why the IMA has historical been a powerful political force in Baltimore. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.
MD’s Minimum Wage: As lawmakers in the State Senate consider legislation that would increase Maryland’s minimum wage, a coalition of labor unions, civil rights organizations, and faith groups is calling on Senators to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, like waiters. The House of Delegates has approved a bill that would raise the minimum wage from its current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2017. But that bill would keep the minimum wage for tipped workers where it is now, which is 50% of the current rate. Governor Martin O’Malley had wanted tipped workers to get 70% of the new minimum wage. The Washington Post reports that the group “Raise Maryland” is urging the Senate to restore that provision; it’s begun airing radio ads urging voters to call their Senators about the matter. The Senate Finance Committee will hold a work session this morning, where the minimum wage bill could be up for debate.
Prevailing Wage Bill Passes State Senate: The State Senate has approved legislation that would increase wages for workers on many local school construction projects. The bill would require local governments to pay workers the so-called “prevailing wage” if the state’s contributed more than 25% of the funding for a school project. Marylandreporter.com notes that prevailing wages vary by county and by type of worker. The state’s Department of Legislative Services says the bill would likely increase overall school construction costs by as much as 5%. The House of Delegates approved its version of the bill earlier this week.
Baltimore County’s School Board: A bill that would change the composition of the Baltimore County school board was approved by the State Senate yesterday. The Baltimore Sun reports that the vote was unanimous. It would make the board partially-elected, and partially appointed – with 7 members chosen by county voters and 4 appointed by the Governor. If the House of Delegates signs off on the plan, the new composition of the board go into effect after the 2018 election.
Rawlings-Blake Orders Probe Into IT Department Contracts: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is ordering an investigation into her administration’s Information Technology Department, amid allegations that contract workers for that department were paid for work that they didn’t do. The probe will focus on contract work completed over the last 18 months. City Inspector General Robert Pearre tells the Baltimore Sun that the investigation will start immediately, and be complete in “weeks, not months.”
Baltimore Book Festival Moves (Temporarily) To The Inner Harbor: The Baltimore Book Festival is moving to the Inner Harbor, at least temporarily. For the past 18-years, the festival has been held in Mount Vernon Square. However, organizers say the renovation of the Washington Monument has significantly reduced the space available along Charles Street. This year's festival is scheduled for September 26th through September 28th. Officials with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts say they hope to return the festival to Mount Vernon for the 2015 edition. The Baltimore Business Journal has more.
Saint Patrick’s Weekend DUI Arrests: Maryland State Police are reporting more than 100 arrests of those suspected of drunk driving during St. Patrick's Day weekend. They say between Friday and Monday, 120 people were charged with driving under the influence. The arrests were made during sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols and regular road patrols. The Baltimore Sun has more here.