Thu March 6, 2014
Minimum Wage, Harbor Point, Enoch Pratt Redesign, and Maryland Billionaires
Minimum Wage Legislation: Lawmakers looking to raise Maryland’s minimum wage won a preliminary victory in Annapolis yesterday. The House of Delegates advanced a bill that would boost the minimum wage from its current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by January of 2017. In doing so, Delegates rejected multiple amendments to the legislation that would change it even more from what had been originally proposed by Governor Martin O’Malley. Changes to the initial proposal include a delay in the implementation of the wage increase, exemptions for seasonal amusement parks, and the elimination of a provision that would have tied the rate to inflation. The House is expected to pass its version of the bill on Friday. But the State Senate may attempt to revive some of the provisions that were in the Governor’s initial proposal… and if the Senate’s bill differs from the House’s, the measure would have to go to conference committee before it could be sent to O’Malley’s desk. The Annapolis Capital has more here; there’s more here from the Frederick News Post, and more here from the Washington Post.
GAO May Examine MD’s Online Health Insurance Exchange: The federal government appears poised to examine Maryland’s online health insurance exchange. The US Government Accountability Office announced yesterday that it plans to examine the state-based exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. In making that announcement, the GAO didn’t specifically say that Maryland’s exchange website would face its review, but 1st District Congressman Andy Harris tells the Baltimore Sun that he’s been given “the impression” that the site would be included. 6th District Congressman John Delaney welcomes a federal investigation, but says he’s looking forward to having another investigation at the state level. Maryland’s health exchange was hailed as a model before its rollout last October, but since then, the website has been plagued by problems that made it hard for many people to sign up for coverage. It’s also costing more than had been expected.
Pension Funding Dispute: WYPR's Fraser Smith says that the current disagreement between Governor Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp is reminiscent of 1984 - an interesting year in Maryland political history. He comments in his weekly essay.
Gubernatorial Campaign Ad Season Starts: Two of the Democrats running to be Maryland’s next governor are preparing to saturate the TV airwaves with campaign ads. Yesterday, state Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown announced that they’re launching their first political ads over the next two days; with Gansler’s starting today and Brown’s tomorrow. The primary is more than 3 months away on June 24. The campaigns’ ad campaigns will likely cost millions of dollars between now and then. The Baltimore Sun notes that a third Democrat in the race, Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur, is taking public financing, and so has a tighter budget.
BPW Completes Bond Sale: Maryland’s Board of Public Works has sold more than $735 million worth of general obligation bonds. The Daily Record reports that the bonds will be used to finance the building of schools, colleges, prisons, and cultural projects. Maryland’s bonds have the coveted AAA rating from the three major bond ratings agencies; only a handful of other states have bond ratings so high. When a state sells bonds it pays them back with interest and a good bond rating means lower interest – saving taxpayers money.
Harbor Point Construction Could Start This Month: Construction for the Harbor Point development in Baltimore could begin as soon as this month. This after environmental regulators yesterday approved a plan to measure air quality at the site. The area’s soil is contaminated with toxic chemicals, and regulators want to make sure that they don’t get kicked into the air and hurt people who live nearby. The plan approved yesterday will set a “baseline” for air quality at the site. Regulators still have to approve an air monitoring plan that’ll be in effect during construction itself. The $1.8-billion dollar development is slated to house the new regional headquarters for energy company Exelon. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun and here from the Daily Record.
Enoch Pratt Renovation On Pace To Start Next Year: State officials have agreed to spend $4.8 million to design a major renovation of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library. The renovation itself will likely begin next year, and the total cost of the project is expected to be around $99 million, with most of the money coming from the state. The Baltimore Sun reports that the project will likely be complete in 2018. There’s more here from the Daily Record.
Casino Revenue: The February take from Maryland's casinos was a bit disappointing. State officials tell the Baltimore Sun that the state’s four facilities brought in about 66-million-dollars in revenue last month, a bit below the January mark and much less than many months last year. The bitter cold and snowy winter is getting the blame for the smaller numbers to start this year. And the three casinos that were open at this time in 2013 did better in year-over-year revenue; in part because they now have table games, which they didn’t at this time last year.
Maryland Billionaires: Nine Marylanders are among the world's richest people. The group accounts for less than one-percent of the more than 16-hundred individuals who cracked "Forbes" magazine's annual list of international billionaires. Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner leads the Maryland contingent with a net worth of four-point-two-billion-dollars. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank made some big strides, effectively doubling his net worth over the past year to two-point-four-billion and jumping nearly 400 spots on the "Forbes" list.