The Minimum Wage, The “Rain Tax,” Pre-K, Common Core, and MD’s Online Health Insurance Exchange | WYPR

The Minimum Wage, The “Rain Tax,” Pre-K, Common Core, and MD’s Online Health Insurance Exchange

Jan 17, 2014

The latest on issues in the General Assembly (and the Governor’s race), including: the minimum wage, the “rain tax,” pre-kindergarten education, the Common Core curriculum, MSA tests, MD’s health insurance exchange website, and the estate tax. Plus: the latest on the labor dispute at the Port of Baltimore.

Miller Calls Minimum Wage Hike A “Very Tough Sell”: State Senate President Mike Miller says that raising Maryland’s minimum wage is going to be a “very tough sell” in the General Assembly. Governor Martin O’Malley has made upping the rate a legislative priority for this year’s session; earlier this week, he backed a plan to increase it from its current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, phased in over the next two years. Senate President Miller tells the Baltimore Sun that he expects that lawmakers will move to increase the rate – but also says that he thinks they’ll need a compromise that’ll allow different minimum wages in different Maryland regions. Governor O’Malley also wants the minimum wage tied to inflation for future, automatic increases. Miller seems opposed to that idea.

Scandals & Rumored Candidates Add Volatility To Governor's Race: WYPR's Fraser Smith and Todd Eberly of St. Mary's College talk about why Anthony Brown's health care trouble may be worse than Doug Gansler's scandals from the fall. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidates React To Health Insurance Exchange Problems: Yesterday, four of the Republicans running for governor weighed in on the topic, at a debate organized by Baltimore’s WBFF Fox 45. As the Washington Post reports, Harford County Executive David Craig called the rollout a “disaster,” while Anne Arundel County Delegate Ron George called on Governor Martin O’Malley’s health secretary to resign in the wake of the problems. Also at last night’s debate were Charles County businessman Charles Lollar and retired Baltimore firefighter Brian Vaeth; they were also were critical of the exchange’s website. There’s more on the debate here from the Baltimore Sun. (Other issues in the debate are mentioned in later items.)

Miller Says Health Insurance Exchange Investigations Will Continue: State Senate President Mike Miller says that the General Assembly will continue to hold investigations into the rollout of Maryland’s online health exchange until lawmakers get a full accounting. The Baltimore Sun reports that Miller said the problems with the $107-million program might be about incompetence or about lack of oversight. The chair of the Senate’s Finance Committee is getting daily briefings on the website; as of last week, it had enrolled only 25-thousand people in private plans; the state’s goal is to enroll 150-thousand people by the end of March.

RNC Calls For Records On Former Exchange Director: The National Republican Committee has filed a request for records with the O’Malley administration, looking to find out more about the health exchange’s former director, Rebecca Pearce – who resigned in December due to the website’s problems. The Baltimore Sun reports that the request indicates that the national GOP may be turning its attention to state insurance marketplaces.

Senate Could Vote Monday On Retroactive Insurance Bill: The State Senate will likely take a final vote on Monday on a bill offering retroactive health insurance to people unable to sign up for plans last year, due to problems with the website. The Daily Record has more here.

Local Education Leaders Support Expanding Pre-K: Governor Martin O’Malley wants the General Assembly to approve $4.3 million to expand pre-kindergarten programs. O’Malley made the request in the budget he delivered to the General Assembly Wednesday. WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn spoke with two top state education officials about why expanding Pre-K is important.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidates On Common Core: At last night’s GOP gubernatorial debate on WBFF, the four candidates attending called for changes to (or the elimination of) the Common Core educational curriculum – a new set of national academic standards, that’s begun to go into effect in Maryland schools. As the Washington Post reports, Harford County Executive David Craig called on the state to back off the new standards, while Charles County Businessman Charles Lollar advocated a moratorium on the Common Core. Anne Arundel County Delegate Ron George says he wants to give local school boards the ability to decide whether or not to adopt the standards. Retired Baltimore firefighter Brian Vaeth said that the standards deserve another look.

Brown Calls For MSA Moratorium: Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown is backing a moratorium on the Maryland School Assessment tests, or MSAs, which are based on the curriculum that’s being replaced by the Common Core. Brown says the state should ask for a waiver so it doesn’t have to give the MSAs to students this year; Brown calls the MSAs “outdated.” The Baltimore Sun reports that Governor Martin O’Malley and state Schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery are opposed to a moratorium on the test.  

GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Call For “Rain Tax” Repeal; Legislative Leaders Vow No Repeal During This GA Session: At last night’s GOP gubernatorial debate on WBFF, the four candidates attending called for a repeal of the state’s controversial stormwater fees, which they call the “rain tax.” Republican lawmakers have made repeal a top priority of this year’s General Assembly session. But that’s looking less likely. Speaking yesterday at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Annapolis, State Senate President Mike Miller vowed there would be no repeal of the fees, and House Speaker Michael Busch agreed. Even so, the stormwater fees law could be changed; Senate President Miller previously said he wants a more uniform application of the fees in the ten jurisdictions where they’re required to be collected. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun and here from the Annapolis Capital.

Franchot Joins Call For Estate Tax Repeal: State Comptroller Peter Franchot is backing changes to the estate tax. Maryland imposes a 16% tax on estates valued at $1-million or more; that’s a lower threshold than the $5-and-a-quarter-million level set by the federal government for estate taxes. Yesterday, Franchot called on lawmakers to move the state’s exemption level closer to the federal standard. Speaking before the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce, Franchot said that the current tax is driving wealthy people out of the state. The Baltimore Business Journal notes that there are two different bills moving through the General Assembly that would change Maryland’s estate tax; earlier this year, State Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch joined the call for a higher exemption.

Labor Dispute Continues At Port Of Baltimore: Cargo is being diverted from the Port of Baltimore, as a contract dispute continues between a union representing longshoremen and the group representing the port’s employers. A breakdown in contract talks last October led to a strike that shut down port operations for three days – that strike was ended when a federal arbitrator imposed a 90-day cooling-off period. That period ends today. Union leaders assure the contract dispute will not result in a strike, but the Baltimore Sun reports that there’s still no sign of a deal, and that while the labor standoff continues, the port is losing shipments. Port-related businesses directly employ about 15-thousand people, and support tens of thousands of other jobs.