MD Health Department Inspecting Fewer Assisted Living Facilities


There are over 1,300 licensed assisted living facilities in Maryland caring for thousands of residents not quite able to care for themselves. But year after year over the past decade the state health department has failed to do annual inspections for a majority of them.

Another audit of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Regulatory Services has found that the department has failed to fix many of the problems highlighted in at least three previous audits dating back at least to 2004.

The audit shows that in fiscal year 2012, the Office of Health Care Quality failed to perform inspections of 757 of the 1,364 licensed assisted living facilities in Maryland, or roughly 55% of such facilities within the state. Additionally the audit showed that roughly three-fourths of the 197 facilities for the developmentally disabled within the state were not inspected.

The inspections are required by state law and could result in consequences as serious as license revocation if institutions fail them.

“First of all it’s outrageous,” said Del. Guy Guzzone, House chair of the legislature’s Joint Audit Committee. “These are our most vulnerable citizens.”

“Clearly these audit findings are something to be taken seriously,” Patrick Dooley, assistant secretary of regulatory affairs said. “We do take it seriously, and we’re putting measures in place so we can do a better job.”

Annual requirement, staffing shortage result in shortfall

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene may ask for less stringent inspection requirements — it is currently studying the issue, Dooley said. State law requires inspections every year, but federal law only requires them every three years.

The Office of Health Care Quality isn’t able to meet the inspection requirement because of staffing shortages, it wrote in its response to the audit. Since at least 2005, the office has not had enough staff to carry out inspections, according to a collation of the Annual Report and Staffing Analysis in the Analysis of the FY2015 Maryland Executive Budget. Starting in 2005, the agency was 55 employees short of what it would need to complete all inspections. By 2013, this shortage had risen to a high of 107. However, the health care quality office now estimates that for fiscal year 2014, the shortage will have fallen to 68.

New surveyor positions for the units that carry out the inspections have been approved in the FY2015 budget, according to the department’s response to the audit. But more steps may need to be taken to address the problem.

Chronic vacancies, not enough positions

An analysis of the FY2015 Maryland Executive Budget attributes these staffing shortages to a “combination of an increased workload, a structural deficiency in positions allotted for survey and inspection activities, and chronic vacancies among surveyor positions.”

“I think they are budget related,” agreed Guzzone, who also chairs an Appropriations subcommittee. “They are hiring related. It’s management related.”

“I don’t think it’s a simple single answer, and that’s part of the reason it doesn’t get fixed.”

New streamlined inspections proposed

In order to deal with the perpetual shortage, the department is considering creating a more targeted survey system, one in which inspections are streamlined for providers with positive inspection histories.

“For example, if there are currently 60 things they are looking at in a normal survey, if there is a provider that has a good track record, maybe they would only look at the top 20 really critical things,” Dooley said. “And if something pops up in those 20, then that would immediately trigger a more thorough investigation. And this wouldn’t preclude OHCQ going out there and following up on any sort of complaint. It would just mean based on the track record of an individual provider, you would cater the approach to really ensure the health and safety of the individuals in that provider service.”

Examining the need for annual inspections

Additionally, the department is examining whether the state might benefit from mirroring federal requirements of inspecting every three years instead of annually.

So far, the evidence suggests that there is no reason state requirements should be more stringent than federal, Dooley said. Changing to this less frequent, more targeted approach would allow more facilities to be inspected despite the staffing shortage.

“We’re doing everything we can to try and go into as many facilities as we can and do a better job because at the end of the day it’s really about protecting these individuals in these facilities,” Dooley said.

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By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

Rascovar Column: Election Politics Trumped Budget Realities


The $77 million in budget cuts approved last week by the Maryland Board of Public Works mark the first recognition there’s a price to be paid for placing election-year politics ahead of fiscal realities. It won’t be the last spending pullback, either.

Maryland has a serious, ongoing imbalance between its high spending habits and its lower than expected revenue receipts. Everyone knew this was coming.

Winter’s frigid blow

Much of it is a result of the severe cold weather over the past winter, which devastated sectors of the economy, drove up heating and electric costs and put a severe crimp in job creation.

Yet early this year Gov. Martin O’Malley, with the support of Democratic legislators, introduced a budget for the current fiscal year that was wildly out of sync with prevailing economic conditions.

The larger problem, which O’Malley chose not to confront head-on, is that Maryland’s spending isn’t affordable without more rounds of tax increases — or sizable reductions in agency budgets.

The $77 million in cuts approved last week amounts to a small down payment on what is likely to come later.

Economy stalled

Maryland’s economy remains stalled, as Comptroller Peter Franchot underlined at last week’s Board of Public Works meeting in the State House.

Wage growth is near-zero. Sales tax growth is about one-fifth of what it should be in a recovery. Withholding taxes are about two-fifths of the norm for a recovery.

Making matters worse was O’Malley’s failure to use the Great Recession to assess government services and identify cost efficiencies on a grand scale.

Instead, O’Malley simply slowed state government’s rate of growth during hard times. He papered over the need to downsize, shift or reinvent the way non-essential services are delivered.

Troubling imbalance

At the end of the 2014 General Assembly session in early April, legislative analysts predicted Maryland’s spending would exceed incoming revenue by $236 million for the fiscal year that started July 1.

Ominously, those analysts noted O’Malley’s budget anticipated a whopping 5.2 percent economic growth in this fiscal year and general fund revenue growth of 4.6 percent.

While recent national economic reports for June indicate a stronger recovery in the months ahead, it is doubtful Maryland can reach its rosy revenue projections for this fiscal year.

Expect more spending reductions this winter.

More spending cuts to come

The key question is whether O’Malley confronts that issue or passes the buck to his likely successor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Even before Maryland’s revenue projections turned south, legislative analysts had warned Maryland faces a growing cash shortage that could reach $404 million in the next fiscal year.

It would take an imposing 7.1 percent surge in state tax revenue to wipe out that structural imbalance — or a major retrenchment in state spending, which is highly unlikely.

Growing cash shortage?

Given the discouraging outlook that prompted last week’s budget cuts, next fiscal year’s projected cash shortage of $404 million could grow by leaps and bounds.

O’Malley, though, will continue to “spin” this story in a politically positive way.

Other states — New York New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina – he notes, are in far worse shape (though we don’t have a handle on how bad the situation really is in Maryland — and won’t till September at the earliest).

O’Malley’s concerns

The governor wants to put a shine on his Maryland legacy as he moves toward a presidential campaign. He also wants to keep Maryland’s budget woes on the back burner until Brown is safely elected governor in November.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr. will try to convince voters “the sky is falling.” But the worst news from last winter’s deep freeze is over and the national economy is showing encouraging signs of finally springing back to life.

That is good news for Brown in the short term.

But come December and January, Governor-elect Brown could be faced with an ugly reality — a far deeper state deficit, painful and immediate spending cuts and a budget for the following fiscal year that can’t deliver on his expensive campaign promises.

By Barry Rascovar

Over 90,000 voted early in Maryland, Surpassing Past Elections


With two more days left to go, over 90,000 people have voted early for next Tuesday’s primary, surpassing the numbers who cast their ballots early in the 2010 and 2012 primaries.
The legislature added two more days to the early voting period this year. Typically the last day of early voting has produced a spike in balloting. This year’s early voting will last eight days, until Thursday at 8 p.m. In previous years, it has only lasted six days.

As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, 90,223 people had voted. This included 67,043 Democrats (74% of those voting so far) and 21,811 Republicans (24%), with only 1,369 unaffiliated and minor party members voting (1.5%).

Of those eligible to vote in the primary, Democrats make up 60% and Republicans comprise 28%. The unaffiliated and other party members can only vote in counties electing school board members in nonpartisan races.

So far, only 3.27% of 2 million eligible Democrats have voted, and only 2.3% of 950,000 eligible Republicans.

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Md. Voters Get to Choose a New Lawyer: What does an attorney general really do?


With about 750 employees, and nearly two-thirds of them attorneys, the Office of the Attorney General is considered the largest law firm in the state.

Only three men have held the position over the last 35 years. Voters will pick a new one this year, as Attorney General Doug Gansler runs for governor.

The office provides counsel to virtually all state agencies and all three branches of state government — legislative, executive and the judiciary. The attorney general is also charged with being the “people’s lawyer,” which includes enforcing consumer protection and civil rights laws.

The OAG duties include enforcing Medicaid fraud, environmental crime, securities and investment fraud and antitrust laws, as well as overseeing all criminal court cases at the appellate level.

Guardian of the law

“You are the guardian of the law,” said Eleanor Carey, a deputy attorney general under Stephen Sachs, who served as attorney general from 1979 to 1987. “The AG both represents the state and advises state agencies, but his or her main duty is to the people of the state.”

Making the state obey the law was one of the key slogans of the Sachs campaign.

The OAG’s written opinions are legally binding on state agencies, though not on the courts, and can often settle disputes among government agencies. The office advises the legislature and the governor on whether laws are constitutional and can be passed and signed into law.

The attorney general also argues on behalf of the state at the federal level and before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Representing state agencies

“Three quarters or more of what we do is representing state agencies as clients,” said Deputy Attorney General J. B. Howard. “There are 450 lawyers spread across 60 units. Most of what the attorney general does in managing the office involves conferring with his two deputies on office oversight issues.”

Howard said the principal counsels of the agencies bring any issues to the deputy attorneys general that the attorney general might be asked about, and the AG will be briefed on it.

“With regard to our role in the mortgage foreclosure settlement with the major banks, for example, the attorney general would himself decide what position we want to take and what kind of relief for homeowners we want to bring back.”

Pursuing policy interests: Domestic violence

The attorney general also may have their own set of policy interests which they are able to pursue using their bully pulpit, said AARP Maryland Executive Director Hank Greenberg. Greenberg worked for Sachs and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, who served for 20 years from 1987 to 2007.
Former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran

Domestic abuse was on the rise in the early 1990′s and Curran had an important role in shaping national policy, Greenberg said.

“I was concerned about family violence,” said Curran, “We assembled a group of people in and outside the [attorney general's] office and tried to figure out what was working and what wasn’t.”

Curran and his team, which included Carolyn Quattrocki, now executive director for the governor’s Office of Health Care Reform, soon learned that out-of-state court orders for domestic abuse victims couldn’t be enforced in Maryland.

“So we had the law changed,” said Curran.

During that time, Curran also had his office post notices in “beauty parlors,” informing women whom they could talk to about domestic abuse.

“I felt privileged,” Curran said. “Our office was the spokesperson on the issue of family violence.”

Curran also argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990, Maryland v. Craig, which had been appealed from the Maryland Court of Appeals. The high court ruled in favor of Maryland — alleged child sex abuse victims could testify by way of closed circuit television, rather than in the presence of their alleged offender.

During Curran’s term 14 or 15 cases went to the Supreme Court, he said.

Antitrust enforcement, redistricting and civil rights

Sachs said during his term as attorney general, his team went after barber shops for violating antitrust laws.

“The barbers were controlled by the people that ran the barber shops,” Sachs said. “You couldn’t get to be a barber or master barber unless you went to their schools.”

Sachs also audited elections on the Eastern Shore where redistricting had created a disadvantage for African American voters. And he stopped the practice of “warehousing” developmentally disabled citizens into institutions for the insane who, he said, could clearly be integrated into normal society.

“For local elections, we found the districts were rigged up so that African Americans, even though they had a significant portion of the population, were only eligible – because of redistricting – to elect a relatively minor number of people,” Sachs said. “It was in violation of federal law, and we made them change that.”

Sachs also initiated a volunteer recruitment program to hear grievances from residents for eventual mediation, Curran said. “We continued it and expanded it into a health unit when an insurance company would deny coverage on a medical procedure.”

In 2008, Gansler spearheaded a settlement against rental car companies that were charging excessive refueling charges.

“We threatened an enforcement action against the rental car companies and got a settlement putting constraints on what they could charge for refueling charges,” Howard said. “The attorney general wanted to use the power of the office to fix a problem that struck him as unfair and probably unlawful.”

Hiring new attorneys

Gansler also started a new practice of conducting final interviews for all new attorneys hired to the office, Howard said. Before Gansler came on board the attorney general wouldn’t meet with prospective hires. Now Gansler conducts the final interview, along with his two deputies, and personally extends the offer to join the office.

“That was quite time consuming for him, but it mattered a lot to him because he cared about making sure we brought in the best people under his watch.”

Currently Gansler is reaching out to e-cigarette manufacturers questioning the companies’ marketing practices to teens and children and asking what is being done to address the recent uptick in CDC reported poisonings. Gansler cited a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study showing a spike in calls to CDC related to problems with e-cigarette refill cartridges. Fifty-percent of the calls involved children under the age of five.

Relationships with the governor

Prior to Sachs, the attorney general ran on a ticket with the governor and comptroller.

“It used to be the attorney general was beholden to the governor because they used to run together,” Carey said.

“Sachs really stopped that,” Carey recalled. “The theory was the AG is really supposed to be independent. The AG needs that independence because there are times when you have to tell state agencies, no the law doesn’t permit you to do that.”

Sometimes conflicts do arise and every once in a while there is an exception, Curran said.

Curran said Gov. William Donald Schaefer asked him not to join an anti-trust lawsuit against insurance companies.

“We joined it,” Curran said. “It was a national issue. We went to court and we didn’t win. Then on appeal we won.

In another situation, “[Gov.] Bob Ehrlich didn’t want us to do something, but it is our responsibility. We did it and we won.”

“The Office of the Attorney General is the governor’s lawyer and also the people’s lawyer,” Curran said. “You have to do what is right.”


Both Sachs and Curran have endorsed Montgomery County Sen. Brian Frosh for attorney general in the 2014 election.

Sachs said he didn’t think Frosh’s opponents were qualified to be attorney general.

“I don’t think Jon Cardin is qualified for the office, especially alongside Brian Frosh. Brian Frosh is enormously qualified.”

Of Prince Georges County Del. Aisha Braveboy, Sachs said, “I would say the same with Del. Braveboy, with a footnote – at least not yet!”

Cardin has been endorsed by his uncle, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, by former Gov. Marvin Mandel, and by a number of fellow members of the House of Delegates.

“Jon has made a name for himself in Annapolis the past 12 years and I am confident that he will make an excellent attorney general,” said Sen. Cardin in a testimonial he will reaffirm at a news conference Monday. “He is dedicated to strengthening our state in every way and I know he will do wonderful things for Maryland.”

By Glynis Kazanjian
Maryland Reporter

Minority Contractor Loses Bid to Build Harriet Tubman Center


A Dorchester County tourist attraction dedicated to preserving the legacy of Harriet Tubman on the Eastern Shore has drawn ire from a minority group contractor whose bid for the project was turned down.

Contractor Gilford Corporation, which is owned by an African-American, found its bid rejected because it failed to meet standards of a federal program designed to assist minority businesses. Gov. Martin O’Malley described this as “an irony on top of irony,” at the Wednesday Board of Public Works meeting.

Gilford submitted the lowest bid of $12.7 million to construct the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park Visitor Center in Dorchester County, $1.2 million lower than the winning bid.

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 2.19.33 PMThe park, adjacent to the Blackwater National Refuge, will contain an exhibit of Tubman’s life as a conductor of the Underground railroad — Tubman grew up as a slave in Dorchester County. She helped other slaves from the Eastern Shore flee to freedom in the North.

Because the state partially funded the project with federal grants, all hopefuls needed to comply with regulations set by the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, which stipulate 30% of the sub-contractors hired must be minority businesses.

The Beltsville-based Gilford failed to meet this mark, and requested a waiver of the DBE requirement, which the Department of General Services rejected because Gilford did not demonstrate they had made a good-faith effort to seek or hire minority sub-contractors, DGS Secretary Alvin Collins said.

“We have to look at responsible bids, meaning the person … who follows rules and all the policies,” Collins said.

Comptroller Peter Franchot said he “reluctantly” voted in favor of the contract because a representative from Gilford was not present at the Board of Public Works meeting.

Winning bid more than $1 million over Gilford’s The state instead awarded the contract to W.M. Schlosser Construction Co. of Hyattsville for $13.9 million. The Board of Public works unanimously approved the contract at Wednesday’s meeting. The visitor center was funded by an $8.5 million federal Transportation Enhancement Program, $3.5 million in state money, a $1.1 million grant from the National Park Service and two grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, totaling roughly $836,000.

Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. in Cambridge also placed a $14.3 million bid for the center.
Zenita Wickham Hurley, special secretary of minority affairs, said the circumstances were “unfortunate.”

“I agree with everyone who said the fact we had to reject a minority bidder for not complying with a program put in place to help them … is the worst kind of irony,” she said. “But the facts are the program is very clear.”

The state estimates the project to be finished by early 2016.

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

Analysis: New Poll Confirms No One Cares About Race for MD Governor


The inaugural Maryland Poll from St. Mary’s College of Maryland surveyed the political landscape heading into the 2014 primary election and found that most Marylanders have absolutely no preference when it comes to the candidates for governor.

The poll is in line with prior polls for Gonzales Research, The Baltimore Sun, and The Washington Post. Much like those polls, the Maryland Poll finds a very unsettled race for the GOP nomination and a Democratic race where the favorite, the sitting two term lieutenant governor, is being beaten by “No Preference” by a 2 to 1 margin.

The 2014 primary is two months away and yet most voters appear to have no firm commitments to the candidates.

No firm commitments

Specifically, the poll finds Anthony Brown with 27% support, followed by Douglas Gansler at 11% and Heather Mizeur at 8%. But fully 54% expressed no preference.

In a three-way race, Brown is close to the 34% that would be sufficient to win a closely matched election. But much like the other candidates, he has been unable to expand his base of support even after a year of campaigning and advertising.
Gansler has been hammering away at Brown on the issue of Maryland’s failed health exchange, but with 11% support the issue does not appear to be helping him.

Mizeur has been generating a lot of coverage and interest of late owing to her unapologetically progressive campaign. She has embraced a living wage, physician-assisted suicide, a moratorium on fracking, legalization of marijuana, and host of other progressive wish list items. Yet she’s made no noticeable progress in winning over potential voters.

Brown’s to lose

The Democratic primary remains Brown’s to lose and it’s likely that the upcoming debates will present the final opportunities for either Gansler or Mizeur to change that reality.

Interestingly, Gansler seems to have shifted his strategy. Early on, he presented himself as a centrist, pro-business Democrat. Recently, he has de-emphasized those qualities and instead focused on more progressive policy issues. This was a mistake.

In a three way race with two candidates already chasing the progressive vote, the smart move is to target the voters that the other two are ignoring. Gansler needs to pivot back to the center. His only path to victory requires Brown and Mizeur to split the progressive vote while Gansler goes for the moderate and conservative Democrats still in the party.

GOP’s disastrous situation

On the Republican side the poll finds a disastrous situation for the state’s permanent minority party.

More than two-thirds of Maryland Republican voters have no preference. Larry Hogan claims the support of 16%, followed by David Craig at 7.8%. Neither Ron George nor Charles Lollar were able to crack 4%.

Maryland is a very tough nut for Republicans to crack. Democrats enjoy a 2 to 1 voter registration advantage and Republicans are rarely ever able to overcome the Democrats’ advantages in the state’s population centers.

For a Republican to win, the nominee would need several things to break his or her way.

  • The Democratic party must be divided after the primary. That could certainly happen this year.
  • The Democratic electorate must lack passion for the party’s nominee. That could certainly happen this year.
  • It must be a good year for Republicans nationally (like in 1994, 2002, or 2010). That could certainly happen this year.

Beyond those three ingredients, a Republican candidate also needs a unified and passionate Republican party and an electorate frustrated with the direction of the state. Neither of those two ingredients are present.

Not enough dissatisfaction

With regard to the direction of the state: Though the poll found a plurality of 46% agreeing that the state is going in the wrong direction, another 41% said it was going in the right direction. That margin is not sufficient for a Republican to overcome the Democrats’ built in advantages.

Keep in mind, Bob Ehrlich had an approval rating above 50% when he lost the 2006 election by 6 percentage points.

A clear majority of poll respondents supported increasing the minimum wage and reported that the Affordable Care Act either helped their families or had no effect on them, a slim majority supported decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, and pluralities supported affirmative action, the fracking moratorium and gun control.

In a particularly interesting finding, the survey asked respondents how they were registered and then later asked what party they consider themselves to be a member of. The voter registration numbers essentially match state records – 53% Democrat, 28% Republican, and 18.5%

Independent or other.

When asked how they see themselves, the breakdown was 44% Democrat, 25% Republican, and 31% Independent or other. The breakdown shows that there is an opportunity for the GOP in the state, but only if the party can broaden its appeal and only if party activists accept that the party cannot win without attracting Independent voters.

No frontrunners in GOP

Several months ago, as I was arguing that David Craig represented the GOP’s best chance at reclaiming the governor’s mansion, many Republican activists challenged my assertion. Both privately and via social media these activists suggested a much stronger candidate existed and would soon enter the race and energize the party. They were referring to Larry Hogan.

Well, Hogan’s in the race and he is the “frontrunner.” But in a race where 64% of potential primary voters have no preference, there are no frontrunners. Hogan has not lit the fire that many were expecting.

Likewise, Craig has not run the experienced, well managed campaign that I was expecting. Craig sought to shore up the GOP base by taking a distinct right turn (thereby harming his ability to win in November) and Hogan has adopted a play it safe strategy by skipping forum after forum (thereby harming his credibility).

And no GOP candidate has any real success raising money. All four candidates combined could barely reach $1 million – meanwhile, Gansler and Brown are each sitting on multiple millions.

As things stand today, it’s hard to see the GOP reclaiming the keys to Government House.

By Todd Eberly

Todd Eberly is associate professor of political science and Coordinator of Public Policy Studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He is currently on sabbatical writing a book, and had no involvement in the new poll.

Democrats Reject a Vote On Their Own Pay, Raises Will Be Automatic

Cathy vitale at podium

Del. Cathy Vital

A Republican attempt to force legislators to vote on their own pay-raise was defeated in the House of Delegates Tuesday, with Democrats overwhelmingly rejecting the move.

Introduced by Del. Cathy Vitale, R-Anne Arundel, the motion asked the House to suspend the rules so that a resolution to reject a proposed salary raise for legislators elected this fall could be considered on the House floor. An almost identical resolution has been sitting in the House Rules Committee without a vote since its hearing in late February.

Under the Maryland constitution salary raises for legislators are recommended by an outside commission every four years. If the legislature does nothing to stop or lower the pay hike by next Monday, the raise goes into effect.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Vitale said. “There was an earlier introduction of a resolution to address the salary, pension and pay packet of the General Assembly. That resolution is sitting in the Rules Committee. It did not come out of Rules, it did not get referred to a committee. The choice you are going to make on the suspension of the rules really is whether or not you want to be heard on this issue.”

Vitale introduced the motion under a provision in the House rule book which states that the rules may be suspended to consider a bill without referring it to a committee if a copy of the bill or resolution is distributed to the desk of each member. In order for the rules to be suspended at least two-thirds of the 141-member House must vote in the affirmative.

Majority leader calls it bad precedent

Many delegates spoke against the motion, arguing that it was a bad precedent to set.

Del. Kumar Barve

Del. Kumar Barve

“I intend to handle this motion the way we would handle any other motion,” House Majority Leader Kumar Barve said. “It is true there have been instances where bills have been directly referred to committees, but you need 94 votes to do it, and in those specific instances it might have made sense. But I don’t ever remember seeing a bill considered by this body without it first being considered in committee. Period. In 24 years I’ve never seen it.”

Many delegates, however, argued that the unique nature of the situation made it necessary for an exception to the regular order.

“It has been suggested that this motion should be treated like any other motion,” Del. Herbert McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, said. “Well guess what? It’s not like any other bill because it’s about your pay. It’s about how much you get paid, and that’s what makes this bill different.

“This just underscores the perception that many people have that legislators simply want to feather their nest,” McMillan said. “They’re not even willing to bring their pay wages up to a vote in the light of day. And that’s wrong.”

In the end, however, the motion came nowhere near garnering the 85 votes it would need to pass, and was voted down 48-87.

Six Democrats joined 41 Republicans in voting for the resolution. The Democrats were Dels. Pam Beidle, Anne Arundel; Mary-Dulany James, Harford; Kevin Kelly, Allegany; Heather Mizeur, Montgomery; David Rudolph, Cecil; Ted Sophocleus, Anne Arundel; and Johnny Wood, St. Mary’s.

This will be the first pay hike for legislators in eight years. Their salaries will go up $1,707 every year for four years, raising their total annual salary from $43,500 to $50,330.

By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

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Senate Votes 20% Pay Raise for Top State Officials


The Senate voted Tuesday to provide a 20% salary increase over the next four years to the attorney general, comptroller, state treasurer and secretary of state.

The attorney general, comptroller and treasurer each earn $125,000 annually. The secretary of state makes $87,500 annually.

Under the bill, which Senate members approved 36-10, the attorney general, comptroller and treasurer would earn $149,500 in 2018, and the secretary of state would earn $109,500.

In years past, the General Assembly has rejected salary bumps for the state officers, despite consistent recommendations from the Governor’s Salary Commission.

Based on the resolution of the commission, lawmakers have already allowed the next governor to get a 20% raise to $180,000 by doing nothing to stop it in the first 45 days of the current session.

Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley, R-Frederick, voted in favor of the measure, though he said he would have preferred to also vote on the salary hike the legislature is due to receive.

“We were hoping to put some amendment on this to address legislative salaries … We’re still exploring some other options,” Brinkley said prior to the vote. “I want to go ahead and encourage the passage of this bill, but we still think there ought to be a vote on the Senate floor for any type of salary increase.”

The House of Delegates must still act on the measure.

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

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Conservation Groups, Counties Fighting Proposed Cap on Open Space Funding

Partners for Open Space prepared this infographic to oppose the diversion of open space funds.

Partners for Open Space prepared this infographic to oppose the diversion of open space funds.

Environmental and land conservation advocates, along with county officials across the state, are gearing up to fight a Senate Budget Committee proposal to limit Program Open Space funding to $100 million a year.

The Maryland Association of Counties said the cap on open space funding would result in “devastating” cuts of as much as $263 million over the next five years.

“These reductions … would affect the State’s and local government’s ability to preserve open space, shorelines, and waterways while providing recreational opportunities,” MACo’s blog told local officials, urging them to contact their senators and delegates.

Program Open Space is funded by 1/2% tax on all real estate transfers, but this dedicated pot of money has been repeatedly raided to fund other programs.

Extra money for stormwater remediation

Sen. James Ed DeGrange called for any money the transfer tax generates over $100 million to help with stormwater remediation. He said it should go to the State Highway Administration as part of its Watershed Implementation Plans.

The state has in effect been replacing cash with loans by diverting over the years much of the open space money from the transfer tax to the general fund, and replacing it with bond funds.

DeGrange, who serves on the state’s Capital Debt Affordability Committee, said, “We’re concerned about getting close to our limit” for bond debt.

By capping the amount spent on open space programs, the Senate committee would reduce the amount of bond debt the state would use to replace the open space money diverted for other programs.

Any extra money would go to fix polluted stormwater runoff from state highways, rather than for buying or maintaining state and local parks and recreation areas.

Open space money can not only be used to acquire farmland and forest, but it also goes toward development and rehabilitation of recreational facilities built on open space.

Unmet needs

“The funds are urgently needed,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins of 1000 Friends of Maryland, one of the Partners for Open Space, a coalition of environmental, conservation and recreation groups.

According to a fact sheet from the Partners for Open Space, $1 billion has been diverted from the transfer tax for open space over the four-decade life of the program.

Some of those unmet needs include:

  • 148 family farms which are waiting to sell the state development rights to their farmland
  • $1.7 billion in local park and recreation projects,
  • and $178 million in what the partners call “high quality ecological, recreational, public access, coastal resilience and community connections projects” in the pipeline.

“It’s not a slush fund to be used by the Senate for other purposes,” Schmidt-Perkins said.

She said the House Appropriations Committee in the past has sided with the Program Open Space advocates in resisting attempts by the Senate to divert the money.

“Yes, we’ll see this in conference,” when the House and Senate attempt to resolve any differences on the state operating and capital budget.

By Len Lazarick