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Steve's News from Annapolis

2018-01-29

We are starting our third week of the General Assembly’s session. Although, we have had minimal time on the “floor” of the House, bill hearings have begun in the Environment and Transportation Committee. I have also had the opportunity to talk with constituents and various advocates to discuss their issues and concerns.

Legislation has been, and more will be, introduced regarding numerous issues, including health care, job creation and our economy, consumer rights, gun violence, criminal penalties and transportation. Let me address a few.

Relieving Marylanders’ Tax Burdens

The federal government’s changes in the tax laws will have a huge impact on Maryland. Comptroller Peter Franchot’s office estimates that, without action in the legislature, Marylanders would pay nearly $400 million more in taxes. Thirty percent (30%) of those who file taxes can expect an increase due to these changes. This is totally unacceptable.

Democrats in the legislature have put forth three options, to date, to relieve this burden: restore the personal exemption, find a way that larger state and local tax obligations can be mitigated and decouple the estate tax from the federal tax. This week, the Governor proposed a change in Maryland tax law that would allow taxpayers to itemize their deductions even if they take the standard deduction on their federal taxes. It is also uncertain whether the federal tax law changes will cause charitable contributions to decline. This could be a real problem for the many non-profit organizations that serve our communities. This complex issue will take a lot of hard work by everyone to better ensure that Marylanders get appropriate tax relief.

Governor Hogan’s Budget

As required, the Governor released his budget last week. I attended the briefing given to the budget committees and, then, had another chance to hear details in our committee.

This $44.5 million budget represents a 2% spending increase over last year’s budget. It was developed before the federal tax changes, however. It does cap college tuition increases at 2%, provides some extra funds for public education, gives a 2% general salary increase to state employees and increases funding to attack the opioid crises.

At the same time, this budget does not repay the Program Open Space funds as he promised, does reduce mandated funding for the pension system, fails to fund the full 3.5% pay increase for people who work with individuals with disabilities and does not fund a number of mandated programs which would help Baltimore City and other counties with a substantial number of poor children.

The House and Senate budget committees are beginning to review the details of his budget and agency requests and needs.

Environmental Initiatives

Climate Change

The Environment and Transportation Committee was briefed last week on the efforts of the Maryland Climate Change Commission and the state of the Bay. The legislature has set the state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that negatively impact the environment 40% by the year 2030. It is ambitious, but necessary, if we are going to reduce carbon pollution that causes climate change. The state needs to increase its educational efforts and local governments need to step up their game if we are going to reach this goal.

Health of the Bay

Fortunately, there are a number of positive signs about the health of the Bay. Bay grasses, crabs, rockfish and other indicators are trending up. The creation of oyster sanctuaries in 2012 has significantly increased oysters. However, more actions are needed. Pollution from storm water, septic systems and sediment has not sufficiently diminished to help Maryland meet our pollution reduction goals.

I will have bills this year to further reduce septic pollution and to better understand whether environmental laws are being enforced.

Clean and Renewable Energy

Another major focus this session will be to increase the amount of clean energy that we use to produce electricity. We will have extensive discussions about the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and which entities should get the biggest tax benefits as they are generating renewable energy. Renewable energy offers tremendous economic and environmental benefits. It is and can continue to be a large job creator. I am supporting an increase in our RPS to 50% and believe waste incineration should not get the big tax breaks it currently receives. I look forward to discussing and debating these bills.

Education

Commission Recommendations

Two important commissions have been meeting over the past year. The work of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission (the Knott Commission) and the Innovation and Excellence in Education Commission (Kirwin Commission) will play crucial roles in setting out new thinking and new directions for school construction and for Maryland’s public education system. The Knott Commission focused on the rising cost of school construction and renovation and the complicated approval processes. The Kirwin Commission was charged with ensuring that Maryland’s schools are competitive and among the best in the world! I am eager to see their legislative recommendations.

Baltimore County Public Schools

Procurement of electronic devices for children in the Baltimore County Public Schools has caused heated debate for quite a while. The issue accelerated with the decision of Dr. Dallas Dance to resign as Superintendent last spring and subsequent reports in the Sun about his, and the interim Superintendent’s, failure to disclose outside income from a company tied to vendors of the devices. Last week Dr. Dance was indicted for perjury for lying about his income.

BCPS issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire an independent, outside auditor to examine procurement since 2014. Responses were due last week. I believe that the BCPS Board and Superintendent should be accountable and that this outside audit is the right way to go.

However, in light of the Dance indictment and Superintendent White’s recent comments, I want to see an expanded audit so that the entire Dance tenure can be examined. There are too many questions that need to be answered about the procurement process, including how certain vendors received their contracts.

Other Baltimore County Issues

Correcting Election Day Delays

During the 2016 General Election, many polling places had long, long lines that inconvenienced and frustrated voters, caused some to leave and showed that greater efficiency was needed. The House and Senate delegations requested the County government, County Board of Elections and State Board of Elections to look into these problems. We suggested that new, additional scanners be placed at every precinct.

The County government undertook a multi-pronged examination of the reasons for the delays. They examined bottlenecks in the process, problems with machines, training needs, capacity and what should be done to best ensure the problems would be addressed.

One solution will be to install 53 more scanners at high voter turnout precincts so that more voters can cast their votes more quickly and with less delay. In District 42A, polling places at Cromwell Valley ES, Rodgers Forge ES and Towson Presbyterian Church will all get an additional scanner. Hopefully, this will alleviate the 2016 problems.

Baltimore County Seeks More Election Judges

As a follow up, would you like to serve our community and earn extra money, too? Serve as an Election Judge on Primary Election Day, June 26, 2018, or on the General Election Day, November 6, 2018–or both! Paid training is provided and you can earn up to eight hours of administrative leave with pay for each day served. For more information go to: https://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/elections/elecjudg.html. You can find the application at: https://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/elections/elecjudge_form.html

Chesapeake Bay Trust Awards

Congratulations are in order for nearly 20 organizations in Baltimore County that received grants in 2016-17 from the Chesapeake Bay Trust for research, educational activities, stormwater protection, tree plantings and other important environmental work. Awardees included Cromwell Valley ES, Halstead Academy, Immaculate Conception School, the Knollwood Community Association, and the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy.

Congratulations and thank you for being stewards of the environment!

Legislative Scholarships Are Now Available 

I want to make you aware of the Maryland House of Delegates Scholarship Program for 2018-2019 . Current residents of legislative district 42A who are high school seniors, students attending a private career school, and degree-seeking undergraduate and graduate students are eligible. Scholarship awards can only be given to students applying to an institution of higher learning in Maryland, unless they have a unique major that is approved for a non-Maryland school by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

If you know of a student who is interested in receiving a scholarship from me, he/she would go to my web site, www.delegatelafferty.com. Further information can be obtained by calling 410-841-3487.

Applications will be due to my office by April 2, 2018.

Please feel free to contact my office if we can be of any help or if you want to share your views and opinions on legislation.

Best wishes,

Steve

Contact Steve

Contact Delegate Lafferty
By Phone: 410-841-3487
By Email: stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us

Contact the Campaign
By Phone: 410-377-4521
By Email: lafferty@delegatelafferty.com

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