The legislative session ends at midnight on April 12th. The countdown for the final bills, 11:57, 11:58, 11:59, can be quite exciting until the confetti falls amid backslapping and the crowd exits to the Senate for breakfast and disco dancing.
It is a truly bizarre but totally Maryland tradition, and your view of state politics will forever be changed once you watch your legislator do the funky chicken at 3 AM in the morning.
The biggest problem the State faced this Session was the looming $3 billion deficit. The state budget problems colored every discussion and every debate; unfortunately, the corrections to the state fiscal problems were again “postponed”.
The Governor’s budget sought merely to once again paper over the deficit, plugging holes with thefts from a variety of dedicated funds, federal funds, loans and budget gimmicks to get the state by long enough to make it pass the November elections.
The Governor will brag about his frugalness in holding the line, but it is illusionary. Most all of the programs continued to grow. The trick was that while state money being spent went down slightly, the difference was made up by federal and borrowed money that run out this year. The Governor’s gap between state revenue and over spending is setting us up for the need of a massive tax increase next year.
The General Assembly was similarly irresponsible and was only able to make $100-150 million in cuts out of a $32 billion budget. Much more was needed. This pollyanna view of leadership that “if only we can hold on for just a little longer happy days are just around the corner”, has really put the State’s finances at risk.
If you remember last year, it took only about six weeks (mid April to the end of May) before the newly passed state budget was so out of whack that the Board of Public Works had to step in and cut $400 million in additional spending, and then make several additional cuts throughout the year. Look for the same to happen this year.
The General Assembly had more success on the policy front, making decisions on a number of big policy issues facing the State including sex offenders, gangs, foreclosures, job tax credit, and storm water regulations.
The new sex offender laws (hb936, hb473, hb254, hb289) are comprehensive, dealing with registration and disclosure, to increased jail time and reduction of time off for good behavior. They are a real positive step and I was very proud to have a hand in their crafting as part of the Judiciary Committee.
Likewise, we took a big step with gang laws (hb1160) particularly as they relate to Anne Arundel County. They specifically address removing artificial walls between the schools and police so that both can respond more quickly to gang problems in the schools. The new laws directly address the tragedy last year of the murder of 14 year old Christopher Jones in Crofton.
Also, the State passed new laws allowing for greater protection for the parties in foreclosure (hb472), requiring lenders to enter mediation with homeowners before foreclosure and by providing tenants additional rights. The job tax credit (sb106) provides a $5,000 tax credit to encourage employers to hire workers on unemployment insurance or have exhausted their benefits. The new stormwater regulations (hb1125) fix a 2009 law by allowing construction permits already in process to have more time to complete their projects before the new requirements take effect.