From Del. Kathy Szeliga:
The 2014 Legislative Session ended on Monday, April 7 at midnight. We finished with a balanced budget and no major tax increases. I’m pleased to provide you with a wrap-up of the 2014 Legislative Session highlights.
Health Care – The Maryland Health Exchange & Obamacare
Starting with a botched roll-out on October 1, The Maryland Health Exchange barely limped across the March 31 enrollment deadline. Neither the Maryland program nor the Federal Obamacare program have met with much success. The Maryland Exchange has cost taxpayers more than $250 million and counting. The O’Malley/Brown team recently decided to dump the Maryland website program and go with the Connecticut system. The cost? No one knows for sure, but an emergency contract for $50 million was passed to facilitate the move.
The O’Malley/Brown team has done their best to cover up their mess. They made the decision to move to the Connecticut program without any legislative input. Many of my colleagues and I believe that Maryland should have transitioned to the federal exchange. The cost to taxpayers would be less and the federal government would work to make sure the Maryland program is functioning. The audits of the Exchange exposed that there has been a complete lack of leadership over the program. Currently, they have failed to choose a new executive director, relying on the “interim executive director” since December. If they cannot even choose a director, how will they lead the transition and a new program?
I do not agree with the policies and concept of Obamacare. I have voted against the funding and expansion in Maryland and for accountability and transparency. Healthcare will continue to be a mess and we will need major reforms as the Affordable Care Act is put into effect across our country.
The only Constitutional duty of the Maryland General Assembly is to pass a budget. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I spend a great deal of time studying the budget and trying to make it better for all Maryland citizens.
The FY 2015 budget tops around $39 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion this year alone. Over the last eight years, the leadership in Annapolis has increased spending by more than $10 billion, a 35% increase.
Senior Citizens on a fixed income and Maryland families are not able to keep pace with the huge increase in state spending. In addition to opposing all of the tax increases, I have also offered several pieces of legislation to provide relief to Maryland’s overtaxed families. I am part of a work group in the House Republican Caucus that proposes an annual alternative budget plan. Our proposals offer fiscal restraint and responsible spending as a better path for Maryland’s budget. We do get a few Democrats who support our plan, but it’s largely voted down along party lines.
Because of the unsustainable increases in state spending, I have not voted for the budget. While there are always good things in the budget, the leadership has failed to show any restraint over the four years I have served in Annapolis. If the next governor does not bring state spending under control, there will have to be an increase in property taxes, as well as other tax increases.
House Republican Tax Relief Plan, HB0326 The Income Tax Relief Act of 2014 was the House Republican’s signature tax relief proposal for the 2014 Session. HB 326 would have lowered the income tax rate by 10% over the next three years and brought much-needed tax relief for all taxpayers, regardless of their income. Unfortunately, the Democratic majority would not allow the bill to get a vote in committee.
Estate Tax Relief After ten years of advocacy by the House Republicans, Maryland finally passed estate tax reform. The bill re-couples the tax with the federal exemption by 2018. I was pleased to see the leadership in Annapolis coming around on this issue. They are admitting that Maryland’s tax climate is driving citizens and their resources out of this state. This was the best thing that happened in Annapolis this year.
Maryland’s public pension system is underfunded. Two years ago, teachers and state employees (through their unions) agreed to contribute 2% more from their pay checks in order to fund the public pension account. The State agreed to contribute $300 million per year to do their part. Taxpayers are required to fund the pension system so it is not an option to fund or not to fund.
The leadership in Annapolis has yet to keep their promise. Taxpayers can pay some now or a whole lot more later into the public pension system. The House Republican Caucus fought to make the leadership in Annapolis keep their promise and protect taxpayers from being on the hook for much more money in future years. However, the unions – AFSCME & the Maryland State Teachers Union- agreed to let the state put that money in the general fund account now and not pay their fair share! I’m sure the union members would be furious if they knew that their union leadership sold them out.
Jakes Law passed with my support. HB 1212, Use of Text Messaging Device or Handheld Telephone While Driving – Accidents Resulting in Death or Serious Injury – Penalties, was named after 5-year-old Jake Owen, who was killed in a crash in 2011 caused by a driver police found to have been using a cell phone. You may recall this tragic accident that happened on I-83 near the Baltimore Beltway just 3 days after Christmas. The driver was a 23 year old who was looking at his cell phone and never applied his breaks. The driver left the courthouse with a $1,000 fine and a minor traffic ticket. HB 1212 increases the penalty and fine for this violation.
I voted for this bill. Please be sure to share this real-life story with the young drivers in your life. One boy killed, one family still grieving their terrible loss, and one young driver who cannot undo his carelessness – it’s tragic all the way around.
Pit Bulls & Dogs
This issue was finally settled. Due to a court decision, the Maryland legislature needed to pass a law to clarify who can be held responsible if a dog attacks or bites a person. The judge deemed all pit bulls dangerous dogs and created great uncertainty for dog owners.
My son and daughter-in-law have a wonderful pit bull they rescued from the shelter. The law now says that a dog owner can be held responsible if their unprovoked dog of any breed bites someone. However, the dog owner may not be held responsible if their dog is not running loose and has not acted dangerously in the past. This compromise bill protects children from unwarranted dog bites (there was a proposal for “one free bit”) and also helps responsible dog owners. I voted for this bill.
It is truly my honor and privilege to represent you in the Maryland House of Delegates. Your thoughts and views are very important to me. I’m grateful for the many people who take the time to call, email, and talk to me out in the community. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance to you and your family.
Delegate Kathy Szeliga