The Maryland General Assembly’s 425th Legislative Session has come to a close in the Annapolis. With the State still feeling the “sting” from Special Session, the Democratic Majority’s agenda and non bi-partisanship was not hindered during this General Session. Instead, it was solidified by the legislation they introduced and the policies they implemented.
During Special Session, the General Assembly approved the largest tax increase ($1.4 billion) in State history (with the most tax categories ever raised in a single legislative session) to resolve the State’s budget shortfalls – these shortfalls were the result of the Administration’s budget for the ‘2008’ fiscal year. At no time was there any serious attempt to control spending, in fact, the Special Session created $128 million in net new spending. With our nation’s troubling economy and the tax increases implemented this past November, the General Session was a critical time for our State Government to finally initiate fiscal responsibility. Despite these grim realities, the General Assembly approved the Governor’s budget package for the ‘2009’ fiscal year (Senate Bill 90).
The Governor’s submitted budget increased state spending totaling $31.5 billion in ‘2009’, this is an increase of $1.8 billion or 5.9% from ‘2008’. The House Republican Caucus brought forth three (3) individual budget plans that would have preserved state services and controlled spending without raising taxes – each of those plans were soundly rejected. In addition, Republican Legislators introduced several amendments to the budget that would have reduced budget growth to $733 million. These amendments were also rejected by the Democratic Majority.
If the Democratic Majority and their Leadership’s true intentions were to reduce the burden on Maryland taxpayers, it was not reflected in their vote favoring the Governor’s budget. Furthermore, their “campaign” to aid Maryland’s working families was completely abandoned when they voted for Senate Bill 309/House Bill 712.
Senate Bill 309/House Bill 712 would have mandated a 25% reduction by 2020 in greenhouse gases and would have set a goal curbing emissions 90% by 2050. If passed, industries would have made significant alterations to their manufacturing productivity resulting in higher costs. Plus, other states without restrictions on greenhouse gases would have a competitive advantage, thereby resulting in loss of jobs to other states or other countries.
Still, the Democratic House Majority Leader and lead sponsor of the House version, stated that the fear of job loss were “groundless”. Contrary to the Leadership’s position, the bill’s fiscal note stated “costs could increase significantly” on businesses that would have been subject to the reduction measures and any cap-in-trade program established under this bill. Moreover, he stated “manufacturing is only a small portion of the state’s economy”. Whether the manufacturing is only a small portion of the state’s economy is not the issue, rather sustaining jobs in Maryland is. These jobs provide the necessary income for thousands of households, statewide.
Sadly, the Leadership in Annapolis has become so fixated on attempting to resolve Global Warming that they have become delusional to the negative hardships it will create for Maryland’s economy and workforce. Put simply, his statement is a chilling representation of the Democratic Leadership’s true priority to make Maryland a “Green State” rather than to protect its manufacturing industries and their workers.
Maryland’s industries were not the only casualties targeted during the General Session. The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 46. The repeal of the computer services tax was a “last-ditch” effort to increase public opinion. Once again, in the final days before the conclusion of the General Session, and with minimal public input, the General Assembly quickly passed an illusive compromise that repealed the computer service tax by supplementing another. Republican Legislators introduced several amendments to the bill in that would have repealed the computer services tax without increasing levies on Maryland’s wealthy, by trimming more state funding. The Democratic Leadership, in its proclivity, rejected everyone. Instead, to recover the estimated $200 million that the computer services tax was to generate in state revenue, a new 6.25% tax will be imposed on Maryland taxpayers who make more than a million dollars a year. In addition, the higher tax will be paid by businesses that are not subject to the state corporate net income tax.
In addressing the highly controversial issue on Maryland’s energy rates and rising costs, the Governor and the Democratic Leadership made minimal efforts to aid Maryland households. Instead, they codified an 85% electric rate increase and passed energy policies that will serve to further increase rates. While they’re busy patting themselves on the back for passing ineffective legislation, they had the audacity to tell Marylanders that they should be grateful for the $170.00 rebate they will receive on their electric bills. In most cases, the rebate won’t even cover the increase in a month’s electric bill.
The General Assembly, in their ill-fated attempt to avert Maryland households from continuing to pay astronomical energy rates, passed House Bill 608. House Bill 608, entitled Public Service Commission-Energy Efficiency and Conservation Programs and Service Customer Notification and Report requires electric companies and gas companies to provide certain customers with notice of certain energy efficiency and conservation charges and benefits. These notifications shall be published on each company’s website and contained in a customer’s bill statement. Moreover, by February 1, 2009, and every two (2) years thereafter, the Public Service Commission (PSC) must report to the General Assembly on the status of energy efficiency and conservation programs and services.
The General Assembly did manage to pass several important pieces of legislation that will provide significant assistance to several, different areas critical to Marylanders. I was pleased to be a co-sponsor of these bills.
In consideration for those serving in our military, the General Assembly passed House Bill 669, entitled Motor Vehicle Excise Tax-Exemption for Returning Military Members. This bill expands the eligibility of the motor vehicle excise tax credit to include a member of the military who returns to Maryland from, or on, active duty. The General Assembly unanimously passed the Fallen Soldier Privacy Act of 2008 (SB 3/HB 64) that prohibits a person from knowingly using the name, portrait, picture, or image of a fallen soldier for commercial purposes without obtaining prior consent from the surviving spouse, personal representative, or the heirs of the fallen soldier. Lastly, Senate Bill 457/House Bill 784 passed with a unanimous vote, which establishes a task force that will identify and examine educational issues that affect military children and examine efforts in the State to ease the transition of children of military families to Maryland schools.
In Education, the General Assembly passed House Bill 199, which requires the State Board of Education to develop a model policy that prohibits bullying, harassment, and intimidation. Using the State Board’s model policy, local boards of education have to establish policies prohibiting the aforementioned conduct by July 1, 2009 and develop educational materials to prevent bullying in schools. House Bill 953 will require representatives of a local board of education to provide information on alternative education and General Educational Development (GED) programs to each individual who has dropped out of high school.
With the growing concern on underage drinking and persons contributing to underage drinking, the General Assembly unanimously passed preventive measures under House Bill 76. This bill establishes that a person knowingly and willfully furnishing an alcoholic beverage for the consumption of a minor shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. In addition, a violator is subject to imprisonment for up to 60 days, a fine of up to $1,000.00, or both.
There were some disappointments this year. Being one of the only State Legislators who is a full time farmer, I introduced House Bill 1289 and 1293. If passed, HB 1289 would have altered the determination of the Maryland estate tax to exclude for the value of the gross estate the value of real property that is subject to a perpetual agricultural preservation easement. HB 1293, would have required the State Department of Assessment and Taxation (SDAT) to send a specified notice of the $100.00 annual report filing fee for family farms within a specific time after the filing of a personal property tax return that reports tangible personal property used for agricultural purposes.
I hope that this letter provides you a good overview of the ‘2008’ General Session. If you have any questions or comments about these bills or my positions on any issue, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.
It has been a tremendous honor to be in the House of Delegates these past six (6) years and I look forward to continuing to serve the residents of District 7 and the State of Maryland. With best regards, I remain,