From the office of Del. Kathy Szeliga:
I am pleased to provide you with a wrap-up of the 2011 Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly from Annapolis. It was a very busy session and I am honored to serve and represent you in the House of Delegates.
Direct Shipment of Wine: Passed! I am a cosponsor of the bill that will allow wineries to ship wine directly to consumers. The amended bill does not allow for retailers or wine of the month club type of businesses to ship to consumers. After many years of trying to get direct shipping, this was the compromise that could be agreed upon. Our wineries will also be able to ship their fine wines to consumers out of Maryland. I am a big supporter of Maryland agriculture and wineries and I hope you will join me in buying local produce and wine.
Alcohol Tax: Passed! Two different alcohol tax bills, one House and one Senate passed. Beginning July 1 alcohol taxes will be 9% – a 50% increase. We fought these bills vigorously – debating it for hours. I personally spoke on the House floor at least a dozen times trying to bring common sense back into the debate and kill the bills.
The alcohol tax was initially touted as a funding source for the developmentally disabled community (DDA). In the end, the projected $85 million per year tax will send merely $15 million to the DDA guaranteed for 2012 ONLY. The tax revenue will also send an additional $45 million for school construction in 2012 with the urban areas getting bountiful amounts and the rural counties fighting for crumbs. I am very concerned about the impact this new tax will have on liquor stores near out state’s borders as well as the restaurant industry. During these very difficult economic times, raising taxes will be the final nail in the coffin of some businesses across the state and it will certainly impact consumers. Please patronize our locally owned restaurants, bars and liquor stores as they are really struggling right now and this new tax will certainly hurt them. I voted no each and every time I had the opportunity to oppose this horrible new tax.
Medical Marijuana: Passed! Maryland will study how to develop a medical marijuana distribution system, and decriminalize small amounts of pot for sick people. The US is the world leader in pharmaceutical research and has a well respected and established system to bring pharmaceuticals to market. I could support marijuana reaching the market through the FDA strictly for medical purposes. After all, pharmaceutical companies could make a lot of money developing marijuana if it is truly for medical purposes. I’m opposed to the lack of control for the decriminalization portion of the bill and the seeming desire to work around the FDA to legalize marijuana. I voted against this bill.
Gay Marriage: Failed! The biggest shock in the 2011 Legislative Session was the defeat of “gay marriage.” The gay marriage measure had passed the Senate and gained initial approval in the House. Once a bill reaches the House floor and gains initial approval, it is almost guaranteed to pass. When the bill was defeated, it was a shock! The supporters of gay marriage vowed to bring this measure back again. I support traditional marriage.
Instate Tuition for Illegal aliens: Passed! This was, perhaps, the worst bill passed during the 2011 session. Although the proponents of this measure said it was for the children and education, it’s a raw deal for taxpayers and law abiding citizens. Federal immigration law states that if a person is in our country without documentation for more than 1 year, they must return to their country of origin and face a 10 year penalty before they can apply for a visa! Proponents of this measure believe that a college education will be a path to citizenship despite federal law to the contrary. In many countries, the average wait to get a visa to come reside in the United States is at least nine years. This new law will not only cost taxpayers millions of dollars per year, it is a slap in the face to those people who have been waiting years, even decades, to gain legal entrance into our country. It is likely that there will be a law suit challenging the legality of this measure. Unfortunately, this bill passed handily and the Governor is anxious to sign it into law.
Invest Maryland: Although you and I are very worried about the future economic conditions in Maryland, the Governor and Leadership in Annapolis are gambling with our future dollars. Invest Maryland is a venture capital fund Maryland will create using future insurance revenue. Maryland will offer $100 million in future fees to insurance companies for $70 million. That’s a 30% discount on future liabilities to our state. This measure will raise $100 million that will be spent on the riskiest of investments, venture capital (start up) businesses. Although the minority party pointed out the obvious reasons why taxpayers do not want their money used this way – risky, speculative investments that start out 30% in the hole – this bill passed on party lines. Invest Maryland is more bad fiscal policy coming from Annapolis.
The economy continues to be the #1 concern for Marylanders. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have learned a lot about Maryland’s economic condition and budget.
The Budget: Unlike Congress and most other states, Maryland’s governor has the power of the purse. The governor submits a budget to the legislature reflecting his fiscal priorities for the state. The Appropriations Committee is responsible for evaluating the budget and looking for savings. This year’s state budget will grow by more than $1 Billion to $34 Billion. Despite the rhetoric coming from Annapolis, the budget includes fees, taxes, and assessments. As the Governor said in his commercials during the campaign, a tax is a fee and a fee is a tax. Here are some of the fees/taxes/assessments in the budget this legislative session. For the record, I voted against all of them:
– Car tax – Car titling fees increased from $50 to $100 (after being raise in 2007 from $23 to $50)
– Land tax – Land recording fees increased from $20 to $40
– Baby tax – Birth certificate fees increased from $12 to $24
– Health Care tax – Hospital assessments increased 2.5%
– Granny tax – Nursing home assessments raised to 5.5% (was 2% in 2009)
– Construction tax – 2% tax on IWIF worker’s compensation insurance
Pension Reform: As a member of the Appropriations Committee and the Pension Subcommittee, I am happy to report that we enacted some meaningful pension reforms this year. These reforms include increasing vesting time to 10 years, increasing the retirement age to 65, and having employees pay a little more into their pension plan. Unfortunately, the Governor will be taking the extra money employees are paying for their pension plan (2% – roughly $120 million), and putting that money in the General Fund for at least 2 years. Essentially, this is now a tax on teachers and state employees and bad public policy. The overall actions we took in Annapolis will work to reduce the $36 Billion pension deficit Maryland faces. I know that a 2% increase in employee and teacher contribution will be tough for many people, but we thought it better to preserve pensions and put the fund on a path to sustainability rather than kick the can down the road.
Crime and Punishment: There was a bi-partisan effort to stop a bill that will allow prisoners convicted of life sentences easier access to parole. Currently, the Parole Board recommends some lifers for parole and they are only grated parole if the governor approves. Under the new law, if the governor does not respond to the Parole Board’s recommendations, the criminal will be paroled. The governor now must say “no” in order to keep lifers in prison and the lack of a response will result in their release. I voted no on this bill but it narrowly passed.
Protecting Small Business: I’m pleased to report to you that I passed my first bill during my freshman year. This new law will ensure that hot air balloon businesses are exempted from amusement taxes. A constituent brought this issue to my attention. Under federal law, hot air balloon businesses should not be subjected to state head/amusement taxes. However, Up Up Away Balloons in Baldwin had to fight this tax for many years. HB 499’s passage ensures that this cottage industry will not have to spend time in tax court anymore. This bill was signed into law April 12, 2011.
I hope you will continue to contact me about issues that are important to you and your family. Please let me know if you’re not receiving email updates from me and I’ll add you to my list – email me at Kathy.firstname.lastname@example.org (monthly during the interim, weekly during session).
Delegate Kathy Szeliga