Annapolis Dispatches

Annapolis Dispatches

Money, Judges, Booze

Cryor Gets First Look at Budget

Del. Jean Cryor (R-15) is in a position to get an early say in the state’s budget process.

“I am the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee,” Cryor said. Since the budget will be going to the house first this year, Cryor’s committee will be the first to deal with it. “It still remains the biggest kid on the block,” she said.

While some legislators have complained about Gov. Robert Ehrlich taking money from the transportation trust fund, Cryor asserts this is not a real issue.

“The transportation trust fund is not in trouble at this moment,” Cryor said. She explained that the fund gets its revenue from auto registrations — and since the zero percent financing drove up auto sales it also drove up the money in the fund. “Most governors have borrowed from the fund. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said she wanted to borrow from it, also,” Cryor said.

“It’s a short-term solution to get past this without causing the people of Maryland enormous pain,” Cryor said. Ultimately, she is certain that the process will work. “What we’ll see is everybody has to give something,” Cryor said.

While she was adamant that there will be no change in property or income taxes, she did not rule out other tax increases. “After 90 days, we may find ourselves looking at some changes in the taxing structure,” Cryor said.

She is also looking to start on transportation initiatives. “I’m very conscious that I’m here for Montgomery County,” Cryor said. She is waiting for the new transportation secretary. “I want to sit down with [Transportation Secretary designate] Robert Flanagan as soon as he gets sworn in,” Cryor said. She plans to talk to him about the proposed light rail line along I-270, among other initiatives proposed in the county.

Cryor will also be the chair of the New Member Mentoring Committee of the Women’s Legislators of Maryland, a caucus group of the Maryland General Assembly. The overall mission of the group is to improve public policy that affects women’s lives and to increase the number of women elected and appointed to public service in Maryland.

Frosh Introduces Constitutional Amendment

Sen. Brain Frosh (D-16) has introduced a constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected. “It should be contentious,” Frosh said.

Currently, after being appointed, judges face a contested election by the general public. Frosh’s bill would change the public confirmation to a retention vote — yes or no on a judge, not one person versus another for the job.

According to Frosh there are two other bills about the same issue introduced by Sen. George Della (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. John Giannetti (D-PG County). “The three of us have similar bills,” Frosh said.

The bills will first be decided upon by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee which Frosh chairs. “Assuming the committee likes one of the bills, we’ll take it to the [Senate] floor,” Frosh said. If the bill passes the senate it would also need to pass the assembly before going to a statewide referendum. If it then passed the referendum, it would become an amendment to the state constitution.

He expects the committee to vote on the proposed amendments by mid-February.

Additionally, Frosh has been appointed to a Special Joint Legislative Committee to Consider Candidates for the Office of the Treasurer.

“We’ve got the best treasurer in the United States,” said Frosh, who has never been on the committee before. While he will keep an open mind, he believes an applicant “would have to be incredible to surpass Nancy Kopp,” Frosh said. Kopp is the current treasurer, and a former delegate from Frosh’s District 16.

On Jan. 30, the committee will hold a public hearing to conduct interviews. On Jan. 31, the joint session of the assembly will elect a treasurer to a four-year term.

The treasurer is charged by the state constitution with the general responsibility to manage and disburse state funds, among other things.

Bronrott: Walk the Walk

Del. William Bronrott (D-16) thinks there’s still a chance that his proposed alcohol tax increase will go through.

“We’re just at the beginning of the budget negotiation process,” Bronrott said. The Democratic-controlled legislature has recently indicated than it was going to remove tax increases, like Bronrott’s, from consideration. Bronrott believes this is part of a larger strategy. He thinks the leadership is going to “let the sting of [Gov. Ehrlich’s] budget be felt. The more the public learns, the more concern there is going to be,” Bronrott said.

Tax increases will have to be part of the state’s funding equation, he said. “It all can’t be about cutting programs and slot machine revenue,” Bronrott said.

The tax increase on alcoholic beverages would be the first in the state on distilled spirits since 1955, and the first on beer and wine since 1972. It could generate $94 million for the state.

“Our tax is far below the national average,” Bronrott said.

Bronrott has also introduced a bill that will designate walking as the official state exercise. “It will give us a very positive way of getting out the message of better health,” Bronrott said. He believes that increasing the number of Marylanders who walk will help decrease the nationally recognized problem with obesity.

Bronrott, a key advocate for pedestrian safety, chose walking because it is something which can be done without an expensive gym membership. “It’s low impact, high results, and it’s free,” Bronrott said.

Walking also has non-health benefits. “It will allow people to rediscover their own community,” Bronrott said.