Here are answers to selected readers' questions about the 2004 session of the Maryland General Assembly, which ended Monday. Sun staffers David Nitkin, Michael Dresser, Kimberly A.C. Wilson, Ivan Penn, Howard Libit, Jon Rockoff and Jon Morgan answered these questions.
Dawn Lewis, Bel Air: State employees have not seen as much as a
cost-of-living-raise in the last three years. Did state employees get the
1.6 percent raise and/or step increases?
Steve Metts, Baltimore: With Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller
stating, "We're facing a fiscal hell next year," and his knowledge that even
if approved, slots wouldn't provide any revenue for the next two fiscal
years, why is he opposed to the proposed sales tax increase that would
Dresser: Miller is not opposed to raising the sales tax but has said it is
futile for the Senate to pass one when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has
stated he will veto any increase. The Senate president said he could have
convinced the governor to accept some other increased fees and taxes,
including an increase in the vehicle titling fee.
Tom, Baltimore: How does one begin a petition requiring the General
Assembly to pass legislation in the year 2005 that authorizes 10,000 slots
machines under the Maryland Stadium Authority operation to be in one
location in each county?
Nitkin: Unlike in California and several other states, there is no
provision in Maryland law for voters to petition issues to referendum. The
law does allow, however, for voters to gather signatures to petition to
referendum a law approved by the General Assembly, for the purposes of
Rocco Rotondo Jr., Parkville: Why can't there be a referendum vote for
slots? Wouldn't that be a fair way to vote on slots? That way, everyone
gets their view in, and whatever area wins, they get the slots in their
jurisdiction. The governor does not want this -- he will surely lose. Most
people who want slots are Republicans, but they don't want slots in their
Libit: Del. Shane Pendergrass of Howard County introduced a bill to
hold that kind of slots referendum, and there was talk in the final days of
the legislature that it could be supported in the House. But the Senate
president and the governor both opposed it, saying that an election delayed
slots too much. The governor also says that his victory in 2002 should be
considered a referendum on slots.
Howard Gorrell, Westminster: Why didn't The Sun cover any legislative bill
regarding child support?
Nitkin: About 2,500 bills and resolutions are introduced in the General
Assembly each year, and we spend much of our time deciding which issues to
cover. Only about 20 percent become law. Typically, we try to focus on
issues that impact the largest number of readers. Many issues, as a result,
do not get the attention that some readers think they deserve. As a result,
we try to direct readers to various resources -- such as the
baltimoresun.com and the General Assembly Web site -- so they can track
issues on their own.
Keith Zumbrun, Glen Arm: Did the motorcycle helmet bill that would not
require helmets pass?
Wilson: The helmet bill, Senate Bill 611, emerged from the Senate on April
6, after the crossover deadline. It was held up in the House Rules
Committee and did not make it out of committee in time for consideration by
the full House of Delegates. So it was not passed by the legislature.
Donna Disbrow, Columbia: Will it cost me extra to flush the toilet every
time I go? What is going on with this state? What's next -- a tax for
expelling human gas, just so we can punish ourselves for contributing to
the Greenhouse Effect? Priorities are askew; tax the corporations and
developers for bringing extra noise, pollution and traffic into our
communities instead of taxing -- or overtaxing -- the middle class. The
Assembly can do better than this.
Dresser: The so-called "flush tax" is a flat $2.50-a-month surcharge on
residential sewer bills.
Jennifer Dean, Arnold: How will teen-agers be affected by new taxes and
Nitkin: Teen-agers are not specifically singled out, but various motor
vehicle fees will certainly impact you. If you are a teen who pays his or
her own car registration, or if you lose your driver's license and decide
to appeal the decision, you will pay more to state government.
Jim Etchison, Crofton: What was the final resolution on corporations in
Maryland that pay no state taxes. Was this large loophole closed ... or
Nitkin: The General Assembly adopted legislation to close the so-called
Delaware holding company loophole, which allows corporations to establish
shell corporations in states that do not tax assets derived from
intellectual property such as patents and trademarks. In addition, a bill
passed granting amnesty to companies that would owe back taxes, estimated
to total about $80 million. Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer
opposes the amnesty provision, and Ehrlich will make the final