Issues
Nancy L. Howard, Ocean City: Where can I find the history of the 2006 budget tourism funding?

Nitkin: Nancy, I'm not sure whether you are talking about the budget for the 2006 fiscal year (July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006), which was adopted by the General Assembly a year ago, or the 2007 fiscal year budget, which has yet to be voted on. I'll try to answer both.

For the governor's proposed budget, go here, then click on the link for FY 2007 Proposed Operating Budget, Volumes 1-3.

The tourism budget is in Volume 3, and the Division of Tourism is contained within the state Department of Business and Economic Development. The document contains the governor's proposed funding and staffing levels for the upcoming years, as well as the levels for the current year.

The General Assembly Web site contains the analysis of the Department of Legislative Services, which has examined the budget and made recommendations for cuts and raised other questions. The Assembly Web site also contains older budget documents. Go here, and then click on "budget documents" in the second column of bullets.

Click on the link for Department of Business and Economic Development, and then read the analysis. You'll see that the governor has proposed an increase in funding for the Maryland Tourism Board of $1.5 million, of which $1 million is grants to local tourism development agencies and $500,000 is advertising.

Robert Cheeks, Baltimore: What is the situation on the pay raises for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections?

Nitkin: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has proposed a 6 percent raise for corrections workers, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2006. A Senate budget committee has recommended against the retroactive portion of raises, but it seems likely that a significant raise for public safety and corrections employees will be adopted this year.

Bill, Odenton: What is the current status of any state pension enhancement for state employees and teachers?

Nitkin: Bill, we haven't heard a lot about pension improvements for teachers and others during the session, since the idea first surfaced months ago and the two Democratic candidates for governor, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, both came out in favor of the boost. We'll try to come back to this issue again in our coverage before the 2006 Assembly session expires.

Steve: Is the State Board of Elections supposed to be loyal to the Democratic leadership in the General Assembly? I didn't realize that the Board of Elections was in the legislative branch of Maryland government.

One only needs to look at the efforts of Democrats in the last year to weigh the 2006 elections in their favor by changing current election laws. The effort failed, but begs the question about whether or not it is a good thing that the Maryland General Assembly has politicized the administration of elections in Maryland.

Looking objectively at the State Board of Elections, one cannot draw the logical conclusion that it has been managed well over the last several years: the Board of Elections is barely in compliance with HAVA; it has failed to update voter registration numbers on its Web site in months; it does not have election results broken down by precinct; the campaign finance law information for candidates is outdated and inaccurate; [and] it has enormous project overruns. The list of mismanagement examples is quite long. It is quite clear [where] the administrator's loyalty [lays], but shouldn't those loyalties be with Maryland taxpayers rather than the leadership in the state Senate?

Nitkin: The administration of the Maryland State Board of Elections has been in the spotlight for quite some time. When a Republican was elected governor in 2002, the composition of the appointed county and state elections boards shifted because the party that holds the governor's mansion also gets a majority on five-member elections boards. So, Democrats get kicked off to make room for Republicans.

On the state level, the board gets to appoint the administrator, currently Linda H. Lamone. Ehrlich and his top aides have made no secret of their desire to replace Lamone, but the effort to do so has become a political battle royal.

When the governor was elected, the law stated that a vote of four of the elections board members was needed to replace the administrator -- and that the administrator could only be replaced "for cause," which meant that a Democrat would have had to side with three Republicans in order to vote on charges that would lead to the replacement. The governor sought to get those votes by appointing Democrats who were loyal to him and not to the leadership in the Assembly.

A year ago, the Senate refused to approve those nominees, and then passed a bill making it even more difficult to remove the administrator -- requiring that the board needed to be at full strength for a vote, and that the administrator remain in her job until the Senate confirmed a replacement.

At one point -- when the board was not at full strength last year and when some Democrats loyal to Ehrlich were serving on it -- some members of the board did decide to replace her. But Lamone went to court and kept her job. I can't comment specifically about the quality of management in the office, because I don't know enough about it. I'll take your word for it that some data online is out of date.