David Nitkin on state politics issues

Bobbie, Baltimore: Is it true that former lobbyist Ira Cooke's conviction inCalifornia was overturned on Monday? If so, do they try him again? Isn't itThe Sun's responsibility to report on all news?

Nitkin: The Sun did report on the overturning of Ira Cooke's conviction.At the time the story waspublished, the local prosecutor's office in California had not determinedwhether to bring additional charges. But reading the tea leaves and havingspoken to an assistant district attorney myself, I would surmise thatanother trial is unlikely.

David, Baltimore: If Barack Obama is elected president in2008, would Gov.-elect [Martin] O'Malley accept a position in President Obama'sCabinet, such as U.S. attorney general or Homeland Security director?

Nitkin: David, that is way too speculative for anyone to answer. O'Malley hasyet to serve a single day as governor!

Chris, Remington: A few Q&As ago, you answered the following question:

  • Gary, New York, N.Y.: Does rail transit for Baltimore seem more likely now under an O'Malley administration? Do you think he will appoint a more transit-friendly transportation secretary?
  • Nitkin: The short answer is yes, rail transit for Baltimore is more likely in an O'Malley administration. I would not be surprised if the next transportation secretary is more inclined to support rail transit, but it will probably remain a low priority overall. Sadly, as a huge fan of transit, I agree with you that it will likely be a low priority -- O'Malley and [Gov. Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.] both essentially ignored the issue during the campaign. My question is: Why? Why is the Red Line (and the entire Baltimore Region Transit Plan) such a political non-starter? It's a meager response to a huge regional problem, but at least it's something. Why isn't anyone raising a stink about this, and why do you think O'Malley doesn't see it as a priority, despite the fact that he now has at least a measure of power to make it happen? Does it come down to federal funding? Would a Democratic [presidential] administration in 2008 increase transit funding for the cities that need it the most, including Baltimore? Nitkin: Part of the problem with rail transit is that not only does it cost huge amounts of money to build, but it then typically runs at a loss, with fare-box collections covering just a fraction of operating costs. And financial projections of costs and revenues are based on models of demand that can often be wrong. Put another way, if planners estimate that 50,000 riders a day would take the proposed Baltimore Red Line, but only 40,000 actually do, then taxpayers would have to pay the difference. To be sure, one could construct a cost-benefit model that includes the benefits of pollution and traffic congestion that would be avoided by building rail. But again, these models are dicey. Steve, Rockville: What changes in funding, if any, can we expect from the O'Malley administration with regard to the University of Maryland, College Park? Is O'Malley's campaign commitment to increase funding primarily to ensure affordable mediocrity, or is he also committed to resume growing the university's academic standing through increased funding? Nitkin: In my experience, funding changes to higher education are largely determined by the state of the economy, because universities make up the largest discretionary component of the state budget. With a structural deficit looming in the not-to-distant future, higher education might not get the funding commitment many of its supporters would like to see. Davis, Catonsville: Just a clarification of your answer regarding the legislative committee looking into Ehrlich's hiring/firing practice. Is it really a committee's place to determine legality of an action, or [is it] the courts'? I am sure every Republican believes the committee was heavily Democratic and biased, and every Democrat thinks it wasn't biased. In order to really do anything more than give an opinion on legality and recommend punishment, what authority did the committee really have? Nitkin: Davis, you raise a good distinction. I was asked whether the committee found illegal activity, and I answered "yes" based on the written contents of the investigative committee's final report. While the committee did have the power to subpoena witnesses, it had no authority to determine guilt or innocence on its own. It could make recommendations for personnel system changes and the legislation needed to enact them. But if the committee determined wrongdoing during its investigation, it could have referred its findings to the state prosecutor's office, the Attorney General's office or the Anne Arundel County state's attorney. It did not. Constance, Baltimore: What direction is Gov.-elect O'Malley taking on prison issues? Restart or re-entry? Some caring families would like to know. Nitkin: The O'Malley team has been critical of Ehrlich's handling of corrections, saying that the outgoing administration initiated Restart -- designed to give treatment and training to inmates -- by effectively taking resources away from traditional corrections programs. O'Malley aides have told me that the first priority is making sure correctional facilities have the full staffing they need.
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