It is a privilege to serve you in the Maryland House of Delegates. This legislative session presented more challenges to the quality of economic, community, and family life here in Calvert County.
Unfortunately, the last eight years of the O’Malley/Brown administration has pursued one of the most far left agendas in the nation. This final year of the O’Malley/Brown administration is consistent with the previous seven years: Your freedoms and liberties are under attack by far left ideologues and Maryland’s economic stability remains in grave danger.
The 2014 Session of the Maryland General Assembly came to a close on Monday, April 7th, at midnight. This Session was a continuation of the spending frenzy Governor O’Malley initiated upon taking office. Legislators introduced 1,555 House bills, 1,117 Senate bills, and 23 resolutions during the Session. Only 811 bills passed – some of them good and some very problematic.
State Budget. The only legislation mandated by the Maryland Constitution is the “Budget Bill”. The Governor presents the budget and the legislature can only make reductions to the proposal. The total budget has increased by over $1 billion every year since Governor O’Malley took office in 2007. This year, the budget will increase by $1.6 billion dollars more than last year’s budget and more than $10 billion (37%) since 2007.
The total state budget is now over $38.9 billion dollars.
The House Republican Caucus offered common-sense alternatives to the spending frenzy that has characterized the O’Malley/Brown Administration. Once again, we offered a proposal that would have equated to a 3% across the board cut to Governor O’Malley’s operating budget proposal. The Democrat Majority rejected this alternative budget proposal to cut spending.
The most egregious component of the Democrat’s budget concerns pensions. They robbed contributions of Maryland State Employees in the amount of $400 million and diverted the money into the General Fund. The pension theft came from future promises made to the retirement of teachers and state employees. In 2011 an agreement was reached to shore up our woefully underfunded pension system. Employees were required to increase their contributions from 5% to 7%.
The State even shifted a portion of the pension costs to Calvert County in exchange for a promise by the State to fully fund their portion of pensions. How quickly the State reneged on their end of the bargain.
I strongly oppose the shifting of the pension fund payments for more spending. I strongly support protecting pensions for teachers, state employees, and future taxpayers.
I supported an amendment, to restore dollars stolen from pension funds. The Democratic
Majority rejected this amendment.
House Republicans offered a number of amendments to the budget, however the Majority rejected all of them. In total, amendments offered by Republicans would have reduced spending by nearly $600 million, kept pension payments funded and in place, and left a cushion if revenues fell short again in the coming fiscal year.
I offered an amendment to the State Budget that would eliminate funding for the highly controversial Film Production Tax Credit. The primary beneficiary of the tax credit is House of Cards, which is owned by a company not even located in Maryland. As you know, the film production industry is a highly mobile business. Modern portable sets and computer graphics enable production to be filmed anywhere. Typically, when tax credits run out, the film production companies flee for greener pastures. In the case of House of Cards, the producers threatened to leave Maryland if they did not receive more corporate welfare. This is not a good deal for the already overburdened Maryland taxpayers. My amendment failed, but I succeeded in defeating Senate Bill 1051, which would have authorized even larger increases in film production tax credits.
Capital Budget. As rapidly as State spending has grown over the past 7 years, the growth in state debt has risen dramatically as well. The $1.1 billion Capital Budget is packed with projects that are funded with long-term borrowing. While there are many worthwhile projects in the Capital Budget, Maryland’s debt far exceeds the taxpayers’ ability to pay for it.
The Maryland Constitution requires debt payments to be secured by the State Real Property Tax. Maryland is already paying over $1 billion in debt service (interest) annually, while receiving only $700 million in property tax revenues. The 2014 Capital Budget places additional pressure on debt affordability. Without additional supplements from the General Fund, Maryland’s only other option will be to increase State Real Property Taxes. It would take an increase of almost 70% in the State Property Tax rate to cover the shortfall.
After more than 80 tax, fee & toll increases during the last seven years, a Real Property Tax increase is NOT something taxpayers can afford.
I voted against both of these fiscally irresponsible budget bills.
CONTROVERSIAL BILLS & ISSUES FACING THE 90-DAY SESSION:
Minimum Wage Increase. Maryland’s minimum wage will increase to $10.10 an hour phased in by 2018. This measure was tied to an increase in state subsidies for the developmentally disabled community support staff by 3.5% annually through 2018 in order for them to meet the
requirements of the new law without cutting positions. This extreme increase in minimum wage is expected to cut nearly 12,000 jobs in Maryland small businesses. Maryland will now have the highest minimum wage in the region. Once again, special interests prevailed. An exception was granted to Six Flags Amusement Park, as they will not be required to pay the higher minimum wage. According to the Democrat Majority, what’s good for Six Flags isn’t good for small business owners statewide. I voted against this bill.
Transgender Bathroom Bill “Fairness for All Marylander’s Act of 2014”. While the bill was advertised as a way to prevent discrimination against transgendered individuals, there were several unintended consequences of the bill. The bill allows transgendered individuals to determine which public facility they would like to use (i.e. male or female), and creates a new class of protected individuals in the state's anti-discrimination statute. The bill defines "gender identity" as a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual regardless of the individual's assigned sex at birth. This legislation does not end discrimination. Instead, it creates a vague legal standard that will create more complications for businesses and the public. The chief concern is with public facilities, specifically restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, etc. that are traditionally designed for separate genders. I voted against this bill.
Maryland Health Exchange. After an abysmal implementation of Obamacare taxpayers suffered the failed execution of the Maryland Health Exchange (MHE). Only 60,000 individuals signed up for private insurance through the exchange, far below the original goal of 150,000. Moreover, 73,000 individuals lost their insurance due to Obamacare. Maryland is going backwards. A precursory audit of the Exchange revealed that in 2013, there was a lack of a plan, insufficient staffing, and no manager for the project. Many issues and risks were identified and there is little information about who made the key decisions. A September 2013 report states that no testing was undertaken prior to launching the website. Governor O’Malley and Lt. Governor Brown decided to roll out the MHE on October 1st, despite warnings that it would fail. It is truly the largest government funded boondoggle in the history of the State of Maryland – and has a long way to go to before it is fixed.
The “glitch-prone” (as referred to by Governor O’Malley) website has been a disastrous failure and the Exchange Board announced they will be switching to the technology used in the state of Connecticut. So far, more than $200 million has been wasted on the exchange. The Affordable Care Act is not only failed technology it is a failed philosophy.
Stopping Legislative Salary Increases. The House Republican Caucus forced a vote to block automatic pay increases for Legislators. Shunning common-sense transparency, the Democrat Majority would not permit legislators to vote on the issue of salary increases. The Democrat Majority consistently supports the expansion of government spending, even when it concerns their personal compensation.
Poultry Fair Share Act - “The Chicken Tax”. The Chicken Tax is fatally flawed. Many of the major funding programs that were originally designed to protect our environment have been raided—for example, the “Bay Restoration Fund” is supposed to be used for cleaning-up wastewater treatment plants. Since 2004, the Bay Restoration Fund has been routinely raided and used for other purposes. Last year, there were more than 1,800 wastewater treatment plant spillages in Maryland. Yet, Maryland’s existing Flush Tax has been systematically diverted to non-wastewater treatment purposes.
The 1,800 spillages resulted in more than 300 million gallons of untreated sewage dumped into the bay and its tributaries. Ironically, Government runs the wastewater treatment facilities and Government is the Big Polluter. The best way to correct the problem of raiding dedicated funds is to constitutionally protect the funds from further raiding. I routinely co-sponsor such legislation. The Democrat Majority defeated this legislation.
Cloud Computing & Student Data Privacy. This legislation deceived many legislators with a misleading title, and would have actually threatened the security of student information statewide. I fought aggressively against House Bill 607, which would specifically “authorize” lifting massive amounts of private student information to the cloud. This bill is extremely dangerous because it does not require parental consent to collect data, store data to the cloud and manipulate data. In effect, the bill relieves parents of their consent to data collection regarding their children, while enabling access to hundreds of thousands of student profiles. The Democrat Majority defeated an amendment that would require parental consent.
NEW BENEFICIAL LEGISLATION:
Not all of the legislation passed during the 2014 Session of the Maryland General Assembly was burdensome. Below are some highlights of positive legislation.
Dog Bite/Injury Rebuttable Presumption. The recent court ruling that deemed certain breeds “inherently dangerous” was finally overturned through corrective legislation. The passage of House Bill 73 eliminates stricter liability standards for pit bull owners as determined by the controversial, Maryland Court of Appeals ruling Tracey v Solesky. The law will hold all dog owners responsible for injuries caused by their dogs, regardless of breed. Owners could avoid liability if the victim was trespassing, committing a crime, or provoked the attack by teasing or tormenting the animal. I had the honor of hosting the Huntingtown Humane Society Club of Huntingtown High School this Session. Like last year, the students and I had an open discussion about legislative proposals affecting animal rights advocacy. As a result of their commitment, I cosponsored legislation that overturned breed specific liability and also cosponsored another bill that would penalize convicted animal abusers through means of restitution to local shelters.
Common Core. Concerns about Common Core curriculum in Maryland’s public schools prompted several bills aimed at slowing down and even abandon its implementation. There were a few small victories. HB 1164 establishes a workgroup that would oversee the implementation of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing requirements and the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards. HB 1001 requires the General Assembly to review any waivers requested by the State Department of Education regarding the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. HB 1167 delays the use of testing data to be used for teacher evaluations. There are still considerable concerns regarding Common Core that will be highly debated in the months to come. Legislation that would have empowered Counties to set their own timeline for Common Core implementation died in the Ways and Means Committee. I continue to remain very concerned about the large amount of reporting mandates put on teachers, administrators and school systems.
NOTABLE LEGISLATION THAT DID NOT PASS THE 90 DAY SESSION:
Upholding the Second Amendment. Republicans introduced bills to completely repeal and weaken SB 281 (Firearms Safety Act of 2013). No legislation pertaining to firearms was passed in this year’s General Assembly. I am a steadfast supporter of the Second Amendment.
Local Highway User Revenues - Restoration. The restoration of Highway User Revenues (HUR) to Maryland’s counties and municipalities has been a priority for local governments and the House Republican Caucus. HUR’s are gas tax dollars sent to the counties for road maintenance. During the depths of the recession, HUR’s were withheld by the State and not distributed as promised. This year it is anticipated that the State will realize approximately $1.75 billion from gas taxes and other vehicle registration and titling fees, yet less than 10% of those revenues will go to the local governments. Historically it has been around 30%. The majority of the new gas tax revenue has been used to fund over $4 billion in new mass transportation projects in Baltimore City and Montgomery County.
Income Tax Relief Act. Since 2007, 80 taxes, fees, and toll increases have cost every Maryland household an additional $4,000 per year. The House Republican Caucus backed a measure that would provide much needed tax relief by decreasing all income tax rates by 10% over the next three years. The Democrat majority defeated this proposal.
The folks in Annapolis continue to ignore our calls for common sense, fiscal reform. Rest assured, I will continue to fight for policies that encourage economic opportunity, fiscal responsibility and lower taxes on behalf of the people of this great State and Calvert County.
In an effort to keep families in Calvert County informed, I send out occasional e-mail updates on state and local issues that may be of interest to you. If you are not receiving my updates and would like to be added to the e-mail list, please send your name, address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to reach me on my cell at (301) 802-3159.
Yours in service,
Mark N. Fisher, Chair
Calvert County Delegation