Delegate Ron George on the 2010 Session ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Monday, April 19, 2010

Delegate Ron George on the 2010 Session

(The follow was sent by Delegate Ron George, R-30):

Dear Concerned Constituent,

I am writing to give you an overview of the just completed 2010 legislative session.  Though proud of the accomplishments below, I regret that we failed to get spending in line with revenues.  It is my hope you will feel that I represented you well.
Crime and Safety

Strengthening Maryland’s Sex Offender Laws - The killing of an 11-year old girl in Salisbury, Maryland by a repeat sex offender again raised the issue of the unacceptable and dangerous way Maryland treats perpetrators of these heinous crimes.  Several bills were introduced to correct weaknesses in law.  Issues included ending "good time" credits for child sex offenders, lifetime supervision for the most violent and repeat sex offenders after they have served their sentences, increasing the maximum and mandatory minimum penalties for a person convicted of raping a child, and changes to the reporting requirements for the sex offender registry to include locations of homeless offenders.   I co-sponsored some of these and supported all of them.
Gangs - I co-sponsored two pieces of legislation that limit gang activity.  The death of 14 year old Christopher Jones of Crofton spotlighted how this activity is within all communities now.  One bill dealt with better communication between schools and police.  The better communication in this bill is needed for the safety of our schools. 

The second gang bill pertains to the criminal prosecution of gang members.  Many prosecutions were lost due to the lack of a workable definition in the criminal code.  The bill defines criminal gang activity as a “group or association of three or more people who aim to commit certain offenses within a pattern of criminal behavior and an organizational structure.”   continued...

Health Care

Saving Our Doctors - I am proud to have helped make a difference this year.  To me, the biggest danger to our health care system is the shrinking pool of physicians.  Hardly anyone graduating from our medical schools decides to stay in Maryland.  We also have over half of our physicians either at or past retirement age.  Others have chosen to retire early and some have left for other states.  The reasons are obvious:  Maryland is a high litigation rate state and doctors are an easy target.  This raises the insurance premiums per practice.  Another main reason is that Maryland’s government has made Care First/Blue Cross- Blue Shield a near monopoly and the reimbursement rate for Maryland doctors is among the worst in the country.

In January, I founded The Doctor’s Caucus, a bi-partisan group of legislators that wished to help our physicians.  Out of that the Physician’s Advisory was formed, whose members are physicians that are willing to express the difficulties of having a practice in Maryland.  It grew to 170 members in a matter of weeks.  Despite five years of attempts, legislation that would help increase the reimbursement rate for doctors has died in the House of Delegates.  However, this year the Legislature received a better understanding and we passed bills that will help with the reimbursement of our medical providers. 


Unemployment Insurance - Governor O'Malley and the majority party passed the Unemployment Insurance Modernization and Tax Relief Act.  This bill, in exchange for some minor federal funding, requires the state to incur additional long term liabilities which far overshadows the short term benefit of the stimulus funds received.  Unfortunately, this provision also liberalizes the system by making more part-time workers eligible for benefits that do not have sufficient attachment to the workforce to be eligible under Maryland's present system.  The consequences of expanding the Unemployment Benefits Trust Fund to include those not presently covered will certainly result in fewer jobs and potentially fewer businesses to pick up the increased costs. We have no way of knowing what this liability could be, but it will greatly increase the drain on the employer funded Unemployment Insurance fund.   I argued that the antidote to unemployment benefits is jobs and creating a business friendly environment where businesses can flourish, thereby increasing the need for more workers.   Now is not the time to add long term liabilities that increase employer's costs, threaten trust fund solvency and hurt job creation.  Employers of seasonal workers are complaining that employees that were happy to work a summer job are now collecting unemployment in subsequent months.  This tarnishes the employer’s record thus increasing the amount they pay in benefits. Given that Maryland’s rating in economic competitiveness has dropped from 24th in 2006 to 46th in 2010, I stood in opposition of further damaging our ability to compete and create jobs.


Renewable Energy – This session I again sponsored legislation that is good for business while helping clean our sensitive environment.  The Energy Net Metering for Municipalities bill passed the house unanimously and was folded into a portfolio package.  Energy net metering allows an excess energy credit to be applied toward renewable energy.  Thus the City of Annapolis can raise revenue by generating credits to use toward the renewable energy park on Defense Highway. 

Wind Energy at Greenbury Point - This past week, the 15 member Anne Arundel County Delegation unanimously signed a resolution of support for my proposal from 2008 which asked the Navy to consider a few wind turbines at the northern mouth of the Severn River.  It is one of the few places in the state where the wind is strong enough. The newer technology is quiet and generates more energy despite moving slower (thus being bird friendly). The resolution shows the Navy we support their consideration of such a project. The Navy is beginning the first phase of a feasibility study.
Tolls - I also worked on and received written confirmation from the Maryland Transportation Authority that any future attempt to increase tolls will have a hearing in near proximity to the place the tolls are proposed to increase. This guarantee from the MdTA was in direct response to a bill I proposed these last two years.
Budget and Tax

After two years of raiding funds, it appears the 2011 Maryland budget sets the stage for tax increases next session (postponing it until after the election in November).  For the last four sessions, I along with the House GOP caucus, have offered proposals to limit state spending, all of which have been rejected.  The first was in early 2007 to avoid the massive tax increases which followed in the fall special session.  This year, we offered a plan to make $830 million in reductions to the Governor's budget, again attempting to get our spending in line with our revenues.  The budget that passed the House and Senate increases General Fund spending by 2.4% due to a wide variety of fund transfers and more stimulus money, which will result in an unsustainable level of funding as the federal handout disappears.  This year, the majority party increased our debt capacity to "ease the pressure on the general fund".  We are selling 15 year bonds to free up funds for increased operating spending.  "It's kind of like using your MasterCard to pay off your Visa," to use a quote from Jonathan Williams, economist from the American Legislative Exchange Council.  By increasing the debt service, we are likely to see property tax increases to cover the cost.
We have "kicked the can down the road" on two of the real cost drivers of our budget - Retiree Pensions and Retiree Health Care.  Like other states, we have not fully funded our pension liabilities which would require millions of additional spending to meet actuarial levels like private plans are required to do.  In addition, we have approximately $15 billion in retiree health care liabilities.  The Governmental Accounting Standards Board requires states to show the full extent of these liabilities on their balance sheet, including setting money aside to pay for these benefits, but nothing has been added since Governor Ehrlich left office.  The budget then was $28 billion.  Despite four years of economic decline, the Governor’s budget is now over $32 billion.

Lip service has been given to keeping our coveted AAA bond rating, and the administration has used selective comments from the rating agencies to commend the budget in floor debate.  The reality is that Moody's has serious doubts about our spending levels and the underfunding of our liabilities.

Outlook - There needs to be a balance between government and personal responsibility, for we cannot be taxed into prosperity.  With the economy showing little sign of significant recovery, our state’s piggy banks empty, and increased debt - we leave here with only two options for next year - cut and control spending or… raise taxes. 

Thank you for your concern and any input you have given me.  I take it to heart.  Though I finish my first term knowing I have given it my all, there is still more to accomplish to meet the needs of you and our district.  I have been blessed to have the two best staff people - my legislative assistant, Debbie Yatsuk, and part-time aide, Jean Shelton.  Please call us anytime at #410-841-3439 or e-mail if we can be of service.


Delegate Ron George
District 30
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