EYE ON ANNAPOLIS • BY ED LEVY
On March 4, 2013, Progressive Neighbors, Progressive Maryland, and other members of the Progressive Working Group held the third annual Maryland Progressive Summit in Annapolis. The Summit gave about 40 attendees a chance to meet with about a dozen State Senators and Delegates. The elected officials briefed audience members on and answered questions about this year’s legislative session. The event was pretty much a Silver Spring/Takoma Park Reunion with about half of the elected officials and the attendees representing Districts 14, 18, 19, and 20 in Eastern Montgomery County.
State Senator Roger Manno (D-19) said that after the election of several new progressive legislators in 2010, this has been another great session for advancing progressive issues. Manno cited passage last year of the Dream Act and marriage equality, and progress this year on repealing the death penalty and on stronger gun control. Sen. Manno said that the Senate used to be where good legislation went to die but that that is no longer the case. Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20) said that it’s more important to be in the moral center than in the political center, and that we have seen the political center come to us when we strongly advocate for progressive issues. Del. Eric Luedtke (D-14) said that our success shows that elections have consequences, but cautioned that there will be many open seats in the 2014 legislative elections, and that we must work hard to defend our gains.
Regarding gun legislation, Sen. Raskin said that the most important issues are an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines. Sen. Karen Montgomery (D-14) emphasized the importance of addressing the issue of limiting gun access to the dangerously mentally ill.
Regarding hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20) said that the oil and gas industry is working to deny funding for the safety study mandated by earlier legislation. An unfunded study will be unable to counter industry arguments about fracking safety. Sen. Montgomery noted that some states are sending their fracking wastewater to other states to be disposed of.
On tax issues, Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-22) strongly endorsed ‘combined reporting’ as currently in place in 25 states. Under this system, companies pay taxes in Maryland on a share of their nationwide profits comparable to the share of sales that take place in our state. Del Liz Bobo (D-12B) emphasized the importance of relying less on the sales tax for state revenues. The sales tax is ‘regressive’ in that it hits harder those with lower incomes.
Del. Al Carr (D-18) is concerned that the state Public Service Commission is not effectively advocating for the public interest when it regulates the utility industry. Carr noted that the Commission has allowed utilities to charge to ratepayers the cost of hiring experts who argue that ratepayers should pay higher prices. Del. Carr noted that California also reimburses public interest groups who oppose utility rate hikes.
Finally, Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-18) is working to make it more difficult to bring issues to referendum in Maryland. Madaleno noted that Maryland only requires that voters equal to 3 percent of those voting in the last election must sign petitions in support of a referendum. This is the lowest number of signers required nationwide. Sen. Madaleno proposes that the standard be raised to 5 percent of all registered voters.