Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

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The General Assembly is back in session and tax increases will be the major story.

Legislators are almost surely going to raise the gasoline tax by as much as 15 cents and might triple the flush tax before they adjourn this spring, but Gov. Martin O’Malley opined this week he would support a different increase. If it were up to him to address the operating budget deficit of approximately $600 million and infrastructure funding woes, he would increase the sales tax for the second time in his tenure.

On The Marc Steiner Show on WEAA, O’Malley surprised some with his sales tax hike talk. He said the 2008 increase from 5 percent to 6 percent (or 6 cents on every dollar) helped the state avoid massive economic woes associated with the recession. He said increasing it to 7 percent would have a similar impact.

“That one penny could solve that operating budget problem. … Frankly, if I had my druthers, I would rather do the one penny on the sales tax. It gives us the flexibility, have that address our operating needs and then transition that into the sort of revenue stream that then allows us to have a greater bonding capacity for future transportation,” O’Malley said. “That’s what I would like to do. However, while the governor is one very important player here, it requires the House and the Senate to pass these things.”

On that last point, it appears O’Malley does not have the support for the sales tax increase, as Senate President Mike Miller called it a “non-starter.”

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Outrage has been heard over the last few weeks over the bail and bond process for Andre Kaczynski, the local man who was high on PCP when he slammed into a passenger vehicle on Coastal Highway in mid-December, critically injuring an 18-month-old child. After the initial accident, Kaczynski was released after posting a percentage of his $100,000 bond. When he was arrested again on PCP possession charges just six days later, a visiting District Court judge released Kaczynski again on a $25,000 bond, despite an initial “hold without bail” ruling by a court commissioner.

In many cases, a prosecutor will sit in on bail reviews and bond hearings, especially when the case has considerable weight, in order to inform the judge of extenuating circumstances. While they don’t sit in on every bail review as most are fairly routine, the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office reportedly did send a representative to Kaczynski’s bond review in front of a visiting judge four days later.

“There has been some conjecture we didn’t have somebody available at the bond review,” said State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman William McDermott this week. “The State’s Attorney’s Office was present, but the visiting judge set bond without asking for any input.”

In addition, a State’s Attorney’s Office representative was on hand for Kaczynski’s preliminary hearing in front of a court commissioner following his second arrest.

“At least with this one, we sent somebody to his hearing in front of the commissioner. That’s how we had the original ‘no bail” set,” McDermott said.

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While many complain about the slow pace of government, and rightfully so, a bill of local importance introduced by Sen. Jim Mathias on the first day of the session on Wednesday could be the first piece of legislation passed this year.

Senate Bill 46 would repeal the current boundaries for the county commissioner districts in Somerset County and replace them with a new set of boundaries. While the commissioner elections in Somerset will not be held until 2014, there are school board elections in Somerset this year and the filing deadline for candidates passed this week without a firm grasp on what the final districts might look like.

Senate Bill 46 addresses that issue and was introduced as emergency legislation on Wednesday morning. By Wednesday afternoon, it has cleared committee and passed unanimously on the Senate floor early yesterday morning. The bill was expected to cross over to the House yesterday and appears to be a lock to be approved as early as today and sent to the governor for his signature.

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