Tag: government

City Budget Information Pop-Up Night

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COTD

catch of the day fish (2)Maybe it’s just because we’re a city on the smaller side, but Baltimoreans absolutely love discussing local politics. It always seems that every other person has read the latest city budget proposal, or has analyzed how this month’s news from Annapolis will affect things in the rest of the state. And of course, we’ve all got something to say about it, too. But that’s what makes a city dynamic, and an informed population is certainly better than an uniformed one, right? Well, this year, on the eve of Tax Day 2015, you can get the scoop on all the latest info for Baltimore taxpayers in one handy (and dare we say, entertaining evening).

6,600 Balto. Co. Employees Victims of Massive Privacy Breach

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identitytheftmccarthy

Last week, 12,000 Baltimore County employees were told of an alleged mass identity theft. Their personal information — name, social security number, address, and so on — had been found in the possession of a Florida man who had formerly done contract work for the county.

And then it got even worse. Police later discovered bank account information08 for 6,633 employees and former employees among the suspect’s stolen data.

Baltimore Headed for Bankruptcy

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city-hall-balto

This shouldn’t come as much of a shock, but according to a study commissioned by the city, Baltimore is on track to accumulate $2 billion in budget shortfalls over the next 10 years — which is about the size of the city’s annual operating budget. The consulting firm that prepared the study noted Baltimore’s history of applying one-time fixes to its budget crises, and is urging the city to start thinking long-term. 

So I Was Wrong: Mikulski to Chair Senate Appropriations Committee Instead

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Sen. Barb Mikulski
Sen. Barb Mikulski

I was drawn in by the seductive logic of the Baltimore Sun‘s prediction that in the wake of the death of Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a series of promotions would put our own Sen. Barb Mikulski in a position to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee, but “in an unexpected move” — unexpected for the Sun, anyway — the first two senators in line to take over Appropriations turned it down, and the gavel fell to Mikulski.

Ever Heard of the Board of Legislative Reference? Neither Have Some of Its Members

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It’s great that Baltimore has a board to oversee the performance of the city’s ethics director, but it would be even better if it held meetings. The Board of Legislative Reference is made up of the mayor, city solicitor, a university president, a couple deans, director of the Enoch Pratt, and a member of City Council — except, there’s no one from City Council currently serving (until recently, most members didn’t even know what the Board of Legislative Reference was), and no one can remember the board holding a meeting since the ’90s.

Anne Arundel County Reneges on $229K in Employee Pensions

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Let’s say you were retired from the Anne Arundel state’s attorney’s office, and then were offered the opportunity to go back working for the state’s attorney part-time while continuing to collect 100 percent of your pension. And let’s say five years later the county realizes it made a mistake, has been in fact overpaying you, and sends you a bill for $115,672.50.

Speaking of Public Information… Annapolis Gets Slightly Less Opaque

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Currently, Maryland is one of a minority of states in which the occupations and employers of large contributors to political campaigns are not disclosed to the public. Thankfully, our otherwise flailing General Assembly managed to pass a bill to rectify the situation, requiring campaigns to collect that kind of information about anyone giving more than $500. If Gov. Martin O’Malley doesn’t veto it, it will go into effect June 1.

According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, the bill’s sponsors think a veto would be unlikely (and pretty audacious considering the measure passed 46-0 in the Senate, 89-45 in the House).

The bill is just one of several passed this legislative session that might help Maryland raise its corruption grade from a shameful D- to a disgraceful D, or maybe even a lackluster C-. Also awaiting a gubernatorial signature is a bill “requiring that the ethics disclosure forms filed by legislators and other high-ranking officials be made available online.” And coming up for referendum in November: a constitutional amendment that would boot from office elected officials immediately upon conviction of a crime.

So even if our budget falls to pieces, our legislators can’t compromise on a gaming bill, at least they’ve made government a little easier to keep an eye on.

Sweet Irony: The City Has Been Asked to Return $200,000 It Received in Error

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Maybe Baltimore’s city government has demanded homeowners refund misapplied tax credits so quickly because it has to refund some misdirected money of its own. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation wrote a $200,000 check intended for United Way of Maryland’s “Journey Home” initative, an ambitious project aimed at ending homelessness in Baltimore. Somehow, the city received the funds instead. And now the foundation is asking that the city send the money back. (Isn’t this great?)

Baltimore’s Board of Estimates will hold a vote today to decide whether to return the money. (Wouldn’t it be interesting if all the homeowners who are on the hook with the city could have just gotten together and voted on whether to repay the tax credits?)

Now this story is not quite as juicy as it could be. Looks like the city was going to put it toward “The Journey Home” anyway, specifically to fund the salary of a new director for the project.  So, in the end, it may not make much of a difference. Still, it’s nice to see the shoe on the other foot.

Maryland Gets Low Marks for Corruption Prevention

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In the midst of a session that has seen ethics and transparency pushed into the spotlight, two reports released this week gave the state poor rankings on both issues.

A nationwide report conducted by the State Integrity Investigation ranked Maryland 40th out of 50 states for corruption prevention, awarding the state a D- on their report card. Half the states scored D or less.

In their explanation, the nonpartisan organization notes the state’s history of political corruption dating back to Democratic Gov. Marvin Mandel’s imprisonment for racketeering and mail fraud – a conviction later overturned – to Republican Vice President Spiro Agnew’s prosecution for bribery and tax fraud during his service as governor.

The report card is broken down into various categories, including public access to information, internal auditing, and ethics enforcement. The investigation blames the state’s poor ranking on limited accountability of the executive and legislative branches due to unchecked Democratic control, a revolving door between lobbyists and government officials, failure to correct audit findings, and limited data access across the board.

The project was a joint effort by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.

Unemployment Down. Nobody Get Too Excited.

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Maryland’s unemployment rate fell from a terrifying 6.9 percent in November to a faith-restoring 6.7 percent last month. Sure that’s an improvement (and to be fair, unemployment was as high as 7.4 percent a few months ago), but that two-tenths of a percent leap was won by local and state government agencies adding 4,600 jobs (while in other areas we lost some, leaving us with a 3,100 net job gain). Really, this minuscule and government-granted relief ought to underscore the bleakness of the situation.

It’s like the price of gas. It shoots up to four bucks a gallon and you’re miserable. Then it drops ten cents and you’re heart sings with joy. You just can’t focus on the fact that not too long ago it was $2.24. So everybody try to forget that state unemployment was in the threes just a few years ago.

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