Sunday, January 15, 2017

Legislative Session Starts

The legislative session started on Wednesday.  It lasts for 90 days.  All bills have to be drafted, introduced, reviewed at a public hearing, voted on by both the House of Delegates and Senate, and signed by the Governor, to become law in Maryland.  In the next few weeks the Governor will be presenting his proposed budget, and in his State of the State address he will outline his legislative initiatives.  We all also be reacting to what happens with the new Administration in Washington and how it affects us in Maryland.  The Democratic leadership in the General Assembly will also be laying out its legislative goals.  As we move into session I will try and update people on the issues being debated and my views on these topics.  I will, as always, be interested on your opinions.  Right now I am continuing to put forward legislation that I believe will make a difference for the people of our District and our state.

Preparing a Progressive Agenda for Annapolis – Part 3

Filling Vacancies for the General Assembly by Special Election

In Maryland when someone leaves the General Assembly because of retirement, death or taking another position, the position is filled by an appointment by the Governor based on a recommendation from the Central Committee of the political party to which the person leaving belongs.  This means the replacement can be appointed for up to four years without an election.  I believe this is very undemocratic.  I personally believe that there should be a special election as soon as possible so the voters can decide who shall represent them.  Because some people feel a special election would be too expensive, my legislation (similar to a bill introduced by Delegate Moon last year) is a compromise.  The bill would still allow the Central Committee of the party to recommend to the Governor someone to fill the position, but only until the next November election.  This avoids additional cost to the taxpayers but still allows voters to have a voice on who should represent them in the General Assembly.

Rights of Public Workers to Have Collective Bargaining    

Municipal and county employees in many local jurisdictions do not have collective bargaining rights.  Maryland is one of only three states that has an opt-in structure of collective bargaining statutes.  Each local jurisdiction has to decide whether its employees have the right to collective bargaining.   Many municipalities and counties do not have a law that allows their employees to form a union and collectively bargain. If the law has not been passed they do not have the right to bargain.        
The right of collective bargaining is internationally recognized as an essential element of the freedom of association.  Jurisdictions that do not allow collective bargaining are depriving Maryland residents of this fundamental right.  I am introducing a bill that requires local jurisdictions with over 20 (non-supervisory) employees to pass a law allowing their employees to have collective bargaining rights.

Digital car registration

This bill means that when stopped by a police officer an individual may present a digital or electronic image of the registration card to the officer.  I don’t like leaving my registration in the car all the time.  This way I can show the officer my registration on my smartphone.

Public Financing of Elections  
We have public financing for the Maryland gubernatorial election, but not for legislative elections. In the last couple of years public financing bills have passed in both Montgomery and Howard Counties.  There are initiatives to pass similar legislation in Prince George’s and Frederick Counties.  We have to do something about the role of big money in elections. My bill is only a start at addressing this issue for candidates for the General Assembly.  The bill would give candidates incentives to stay away from big contributors.  Under this bill, if a candidate agrees not to take contributions above $250 and has raised money from more than 300 different contributors, the state will match 70% of the contributions up to $50,000.

Tax Deduction for Interest on Student Loans 

Student loan debt is crippling many people.  The average student loan debt is $35,000.  The Federal Government and six states allow taxpayers a deduction on the interest on student loans.   This bill would add Maryland to the list of states.  I was happy to hear that Governor Hogan has made this one of his legislative priorities for 2017.  Hopefully we can get it passed!

What do you think about the Prince George’s School Board?  Should all the School Board members be elected?

                One of the local bills (affecting only Prince George’s County) we will be discussing is legislation that would make all the members of the school board elected.  Currently there are nine school board members elected in nine districts, a student member selected by the Regional Association of Student Governments, and four members appointed by the County Executive.  This bill, PG 402-17, would eliminate the four appointed members.  In addition, the bill has the school board electing the Chair and Vice-Chair of the School Board.  Now the Chair and Vice-Chair are appointed by the County Executive.  I have heard arguments both for and against this legislation.  Some people feel that it is important to have expertise on a school board that might not be there as a result of elections.  But many others now feel that the County Executive and the Superintendent of Schools have too much power, and others just feel that it is more democratic to have an elected school board.  In addition, it now takes a two-thirds majority to overturn a decision by the Superintendent; this means that if all the appointed people support him, it is very hard to overturn a decision.  How do you feel?  Click on the following link to let me know:

Some Sad News about Elected Officials in Prince George’s County 

              Most people have probably read about the criminal charges against former Delegate and County Councilman Will Campos.   Campos has pleaded guilty to taking bribes in order to direct county contracts toward certain organizations and businesses. In addition, another Delegate  has resigned amidst accusations about elected officials accepting bribes in order to influence the passage of legislation favorable to some liquor store owners.

                I knew Will both as a County Councilman when I was a City Councilman in Mount Rainier and later as a colleague in the General Assembly.  I felt he was an effective advocate for people in our District.  I was saddened and very surprised to hear about his illegal activities.  I believe that most people understand that the overwhelming majority of people in elected office work hard and try to do the right thing and do not take on public service to gain money.  But I also think we as policy makers have to look at the lack of oversight that makes these kinds of problems occur not just in our County but throughout the State.  This includes how the County awards grants and contracts and also the workings of the State Liquor Board.  We may not be able to stop some individuals from doing the wrong thing, but we have to make sure that it is more difficult for government officials to get involved in illegal behavior.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Preparing an Aggressive Agenda for Annapolis 

Part 2: A Fair Tax Package  

I expect there will be a lot of talk in Annapolis of a revenue shortfall and why it is necessary  to cut back expenditures.  This will mean less money for our schools, roads and services.  I believe there is revenue out there both to continue to provide services and also to provide needed tax relief to people in our community who are most in need.  I will be introducing a series of bills that will raise revenue by closing corporate loopholes and getting money from those who can most afford to be taxed:

A. Closing the Carried Interest Loophole 

This is something that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agreed on – closing the carried interest loophole for private equity managers

Carried interest is a loophole in the tax code that allows the managers of hedge funds to pay a lower rate than most individuals.

A hedge fund manager usually takes 20 percent of all gains on the fund's investments.  The tax code treats that income as a "long-term capital gain," which is taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income (currently maximums of 20 percent versus 39.6 percent).

It really should be taxed at the normal rate 39.6% because it is not a capital gain (selling stocks, etc.  at a gain).  Congress was supposed to fix this loophole but has not done so, and it is unclear whether they will plug the loophole.  My bill (which is similar to other legislation introduced in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and supported by the New York Times) would have these funds taxed at the normal rate 39.6% in Maryland until Congress moves ahead with plugging the loophole.  It would raise close to $30 million in extra revenue in Maryland.

B. Closing the Nowhere Tax Loophole – The Throwback Rule

The ‘throwback’ rule is a form of corporate taxation that could generate much-needed revenue for Maryland. In short, it is a taxation measure that twenty -five states have already adopted to ensure that corporations pay state income taxes on 100% of their profits; we want Maryland to join those states.

The complicated details have to do with how taxes are paid by companies that do business in more than one state. A corporation that is based in Maryland but that also does business in at least one other state does not pay Maryland corporate income tax on 100% of its income. Instead, according to a complex formulation, it is liable for taxes based on the percentage of income earned within the state. The other states where the corporation does business are entitled to require the corporation to pay income tax in their states in proportion to the amount of business the corporation does there. However, many states do not collect such taxes; the result is that large corporations in Maryland have “nowhere income” – income on which they do not pay tax in Maryland or in any other state.

The throwback rule is meant to eliminate this tax loophole, by allowing the home state of the corporation to collect income tax on the portion of corporate income that is currently “nowhere income” – it is “thrown back” to Maryland.

It is estimated that there are over 200 MD corporations that have over $5 billion in ”nowhere income,” and closing this tax loophole would result in increased revenue of over $40 million for Maryland.
You can read more about the Throwback Rule by clicking:

C. Freezing the Estate Tax 

Three years ago the legislature decided to increase the portion of an estate that is free of tax from $1 million to $5 million (the increase to take place over four years).  My bill would freeze the untaxed level at $3 million – amounts over that level would be subject to the estate tax.  By not allowing this amount to increase from $3 million to $5 million, we would save over $70 million over the next three years.  If I was given an estate of over $3 million, I wouldn’t mind paying some taxes on it, would you?

D. Readjusting the Tax Brackets  

            My bill gives tax relief to those families with income under $50,000 and does not cost the state any money.  It does that by raising the tax rates for those people who make over $2 million. It is time that the really wealthy pay a little more so we can provide some tax relief for those who are just getting by.           

I am not sure whether any of my revenue bills will pass, but I do feel that when people say that we have to cut back needed money for schools, services and infrastructure, I can say that there is revenue out there.  People just have to be willing to tax those corporations and super-wealthy people who have the ability to pay more.   

E. Tax Relief: Improving the Rental Tax Credit Program

             While there is not going to be a lot of money for improved tax credits this year, there is one minor tweak to the existing Rental Tax Credit program that would help some people who are currently ineligible for the tax.  The Rental Tax Credit (which is for people over 60 or permanently disabled) excludes people who have more than $200,000 in retirement assets. This might sound reasonable, but it is actually a problem for the many people who do not have pensions but instead have their retirement savings in 401K and other retirement plans. While pensions aren’t calculated as retirement assets, 401Ks etc. are.  My bill would get rid of the asset limit if the money is in a retirement plan.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Planning an Aggressive Agenda for Annapolis

Part 1 - Responding to the New Administration in Washington

                I will be starting my third session in Annapolis on January 11th.  I have been fortunate to have had five bills pass the legislature over the last two years and a number of other bills passed that incorporated legislative concepts that I had advocated.  I have drafted ten pieces of legislation that I plan to introduce in January.   In the next few emails I will be discussing some of my ideas.

                This year will be very challenging.  We are facing a revenue shortfall (more expected expenses than expected revenues).  I will discuss some of my proposals to raise revenue in my next email.  Of course, we will have a new administration in Washington which will be making changes on a national level that we will have to react to at the state level in order to protect the citizens of our state. It is important that we respond to what is occurring in Washington.    Here are a couple of my proposed initiatives.

Disclosing Tax Returns as a Requirement to Be on the Ballot 

                      This bill requires candidates who run for President of the US to release their last five years’ tax returns in order to appear on the ballot in Maryland.  For over four decades, tax returns have given voters an important window into the financial holdings and potential conflicts of interest of presidential candidates.  Sadly, in the last presidential election, one of the candidates, Donald Trump, refused to release copies of his federal income taxes, denying voters this critical information.  This should not happen again.

                      Maryland can take corrective action and make the release of tax returns a qualification to appear on the ballot in Maryland for the position of President of the United States.  Similar legislation has been introduced in New York, Massachusetts and Maine.  The legislation has been endorsed by the New York Times. Laurence Tribe, a constitutional professor at Harvard Law School, has written that this legislation is definitely within the authority of the state to regulate access to the ballot.

Protecting Overtime Regulations Here in Maryland 

                    We expect the new administration in Washington to repeal many of the regulations that were promulgated by the Obama Administration.  Some of these regulations are of critical importance to the residents of Maryland.  We don’t have to passively sit back and watch important regulations be stripped away.  We can actually take some of these regulations and codify them into Maryland law.  This means they can be the law of Maryland even if they are not in effect nationally.

                    One such regulation is the one that increased the salary threshold for people to be paid overtime after 40 hours.  Currently, employers can call a low-salary worker a “manager” and avoid paying them overtime pay, or time-and-a-half, for working more than 40 hours a week, as long as the employee earns more than $23,660 (or $455 a week). As we all know, this is hardly enough to live on, and is an extreme  hardship for people who are asked to work extra hours. The extremely low threshold has been in place since 2004.  My legislation will nearly double the threshold salary to $47,476, or $913 a week. Small businesses would have protection: businesses with revenue of less than $500,000 annually would be exempt from the new rules.

                      Of course the new administration and the Republican Congress will threaten many other regulations that will impact the Affordable Care Act, the environment, and other issues, to which we will have to react.  These are just a couple of my initial ideas.

                       I am also introducing legislation on tax reform through closing tax loopholes, taking money out of politics through public financing legislation, and expanding collective bargaining.  I will be discussing these in future newsletters.