Here are answers to selected readers' questions about the 2004 session of the Maryland General Assembly, which ended Monday. Sun staffers David Nitkin, Michael Dresser, Kimberly A.C. Wilson, Ivan Penn, Howard Libit, Jon Rockoff and Jon Morgan answered these questions.
Dawn Lewis, Bel Air: State employees have not seen as much as a cost-of-living-raise in the last three years. Did state employees get the 1.6 percent raise and/or step increases?
Dresser: State employees received a $752-per-person pay raise, equivalent to an average 1.6 percent increase. It was structured this way to benefit lower-paid workers.
Steve Metts, Baltimore: With Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller stating, "We're facing a fiscal hell next year," and his knowledge that even if approved, slots wouldn't provide any revenue for the next two fiscal years, why is he opposed to the proposed sales tax increase that would generate revenue?
Dresser: Miller is not opposed to raising the sales tax but has said it is futile for the Senate to pass one when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has stated he will veto any increase. The Senate president said he could have convinced the governor to accept some other increased fees and taxes, including an increase in the vehicle titling fee.
Tom, Baltimore: How does one begin a petition requiring the General Assembly to pass legislation in the year 2005 that authorizes 10,000 slots machines under the Maryland Stadium Authority operation to be in one location in each county?
Nitkin: Unlike in California and several other states, there is no provision in Maryland law for voters to petition issues to referendum. The law does allow, however, for voters to gather signatures to petition to referendum a law approved by the General Assembly, for the purposes of overturning it.
Rocco Rotondo Jr., Parkville: Why can't there be a referendum vote for slots? Wouldn't that be a fair way to vote on slots? That way, everyone gets their view in, and whatever area wins, they get the slots in their jurisdiction. The governor does not want this -- he will surely lose. Most people who want slots are Republicans, but they don't want slots in their area.
Libit: Del. Shane Pendergrass of Howard County introduced a bill to hold that kind of slots referendum, and there was talk in the final days of the legislature that it could be supported in the House. But the Senate president and the governor both opposed it, saying that an election delayed slots too much. The governor also says that his victory in 2002 should be considered a referendum on slots.
Howard Gorrell, Westminster: Why didn't The Sun cover any legislative bill regarding child support?
Nitkin: About 2,500 bills and resolutions are introduced in the General Assembly each year, and we spend much of our time deciding which issues to cover. Only about 20 percent become law. Typically, we try to focus on issues that impact the largest number of readers. Many issues, as a result, do not get the attention that some readers think they deserve. As a result, we try to direct readers to various resources -- such as the baltimoresun.com and the General Assembly Web site -- so they can track issues on their own.
Keith Zumbrun, Glen Arm: Did the motorcycle helmet bill that would not require helmets pass?
Wilson: The helmet bill, Senate Bill 611, emerged from the Senate on April 6, after the crossover deadline. It was held up in the House Rules Committee and did not make it out of committee in time for consideration by the full House of Delegates. So it was not passed by the legislature.
Donna Disbrow, Columbia: Will it cost me extra to flush the toilet every time I go? What is going on with this state? What's next -- a tax for expelling human gas, just so we can punish ourselves for contributing to the Greenhouse Effect? Priorities are askew; tax the corporations and developers for bringing extra noise, pollution and traffic into our communities instead of taxing -- or overtaxing -- the middle class. The Assembly can do better than this.
Dresser: The so-called "flush tax" is a flat $2.50-a-month surcharge on residential sewer bills.
Jennifer Dean, Arnold: How will teen-agers be affected by new taxes and fees?
Nitkin: Teen-agers are not specifically singled out, but various motor vehicle fees will certainly impact you. If you are a teen who pays his or her own car registration, or if you lose your driver's license and decide to appeal the decision, you will pay more to state government.
Jim Etchison, Crofton: What was the final resolution on corporations in Maryland that pay no state taxes. Was this large loophole closed ... or even addressed?