Sun Q&A

David Nitkin on state politics issues

Maryland political editor answers selected readers' questions

December 05, 2005|By DAVID NITKIN

Note: First installment of a new weekly feature.

Frank Martino, North East: Are the state employees going to get anything to cover all they lost to make the state surplus?

Nitkin: Salaries and benefits for state employees will largely be determined by the proposed budget for the next fiscal year submitted by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in January. Health care costs for workers are rising and continue to be a budgetary problem for the state. It is more likely that surplus funds -- leftover from previous budget years and due to higher-than-projected tax revenues -- would be spent on one-time expenditures such as buildings than on ongoing expenses such as salaries or benefits. But such spending could conceivably include a one-time "bonus" for state employees, which would not add to ongoing expenses.

Several officials, including Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, an Ehrlich ally, have called for workers to receive a cost-of-living increase and better prescription drug benefits. The governor has not committed to such spending.

LC, Baltimore: Why is there such a lack of Maryland media coverage on the Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Gus Boulis, Congressman [Tom] Delay and Congressman Bob Ney connections to a huge money-laundering scandal? Abramoff and his wife owned the Eshkol Academy in Maryland. Recently, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel identified one of them having a gun conviction in the city of Baltimore.

Nitkin: On the state level, The Sun has written several prominently placed stories about Edward Miller, a deputy chief of staff to Ehrlich who founded a company that appears to have been used by Abramoff to launder money from Tyco and other companies he represented.

Mark, Baltimore: Assuming that the Democrats win the governor's race next year and maintain current legislative majorities, do you think that there will be a much higher number of bills that are signed by the new governor (in early 2007) than we saw during the last few years?

Nitkin: What we have seen in the past couple of years are a relatively high number of bills vetoed by the governor (somewhere around two dozen), and a relatively high number of veto overrides by the Democrat-controlled Assembly (about three or four a year, but the votes have been very contentious, with the governor fighting vigorously for his vetoes to be sustained). If a Democrat were to win in 2006, chances are there would be fewer bills vetoed by the new governor in 2007. Overall, however, roughly the same number of bills would probably pass and be signed, which annually is in the hundreds.

Gregory Thomas Jr., Baltimore: Who will be mayor of Baltimore after next year's general election?

Nitkin: If Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan wins the gubernatorial primary or Ehrlich wins the general election, the mayor of Baltimore will continue to be Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley does not have to resign his current position to run for governor, and would step down only if he wins both the primary and the general elections (the terms of mayor and governor are not concurrent). The next mayoral election is in 2007. If O'Malley is elected governor, City Council President Sheila Dixon would serve as mayor until the 2007 election.

William Marye, Millersville: Is it true that William Donald Schaefer has been given the authority to review the benefits to retired state employees and make cuts and/or adjustments to their retirement plans as he sees fit?

Nitkin: William, after getting this question, I did some reporting and the answer appears to be that what you describe is not true. Schaefer, the state comptroller, is chairman of the board of trustees of the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System. The board administers the pension system, but has nothing to do with benefits for retirees.

Michael Golden, a spokesman for Schaefer, said he knows nothing about Schaefer being given authority to review and adjust pensions or benefits unilaterally. Nor does Tom Lee, the executive director of the pension system. Lee notes that benefits for retirees are determined by statute, and the laws must be approved by the General Assembly.

Randy Gogatz, Atlanta: Why do so many blacks treat [Maryland Lt. Gov.] Michael S. Steele, who is obviously a source of pride for their race, with such uncivil, vociferous, almost adolescent disdain? What has he done that warrants such harsh reaction?

Nitkin: Actually, Randy, my experience is that blacks in Maryland -- both elected officials and residents -- treat Steele with the respect that his office of lieutenant governor accords. You are probably referring to media accounts of several racially tinged incidents, such as Oreos appearing at a 2002 debate and a doctored minstrel photograph of Steele on a blog. Those incidents are either old, or not related to Maryland.

Many black Democrats, however, say they disagree with Steele's conservative views on the role of government in problem-solving.

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