Capital Notebook


March 01, 2007

Maryland residents favor life term over death, Catholic poll says

A statewide poll released yesterday by the Maryland Catholic Conference found that just over half of Marylanders back the death penalty, but a larger majority consider a sentence of life without parole to be an acceptable substitution for capital punishment.

"We have learned a lot in the three decades that we've had a death penalty, and Marylanders now understand that the system is broken beyond repair," Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, said in a statement. "Life without parole is a better option, and voters in our state will support legislators who vote to make that change."

The poll found that 56 percent of those surveyed favor the death penalty, 34 percent oppose it, and 10 percent are undecided. However, 61 percent said they would be supportive of a life-without-parole sentence instead.

A majority of those surveyed who identify themselves as Republicans and independents back capital punishment -- 72 percent and 56 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, 47 percent of Democrats said they are in favor of the death penalty.

The poll of 625 registered voters was conducted Feb. 6 to Feb. 8 by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.

The survey was released as lawmakers in the House and Senate gear up to vote on a proposed death penalty repeal. The Maryland Court of Appeals effectively halted state executions in December, citing a technical problem in the oversight of lethal injections.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, testified in favor of the repeal and has said he would sign the bill.

A plurality of surveyed voters, 42 percent, said they would not be more or less likely to vote for their state legislator if that person backs the repeal.

Jennifer Skalka

State sells millions in bonds

The state of Maryland sold $325 million in general obligation bonds yesterday to fund capital projects such as schools and roads, securing a significantly lower interest rate than it did for a similar sale last year.

Thanks to the state's AAA bond rating from all major credit rating agencies -- and jitteriness in the stock market -- Maryland got a 3.86 percent interest rate for the bonds. In the last major sale, which took place in July, Maryland had to pay 4.18 percent interest.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said the rating agencies all pointed to Maryland's strong and diversified economy, highly educated work force and the government's tradition of strong fiscal stewardship. The rating agencies all expressed concern about the state's long-term fiscal situation, but they "reiterated their great faith in Maryland's tradition of facing problems and dealing with them," she said. The sale was conducted over the Internet during yesterday's Board of Public Works meeting, where Gov. Martin O'Malley challenged the audience to guess in advance what the bond houses would bid. The winner was acting Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, who guessed 3.8 percent. "Mr. Porcari wins lunch with the comptroller," O'Malley said.

Andrew A. Green

Prince George's hospital debate

With more than half of the legislative session over, state and local lawmakers from Prince George's County are still groping for a solution to the financial woes of the county-owned Prince George's Hospital Center, which has been troubled by years of mismanagement.

The 283-bed hospital in Cheverly has been in a steady decline for years. The hospital and four other Prince George's health care facilities are managed by Dimensions Healthcare System, which serves about 80,000 patients a year, mostly from the county and Southern Maryland.

The health care system needs $9 million to stay afloat until June, including a $4.7 million pension payment that is due in April. What might normally be an issue for only Prince George's officials to deal with has become a matter of statewide importance because of the role Prince George's Hospital Center plays in the region's health care system.

The hospital serves mostly Medicaid patients and poor people, and employs about 1,500 unionized hospital workers.

State lawmakers are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to take ownership of the hospital system out of the county's hands and avoid having to periodically dump millions of dollars into a health care system that is in the red year after year. The state has provided over $15 million in funds to the hospital system since 2004 to avoid closure.

"Continuing to do what we've been doing is not a viable option," John M. Colmers, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told a meeting of Prince George's senators last week.

Members of the delegation, as well as the County Council and County Executive Jack B. Johnson make no bones about the fact they are looking to the state government for at least part of the solution -- and part of the money -- to bail out Prince George's Hospital Center.

"The state is responsible for ensuring that the hospital gets money to pay for the services provided for the underserved," said Del. Joanne C. Benson, a Prince George's County Democrat. "The state of Maryland is no longer interested in the Band-Aid approach. The state has an obligation to make sure the hospital stays open."

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