I just want to follow up on some earlier posts and take another look at the upcoming General Assembly session. Some issues will be raised that will be difficult to deal with and might cause us to wonder who's in charge up there.
First, as I posted earlier, large farm operations in Maryland should have to get pollution permits just like any other large polluter. According to this article in the Baltimore Sun, the Maryland Department of the Environment has proposed regulations that would require about 200 of the largest chicken farms in Maryland to get state pollution control permits and follow a few simple regulations for reducing pollution.
Predictably, the Delmarva Poultry Association called the proposed regulations 'unnecessary' even though the Maryland poultry industry produces about a billion tons of manure a year and is a significant polluter of the Bay. In my view the regulations could be a bit tougher, requiring the industry to do more to stop polluted runoff from reaching the Bay, but I think they're a good first step.
Of course the poultry industry will complain loudly and lobby vigorously to block the regulations, but I think they'll lose this time. Of course, all of this could have been avoided if they had taken responsibility for dealing with the problem at the beginning, but that's too much to ask.
During the recent special session, the General Assembly balked, in the face of heavy industry lobbying, at extending the sales tax to massage parlors, health clubs, real estate management companies and a few other areas. Instead, in their wisdom they decided to place a sales tax upon many computers services - a complete surprise to Maryland's thriving IT industry.
Of course, the IT industry has now woken up to the threat, has hired their own lobbyists and raised such a stink that there is a strong likelihood that the tax will be repealed during the coming session with the Montgomery County delegation leading the way for their many IT constituents.
Of course that raises the question of how to fill the $200 million dollar hole in the budget that the repeal will leave. The choice is either to raise some other tax or cut spending by $200 million. Since a chunk of the money was to be devoted to transportation spending, raising the gas tax by a couple pennies seems like a reasonable idea, but I'm not sure how many delegates want to hit people with a gas tax increase even as the price of gasoline continues to rise.
The other option is to cut spending by another $200 million (on top of the $500 million plus already mandated). The difficulty here is that such a cut would likely come from transportation funding, which the suburban delegations very much like or in the Geographical Cost of Eduction Index, which primarily benefits.....Montgomery County. Look for a possible surprise increase in the alcohol tax which, I believe, hasn't changed since 1955.
The Maryland Court of Appeals effectively tossed the ball back to the General Assembly on this issue by ruling that the state's existing marriage law, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, remains valid. Equality Maryland and other gay-rights organizations have announced they will lobby hard to pass a law to legalize same-sex marriage and they have a lot of support.
There's a lot of opposition, too. Mike Miller, the President of the State Senate, has announced that he would oppose any such bill. A lot of churches and religious organizations will oppose it, along with some of the generally conservative parts of Maryland.
While I personally would like to see some kind of marriage equality act passed, I don't think it has much of chance in this session. The question is whether a halfway approach - authorizing civil unions - would be acceptable to a majority. I'm sure there will be lots of noise over this one.
I'll have more tomorrow or Monday.
[The photo is of a poster for the 1899 musical comedy, Hotel Topsy Turvy]