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O’Malley Releases Legislative Agenda

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gov. Martin O’Malley submitted his legislative agenda on Monday, trying again for challenging high-profile measures that failed last year, such as legalizing same-sex marriage and developing offshore wind.

The governor also highlighted in increase in the state’s “flush tax” and an initiative aimed at speeding up the commercialization of academic research.

O’Malley is proposing a new fee structure for the flush tax, which is a $30 annual charge on sewer bills to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

Under the proposal, average fees will increase from $2.50 a month to $5 a month. However, the governor wants to base fees on consumption. For example, low-end users who use 2,000 gallons per month will see a lower fee of about $1.80 a month, while higher-end users who use about 8,000 gallons a month will see an increase of $9.30 a month.

“In essence, it is structured for the vast majority of us in a consumption manner,” O’Malley said Monday.

The governor also announced the Maryland Innovation Initiative. The goal of the legislation will be to get technologies out of the state’s laboratories and into the marketplace.

O’Malley released details about his a measure to spur development of offshore wind off the coast of Ocean City. The measure is described as resembling an approach already adopted in New Jersey. Supporters describe it as a market-driven process to incentivize building about 100 ocean-based wind turbines. The bill also is aimed at responding to concerns raised by lawmakers last year relating to how much the plan would cost ratepayers.

He said important progress on moving a wind bill through this year came in a settlement with Exelon Corp.’s effort to take over Constellation Energy late last year. The settlement includes about $30 million to help develop offshore wind in Maryland.

O’Malley also will be out front on trying to legalize gay marriage, which passed the state Senate last year but stalled in the House of Delegates. O’Malley said the biggest change from last year involves making it clear that religious freedom will be protected.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, said the governor’s proposals — when mixed in with a challenging budget plan — will require lawmakers to work extra hard this session. He said even lawmakers who have been around for the last 16 years have not experienced a session as challenging as this one is gearing up to be.

“When you look at the agenda that we have before us and you look at the dynamics coming into play with regard to our budget and responsibly to balance the budget, fund education and continue to keep our triple-A bond rating, it’s a very daunting challenge, I mean, extremely daunting challenge,” Miller said. “So we’re all going to have to work very, very hard.”

O’Malley’s budget plan, which was submitted last week, includes reducing state tax exemptions for about 20 percent of the state’s taxpayers. It also would shift about $240 million in teacher pension costs to counties. The state currently picks up the whole expense of teacher pensions. O’Malley’s proposal would split teacher pension costs and social security expenses for them with the counties 50-50.

O’Malley also is planning a new revenue proposal to help pay for transportation infrastructure. That could include a gas tax increase, but the governor has not yet made his plans public.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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