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Tout at the Top

The scoop on this year’s General Assembly

For reliable sources, you can’t do better than Thomas V. ‘Mike’ Miller. The 27-year president of the Maryland Senate knows the inside story of pretty much everything that’s happened in Maryland politics for the last 40 years. Nor is his knowledge limited to the past. If anybody can predict the future, he can. He is — and he’ll tell you so — the man who says what goes where and what goes nowhere in the Maryland Senate.
    Here’s the action to expect in this year’s General Assembly session, convened January 8, as previewed by Miller for the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce.

Dominion Resources will have the General Assembly’s support in its $3.8 billion retooling to liquefy natural gas for export to India and Japan from the company’s 134-acre plant and offshore dock at Cove Point on the Calvert County shore of Chesapeake Bay.
    “Dominion’s going to bring $40 million a year in taxes and thousands of construction jobs to Calvert County. It needs to happen but in an environmentally sound way. Environmental groups will be introducing bills to block it, but we’ll find ways to make certain it goes forward.”
    More specifically, Miller vowed that “any bill blocking Dominion is not coming out of the drawer. There’s no chance it’s going to come out of committee. I make the appointments.”
    “Maryland is a great state,” Miller is fond of saying with plenty of statistical backup. Notable in this context: “We’re No. 1 in innovation and entrepreneurship according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

The Maryland state Minimum Wage will rise; how remains to be seen.
    “Maryland is the wealthiest state in union, and we have the lowest poverty rate,” Miller says. “I recognize that Maryland is about business, but we need to move forward some form of help to employees. Maryland’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Sister states are raising their minimums. Two counties, Montgomery and Prince George’s, have moved forward dramatically, voting for county minimum wages much higher than is correct for the entire state economy, which makes no sense in rural counties. Somerset and Allegany counties [for two] need jobs, and an inordinately high minimum wage level will impact business hiring.
    “I support raising the state minimum in a reasonable and humane manner, with trade-offs to support business. The question is how do we get it done? A flat minimum? Do we preempt county action across the board? Or do we allow charter counties to move forward on their own? What do we do for business?”

Job Growth: We need it and we’ll get it — but not by raising taxes this year.
    “We have haves and have-nots. Haves have done very well in the stock market. Have-nots are slower coming into recovery. The best things we can do for them?
    “One, give them a good education for their kids, which we do in Maryland and here in Calvert. We’re one of five states that build schools for their counties. We have a higher income tax than some states, but we’re unique. We give counties the opportunity to piggyback on state income tax so they can hold property taxes down. Yearly revenues of $60 million come back to Calvert; $1 billion to Montgomery County.
    “Two, we can help the have-nots with jobs, which we’ll do in this session.
    “Our transportation tax was one of best things I could have voted for. Asphalt, steel, wires, people driving trucks: That tax created thousands of jobs. I voted for an alcohol tax comparable to D.C.’s when my family is in the alcohol business. Why? Because our kids needed it.
    “But you don’t increase taxes lightly. You consider what the consequences are. We’ll be building a consensus to work on taxes in this year’s General Assembly. We will have no tax increases this year.”

Marijuana Legalization: It’s on the way.
    “Once in a while, people get misquoted. I don’t advocate legalizing recreational marijuana. But I told a Washington Post reporter what was going to happen across the country. So the headline read Miller supports legalization of marijuana.
    I told the reporter I support medical marijuana. We have a bill in the Senate sponsored by David Brinkley, who is a cancer survivor. If my mother, who died a painful death from cancer, wanted a joint of marijuana to keep her without pain or anxiety, I’m all for it.
    Recreational marijuana? I’m a historian. I read history every night, and I know we make the same mistakes over and over. I know what’s going to happen before it does. It’s not going to happen this year or next, but in the future, all the states will follow Colorado. You take it out of the hands of kids, you’ve got to be over 21 to buy, you get a civil citation like for alcohol if you buy underage. In the future, it’s going to happen.
    It’s like the numbers business and bookmaking — I lived a very checkered childhood, I know about things like that. When we passed the lottery bill, the lottery eliminated bookmakers and number runners. States moving forward on marijuana like Colorado are going to eliminate drug dealers.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; [email protected]