Md. legislature will tackle traffic funding, fracking and death penalty
By John Henrehan, FOX 5 Reporter
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -
Last year, Maryland's legislature tackled such hot-button issues as gay marriage and the Dream Act. Expect fewer headlines from Annapolis, this year.
There will be fights, of course.
Governor Martin O'Malley (D) wants to find some way to increase highway and transit funding. That idea went nowhere last year when gas prices were over four dollars a gallon. Senate President Mike Miller says Republicans in his chamber would prefer allowing counties to levy some kind of regional taxes for their different transportation needs.
"In '92, both Republican leaders voted for [an increase in the gas tax.]," Miller told reporters. "I think there are some Republicans who could vote for it again today, except they would like a different formula by which mass transit is paid for versus roads and bridges."
But Senator Miller indicated he is not completely closing the door to a gas tax hike for roads and bridges. House Republican leader Anthony O'Donnell says now is not the time for such a levy.
"This economy is going to get hurt," O'Donnell told reporters. "It's still very fragile. And what Maryland shouldn't be doing right now – absolutely should not be doing – is raising the gas tax."
There will also be a fight here over whether Maryland should someday allow "fracking" for natural gas.
Megan Jenny of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network led a demonstration outside the Statehouse.
"We're seeing drinking water contamination, climate pollution and even tremors and earthquakes in states like Ohio and Arkansas," Jenny told reporters.
Republican Sen. David Brinkley, of Frederick, strongly supports allowing Maryland to join neighboring states in allowing fracking technology to extract natural gas.
"I believe that there are enough safety measures in place (and even ongoing) that we can move forward with this and try to help the economically depressed areas, particularly Allegany and Garrett County," he said.
The death penalty is another likely issue here. Governor O'Malley favors abolition of capital punishment. Although Maryland rarely puts prisoners to death, in recent decades, some legislators in each party strongly favor retaining the option for those people who commit especially heinous crimes.