Mark Newgent: The governor's creative bookkeeping

In a couple of weeks, state legislators will gather in Annapolis for the annual circus that is the Maryland General Assembly's legislative session. Given that 2014 is also an election year, the show will be even more entertaining, or depressing, depending on your point of view. For 90 days between January and April, issues like raising the minimum wage, the rain tax, marijuana legalization (pot for tots) will suck up a lot of oxygen. However, the only requirement our legislators must fulfill is passing a balanced budget — something they just can't seem to get right. (Balt. Sun)

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Andrew Wainer: Revitalizing Baltimore through immigration

In the midst of the debate over the largest potential immigration reform legislation in 50 years, American communities struggling with decades of population loss and economic decline are being revitalized by newcomers. The economic contribution of immigrants in high-skilled fields is relatively well-known, but less acknowledged are the contributions that "blue collar" immigrants make in revitalizing depressed communities and economies, both as manual laborers and small business entrepreneurs. (Balt. Sun)

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Dec. 26 // MGM was the right bet

Maryland's Video Lottery Facility Location commission faced a much harder decision in awarding a license to a Prince George's County casino than it had for any of the licenses before. This was the first time that the commissioners had a choice between three qualified proposals by well-heeled bidders. The decision was also the most fraught because it involves the expansion of a gambling program that has not yet fully come to fruition and the risk that the new competition will simply cannibalize existing business rather than adding meaningfully to the state's coffers. Under the circumstances, the decision to give the license to MGM Resorts for its proposed mega-casino complex at National Harbor was probably the right one. (Balt. Sun)

How did Maryland’s health site malfunction?

If people’s health weren’t on the line, it would be darkly funny: For weeks, uninsured Marylanders trying to get coverage through the state’s health exchange have slogged through online forms and technical glitches, only for the system to freeze just before they hit the “enroll” button. The Web site is supposed to facilitate the enrollment of 150,000 Marylanders in private health insurance. As of the middle of the month, it had signed up only 7,435 — and that is after notching its highest-volume days since its Oct. 1 launch. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D), whom Mr. O’Malley tapped to be the point man on the state’s health-care rollout, say that the site has dramatically improved over the past several days, despite a server failure last week. But the site still needs work — and Mr. Brown still needs to explain how he let this happen. (Wash. Post)

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Minimum wage debate will hinge on regions

Given the limits on what counties can do, minimum wage laws should at least be state measures. (Minimum wages should really be set on the federal level, but nothing can realistically be expected from today’s deadlocked Congress.) There’s a divide, however, between the suburban Washington-Baltimore axis that controls state politics and the rest of the state, including Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. What looks like a ridiculous pittance in Silver Spring or College Park may not look as bad in Cumberland or Salisbury. (Capital)

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Barry Schwartz: Raising minimum wage might lift all boats

There is a chorus of concern that raising the minimum wage, while it benefits some people, will be a disaster for others, because employers who rely on the minimum wage will find ways to eliminate jobs. The last thing you want to do in a time of high unemployment is threaten jobs. Research comparing adjacent states, one of which has raised its minimum wage, indicates that job loss from raised minimum wages is quite modest. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that if the minimum wage were raised enough, job loss would occur. I don’t want to minimize the pain that lost jobs would produce, but I want to suggest, based on much research in the psychology of decision-making, that these immediate negative effects of minimum-wage increases would be temporary, and in the long term, raising the minimum wage would have benefits that dwarfed the costs. (Carr. Co. Times)

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Stormwater mandate needs careful handling

House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch may have been indulging in wishful — or at least wistful — thinking when he told the Capital Gazette Communications editorial board that there wasn’t much controversy about the state’s stormwater fee mandate until someone coined the term “rain tax.” Our guess is that people in the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions would have noticed they were being asked to pay a new fee, no matter what it was called, and wouldn’t have been happy. One way or another, the issue was destined to be high on the General Assembly’s 2014 agenda, as it is now. Of course, no matter how often the words “rain tax” are used, no one is being taxed — or paying a fee — because of rain. The fee is justified not because water falls onto properties, but because it invariably runs off them, carrying nitrogen and phosphorus that feed algae in the bay, as well as loose dirt that blocks the sunlight needed by marine organisms. (Capital)

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Candidates subject to disclosure

Social media has made it much easier for candidates for public office to reach possible voters, publicize fundraisers or share their viewpoints on important issues of the day, but candidates need to make sure that they are complying with the law when it comes to disclosing the fact that they are running for office. A Washington Post story last week noted that fewer than half of the 92 Twitter accounts identified by the Post as belonging to state senators and delegates included authority lines, as required by law. (Carroll Co. Times)

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