Friday, March 28, 2008

Reporter’s Notebook: Why did the tech company cross the Potomac River? Bandits from Virginnie

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Ask lawmakers in Annapolis about that pesky computer services tax passed during the special session, and they’ll tell you it was a bad idea that will be a disaster for the state if it ain’t repealed.

That’s Maryland’s side of the story. The story is a bit different on the other side of the Potomac.

Last week, Virginia Sen. Ken Cuccinelli began sending letters inviting Maryland info tech and computer services firms to relocate to the Old Dominion.

In the letter, Cuccinelli cited Virginia’s ranking in Forbes magazine as the most business-friendly state in the country.

‘‘Here in the Commonwealth, we believe that business is the lifeblood of the economy, and I am personally committed to making sure we remain welcoming to business owners,” he enticed.

About 50 copies of the letter have been sent to the Maryland Taxpayers Association, Maryland delegates and senators who have signed the organization’s ‘‘No New Tax” pledge, and any tech company that has appeared in a news report on the tax, Cuccinelli said.

The letter found its way to members of the State House press corps this week courtesy of Alex Mooney, one of the Maryland lawmakers who signed the pledge.

The letter, the Frederick senator said, ‘‘is exactly the reason we need to repeal the tax. That’s exactly our fear.”

Constituents in Mooney’s district can easily drive south on Route 15 to work in Virginia, he said.

‘‘I hope that the letter makes more real what the negative consequences can be for the state of Maryland,” he said.

Cuccinelli, a Republican, said Thursday that he hopes Maryland businesses will ‘‘do some math” and conclude that they stand to increase their profits by relocating in the Dulles Corridor, a portion of Fairfax County he represents.

‘‘We’re certainly hoping that that interstate competition will lead them to come across the Potomac,” he said.

No RSVPs so far, said Cuccinelli, who is monitoring whether the Maryland General Assembly passes a repeal of the tax. If it doesn’t, he’s ready to welcome tech businesses with open arms.

‘‘Maryland is walking headlong into a buzz saw,” he said. ‘‘And if they want to get buzzed, I’m happy to do it.”

— Sean R. Sedam

No soggy cake

Talk about a nexus. One bill aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One aims to give Maryland a state cake. For one brief moment this week they came together as Paul Pinsky argued in favor of the Global Warming Solutions Act, which he sponsored in the Senate. Pinsky argued that, unfettered, global warming will lead to rising sea levels, swallowing up Maryland shoreline.

‘‘Just last week, we made the Smith Island cake the state cake,” Pinsky said. ‘‘It would be very unfortunate if in 40 or 50 years we did not have a Smith Island to make the cake.”

— Sean R. Sedamand Alan Brody

Gunning for scofflaws

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when Franchot comes for you?

On Wednesday, Peter Franchot released the names of the Comptroller’s Most Wanted — 25 businesses and 25 people owing more than $6.2 million in unpaid taxes, penalties and interests.

The Comptroller’s ‘‘Caught in the Web” program lists the names of tax scofflaws at

The top business on the list is Remote Surveillance Tech Solutions Inc. of Temple Hills, which owes $430,262.03 in withholding taxes. The top individuals are Peter C. and Helen E. Skarulis of Pasadena, who owe $227,127.61 in personal income taxes.

The comptroller’s office has collected more $21.7 million from 473 delinquent taxpayers since William Donald Schaefer launched the program in 2000.

— Sean R. Sedam

Back in the saddle

An upbeat Sally Jameson received hugs from colleagues as she returned to Annapolis on Monday after a six-week hiatus following surgery.

Her return came two weeks before the close of the legislative session, a frantic stretch during which lengthy floor sessions are common, tiring even the most energetic lawmakers.

But the Charles County Democrat said she’s kept up with legislative proceedings via the Internet and is eager to get back to work.

‘‘Like anybody recovering from extensive surgery, you get pretty tired pretty quickly,” she said. ‘‘My stamina isn’t quite where I’d like it to be, but I think I’ll be able to get through to the end of the session.”

One by one, delegates embraced Jameson, who chairs the Southern Maryland delegation.

‘‘In your subcommittee, I couldn’t even carry your water,” said David D. Rudolph, who sat in for Jameson during her absence as head of the Consumer Protection and Commercial Law Subcommittee.

Others offered similarly gracious messages, which Jameson said was uplifting.

‘‘It’s good to be missed,” she said. ‘‘I missed the interaction, the one-on-one behind the scenes that we all know takes place and the camaraderie of all my colleagues.”

— Alan Brody

Mutual admiration

Both chambers paused Wednesday to recognize the contributions of Johns Hopkins University President William Brody, who will resign at the end of the year after 12 years at the helm.

He took to the rostrum in the Senate and thanked lawmakers for their support of the health care initiatives, higher education funding and research programs that have helped Hopkins to become a leader in health and medicine.

‘‘Your support is critical to assuring that we have the brains in Maryland that we need to succeed in the future,” he said.

Mike Miller returned the compliments: Brody has provided ‘‘12 years of unparalleled success” at JHU, the Senate prez said. ‘‘You’ve enhanced an already wonderful institution. It’s a jewel that you have polished.”

— Alan Brody

Can’t keep her down

Indefatigable Deborah Vollmer is not giving in to defeat in the Democratic primary or giving up in her determination to make 8th District Congressman Chris Van Hollen go further in opposing the war in Iraq.

Continuing her low-cost, no-nonsense campaign, the driving-averse Vollmer made the trip to Annapolis to file as a write-in candidate for the price of dinner with a friend.

She’s committed to her anti-war message and has no delusions about her chances, although she said stranger things have happened.

Vollmer has gained on Van Hollen every year since she first ran against him in 2002, although she has not hit the 16 percent and 14 percent of the vote she garnered in the 1998 and 2000 primaries, respectively.

An average of her percentage gains suggests the good-humored and dedicated former legal aid lawyer could catch Van Hollen in 36 years. However, her gains are slowing. And we are not prognosticators.

— Margie Hyslop

PAC’ll be back

Word is going around that the Neighbors for a Better Montgomery PAC has closed shop and filed an adios amigo report with the State Board of Elections.

Drew Powell, leader of the PAC, said the group is down (for a while) but not out.

‘‘The PAC is going through a retooling, including revamping of the Web site,” Powell said. ‘‘We are not shut down.”

Officials at the state elections board said the PAC still has 2007 reports to file, and even if it wanted to shut down, it couldn’t until the loose ends are tied. A check of the records shows that the PAC filed a report earlier this year that showed a disbursement resulting in a zero balance.

With no countywide elections on the horizon for a couple of years, the PAC is taking a breather. Says Powell, ‘‘We get more active during the election season.”

See ya in 2010. And check out the revamped Web site in a couple of weeks.

— Janel Davis