The Washington Times - December 13, 2011, 12:15AM

A high-profile proposal backed by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to reform the state’s pension system by offering state employees an optional 401(k)-style plan would not save the state significant money over the next decade, according to a report released Monday and reported on by David Sherfinski in The Washington Times. Virginia legislators are pushing to move away from the current defined-benefit system in hopes of shoring up the state’s pension plans, which now face nearly $20 billion in unfunded liabilities.

A proposed statewide planning initiative that has angered officials in Maryland’s rural counties finally went before a Senate committee Monday, where lawmakers showed support but also raised additional concerns, David Hill reports in The Washington Times. Opponents of the O’Malley administration’s PlanMaryland say it could allow the state to overrule local planning decisions or deny or delay funding to projects it thinks are in violation of the initiative. Supporters say it will limit sprawl and protect the environment by encouraging development in existing population centers rather than undeveloped rural areas. GOP legislation to be introduced in next year’s General Assembly session would require legislative approval for any statewide planning document.

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Maryland is one of several states where the increase in youth cigar smoking has been large enough that it has caught up with and in some cases surpassed cigarette use in that age group, according to The Washington Post. The cigarette-size little cigars and cigarillos come in ice cream flavors such as strawberry, watermelon, vanilla and chocolate.

The D.C. ethics-reform bill faces a week of wrangling, Tom Howell Jr. reports in The Washington Times. Council member Tommy Wells hopes to add substantive amendments that would “reduce the influence of pay to play” in the city and eliminate constituent service funds, while Vincent B. Orange would like to eliminate outside employment for council members. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, meanwhile, is personally lobbying members to vote for the bill after pledging comprehensive ethics reform would pass by the end of the year. A final vote on the bill, which passed an initial vote last Tuesday, is scheduled for Dec. 20.

The woman who disassembled a skeleton-Santa-Claus-on-a-crucifix display at the Leesburg courthouse talks to The Washington Post. “I was deeply offended,” Mary Czarnecki said. “It felt like a spiritual assault. The cross is a symbol that Christians and non-Christians recognize. Nobody has the right to put up such a thing.”

Maryland officials’ recent six-day trade mission to Indianetted the state nearly $60 million in investment from foreign businesses, David Hill reports in The Washington Times. More than 100 state officials and business leaders spent Nov. 28 to Dec. 3 in India, where they met with potential investors, trade partners and Indian government officials. Among the deals reached, India-based Jasco Nutri Foods agreed to spend $10 million in Maryland on a new facility, which could generate as many as 100 jobs. Jubilant Life Sciences, an India-based pharmaceutical company, also announced plans to spend $20 million to triple its existing warehouse space on the Eastern Shore.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s signature jobs program is entering a new phase that will focus on job seekers who have not taken advantage of city services that link their skills with suitable employers, Tom Howell Jr. reports in The Washington Times. So far, officials said, the program has enlisted more than 300 employers and helped 1,335 residents find jobs, according to city data. The first phase of One City-One Hire focused on employers that had vacant positions and how the city could serve as a “bridge between people who have jobs and people who need jobs.” Now the city is offering registration sessions, airing public-service announcements and marketing the program in D.C. libraries to make sure unemployed people get on DOES’ radar.

The D.C. mayor is also preparing an environmental initiative that he thinks could put the city at the forefront of urban environmental efforts and appeal to some of the progressives who have been skeptical of his administration, The Washington Post reports. “Although the details won’t be finalized until spring, the plan could include more solar panels on government buildings, gardens in vacant city lots, new walking and biking trails, storm water retention ponds and turning waste into fuel.” What really distinguishes the plan, the newspaper says, is the level of community input the Gray administration has solicited.

Former Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer’s beloved train set finds a home at the B&O Railroad Museum, the Annapolis Capitol reports. 

Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has ‘Burgers with Bill,’ Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has paintball. Jim Nolan at the Richmond Times-Dispatch contrasts the styles of the two most prominent Republican candidates for Virginia governor in 2014, saying that Bolling’s signature fundraiser is “a tasty annual campaign fundraiser held on the Lieutenant Governor’s birthday every June. … The Virginia Attorney General held his annual splat-a-thon this weekend in Leesburg — a fund-raising capture-the-flag game for supporters and weekend warriors.”