- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

Maryland Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane last week accused journalists of ignoring two polls of likely state voters that show President Bush and Sen. John Kerry neck-and-neck in the presidential race.

“Just last week, you had a Survey USA/WMAR-TV ABC2 Baltimore News poll show the president and Kerry tied at 48 percent in Maryland, and now this week you have a Rasmussen Reports poll showing Kerry with a narrow three-point lead of 48 [percent] to 45 percent in the state,” Mr. Kane said.

“For a state cast as solidly blue, in a state that heavily favored Al Gore by 17 points in 2000, this is significant news. And yet the majority of mainstream media outlets are ignoring legitimate news. In the case of political journalism, we need to have a sincere attempt by all media outlets at fulfilling a commitment to serious political analysis and discussion.”

The New Jersey-based independent public-opinion research firm Rasmussen Reports polled 400 likely voters, Mr. Kane said of the latest poll.

• Warner popular

A high-profile push to raise some taxes in Virginia hasn’t hurt Gov. Mark Warner’s job-performance rating, but the men expected to battle to replace him next year have a way to go to make themselves known to state voters, a poll shows.

The Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. survey of 625 likely voters found that Mr. Warner’s approval rating was judged as good or excellent by 58 percent of the respondents. The Democrat’s approval rating was 57 percent in a December 2003 poll.

The results for Mr. Warner remained steady despite his successful campaign for increases in budget-boosting sales, cigarette and real estate transfer taxes.

The poll, conducted for several Virginia news organizations from Sept. 24 through 27, has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

The poll also shows that only 52 percent of voters surveyed recognized the name of Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor in 2005, and 73 percent recognized Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Further, 40 percent of those polled favor Mr. Kilgore in the election, 35 percent said they favor Mr. Kaine and 25 percent are undecided with 13 months to go.

• Land questions

The legislature’s chief fiscal adviser is raising questions about the Ehrlich administration possibly acting as a “go-between” among interests in the potential sale of 800 acres of valuable timberland property marked for preservation in Southern Maryland.

In a letter to legislative budget and environmental leaders, Warren Deschenaux said the proposal “does not appear to be an appropriate state role or use of limited resources.”

The state bought the land near St. Mary’s River State Park in 2002 and 2003 to preserve it as open space, but now has begun the process of selling it — a move that undermines the state’s preservation programs, Mr. Deschenaux wrote.

Because of the rapidly rising cost of real estate in St. Mary’s County, the land likely is worth much more than a year ago.

But the Department of General Services is proposing the sale without getting up-to-date appraisals, a move that could mean “significant financial loss” to the state, Mr. Deschenaux wrote. The potential sale price is $2.5 million — nearly the same amount it cost the state.

Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, criticized the would-be transaction as a “sweetheart deal” for the potential buyer, who was unnamed in letters from Mr. Deschenaux and Boyd Rutherford, state secretary of general services.

“They’re getting prime land at last year’s prices,” Miss McIntosh said.

Miss McIntosh’s committee, along with legislative budget committees, have been asked to review the proposal, but don’t have the power to halt it.

• Gun watch

Falls Church is drafting a policy for dealing with guns in public facilities that are near schools.

About a dozen Falls Church residents walked into a City Council meeting last week with their guns holstered to show their displeasure.

The Falls Church Community Center, a library and Cherry Hill Farmhouse are within 1,000 feet of a school. Federal law generally prohibits guns in such a zone.

A policy being drafted by the city manager tells city employees to notify police and their supervisor if anyone brings a gun to a city-operated facility, city-sponsored event or onto city-owned property. The police will determine whether the gun is being carried legally. Virginians can openly carry weapons, but must have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Opponents of the policy call it a way to harass gun owners.

• Money rolls in

Maryland has collected $59.4 million in back taxes under a law offering incentives to corporations that used out-of-state tax shelters to reduce their Maryland income-tax payments.

The law was passed after the State Comptroller’s Office won a court suit declaring illegal the use of holding companies to shield income earned in Maryland.

Under the amnesty period that ends Nov. 1, the state will waive penalties and forgive taxes owed before 1995 for companies that pay all taxes owed from 1995 through 2003.

When the bill was passed earlier this year, legislative analysts estimated that the state would receive $64 million in back taxes.

Mike Golden, a spokesman for Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, said there is a good chance the estimate will be reached or exceeded.

The comptroller’s office had to refund $4.5 million in taxes that had been paid for years before 1995 by corporations that settled up before the law was passed.

• Balancing act

Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer says if he were governor again, he would look at cutting funding for the Thornton Education Plan that provides money for schools in Prince George’s County and Baltimore.

Appearing on WTOP Radio, Mr. Schaefer said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. still faces budget challenges in the state.

Mr. Schaefer said balancing spending without looking at programs such as Thornton could cause major problems for other state programs. He suggested that spending on health programs would have to be cut in half to bring spending in line.

Mr. Schaefer said he would find a way to advance the slot-machine issue backed by Mr. Ehrlich. He blames former Gov. Parris N. Glendening for the $1.5 billion shortfall that Mr. Ehrlich confronted when he took office two years ago.

Christina Bellantoni and Robert Redding Jr. contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire-service reports.

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