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News roundup: State joins building standards coalition, Republicans press for gas tax reform, plus personnel news

Gov. Wes Moore (D) and White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi tour the Requity Foundation’s Carver House workforce development project in West Baltimore Thursday. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) traveled to Baltimore with President Biden’s top climate strategist Thursday to announce that the state will join the National Building Performance Standards Coalition, which the Biden administration established last year.

Moore and White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi made the announcement at Requity Foundation’s Carver House project in West Baltimore, a community-based workforce development program where high school trade students are gaining hands-on training in net-zero construction by retrofitting a vacant row house into an affordable net-zero home.

Building performance standards are designed to align emissions reductions, electrification, and equity goals. The National Building Performance Standards Coalition is a group of state and local governments that have committed to design and implement building performance programs. Launched by Biden in 2022, the administration said the standards will eliminate an estimated 624 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Maryland is one of only three states with statewide building performance standards. The state will require new commercial and multifamily buildings that are 35,000 square feet and larger to reduce direct emissions by 20% by 2030 and reach net zero direct emissions by 2040. Moore said the state’s participation in the national coalition “will help fuel job creation, create economic growth, reduce energy costs, and align health, energy, and housing needs in communities across the state.”

The event in West Baltimore came as Biden and his lieutenants travel the country, touting economic progress under his administration.

“President Biden’s climate and economic agenda is spurring job creation and equitable growth all across America,” Zaidi said. “We are thrilled to welcome Maryland into the President’s Building Performance Standards Coalition, a step that will further accelerate our progress. Today, we saw that progress up close: Governor Moore and I got to meet young people who are training for careers in a growing clean energy economy that is revitalizing neighborhoods and changing lives. It’s inspiring. It’s Bidenomics in action.”

Republicans press for gas tax special session

The Joint Republican Caucus in the Maryland General Assembly called Thursday for a special session to address the automatic gas tax increase that will occur on Saturday.

The state’s gas tax will go up 5 cents on Saturday, to 47 cents per gallon. Over the last two years, the rate has increased by 30% due to inflation and surging fuel prices. The legislature established the formula that causes the automatic increases in 2013.

Republicans have pressed for years to eliminate an automatic increase in the gas tax, which is tied to inflation. Their effort received new life when Gov. Wes Moore (D) this week suggested that the calculation needs to be changed.

“It is encouraging to hear Governor Moore express his support to addressing these automatic increases, but he should take action and immediately call the General Assembly to convene a Special Session,” said Senate Minority Leader Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore). “Republicans have been leading on the elimination and suspension of the automatic increase of this regressive tax for years, and the Governor has now recognized this is the right thing to do. Marylanders should not have to wait until the General Assembly convenes in January of 2024, we could pass a bill to repeal these automatic gas tax increases in a day.”

In an interview, Moore said he will not call for a special session to make the change, but wants lawmakers to consider better funding mechanisms for transportation projects when they return for the regular legislative session in January.

“The economic conditions of 2013 are not the economic conditions of now. …Our working families have been hit so hard by this rise in inflation,” Moore said. “…The current system we have in place is not sustainable and it’s harming too many working families.”

In addition to the current tax’s regressive burden on working families, Moore said, the tax has been yielding less than the state’s infrastructure needs, a dynamic that’s expected to worsen as driving habits change and more electric vehicles hit the road.

He signed a bill this spring that established a “Blue Ribbon Commission” to review the state’s transportation funding structure.

House and Senate leadership could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.

Moore appoints leader of crime prevention agency

Governor Wes Moore on Thursday announced the appointment of Dorothy J. Lennig as executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services.

The office is a coordinating office that is responsible for managing and distributing federal and state grant funds and resources to improve public safety in Maryland.

Lennig was an attorney at the House of Ruth domestic violence legal clinic for 35 years, has served as the director of the legal clinic since 1994 and was also lead legislative advocate and liaison to the Maryland General Assembly.

Lennig is the vice chair of the Governor’s Family Violence Council and has served in leadership on several state and local commissions.

“Building a state where everyone feels safe will take close partnership, collaboration, and the strategic allocation of resources,” Moore said in a statement. “Dorothy has the experience and leadership to bring together voices from across Maryland to develop and implement a statewide strategy to reduce violence, support victims, and build stronger, safer communities. I’m so pleased that she has answered the call to serve and be a part of my administration.”

Ministers of information

The Moore administration’s top two environmental agencies are getting new communications directors. Both are former journalists.

At the Department of the Environment, the communications director job is going to David Abrams, whose career in government goes back to his days as a spokesperson for former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold (R). Abrams has also worked for former Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh (R) and most recently worked as communications director at the Maryland Department of Transportation for the Purple Line light rail project. He held other gigs in the administration of former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) as well.

Abrams also worked as a reporter for the old Gazette Newspapers and then as a reporter for the Annapolis Capital.

At the Department of Natural Resources, AJ Metcalf, who spent the past five years doing media relations work for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, will become communications director. This reunites Metcalf with DNR Secretary Josh Kurtz, who was the Maryland director for the CBF before joining the Moore administration earlier this year.

Previously, Metcalf was a reporter for Bethesda Beat.

Editor’s note: DNR Secretary Josh Kurtz is not related to Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters.


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News roundup: State joins building standards coalition, Republicans press for gas tax reform, plus personnel news