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From MarylandReporter.com:

PENSION ACTION A commission on state retirement benefits voted yesterday to recommend cutting the state costs of health insurance 10% by hiking premiums and reducing coverage for state employees and retirees, and shifting half the costs of teacher pensions to local school boards over the next three to five years, reports Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

Also, state employees would work years longer before becoming eligible for pensions or retiree health care benefits under the commission's cost-saving recommendations, which drew immediate criticism from a labor group, the Associated Press reports in the Sun.

Shifting 40% of Maryland's teacher retirement costs to county governments could save the state $342 million a year but exacerbate local fiscal woes, blogs the Post's John Wagner.

Commission chairman Casper Taylor says the group is recommending small steps to make the pension system sustainable and to avoid mistakes, reports the Gazette's Sarah Breitenbach.

Union officials, who would have the opportunity to push back against most of the changes at the bargaining table, decried the proposals, Nick Sohr writes in the Daily Record.

TOUGH CUTS AHEAD As federal stimulus funds dry up and Maryland faces another $1.6 billion structural deficit, tough cuts to the state budget are on the horizon, O'Malley told Ron Snyder of Patch.com.

But in her opinion column for the Sun, Marta Mossburg says that anyone can feel rich if they use Maryland government's accounting tricks.

CUTS BEFORE TAXES Annapolis Capital editorial writers say state and local governments must restructure and make deeper cuts before seeking the authority to raise taxes.

RACING DAYS: The owners of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course have offered to maintain 146 days of live racing at the two tracks next year — the same number as this year — but with major caveats, reports Hanah Cho for the Sun.

WBAL-TV's Dave Collins reports that track owners want the General Assembly to put more slots money in their pockets.

MD DREAM ACT After the U.S. Senate failed to pass a plan that could give undocumented students access to citizenship through military service or higher education, state Sen. Richard Madaleno of Kensington announced his plan to bring similar legislation to Maryland, Sarah Breitenbach reports for the Gazette.

O'MALLEY JOBS FORUM Maryland needs to better streamline its permitting and licensing procedures, market its programs that work and do more to help companies get access to capital, 200 executives told Gov. O'Malley at a Gaithersburg forum, the first of five he has scheduled as he prepares for a second term. The others are on education, health, public safety and sustainability, Kevin James Shay reports for the Gazette.

O'Malley said he wanted to hear how Maryland can support entrepreneurs and which programs are valuable to businesses and which need to be changed or eliminated, the Associated Press reports in the Daily Record.

Megan Poinski of MarylandReporter.com writes that participants also felt that more publicity is needed – to get the word out about opportunities for businesses and employees and to find out about assistance the state makes possible through the DBED.

STATE SLOW ON AID Jamie Smith Hopkins of the Sun writes that, despite nationally recognized efforts to help residents avoid foreclosure, the state of Maryland has been slow to make mortgage payments more affordable for the struggling homeowners whose loans it owns.

HARNESSING CONSERVATIVES Three political newcomers have banded together as the Maryland Conservative Action Network as a way to harness grass-roots activism beyond the tea party movement, Alan Brody writes for the Gazette.

CABINET OK'D The Baltimore County Council unanimously approved 13 of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s 18 appointments for department heads and cabinet positions; the remainder will be voted on in January, reports Steve Schuster for the Towson Times.

Bryan Sears of Patch.com writes that none was considered in danger of being rejected.

Most of Kamenetz's cabinet are holdovers from former County Executive Jim Smith's administration, the Sun's Raven Hill reports.

TRAIN DELAYS The holiday week got off to a late start for some travelers yesterday after a power failure caused delays for MARC commuters and Amtrak passengers. And holiday travel is expected to be delayed with construction continuing along I-95 in Delaware, Liz Kay reports for the Post.

Kai Jackson reports on the delays for WJZ-TV.

NPR

Kids' Films And Stories Share A Dark Theme: Dead Mothers

Why do so many animated movies star motherless kids? Sarah Boxer, a graphic novelist, cartoon-lover and mother, talks to NPR's Kelly McEvers about the phenomenon and the message it sends to children.
NPR

Saskawhat? A Novel Berry From Canada Takes Root On Michigan Farms

Some rookie farmers in northern Michigan are growing saskatoon, an imported shrub from Canada that looks like blueberry. They're also experimenting with it in the kitchen — in jams and pies.
WAMU 88.5

Gray Makes Pitch For D.C. Streetcar Ahead Of Budget Vote Monday

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the District's spending plan last week and is now making his pitch for compromise on the budget ahead of D.C. Council's override vote on Monday.

NPR

Looking For Free Sperm, Women May Turn To Online Forums

Bypassing commercial sperm banks, thousands are logging on to websites where women can connect with men at no cost. Anecdotes abound, but the scope of the unregulated activity is unclear.

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