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Thanksgiving Holiday Travel, Minimum Wage Legislation, and Baltimore’s Planned Red Line

  This day before Thanksgiving is traditionally the biggest travel day of the year. A look at Thanksgiving travel, plus minimum wage legislation, Baltimore’s planned Red Line, Gansler joins a picket at a Safeway in Bowie, George calls for an investigation into test exclusions, and more.

Thanksgiving Travel: This day before Thanksgiving is traditionally the biggest travel day of the year… but the weather could make travel difficult. The National Weather Service’s latest forecast for the region is here. The Maryland State Highway Administration is suspending all non-emergency roadwork for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Officials tell the Germantown Patch that there will be no roadwork from 9 a.m. today until 9 a.m. on Monday, December 2nd. The SHA will also deploy extra emergency traffic patrols along the interstates to help stranded motorists and prevent delays for other travelers. The roads will be busy; the MdTA is expecting that some 2.7 million motorists will use the state’s highways, bridges, and tunnels during the holiday period; that’s an increase of about 1 percent from last year.

Holiday Shopping: The stores are likely to be busy later this week, with thousands of holiday shoppers set to hit the stores on Black Friday, and Thanksgiving night for that matter, so police are offering a few safety tips. They recommend parking in well-lit areas, keeping your wallet in your front pocket, storing merchandise in your trunk and walking to your vehicle with your keys in hand. Cops also want shoppers to be aware of their surroundings at all times, and they suggest taking advantage of mall escorts. More here from the Baltimore Sun.

All Aboard For The Future: Baltimore’s long time development chief Jay Brodie says much of the city’s future rides on the Red Line, a surface and underground line starting at Social Security on the west and ending at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital on the east. In this third and final installment of “Baltimore: Bright Promise, Sobering Challenge,” Brodie and WYPR’s Fraser Smith examine the city’s prospects – its strengths and weaknesses.

What The State GOP Hopes To Learn From Pantelides: WYPR's Fraser Smith and Erin Cox of the Baltimore Sun talk about the new strategies discussed at the Maryland GOP's fall convention. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.

Minimum Wage In Montgomery County: Montgomery County’s minimum wage is a step closer to going up. After four hours of debate, the County Council voted 8 to 1 yesterday to increase its minimum wage from the current statewide rate of $7.25 an hour to $11.50, phased in over the next four years. That represents a change from the original legislation, which would have phased in the increase over three years. Neighboring Prince George’s County and Washington DC are looking to synchronize their minimum wage rates with Montgomery; with the Prince George’s County Council expected to vote on minimum wage legislation today, and the DC City Council planning a vote for next week. The DC bill would phase in the increase over three years, and it’s unclear if that will change; Prince George’s County lawmakers tell the Washington Post that they’ll likely amend their legislation to mirror the timeline in Montgomery. And the minimum wage is likely to be a topic of debate in next year’s General Assembly session; the idea of raising it has garnered the support of Governor Martin O’Malley as well as the three major Democratic candidates looking to succeed him after next year’s elections. Those candidates are Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur, and state Attorney General Doug Gansler.

Gansler Joins Union Picket Of Bowie Safeway: Yesterday, Attorney General Gansler joined union workers who were picketing a Safeway in Bowie. Gansler tells the Washington Post he was trying to pressure the grocery chain to concede on workers’ demands about healthcare – which has been a sticking point in contract negotiations. The contract for the Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 expired back in October, and it’s been extended through mid-December while those negotiations continue. A representative of the union says it reached out to Gansler in the hopes that he’d put political pressure on Safeway – and Giant, which is also part of the negotiations. Safeway tells the Baltimore Sun it will not comment on labor negotiations.

George Calls For Investigation Of Test Exclusions: Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron George is calling for an investigation into why an unusually large number of students with disabilities and students learning English were not allowed to take a national reading test. Earlier this month, the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that Maryland excluded a higher percentage of special education students from the test than any other state… possibly inflating the state’s scores on the test by 5 points for 8th graders and 7 points for 4th graders. The score on the tests helped Maryland to achieve the #1 position on Education Week’s ranking of state school systems. Ron George, currently a Delegate representing parts of Anne Arundel County, tells the Baltimore Sun that excluding special ed students from the tests amounts to “cheating.” Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration tells the Washington Post that Maryland schools have been #1 on Education Week’s list for five years, and says the test in question represents only a “small part” of the ranking. Even so, Delegate George is calling on the General Assembly to hold hearings on the matter. The Sun reports that so far, none have been scheduled. Ron George is running for the Republican Gubernatorial nomination against candidates including Harford County Executive David Craig, Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, and Larry Hogan, who leads the grass roots group Change Maryland. Brian Vaeth is also running for the GOP nomination.

Baltimore’s Budget: Baltimore officials say are scrambling to fill gaps in the city’s budget following a series of unexpected expenses and shortfalls. Baltimore Budget Director Andrew Kleine tells the Baltimore Sun the extra expenses include nearly four-million dollars for the police department. And the city’s got to fill a gap of more than 14 million dollars in revenue that had been projected to come in from its automated speed camera system – that system’s been offline for much of the year, and it’s unclear when it’ll be operation again. Kleine said the city is moving in the right direction but still has a long road to travel.

Food Stamps: Some Maryland lawmakers are fighting back against proposed cuts to America's food stamp program.  Earlier this week, 7th District Congressman Elijah Cummings voted against a House bill that would eliminate 40-billion dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next ten years. As WJZ reports, just under eight-hundred-thousand Marylanders get SNAP benefits – including nearly 220-thousand people who live in Baltimore. The push to cut SNAP benefits, as part of the Farm Bill, comes after a reduction the value of food stamps that took effect at the beginning of this month, due to the end of a program related to the recession. The Baltimore Sun has more here.

Parking Prices In Annapolis: Outgoing Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen is calling on his successor to connect parking prices on the capital city’s streets to demand. Cohen has asked Annapolis’s transportation director to present options to implement so-called “market pricing” to the city’s Transportation Board… the program would raise or lower the city’s current 2 dollar parking fee for metered spaces based on demand. Annapolis’s new mayor – Mike Pantelides – will take office on Monday. Annapolis’s transportation director tells the Capital Gazette that representatives from Pantelides’ future administration have expressed interest in market pricing.

Baltimore Football: A big game in Baltimore tomorrow night… where the Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams are 5 and 6 for the season, and are in the race for the AFC’s final Wild Card spot. Tomorrow’s game’s set to start at 8:30pm.

WYPR's Morning Edition news anchor Ashley Sterner serves up the latest Maryland news and weather every weekday morning, delightfully interspersed with the occasional snarky comment.