monoblogue music: “Isolated Thunderstorms” by Jared Weiss

August 18, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

As the last in a long run of records I was asked to review, I hesitated to write about such a CD given the summer we’ve had. But this is an isolated thunderstorm you really won’t mind too much because it’s actually rather refreshing.

While Jared Weiss describes himself as folk-rock, the album exhibits a lot more by veering into rockabilly and more of a theatrical feel such as Queen would perform. Combine this with the rather witty lyrics Jared pens (and sings very well) and you have a winner. And unlike many artists just starting out, Jared has written songs that fit well with his rather distinctive voice, one that sounds almost like it should be singing at a Broadway show than slumming in the music industry – but it works.

(As you know, I listen to the album before I read the artist biography and media notes. So what do I read when I look it up?

Jared graduated NYU 2007 with a Bachelor Music in Vocal Performance. He’s worked extensively in the Off-Broadway, Cabaret, NYC Theatre scene and has played numerous roles in regional musical theatre productions.

Explains that one! I swear I did not know that on first listen! And I found out more, as you’ll read on to learn.)

But this tidbit of biography also gives me two insights. One is why this album has a dark lyrical undertone, almost like these songs portray vignettes from a tragedy. But the theatrical influence also explains the dramatic tone of the compilation. The best example of this is on the closing song, Elusive Particle – that’s the one that gave me the “aha!” moment to add the Queen influence to my review. It’s by far the longest song of the eleven tracks, as the album is only 41 minutes long.

Now there are times where the songs indeed sound like they belong in a Broadway musical rather than on the radio, such as on the track Saving Tomorrow (For You), but when he sticks to the more rock-n-roll sound or evokes Bob Dylan with the harmonica like Jared does on Darling, Reni, it snaps back to form. One extra little bit of flavor is the touch of Latin influence present on Annalu (From Monterey) and Can’t Remember Your Name. It’s another touch that helps the album along. The latter song also makes the album more of a whole as it lyrically refers to the previous track Not Everything That Dies Grows Old.

Honestly, after I heard the first rendition of the title track (the album has Isolated Thunderstorms and the completely different Isolated Thunderstorms II for good measure) I thought to myself that I have a hard time believing I’m going to find four more albums in the rest of 2018 to push this out of my top five. This is a well-produced and executed album for a debut effort, which came out in May.

So let’s see if you agree with me that this probably belongs in a top five list somewhere (once again, if you don’t mind the annoyance of Spotify.) Just listen for yourself and see.

And in looking a little farther into Jared I found a couple interesting items to solidify my opinion. First this, from social media:

Buy my record. I’m not the greatest self-marketer. I don’t have an agent, record deal, champion, eager fans, or talent for playing the game and kissing ass. I have an album of songs. I wrote those songs. Writing those songs saved my life. Listen to the music, then please buy my album.

All this is true, In fact, one link I was sent was to a Youtube page, where I had to dig around and find an older version of Elusive Particle. I’m not sure if this is the same “killer band” that performed on the album, but you can see the raw talent.

I guess my question is why it took several years to do this album? Could it be that this is the one older track and the others are newer? (I know of bands that have released the same track on a couple early albums in a row to fill them out.) Anyway, maybe these aren’t the newest songs, but they’re generally really, really good nonetheless.

A valid complaint?

As of Monday the on-ballot field for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat was set. While three candidates set out to be placed on the ballot by petition, only one succeeded and that’s centrist independent Neal Simon.

One point that has been made about Simon’s run is that it’s eerily reminiscent of a similar effort the last time Ben Cardin was on the ballot. In 2012, as a Senator seeking re-election for the first time, Cardin was placed against a young, dynamic candidate in Dan Bongino who was a TEA Party favorite. Nearly three months after the primary, two-time GOP primary loser Rob Sobhani jumped into the race as an independent candidate. While polling data suggests Cardin would have won the race in either case (he received 56% of the final vote) there can be an argument made that having the third candidate, who was also running in a populist, change-oriented lane – Sobhani’s big idea was government investing in a series of public-private partnerships, perhaps because he saw an opportunity to help his investment firm – may have chopped Bongino’s already underfunded campaign off at the knees. FEC records show that Sobhani loaned himself nearly $8 million to run the race. That was 98% of his campaign income.

Fast forward six years and in comes another financial guru in Neal Simon. However, there are some differences – not the least of which is that Simon has “only” contributed about $550,000 to his own campaign so far.

Unlike the Sobhani effort, which was basically self-funded, Simon is getting a lot of outside help. But I found it interesting that many of the high-dollar, maximum donations come from out of state and from couples who are maxing out as husband and wife (or in one case, father and college-age daughter) where the woman’s occupation is listed as “homemaker” or (in the case of the daughter) “student” – yet they apparently have $5,400 lying around to donate to the primary and general campaigns. (That’s interesting as well, since Simon had no primary as an unaffiliated candidate. Yet it is perfectly legal.)

The theory floating around is, of course, that Simon is a Democrat plant whose purpose is to split the GOP vote. But after spending a few evenings poring over the contribution data from this subset of “max donors” – those who have added $2,700 or more to the Simon kitty – I tend to doubt this idea. Out of 91 donors who I checked via the OpenSecrets website, which categorizes donations to federal candidates, there were 17 who had no record of donating before. This only seems unusual because most people start out small and work their way up, not drop up to $10,800 as a couple into a political campaign as their first contribution.

But the political leanings of these more regular donors spanned the gamut, from huge donors to Democrats and their causes to a handful that could be described as staunch Republicans. (One of those is the wife of a social media friend I often see promoting the Hogan re-election campaign.) Overall I would describe the donor list as skewing Democrat, but there are a few who are big believers in the centrist advocacy group Unite America (whose logo and color scheme is very much like Simon’s) and a PAC called People Over Politics (not to be confused with a hardcore leftist advocacy website.) The People Over Politics PAC has several Simon donors as its main base of support and guess what they are spending on?

Now that pushes up a few red flags – as well as the question about working around individual donation limits given the amount this PAC has raised from just six donors. Out of the six, only one has been heavily into politics prior to this, and he’s been a relatively faithful GOP donor. So why the change? Let’s look at what Simon says. (Yes, I intended the pun.)

His top issue is – of course – one of unity, and bringing us together. Now I can’t argue with the idea but that doesn’t give me much in the way of principles.

Next up is the idea of changing how Washington works. I’m cool with the ideas of independent commissions to create legislative districts and term limits, but I have to know more about the concepts of the new Senate rules Neal favors. On the other hand, I don’t favor open primaries.

But the funny part to me is where he states:

The corrupting influence of money in politics is at the heart of congressional dysfunction. We can use this election to spur on campaign finance reform and make meaningful changes to the system. We can start by bringing transparency to election spending, making politicians reveal the sources of “dark money” campaign donations – donations that currently have no limit. I support the DISCLOSE Act, which requires all organizations spending money in elections to file reports that include donors of $10,000 or more.

Did I not just say the guy has a SuperPAC with six donors of $25,000 or more working on his behalf? Shouldn’t he take the leap and say this? I suppose that would be considered coordination (and that’s a no-no) but there’s more than a wink going on here.

Neal’s next priority is jobs, which is fine. But this line is priceless, too, given my context:

As a CEO who has led five companies, I have extensive experience connecting and persuading other business leaders,

He’s persuaded a lot of them to pony up $2,700 or more, that’s for sure. And Neal is a little behind the curve: why eliminate just one existing regulation for every new one when we have a President axing twenty or more per new one? That’s more my speed.

And then we come to health care, where Simon says:

First, we have a moral obligation to provide adequate, affordable health care coverage to its citizens.

Actually, no we don’t – at least not at the behest of government, because government is not the solution to the problem. I would argue that government is causing many of the problems, particularly when it comes to costs. To make health care affordable we have to create the conditions where it can become more affordable – unfortunately, government does a poor job of that on a national level.

Simon then addresses an 800-pound gorilla in our room:

If we don’t get our debt and spending problems under control, inflation will have a disastrous effect on jobs and the economy. Currently, our interest payments alone amount to $310 billion—the fourth largest budget item after Social Security, defense, Medicare and Medicaid.

The last I checked, only one of those items is mandated in the Constitution, and it’s not the entitlements. Yet, starting at the top, no one wants to do anything about any of those EXCEPT cut defense spending. I can agree to that to a point in that we don’t need bases in practically every nation, but the sad truth is we don’t know where the next hotspot will be and we’ve taken it upon ourselves to be the world’s cop. So there we stand.

Where Simon truly loses me though is where he’s part of the “path to citizenship” crowd and gets into the realm of what he calls “common sense gun safety laws.” Basically if you were mad at Larry Hogan for flouting the Second Amendment you won’t be much for Simon either.

So to me it’s rank hypocrisy for Simon to say on his website, “Government should represent ‘We, the people’ – not the party bosses or those who can buy access to power,” (my emphasis) yet have the donor list he has and a PAC working for his cause. It’s just more politics as usual. Neal is a guy I wouldn’t mind sitting down with for a political discussion (at least he seems down-to-earth judging from a brief chat we had at the Tawes event) but I don’t think he has much in common with anyone politically right of center. This is especially true when you look at his own donation record, which is very left-leaning: out of $11,000 Neal has donated over the years, $8,000 has gone to Democrats and left-leaning PACs, with $2,500 going to fellow independent Craig O’Dear and an almost random $500 donation to Mitt Romney in 2011.

Having said that, though, I still wish Neal all the success in the world – in taking votes away from Ben Cardin. Wouldn’t it be funny (and great for Maryland and the nation) if his campaign splits the Democrat vote enough to send a Maryland conservative – who would all but kill to have the bankroll the People Over Politics PAC has, let alone nearly 100 max donors – to the United States Senate?

Considering the alternative is Tweedledum with a D or Tweedledee with an I (who, based on political philosophy, will probably caucus with the Democrats anyway), you may as well elect someone who has principles.

monoblogue music: Strange Culprits (self-titled)

August 11, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

If there were an award for most appropriate group name, this one may be the winner. Indeed, there are some strange songs on this debut album from the Bay-based group Strange Culprits. (That’s San Francisco’s bay, not the Chesapeake.)

Described to me as “post-punk garage rockers” who state of themselves, “If the band were Canadian, the situation would be likened to musical Poutine,” I was expecting perhaps a little more of an edge. I suppose post-punk is a little more melodic than the original, because that’s what I found in a lot of these songs – most particularly Rootless and Bless The Harlot.

If you took the first trio of songs, though, you could imagine the punk roots are there: the repetitive, three-chord style isn’t lacking in Moonlight, When You’re Away, or Fleeting Moments, with the latter having a pretty cool bass line to go with it. On the flip side, the band branches out toward the end of the CD: was that a cello I heard toward the end of Fades Away? If it wasn’t a stupid guitar trick, it’s a fitting prelude to the chamber music opening for the final track, Concrete In The Rain.

Where this CD is lacking, however, is a somewhat mushy middle. Rootless and Bless The Harlot are okay songs as transitions of a sort, but lead singer Jason Buckingham can’t carry the feeling needed for songs like Let’s or Mija. Since there’s no female harmony on the album, we don’t know if Jason’s bassist wife Samantha (Sami) can sing, but seeing that she’s described a multi-instrumentalist who wanted to try the bass, maybe she can try a few vocals, too. The group just needs something in that department to make it better.

I have to give Strange Culprits credit for trying to extend out simple garage rock that always lent itself to short, two-minute bursts of aggression into more of a jam band feel. I think I would have liked it better with a different vocalist or perhaps songs better shaped to the limitations of his voice, which could come over time. (Concrete In The Rain comes out rather well, for example, but the other two cited are a bit brutal.)

But since I would be the last person in the congregation picked for a church choir because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, maybe this is the opportunity (if you don’t mind the obnoxiousness of Spotify) to listen for yourself. After all, Strange Culprits do play around their home area and musically they have a pretty cool album with its guitar/bass interplay (you’d think the two were married or something) so it appears there’s hope for them yet. It could be the new stuff they’re doing (at least if you believe social media) works out better – they are definitely in the “wait and see” category.

Announcing: the 2017-18 monoblogue Accountability Project – Delaware Edition

For the second time, I have graded all the legislators in the Delaware General Assembly based on their voting patterns on a number of key issues. The final product can be found in its usual sidebar location, or right here.

One new feature because Delaware has staggered elections is an indicator of whether the legislator is running for another term, and if so what sort of opposition he or she faces. Some have a free ride through the primary, while a select few have no general election opponent.

Without getting too much into it – after all, I want my friends in the First State to read and share the information – it was another discouraging session for the Delaware General Assembly. But even the darkest sky has a few stars in it, and one shone very brightly as a beacon of conservatism.

The 25 votes I used were split with nine being dealt with in 2017 and 16 having final action this year. At least one of these bills took nearly the full two sessions to be finalized, but most of them came along earlier this year. In truth, I had the tallying completed several weeks ago but, like in Maryland, I had to wait for the prescribed post-session signing deadline to come and go. It’s my understanding that bills not signed within thirty days of the end of the second-year Delaware legislative session are pocket vetoed, and two of the mAP – DE bills were in that category. By my count, thirty days (excluding Sundays) from the end of session fell on this past Saturday: hopefully I won’t have quick editing to do.

And if you were sharp-eyed last night, you would have noticed I did the usual “soft opening” by updating the widget before this post was finished and set to be placed up at this early hour.

So, Delaware, here is the voting guide you need this fall – use it wisely.

monoblogue music: “Middle Voice” by Kate Fenner

August 4, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

This relatively new release from Canadian-born, now New York-based Kate Fenner is aptly named if you recall as I do the old format called “middle of the road.” While she describes it as folk, it’s not so in the traditional sense, but more in the getting booed at the Newport Folk Festival for having electrical instruments sense. (There was a reason for that particular metaphor, as I’ll explain in a bit.)

To be honest, this is another album that misses the mark with me but only based on personal preference. When one likes active, somewhat forceful music, listening to an album that just quietly goes about its business isn’t conducive for holding interest or attention. Certainly it’s a well put-together album, as I found on second listen – a whole roster of studio musicians do a good job in adding their parts to the whole, including a horn section that plays on the tracks This Divorce, The Yield, A Marriage, and Fatal Fire.

“Middle Voice” is also one of the most lyrically complex albums I’ve reviewed in some time, (Returning to the reviewer being a fish out of water theme, perhaps Kate is the only one who would make a song based on a three-century old poem – Fatal Fire is inspired by and uses a passage from the Alexander Pope poem, “Eloisa to Abelard.”) Luckily I had a Bandcamp sample, which gave me the lyrics for most of the songs in this instance. It also leads to an interesting facet of the backstory in how the album came together: as she describes it: “The bed tracks of this album were recorded quickly with Tony Scherr at his studio in the three weeks leading up to an unnerving throat surgery in October of 2015.” Kate was worried about the off chance that she couldn’t sing again, so this was at first done for posterity’s sake. After her successful recovery, she finished whatever vocal parts she felt needed touching up and the rest of the album came together over the next two years.

Out of eleven fairly lengthy tracks – the compilation runs a few ticks short of fifty minutes – Kate wrote nine of them. The two cover tracks were interesting choices: You’re A Big Girl Now is a deep cut from Bob Dylan – the artist booed at Newport – found on his 1975 album “Blood On The Tracks,” while the final song on “Middle Voice” is the 1973 George Harrison tune That Is All. Being of a certain age, with over three decades in the business, this is an homage to the music Kate grew up with and That Is All gives a nice fade to the album.

But it’s not like she’s retired, as Fenner regularly performs in the New York area and last year joined other musicians in a brief Canadian tour. And while the album is available for a listen on the dreaded Spotify, you can get a flavor of it from this video of The Yield.

I cheerfully admit this isn’t one which would go into my collection, but only because it reminds me too much of that old “middle of the road” format which was not my type of background music. But if you’re into what’s now euphemistically called “adult contemporary” you could find a new favorite here, because to have stuck around so long in the music business shows Kate has the talent to do so. I just wish she had gone in a different direction with the album cover, since it’s one of the most jarring and disconcerting I’ve run across thanks to that split image.

Like the rest of “Middle Voice” there is perhaps an artistic reason for the image that a simple rural kid from Ohio like me just doesn’t get.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2018

August 2, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

At first glance (which was actually Monday when I first compiled the splits to see who had the best month) it seemed like both of these awards would be a slam dunk. But the last couple days allowed a little bit of competition, meaning my honorees had some company by month’s end.

If you saw my social media comments around the first of the month, I noted the arrival of first-rounder Cadyn Grenier should have allowed the guy he replaced at shortstop to move up to Frederick as I thought he had earned the shot. Instead, the Orioles brass decided to move Mason McCoy over to second base. While his fielding hasn’t suffered much, McCoy is struggling at the plate when he plays second, hitting at just a .231 clip on 12-for-52. But since Mason’s back at shortstop for the time being while Grenier recovers from a freak injury (hit in the face by his own foul ball) he’s continued to make his case for a promotion. Mason’s .296/3/11/.785 OPS slash line was the best among all the Shorebird hitters this month as the team’s gone into an offensive funk over the last several weeks.

While Grenier came as a top-40 selection out of this year’s draft, McCoy is no slouch either. Selected last year in the sixth round, the Iowa Hawkeye (by way of the small town of Washington, Illinois) went to Aberdeen and turned heads by putting up a .301 average in 53 games and finished among the leaders in most offensive categories for the IronBirds. So it was pretty well expected that McCoy would be ticketed for Delmarva this spring, but a 4-for-30 start has forced Mason to play catch-up for most of the season. As of Tuesday night, Mason’s solid July had pushed him up to a .255/4/37/.706 OPS for the season. However, given another 100 at-bats (very doable in the remaining number of games) Mason could add another 10 to 12 points to the average and come out looking rather good. At the time Grenier was assigned to Delmarva, Mason was among the top two league shortstops in both fielding percentage and range factor, so there’s no question McCoy sports a pretty good glove, too.

Obviously the question going forward is one of whether McCoy will be pushed aside by the guy with the fat signing bonus. Mason is already 23, and will be 24 by the time the 2019 season begins. He certainly has the glove and probably the bat to play at Frederick, and perhaps more time at second base will allow him to relax and hit better given the slow start he’s had in games he’s played there.

On the other hand, it’s not a question of if DL Hall will be promoted, but whether he will be in Frederick for a start or two in August. Basically the newly-selected Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month – joining previous Pitcher of the Month selections Zac Lowther and Matthias Dietz as Delmarva pitchers being so distinguished by the Baltimore management this season – has nothing else to prove at this level. In 26 2/3 July innings, Hall allowed but 10 hits and only two earned runs, fanning 39 while walking only 10. The month also brought his first two professional wins: while he has pitched well throughout most of his career, baseball’s scoring rule that a starting pitcher needs to complete five innings to be eligible for a win combined with the go-slow approach the Orioles had with last year’s top pick (and 21st overall) being fresh out of high school in Valdosta, Georgia meant that wins were going to wait. Until May of this year, Hall hadn’t even pitched the requisite five innings in a game as he was limited to 10 2/3 innings in five GCL starts last season. (And the numbers were rather pedestrian: a 6.97 ERA and 1.94 WHIP as he walked 10 while striking out 12. Most of the damage came in his last start, though.)

So it was a bit of a surprise that DL (it stands for Dayton Lane, but I’m sure only his mom calls him that when she’s mad) skipped over Aberdeen to full-season ball at the age of 19, although he was likely among the oldest in his graduating class as a September baby. It’s not a common jump, and for a short time it appeared the naysayers could be correct: through his first 10 games Hall was 0-4 with a 4.28 ERA. His peripheral numbers were pretty good at that point: a 1.43 WHIP came from the somewhat high rate of walks (18 in 33 2/3 innings) but given his struggles in late May and early June it would have been no surprise to see Hall reassigned to Aberdeen when their season began. But DL stayed and now has taken the SAL by storm in his last several starts – in the season’s second half Hall has pitched no fewer than 4 innings in a start but allowed 3 or fewer hits each time. The highlights of that run: 5 2/3 no-hit innings against Hagerstown July 5 (a game where the Shorebirds threw 9 no-hit innings yet managed to lose in the 10th) and a six-inning, 10 strikeout performance at West Virginia two starts later. That game snapped a three-start scoreless streak for Hall, however.

In watching Hall’s last start of the month on Tuesday night, it was apparent that not all of his pitches were working. But against a reasonably well-hitting Lakewood team, DL showed that he could pitch effectively enough without his best stuff: no clean innings out of the four, but no runs either. When needed he came up with the pitches to get out of the jam, and that’s the sign of a pitcher ready to move up.

I noted up top that this month was not the slam dunk I thought it would be in picking players. Making late surges for position player of the month were outfielder Will Robertson and June winner Branden Becker, while on the mound newcomer Max Knutson was being just about as dominant as Hall, but in a relief role. Knutson was unscored upon in his first nine July innings before yielding a run to Lakewood on the 30th.

With the Shorebirds slipping out of the divisional race thanks to an ill-timed Perdue sweep at the hands of the league-leading BlueClaws, there may be a plethora of player moves as the season winds down. It could be a wide-open field for the final Shorebirds of the Month and eventual Shorebird of the Year.

How much will it cost? (Part two of a multi-part series)

July 30, 2018 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on How much will it cost? (Part two of a multi-part series) 

I really didn’t mean to take so long between part one of this series and part two, but because the second item on the Ben Jealous for Governor issue list is health care – and there’s a claim out there that his plan will cost Maryland a staggering $24 billion a year, according to analysts at the state’s Department of Legislative Services – I was hoping to see the actual evidence before I wrote the next part. But my trips to the DLS website have been fruitless, leading me to believe that there were a couple cowboys at the DLS who chose to leak this to the Sun.

So before I say this will cost $24 billion a year, I suppose the best thing to know is how we would pay for this program called “Medicare-for-All.” Here’s how Jealous explains the key benefit for the majority of us who are under employer-sponsored plans:

This system will end premiums for participants, reducing costs to most employees and employers. It will be important to create a system that ensures covered employees also see the benefit of this change. MD-Care will explore creating safeguards to ensure that employer savings are passed down to the workers in increased wages, and guarantee that workers see real savings instead of having all of the gains captured by employers no longer paying premiums. (Emphasis mine.)

It’s worth pointing out that health insurance as a employer fringe benefit is a relatively new phenomenon, one that began when wages were frozen during World War II. Since workers (generally those belonging to unions) could not receive wage increases, the measure to circumvent this prohibition was the inclusion of health insurance – with the added bonus of employer-paid premiums being non-taxable income.

Basically what Jealous wants to do is enforce a raise to workers who currently receive these benefits, whether deserved or not. That seems to me a good way to kill jobs in the state.

And stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Those who want to keep their existing Medicare program will be able to.

Bear in mind, of course, that Medicare is not free. Those of us who work for a living see that little category on our pay stubs – mine actually calls this “Medicare Employee” – and every couple weeks a few dozen dollars added to that total. I guess that’s the down payment on what we have to pay when we get to the age where we can presumably sign up and collect on Medicare, which isn’t really free but has a bewildering array of premiums, deductibles, and co-insurance payments. So to say Medicare-for-All is “free health care” or “single-payer” is clearly a misnomer because there are three payment sources: your pocket, the generosity of those who pay the taxes but don’t use the service, and (in the case of the federal government) a massive amount of IOUs.

Jealous then cites a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate that health care in Maryland costs $51 billion a year (at least it did in 2014) and proclaims:

This is simply unsustainable, and MD-Care offers an opportunity to finally get costs under control. Administrative savings could quickly add up to billions of dollars in Maryland and fully expanding the All-Payer model would finally allow us to bend the “cost curve” in medical spending. In addition, by ensuring the plan is designed properly to reduce costs and maximize federal dollars, we can further reduce the healthcare burden on Maryland taxpayers.

So wait a second: this is Maryland’s plan, but we’re expecting everyone else to pony up and pay more for it? Yeah, that will fly like a lead balloon.

And I’m not sure where “administrative savings” (if administration is 8% of health care cost, that’s $4 billion for Maryland) comes from when people who work for those eeeeeevil insurance companies (mainly paid for with private-sector dollars) are repurposed as government employees who are paid from the public till, to wit:

This plan and the Maryland All-Payer Model Progression Plan call for widespread use of emerging new titles in healthcare such as coordinators and community health workers to ensure that high risk populations are being treated properly (and at lower cost). This offers an opportunity to minimize the net disruption to employment by ensuring job retraining and preferences for those who previously worked at private insurance companies. Instead of thousands of workers in Maryland being paid to deny access to care, they can now be paid to provide healthcare.

In addition, there is going to be a need for administrative employees to ensure that Maryland is complying with all federal law so we can continue to draw down dollars for Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the ACA.

So much for saving on administration; in fact, given the lavish government payroll that seems to be a cost increase.

Speaking of cost increases, here’s where it gets important:

There is no question that any plan will have significant cost savings compared to current healthcare spending, while also moving most healthcare dollars away from the insurance companies and into the plan. These variables will determine the final cost of the plan and the revenue requirements. Among other revenue options the advisory panel will consider:

  • Income Based Premium Paid by Employers

This premium would be a deductible business expense, meaning this plan will have the same tax advantage status as employer provided healthcare. However, it is unknown how businesses will react to this, and significant input from the Maryland business community will be needed. Businesses would have predictable health insurance costs instead of double-digit increases with no end in sight.

  • Sales Tax

Having some portion of the plan paid for by a sales tax would have several advantages, including capturing revenue from non-Marylanders. It would also reduce the amount of revenue needed on the payroll side, thus reducing the taxation burden on new employment. At the same time, a sales tax is regressive by nature, so any tax increase on working Marylanders would have to be measured against the net benefits received from this plan.

  • Non-Payroll Income Premium

A non-payroll income premium would ensure that the most financially successful in Maryland pay their fair share of taxes. The advisory panel will need to study the tax sensitivity of these higher earners to ensure that any increase doesn’t result in significant population shifts in the region to avoid any changes to the Maryland income tax system.

I can tell you exactly how business will react to the first one, Ben: they will close their doors and/or leave. Those that have to stay will be hiring fewer people, and they have the perfect incentive:

We will also look at ways to ensure that small businesses and new companies succeed under this plan. This could mean exempting small businesses and start-ups from additional taxes associated with MDCare depending on revenue or firm age. The advisory panel will work with the small business community to design an exemption that makes the most sense.

One surefire way to cut revenue to fit under the limit: close a few locations, let go a few workers, and fold the business into a newly-formed holding company.

Because of that possibility, my thinking on this is that Jealous would go with a blending of options two and three: perhaps an increase in the sales tax from 6% to 8% and a reprisal of the infamous “millionaire’s tax” that will cause capital to flow out of the state.

Assuming that the roughly $4.6 billion collected by the state in sales taxes in FY2017 is a valid figure, a sales tax increase to 8% would cost taxpayers roughly $1.1 billion a year, and $5.5 billion over five years. A millionaire’s tax would be perhaps a $500 million cost to taxpayers over 5 years.

But that won’t begin to cover this program – not when spending is $51 billion a year now, and probably $70 billion when it’s “free.” (That is if you can find a provider – only 7 of 10 providers accept new Medicare patients.)

The most truthful statement made from Ben on the subject is this one, a throwaway line on his “Path to Medicare for All“:

When the ACA was written, Democrats were overly concerned with the optics and not enough with the actual mechanics of the bill.

Yes, we had to pass it to know what was in it. Likewise, we have no idea if that $24 billion cost is anywhere close to reality but it is likely that state revenues will take a significant hit as private-sector businesses throw in the towel.

Next up in this series will be Criminal Justice, a platform that likely has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

monoblogue music: “Like My Life Depends On It” by Alien Country

July 28, 2018 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Like My Life Depends On It” by Alien Country 

Buried well back in the track listing for this release by country-tilting rocker Alien Country is a song called How It Could Have Been, and it’s the perfect metaphor for this messy, fussy album.

Let me get you up to speed on who Alien Country is, though. It’s the brainchild of Florida-based artist Liam Marcus Torres, who sings most of the tracks (a few feature various backup singers, which are presumably from close friends or family members – see below) and plays a number of instruments on this 12-track compilation – one track called Remedy is repeated in a remixed version at the end.

In the case of “Like My Life Depends On It” I must once again sadly admit that albums that are self-produced tend to miss the mark with me because there’s no different set of ears to tell the artist that, “hey, this doesn’t quite work like you think it does – maybe you should drop the prominence of the fiddle on this one” or “I love the bass line, but don’t you think it would work with a different arrangement otherwise?” Unfortunately, what plagues Alien Country often falls into these categories and more. (While credited in one place as a solo artist and multi-instrumentalist, in another there are additional credits so I will assume they helped out. If so, they didn’t give Liam very good producing advice.)

I don’t deny that Liam, who noted on social media his erstwhile presence in a band, would be a valued member because he plays that assortment of instruments to outstanding levels, including what he describes as “unorthodox instruments like the ukulele and theremin (I had to look it up, too) all while staying true to the familiar heart and soul of country music.” The problem is that most of the songs don’t work out as the sum of their parts, particularly in a vocal sense: Torres just doesn’t have the vocal chops to carry this album. Although he has one brief instrumental called Mommy Dearest in the set I’d bet this would be a much more interesting instrumental album, like Joe Satriani made his fortune from. Hold Me is one track which could keep its lyrics, though, as it finds rare success.

It’s apparent that Liam, who looks to be one who’s earned his gray hair thanks to being “a homeschooling father of six” (perhaps a couple help provide the background harmony) has some good friends in the business, though: the album cover is the brainchild of Hugh Syme, described as the “art director” for the band Rush and creator of album covers for artists as varied as the Allman Brothers and Brian Setzer, among others. Torres also has promotional savvy as he’s built a following of “over 7,000 devoted, highly-targeted fans” on social media – the number’s now up close to 10,000 as I write this review, and that’s one place where he puts the few videos like Reality Check that go with the release. (Maybe I should get some pointers from him in that respect for my website and forthcoming book.)

Prominent on his social media as I wrote this review this morning is a quote credited to John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” I will give him credit for trying despite my gently-projected slings and arrows: while I wasn’t all that enchanted with my visit to Alien Country, I’m just a simple down-home reviewer who couldn’t play an instrument if my life depended on it (see what I did there?) So when I can I invite readers to listen for themselves. You may like it more than I did – after all, he couldn’t have paid for all that following, could he?

A night at the fair

July 25, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Culture and Politics, Delaware politics, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on A night at the fair 

The other night my wife and I had an evening to ourselves – the kid stayed at a friend’s house and we really had nothing on the social calendar. With a less pessimistic forecast than the rest of the week, we decided it was a good time to make our annual pilgrimage up to Harrington for the Delaware State Fair.

This year is the 99th annual Delaware State Fair – we’ll see what they do for the centennial edition next year.

I will give you a pro tip: if you’re parked where we were, wait on the tram. I think we spent the first 15-20 minutes there walking to the main gate! So once we got inside, we were visually assaulted by the midway.

The Delaware State Fair has some of the cheesiest attractions on its midway, just to part people with their dollars.

One thing that interested me and was the first stop was a house, but not just any house: this house that claims to be net zero energy.

Built by Beracah Homes in Greenwood, Delaware, the second ZeMod model is a charming 1,204 sf, 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom cottage style home. It features a super insulated building envelope, an all-electric heat-pump HVAC system, ENERGY STAR® rated appliances and lighting, and a rooftop solar system. Its design makes it not only affordable, but also a healthy and comfortable living environment.

In essence, the home is built to be exceptionally insulated and weathertight, with the idea being that of the solar panels providing enough energy to offset the usage by the home’s residents. If it were a real world home, it would be a two- or three-person house with just two bedrooms. (I didn’t take the grand tour to see how big they were.) But it is scalable, according to the nice person I spoke to there – and with $40,000 in incentives it ought to be.

But the biggest objection came from my better half, who couldn’t live without a gas stove. It was explained that it could be done but there’s a tradeoff in the penetrations required to run the gas line from the outside (and the venting required since it is a gas appliance.) More telling to me was the premium of about $20-30 a square foot, as it came in about $147 a square foot (the price has increased since the original flyer was created.)

But you really don’t go to a fair to see a house, do you? It’s a reminder of a rural lifestyle, so you see these critters.

Moo-ers and shakers.

My wife is much more partial to these kids.

Up close and personal with a black goat, which luckily wasn’t interested in making a snack of my phone.

Delmar represented.

It’s nice to see the FFA is still alive and thriving, too.

The FFA has lost the blue jackets – or it was just way too warm for them – but the group is still around.

And don’t forget how much of Delaware’s economy runs on agriculture.

Toys for the big kids. Actually there’s several hundred thousand dollars tied up there.

Those who didn’t have animals had other opportunities to shine.

This came from the kids’ side of the exhibit hall. We like to see the winning photographs on the other side of the room.

Something interesting about the Fair this year: even though there was a main act playing in the grandstand, they had another band playing just outside, by the casino. Basically this band, Red Head Express, is on a weeklong gig at the fair as a free feature, 2 shows a night. They’re sort of a cross between bluegrass and country, which makes them popular around here.

Red Head Express filled up the area in front of the main grandstand.

If chicks dig bass, what can you say about this band?

Since it was well after 8:00, the exhibit hall was sort of dead. However, I did find out a piece of good news about a plot of land we’re considering: it’s in the Delaware Electric Co-Op service area. But the guy was really showing off his Chevy Bolt I decided not to take a photo of.

Instead, I saw our President and First Lady.

You know, I thought our President and First Lady would really have more depth to them.

That got me to thinking: I wonder whatever happened to the Sarah Palin cutout our former county chair had?

Anyway, speaking of TEA Party figures, I couldn’t resist this one. Too bad Gene wasn’t around to discuss his allegiance to the TEA Party.

In reading his platform, I wouldn’t necessarily have associated Gene Truono with the TEA Party – moreso his in-state opponent. It’s an interesting strategy.

We opted not to go into the merchant’s building because we really didn’t want to be talked into buying sheets or buttonholed for some other useless trinket – besides, we had checked the forecast and knew that if we stayed too long we would be poured upon. Just as we got to our car after the tram ride out, it indeed began to rain.

The midway is pretty by night. Still cheesy, though.

I guess as fairs go this is the biggest one I regularly attend – the Ohio State Fair was (and is) in far-off Columbus, and the Maryland State Fair is across the bridge. Perhaps to start a new century of service the Delaware version will do a little freshening up, and maybe get really lucky and draw a nice day on a weekend when we have more time to explore.

If you want to go, they are there through Saturday.

42nd annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text

And away we go…

Thanks to the much better interface of photo captioning I’ve adopted since my WordPress update awhile back, this one can literally be handled with photos, captions, and text. You get all three in one gooey, chewy, oh-so-sweet and ooo-ey mishmash of photos that will basically take you through my day – except for the tired feet.

This was the scene when I arrived about 10:45.

Local supporters of Jom Mathias were coordinating their efforts at the gate, Quite a few of those shirts found their way onto people at the event.

I Tweeted this next photo the day of, as I recall.

I wonder who pulled the strings to get Jim Mathias the plum spot up front. If you were coming this way to a corporate tent or the Crab Trap, you had to walk by.

Inside, people were getting set for the show to begin.

This is almost like a class photo. I’m sure 20 years from now, these runners will be looking at this, laughing, and wondering whatever happened to some of these nice folks.

Runners assigned here had a LONG way to travel.

The Crab Trap is a relatively new idea. It’s sort of a cross between a corporate tent and an after-party, and for a $20 premium you could enjoy the day from there.

Before I get too much farther, I could kick myself for not getting a photo of those doing the cooking. They are the heroes of the day and don’t get thanked enough for a hot, nearly thankless task for which they still willingly volunteer.

Speaking of thankless, volunteer roles…

You know, it’s a good thing this truly isn’t up for election. Could you imagine a split ticket winning that one?

I didn’t see Yumi at Tawes (not that I would necessarily be able to pick her out in the crowd) but I saw her husband make the rounds. More on that in a bit.

Luckily it was still before 11 when I took this – whoever was in charge of slapping up signs had a lot to do!

As the 11:00 hour rolled in, people were still busy getting ready for the crowds.

The Somerset County GOP was getting their tent space set up with plenty of signs and stickers.

It was at that point I realized that even 13-year veterans can make rookie mistakes: I left my box bottom in the car. A box bottom is a key component for Tawes because it serves as your food tray and (for some) a place to festoon with campaign stickers.

So on my way out I got a shirt. First time ever.

They had a good selection of shirts this year. I picked out a nice blue one.

By the time I trudged my way back in after a good half-mile round trip, I saw that food was already being served.

These seem like long lines, but most of them went fast and I have seen longer. I think having the runners has cut down on wait time.

So I found my way to the Somerset GOP tent and crashed their party. While I was there, Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford was already making the rounds. I took a few photos but with a bright background from a tent in the shadows they didn’t work well.

After I finished eating, I spied these two guys – part of a modest contingent backing unaffiliated U.S. Senate hopeful Neal Simon. They were circulating petitions at Tawes to get Simon on the ballot.

Backers of U.S. Senate hopeful Neal Simon fish for petition signatures.

Now this photo is nowhere near as important as a photo Neal put out Wednesday with the aforementioned Governor Hogan. And I’ll get to that in a little bit, too.

But first I ran into a guy who’s in the catbird seat – my Delegate, Carl Anderton.

With no election opposition, Delegate Carl Anderton can afford to give the thumbs-up.

He was just the first of a whole host of political and semi-political folks I got to chat with over the next 3 hours or so as I wandered around. There are some people who take “all you can eat crabs” as a challenge, but I’m to a point where I can barely make it through what I’m given in one trip to four lines, none of which are crabs.

Yes, it is campaign season. And since Wicomico County (and its media) are prominent there, you see a lot from our candidates.

In an indication of what was to come, Boyd Rutherford was rather popular.

The crowd of supporters surrounds Boyd Rutherford. I wonder if he will be here in 2021 as a candidate, and whether it will be to succeed his boss or upend the socialist?

Smaller groups chatted with the more local and regional politicians.

While Delegate Chris Adams (on the left in white) has one general election opponent for the two seats of District 37B, even that guy admits Adams and Johnny Mautz (who was also there) are prohibitive favorites to return to Annapolis.

Because State Senator Jim Mathias had his own tent, the group at the main Democrat tent was smaller. It wasn’t exactly a blue wave.

Regarding the Democrat tent: I did get to meet and say hello to Jesse Colvin, who is the Democrat opposing Andy Harris. He had his wife and baby boy with him (he was the holder) so I opted to skip the photo of Colvin. I will say he doesn’t seem to have the spunk and gift of gab that Allison Galbraith – who I met at Tawes 2017 – does, but perhaps that’s a military trait. Still, I would be interested to see debates between Harris, Colvin, and Libertarian candidate Jenica Martin. (I’m not sure if she was there – I know Andy was a little busy, as were federal counterparts Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin.)

There were a number of business tents as usual, but they didn’t seem to draw a lot of interest. It seems anymore that the Tawes event is used as a company picnic of sorts.

I’m going to return to the subject of business tents later as I wrap up, but in taking the photo I saw a person I wanted to meet. In fact, in speaking to him I found out he’s visited this site a time or two.

This is one of the few times you’ll see someone to the right of me, if only in a visual sense. Actually, Neal Simon and I had a nice conversation.

In speaking to Neil I found out he had gotten the Hogan signature I alluded to above at the event and that he was going to make the announcement about having the sufficient number of petition signatures the next day, which was yesterday. He just told me to keep it under my hat until the time came, which wasn’t a problem since I had other things to write on and it was pretty much a fait accompli anyway.

Next up, though, is my favorite picture.

You just gotta like Carol Frazier. That’s all there is to it.

It gives me a chance to say thanks to one of my biggest fans and supporters. And speaking of such, I had the opportunity to see someone I hadn’t seen since Turning the Tides five years ago. It’s just a shame I neglected to get a picture of Cecil County Council member Jackie Gregory, a longtime friend and supporter of monoblogue. Even Delegate Kathy Szeliga saw me and gave me a greeting hug.

But when it comes to big fans and supporters of Tawes, I’m not sure anyone beats Bruce Bereano.

If this guy ever stops coming, I suspect they could have Tawes in the Food Lion parking lot.

For those politicians whose district doesn’t include the region, this is the place to hang out and eat. I think the Crab Trap idea was inspired by Bruce’s tent since people could see the political in-crowd live it up and wanted a version for their own.

That guy in the center with his hands up – he’s the governor. Larry Hogan always draws a crowd.

He may have pissed off various swaths of the Maryland electorate for various reasons, but the people don’t seem too upset at Governor Hogan here. Maybe a little bit of a smaller group circling him, but still significant.

Even the host city welcomed him.

The City of Crisfield tent. Since everyone in town who could afford a ticket was down here anyway.

I shouldn’t pick on Crisfield, since our former County Executive Rick Pollitt is their city manager. He stopped and said hello with a warm handshake.

This is one of the strangest sights, although I’m sure it’s the way of the news business these days: talking to a camera on a tripod.

It didn’t seem like the media was all over like before, but I saw all three local stations: WBOC channel 16 (and their associated FM radio station) and WMDT channel 47 out of Salisbury as well as WRDE channel 31 from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware – now that was a trip from one side of the peninsula to the other. I also saw channel 7, which I think is out of Washington, D.C. I know there were print and radio reporters as well, but they did their jobs in places I wasn’t, aside from WRDE who wanted to speak with Simon as I was talking to him.

I took this photo a little after 2:00.

The tall guy in black in the center, that’s Ben Jealous. He’s trying to take Hogan’s job.

In the last three Democrat campaigns for governor (2006, 2010, 2014) I witnessed their favored or chosen gubernatorial candidate walk into Tawes surrounded by a posse of supporters clad in campaign shirts to help rouse support. However, Anthony Brown skipped Tawes in 2014 since it was by then post-primary – his blue shirts came the year before.

Regardless, the lack of campaign savvy on the Jealous team was very apparent – few supporters and not much engagement. It was almost like Ben used the event as a photo-op but the optics weren’t nearly as good as they should be in an area that’s heavily minority and majority Democrat. Even I quickly worked my way up to say hello and express a concern I had, as I did later to Governor Hogan.

Finally, I’m glad I helped convince this guy into coming – or maybe he already made up his mind and likes to humor his supporters.

Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford on the left, U.S. Senate candidate Tony Campbell on the right. Wait a minute, I thought the GOP was exclusively for white people.

Hopefully Tony followed a little bit of my advice: I told him to not just concentrate on the circle of tents in the back but go and speak to the people in the pavilions up front. And this is where my commentary on Tawes begins.

Earlier I alluded to the business tents, and in the last few years I’ve noticed it’s been pretty much the same businesses and entities are present at Tawes, and they bring a particular group of people to the event. Needless to say, the political entities also bring their own supporters and hangers-on as well. All of them stay pretty much within an area that’s bounded by the tents and the food lines up front. Of course, with the Crab Trap and addition of food runners over the last few years, Tawes has gotten to a point where one doesn’t have to come out from under the tent to partake in the event.

On the other side, behind the AFSCME local that always camps out by the restroom building and the City of Crisfield tent, is the portion of the main pavilion where those who are there simply to eat and socialize with their friends go and sit. They have their own DJ, they’re not far from the bathrooms, and in my travels I notice it’s more of a minority gathering – it’s almost like that’s where the locals stay and they let the out-of-towners have the other side. That’s where I advised Tony to go, and it’s not a bad idea for any candidate. (Toward the end I found Mary Beth Carozza over there doing a radio spot so I presume she had been through there, too.)

In my years doing the Tawes event, one of the benefits I enjoyed about it was the opportunity to speak with people from the other side. For the ten years I sat on the Central Committee and was active in the local Republican club, I obviously saw the local Republicans once or twice a month and my GOP friends from around the state twice a year at the convention. On the other hand, if you were a Democrat and a friend of mine (or a candidate with whom I wanted to place a face with the name, such as Jesse Colvin or Ben Jealous), just about the only time I got to see you was at Tawes. And even though I haven’t been nearly as active on the GOP side of late, the same still holds true on the Democrats’ side. For the most part I have no animus with them aside from their short-sighted political views.

Unfortunately, there isn’t the mixing of people on a political level like there used to be and a similar phenomenon is beginning to take place at Tawes as groups become more insular. Surely there are people who never set foot outside the Crab Trap or Bereano tent from the time they arrived to the time they went home, and that’s sort of a shame. I have no idea on the attendance figure, but I think it may have been lower than in past years – on the other hand, there may have been people I never saw hiding in their safe spaces.

Unfortunately for a person like me, 2019 looks to be a year dull as dishwater politically. Sure, we may have some Presidential campaigns underway on the Democrat side but you don’t see a lot of them represented at Tawes and it would be a shock to see a Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, et. al. walk through those gates. It’s not a statewide office election year, and in 2020 Maryland will have no Senate race. All that leaves is Congress, and whatever Democrat opts to step up. It’s pretty thin gruel.

I don’t want to say the event is past its prime, but I suspect there are diminishing returns for a politician who isn’t statewide or represents an area outside the 37th or 38th District. To make things a little better there, we need to recall what we have in common, not what divides us.

How much will it cost? (Part one of a multi-part series)

July 18, 2018 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on How much will it cost? (Part one of a multi-part series) 

I know, I know, you want Tawes coverage. Look for it tomorrow or Friday.

Since Ben Jealous won the Democrat Party nomination for Maryland’s top job, the progressives who have already seen his campaign as a chance to put their dreams into action on the state level are beside themselves with giddiness about the prospect of a state that borders Washington, D.C. being set up as a contrast to the relative austerity of one President Donald J. Trump.

But skittish voters may have been turned off by a Department of Legislative Services report (as reported by the Baltimore Sun) that claimed Ben’s single-payer health scheme could cost the state as much as $24 billion a year – astounding when you consider Maryland’s annual state operating budget runs about $44 billion. It would become the single largest line-item on the budget overnight and (of course) necessitate significant tax increases.

The story, however, neatly coincides with the question I’m sure I’m not alone in asking: how much is the Jealous agenda going to cost?

Well, I can’t give you an exact answer. But what I can do is study his platform, point by point, and give as good of an estimate as possible. And when you say, “Michael, all politicians promise to spend taxpayer money when they pledge to ‘invest’ in whatever item they think will get them the most votes,” I would say yes, you are correct – but Ben Jealous pledges to do it in spades.

If you go to his issues page, you will find Jealous has laid out a wide-ranging agenda of several issues:

  • Education
  • Medicare-For-All
  • Criminal Justice
  • Ending The Student Debt Crisis
  • Police Reform
  • Great Cities: A Vision For Maryland’s Future
  • Opioid Crisis
  • Make It In Maryland: Building A More Inclusive, Thriving Economy
  • Civil Rights
  • Immigration
  • Environment
  • Seniors

On many of these, Ben goes beyond the standard one-paragraph blurb and lays out fairly detailed plans – although they are often lacking in financial estimates. So today I’m going to start laying out my thoughts on what this agenda may cost taxpayers, and I’m going to begin with Education and the related subject Ending the Student Debt Crisis.

As a baseline figure, bear in mind that the most recent budget adopted by the state (for FY2019, which began at the start of this month) has the state of Maryland spending $14.72 billion between education and higher education, for a total of 33% of the budget. K-12 gets $8.099 billion and $6.621 billion goes to higher education. (The total budget, by the way, is $44.416 billion, compared to $42.142 billion just two years ago.)

Here’s the first concrete proposal in the Jealous education plan, increasing teacher salaries:

In the Kirwan Commission’s preliminary report, there’s a recommendation to bring Maryland’s average teacher salary to the average of Massachusetts and New Jersey’s – two of the country’s top performing states – by the 2024-2025 school year. Ben Jealous is committed to raising teacher pay by 29% between now and the 2024-2025 school year – the exact same percent increase as was accomplished in the seven years following the Thornton Commission.

To determine the cost of this salary increase plan, we need to find the difference between the natural cost of increasing salaries under the current Thornton funding formula and a new salary plan.

In an attached chart, Jealous details the cost over the five year period from FY2020 – FY2024. Total cost to taxpayers: $1.8953 billion over five years, with FY2024 alone contributing a $658.5 million increase. This is above and beyond raises already baked into the budget totaling $2.1845 billion.

Jealous, however, says he has a way to pay for this – but it depends on Maryland voters.

Late in this year’s session, a Senate bill was passed that placed an amendment to the Maryland Constitution on this year’s ballot. The “Fix The Fund” Act mandates that gambling revenue become a supplement to educational spending rather than a component of it. The Fiscal Note for the bill notes that revenues for education are expected to increase by $1.2678 billion from FY2020 – FY 2023. Unfortunately, that money doesn’t replace what would have gone into the General Fund: as the Fiscal Note continues, “Designating the use of a portion of (Education Trust Fund) monies for supplemental funding requires general fund expenditures to increase by an equal amount.” However, this money is folded into the expenditure from above, yet Jealous admits to being short in year 5. His solution? Enacting a combined reporting tax on Maryland businesses.

On this particular point of combined reporting, Jealous references an unsuccessful bill from 2017 that would have enacted this, with the carrot to business of eliminating filing fees for a business or entity with 10 or fewer employees. That may not necessarily be in Ben’s plan, so I am going to make two assumptions here: one. that the revenue for a five year period of FY2020-24 is similar to that which would have occurred FY2018-22 as covered by that particular Fiscal Note and that the filing fee waiver would be eliminated. Given those two items (and the fact business taxes aren’t paid by businesses but by consumers) I will say this adds $150.8 million over five years – but that still leaves Jealous short, and WAY short if “Fix The Fund” doesn’t pass – however, you can bet your bottom dollar the teacher’s unions will be out in full force to pass that one come November. (The odds of the Fix The Fund Act passing are very good, though, as Maryland voters seldom turn down a referendum. But it won’t be a fix, just more tax on the poor.)

And the fun is just beginning…next up is this gem:

In the 2018 legislative session, two former educators in the General Assembly proposed legislation to guarantee all education support professionals a living wage: at least $31,500 a year in lower cost of living counties and at least $36,000 a year in higher cost of living counties. It would be phased in starting in FY2020 and fully funded from FY2024 onward.

Based on the Fiscal Note for this bill, over three years (FY2022-24) the total cost to taxpayers will be $527 million.

Another biggie comes up a page or so later:

As governor, Ben Jealous will provide the funding necessary for full-day, universal pre-kindergarten and he will pay for it through the tax revenue generated by legalizing and taxing marijuana for adult use.

In a report entitled A Comprehensive Analysis of Prekindergarten in Maryland, the authors noted that at the time (early 2016) the state spent $132.9 million to educate the 35.58% of 4-year-olds who are already enrolled. Doing the math for 100% of 4-year-olds means an annual expenditure for pre-K on a state level would be a total annual cost to taxpayers of $375.3 million, and over a five-year period the cost would edge close to $2 billion.

Yet again, it’s likely that revenues will not keep pace. Obviously laws vary from state to state, but a good fit for projecting Maryland’s success might be Colorado because of its similar population. In 2017 Colorado generated $223 million in revenue from the sale of marijuana, while Washington state (which is somewhat larger) added $314 million. It’s not likely that Maryland would be able to sustain its revenue stream to the extent needed, meaning money would need to come from the general fund.

Next up is an unknown amount of money to address this seeming disparity:

We need to reimagine what schools provide in our low-income neighborhoods by making the school building the central hub for community services – counseling, job training, meals, mentoring programs, and health clinics. As part of the new funding formula, the state should add a concentrated wealth factor that drives more funding to schools with 40% or more of their student population coming from low-income families.

To me, this is akin to the current Geographic Cost of Education Index that cost taxpayers $141.6 million this fiscal year (page 47 here). But that money is a starting point because, in order for schools to take on all these functions, there is an unknown capital improvement cost involved. I suspect when all is said and done this could easily exceed $2 billion in additional spending after five years.

Lastly on the K-12 education front, there is this idea:

Providing children with a critical mass of mental health services requires an investment in personnel like inschool social workers and psychologists, but it also requires fully incorporating these service providers into the broader academic ecosystem, and providing other key members of that ecosystem with the training they need to help our mental health service providers.

So let’s begin with this:

By providing the child with case-management, the social worker can ensure a student is connected with an in-school counselor (and) has up-to-date treatment from an inschool psychologist.

(…)

… it is important that enough counselors be hired to maintain a low student-to-counselor ratio…

(…)

Every school should have at least one on-site psychologist, who is focused fully on addressing the mental health needs of the student body.

(…)

As governor, Ben Jealous will work with key stakeholders like the MSEA to increase staffing levels for service providers like social workers and school psychologists…

Yes, because we know the MSEA teacher’s union is oh-so-careful with taxpayer dollars.

The information is a little out-of-date, so I’m extrapolating the 1.449 schools that Maryland was claimed to have a half-decade ago to 1,500 for ease of math. So let’s make some more assumptions: three new social workers, one new psychologist, and three counselors (to maintain the low ratio) are added per school – that is a total of 10,500 staff statewide. And they’re not going to come cheap: on average a school psychologist makes almost $60,000 per year, a school counselor checks in at almost $49,000 a year, and school social workers earn just over $48,000 a year. Therefore, the additional per-school staffing expenditure (just for salary, mind you, and not including benefits) would be $351,000 a year. Multiply that by 1,500 public schools in the state and the total annual cost to taxpayers is $216.2 million.

Once you’ve paid for K-12, you still have the aspect of “free” college.

As governor, Jealous will make community college free for every Marylander… The guarantee of free tuition will be extended to every Maryland high school graduate. This program will be paid for by increasing the state income tax for the top 1% of earners ($500,000+ annually) by 1%, and savings from significantly reducing Maryland’s levels of incarceration.

Now this is a little bit confusing because I thought we already had that, based on a bill passed last year. And the question is whether Ben means every dollar of the average $4,324 (see here) for tuition and fees or whether it’s an expansion of the “last-dollar” program where prospective students have to exhaust other avenues of aid first (although, in all honesty, the taxpayer pays most of it anyway.) Now multiply that by a projected 46,592 full-time students and just a high-end estimate of Ben’s scheme comes out to be $201.5 million every year. And since it’s “free” we should probably assume a total annual cost to taxpayers of $300 million because more will take advantage and (naturally) colleges will increase their tuition and fees to get in on this largess.

Yet as they say on the home shopping networks…but wait, there’s more.

As governor, Jealous will create a MD Careers program that partners with industry experts to determine growing job sectors, and incentivize education and training in these sectors by covering any education costs associated with entering the fields. Special priority will be given to service professionals like first responders, organized labor sectors like educators, and healthcare workers who can help drive down the cost of quality treatment for our population in the years ahead. The guarantee of free tuition will be extended to every Maryland high school graduate who commits to staying in Maryland for five years after they receive their degree.

This program will be paid for with a percentage of the savings generated by significant reductions to Maryland’s incarceration levels. This funding stream will stretch even further when one considers that training for in-demand sectors like construction rely on apprenticeships and technical training that are less cost intensive than traditional 4-year degrees.

As governor, Jealous will extend this guarantee to students pursuing graduate degrees at Maryland’s public institutions. This will be paid for by increasing Maryland’s cigarette tax, which is currently less than the cigarette tax charged by regional competitors such as D.C., Pennsylvania, and New York.

I love how he pointed out “organized labor sectors.” Like we need more of that.

So we come to the “savings” part. Jealous proposes to save our dollars by emptying out the jails.

Ben Jealous will reduce Maryland’s prison population by 30%. He will do so by ending returns to prison for technical violations, downgrading drug possession, expanding opportunities to earn parole, and investing in reentry programs. Doing so will create savings of up to $660 million.

Obviously the amount spent on free tuition is going to depend on the shape of the program, but more predictable is the increase in the cigarette tax. Maryland currently has a $2 per pack cigarette tax, which indeed is less than D.C. ($2.50), Pennsylvania ($2.60) and New York (tops in the nation at $4.35.) It’s even a dime less than Delaware’s and New Jersey comes in at $2.70 as well. (And then you have Virginia, second lowest in the country at 30 cents a pack.) Nor should we forget about the millionaire’s tax I cited above.

So let’s speculate that the cigarette tax of $2 a pack increases to $3, which would peg us just above the surrounding jurisdictions aside from Virginia and West Virginia. For FY2017 (the latest figures available) the cigarette tax raised $348.8 million. So a 50% increase in the tax brings a 50% increase in revenue, right?

Well, not quite. For taxes, there is almost always a lag between the rate of increase and the revenue increase. I’m thinking the difference in this case will be about 30%, although your mileage may vary. Total cost to taxpayers (particularly the poor and working class): $244.2 million a year.

On the other side of the scale is the tax on the “top 1%.” It’s harder to judge the impact based on a lack of parameters, but the “millionaire’s tax” of a decade ago reportedly brought in $120 million. I think with inflation, and the fact income taxes bring in $9 billion a year, that a 2% increase in revenue is a realistic estimate because there aren’t that many who would qualify. Total cost to taxpayers: roughly $180 million a year.

After that, there is another highly variable promise:

The guarantee of debt-free tuition will be extended to every Maryland high school graduate.

Jealous will offer this debt free path to graduation in the form of a state-financed work study program that pays students the cost of their tuition each year, including for public graduate schools. A significant part of this restructuring will also come from driving down the overhead costs associated with higher education: expensive book purchases, inflated rents, and non-essentials like luxurious gyms.

The obvious question is how many students would be eligible and how much of the tuition they will pay. Pennsylvania has a similar program where students are allowed to make $10,000 a year toward their college funding. If this is the case, for every 100 students that are accepted there’s a million dollars that has to come from somewhere, oftentimes from the college itself.

Jealous also desires the state get into the student loan refinancing business:

10 states currently offer refinancing programs for student loans. It is long past time that Maryland embrace its role as a national leader, and join these states in easing the often onerous financial burden that student loans pose for Marylanders.

Assuming the state can find the cash reserves, this is actually very inexpensive in comparison. A state study found other states run these programs for less than one million dollars a year, Total cost to taxpayers over five years: $5 million.

Lastly, Jealous wants to correct the supposed shortchanging of HBCUs in the state:

As governor, Jealous will reallocate future state-based funding streams for higher education to provide restorative funding that equals the historic underfunding of HBCUs in Maryland. Moreover, ongoing funding will be fixed to prevent this disparity in the years ahead. Jealous will also end the practice of allowing other public institutions to offer duplicative programs to those traditionally offered by HBCUs.

(…)

Under Jealous’ leadership, the state will begin to fund immediate infrastructure improvements at HBCUs using a percentage of the over $1 billion in general obligation bonds that it issues each year. Beyond improving the physical infrastructure of HBCU facilities, it will allow HBCUs to reallocate existing infrastructure spending to other programmatic investments.

It’s been claimed (by a minority member of the Maryland Senate) that HBCUs have been shortchanged by $2 billion over the years. I don’t think Jealous would try to eradicate that in four years, but over eight it would be a doable thing, simply increasing the $1 billion the state annually puts on its capital funding credit card by 25%. Over four years, this would be $1 billion in additional debt which needs to be paid eventually.

So, to total all this up: just for education at all levels, Ben is looking to ladle on at least $6.743 billion to the budget. In order to fill this gap, we will have to endure the adoption of an ill-considered amendment to the Maryland Constitution, the legalization and taxation of marijuana, increases in business taxes, cigarette taxes and income taxes for certain brackets, the emptying of our jails (with no telling how that will affect the crime rate), and squeezing people out of a legitimate business, refinancing student loans.

And that, my friends, is just for starters.

Now allow me to say that Ben seems like a nice, personable guy. I spoke to him a little bit at Tawes about a concern I had unrelated to this series, and he seemed receptive to help out. But in order to be informed, it should be known that his “free stuff” is going to come at a cost people may not be willing to pay.

Gazing northward at a campaign

July 15, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2018, Delaware politics, Delmarva items, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Gazing northward at a campaign 

With Maryland’s primary in the rear-view mirror and the fields all set, the timing of Delaware’s filing deadline was good for my purposes. By the time they have their September 6 primary, the campaigns will be in full swing in both states.

Unlike Maryland, Delaware doesn’t have a gubernatorial election this year, as Democrat John Carney is in place until 2020. I would expect him to begin his re-election campaign in the early stages of 2019; in the meantime there are three state government offices up for grabs there: Attorney General, State Treasurer, and State Auditor. (The offices are self-explanatory; in Delaware the Treasurer serves the same purpose as Maryland’s Comptroller.)

Since incumbent Delaware AG Matt Denn (a Democrat) is not seeking another term, the race is wide open. Given the perception Delaware is a Democrat-run state, there are four Democrats seeking to succeed Denn while only one Republican is running. On the Democratic side we have:

  • Kathy Jennings of Wilmington, who most recently served as Chief Administrative Officer of New Castle County but has also served as Chief Deputy AG in the past.
  • Chris Johnson of Wilmington, a private-practice attorney who has specialized in fighting voter suppression, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Delaware Center for Justice.
  • Tim Mullaney of Dover, currently the Director of Labor Services for the National Fraternal Order of Police but was Jennings’ predecessor as Chief Administrative Officer of New Castle County.
  • LaKresha Roberts of Wilmington, the current Chief Deputy AG under Denn.

On the Republican side, the lone aspirant is Peggy Marshall Thomas of Harbeson, who has served as the Sussex County prosecutor. She bills herself as the first Delaware woman to serve 30 years as a prosecutor. My guess is that she will face either Jennings or Roberts in the general election.

In the case of the state Treasurer, the field for November is already set as just one candidate from three of the on-ballot parties is represented:

  • David Chandler of Newark, the Green Party candidate for Treasurer in 2014 and a State Senate seat in 2016.
  • Colleen Davis of Dagsboro, who is self-employed “as a consultant to major health-care systems” and running as the Democrat.
  • Ken Simpler of Newark, the incumbent Republican first elected in 2014. Prior to that, he was CFO for Seaboard Hotels.

Longtime State Auditor Tom Wagner (a Republican) opted not to seek another term for health reasons, opening the way for a new face in the office. The Democrats have three interested in the position:

  • Kathleen Davies of Dover, who has spent six years as the Chief Administrative Auditor.
  • Kathy McGuiness of Rehoboth Beach, a longtime Town Commissioner who most recently ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2016.
  • Dennis Williams of Wilmington, who served in the Delaware House for six years before losing a primary in 2014.

Trying to succeed his fellow Republican is James Spadola, a former Army Reservist who served in Iraq and has spent time in the finance industry and as a police officer. I’m thinking the race is between Davies and Williams.

But while these are all important elections, my focus this cycle is on the two federal races. For whatever reason, races in Delaware don’t seem to attract the cranks and perennial candidates that we have in Maryland – with one big exception I’ll get to in a moment.

In 2016, Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester from Wilmington became the first woman of color to represent Delaware in Congress. As such, she has gotten a free ride through her primary and will face one of two Republicans in the November election:

  • Lee Murphy of Wilmington, a retired railroad worker who moonlights as an actor. He’s previously run unsuccessfully for New Castle County Council and twice for State Senate.
  • Scott Walker of Milford – no, not the governor, but a previous candidate for Congress (2016) who ran that time as a Democrat and finished fifth in a six-person primary.

Most likely it will be a matchup of Murphy vs. Rochester, with the incumbent being a heavy favorite.

The other race pits incumbent Senator Tom Carper against a fellow Democrat in the primary. Carper, yet another Wilmington resident, has been a fixture in Delaware politics, serving as Senator since 2001 after an eight-year run as Governor that began when he arranged to swap positions with then-Governor Mike Castle in 1992. (Castle served in the House from 1993-2011, succeeding the five-term incumbent Carper.) Before all that, he was State Treasurer from 1977-83 – add it all up and Carper has spent the last 41 years in political office.

His opponent hails from Dover, and she is a Bernie Sanders acolyte. Kerri Evelyn Harris describes herself as “a veteran, advocate, and community organizer” who is opposing Carper from the far left. It will be a definite study in contrasts, with the 38-year-old woman of color and mother of two who professes to be a lesbian in her first race facing the 71-year-old political veteran. It will most likely be a successful primary for Carper, who will probably play rope-a-dope with his opponent by denying her the opportunities for face-to-face debates and other methods of low-cost publicity.

That may not be allowed for the general election, where there will be three opposing Carper. On his left may be a repeat of the Harris candidacy with Green Party candidate Demetri Theodoropoulos of Newark holding their banner, while the Libertarian Party runs Nadine Frost, who previously ran for a City Council seat in Wilmington two years ago. (Aside from changing the title, her campaign Facebook page appears to be in that mode.)

While the two main opponents may not be as far apart on the issues on the GOP side, they are geographic opposites in the state. And the quixotic entry of a third person (who is an extreme geographic opposite) may make some impact in the race. That person is Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, who hails from San Diego but is on the ballot for Senate in Delaware…as well as Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming. (He’s already lost in California.) Delaware will be his last chance as the remaining states all have their primaries in August.

De La Fuente, who ran as a (mainly write-in) Presidential candidate in 2016 representing both the Reform Party and his American Delta Party – after trying for the Senate seat from Florida as a Democrat (to oppose Marco Rubio) – is undergoing this campaign to point out the difficulties of being an independent candidate. He’s taking advantage of loose state laws that don’t extend the definition of eligibility for a Senate seat beyond the Constitutional ones of being over 30 and an “inhabitant” of the state at the time of election – in theory he could move to Delaware on November 1 and be just fine.

So the question is whether the 1 to 3 percent De La Fuente draws (based on getting 2% in California’s recent primary) will come from the totals of Rob Arlett or Gene Truono.

Truono is a first-time candidate who was born and raised in Wilmington and spent most of his life in the financial services industry, most recently as Chief Compliance Officer for PayPal. While he’s lived most of his life in Delaware, he’s also spent time in Washington, D.C. in the PayPal job as well as New York City with JP Morgan Chase and American Express.

From the extreme southern end of Delaware near Fenwick Island, Arlett owns a real estate company, is an ordained Christian officiant and onetime Naval reservist, and has represented his district on Sussex County Council since 2014. But there are two things Arlett is more well-known for: he spearheaded the drive to make Sussex County a right-to-work county and, while he’s never undertaken a statewide campaign for himself he was the state chair of Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

Since it’s highly unlikely De La Fuente will emerge from the primary, the question becomes which of these two conservatives (if either became Senator, it’s likely their actions will fall under the Reagan 80% rule for the other) will prevail. Obviously Truono has the bigger voter base in New Castle County, but he’s laboring as a basic unknown whereas Arlett may have more familiarity with voters around the state as the Trump campaign chair. But would that repel moderate Republicans?

Of the statewide races in Delaware, I think the Senate one is the most likely to not be a snoozer. I’ll be an interested observer, that’s for sure.

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  • 2018 Election

    Election Day is November 6 for all of us. With the Maryland primary by us and a shorter widget, I’ll add the Delaware statewide federal offices (Congress and U.S. Senate) to the mix once their July 10 filing deadline is passed. Their primary is September 6.

    Maryland

    Governor

    Larry Hogan (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Shawn Quinn (Libertarian) – Facebook

    Ben Jealous (D) – Facebook Twitter

    Ian Schlakman (Green) Facebook Twitter

     

    U.S. Senate

    Tony Campbell (R) – Facebook Twitter

    Ben Cardin (D – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Arvin Vohra (Libertarian) – Facebook Twitter

    There are three independent candidates currently listed as seeking nomination via petition: Steve Gladstone, Michael Puskar, and Neal Simon. All have to have the requisite number of signatures in to the state BoE by August 6.

     

    U.S. Congress -1st District

    Andy Harris (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Jenica Martin (Libertarian) – Facebook Twitter

    Jesse Colvin (D) – Facebook Twitter

     

    State Senate – District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R – incumbent) – Facebook

    Holly Wright (D) – Facebook

     

    Delegate – District 37A

    Frank Cooke (R) – Facebook

    Sheree Sample-Hughes (D – incumbent) – Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 37B (elect 2)

    Chris Adams (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Johnny Mautz (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Dan O’Hare (D) – Facebook

     

    State Senate – District 38

    Mary Beth Carozza (R) – Facebook Twitter

    Jim Mathias (D – incumbent) Facebook Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 38A

    Charles Otto (R – incumbent)

    Kirkland Hall, Sr. (D) – Facebook Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R – incumbent) Facebook Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 38C

    Wayne Hartman (R) – Facebook

     

    Delaware

     

    U.S. Senate

     

    Republican:

    Rob ArlettFacebook Twitter

    Roque de la FuenteFacebook Twitter

    Gene Truono, Jr. –  Facebook

     

    Libertarian (no primary, advances to General):

    Nadine Frost – Facebook

     

    Democrat:

    Tom Carper (incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Kerri Evelyn HarrisFacebook Twitter

     

    Green (no primary, advances to General):

    Demitri Theodoropoulos

     

     

    Congress (at-large):

     

    Republican:

    Lee MurphyFacebook Twitter

    Scott Walker

     

    Democrat (no primary, advances to General):

    Lisa Blunt Rochester (D – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

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