I’ll start with the lighter stuff as we pass Christmas and begin the last lap of “the holidays.” Of course, TV will still have all the Christmas-theme commercials through New Year’s Day.
News item: Leading this season’s greetings (Baltimore Sun, December 20, 2005)
The slug line says a lot: Without using public funds, Ehrlich sends the most holiday cards among U.S. governors. While I wasn’t on the card list myself, it is amazing that Governor Ehrlich sends out 40,000 cards. My simple math tells me that 8 of every 1,000 Maryland residents gets a card from the governor. May not seem like much but honestly, how many of you know the governor of your state that well?
Best thing is that unlike previous administrations (according to the Sun article), these cards are paid for through private donations and not out of the public till. What the Sun doesn’t tell you (but I will) is that the last four administrations in Maryland were all Democrats. But I’m sure the Democrats complain about somebody buying influence by paying for the Governor’s Christmas cards and placing a little bit lighter burden on the taxpayers.
News item: Spend surplus on new schools, advocates say (Baltimore Sun, December 23, 2005)
Speaking of a burden on the taxpayers, here is this story as I see it. Instead of lessening the property tax burden on those who have chosen to invest in the state, the Democrats want to spend even more money on building schools. Their lackeys at Progressive Maryland claim that 35% of the people surveyed want to build new schools, while only 20% or so want a tax cut. What I’d like to know (and I haven’t been able to locate the survey online to answer this) is whether this question was asked after they were asked if they agreed with the statement, “Maryland’s schools are overcrowded, many are dilapidated, and too many students are forced to learn in temporary trailer classrooms. We should use most of the surplus to build and repair schools.” Obviously that’s a leading question, so you get 75% of the people saying yes.
The order of questioning is important, particularly if they asked this one after the school one: “(Do you agree with the statement) Tax-and-spend liberal Democrats in Annapolis have been overspending for years. Now that there is finally a budget surplus, lawmakers should give taxpayers long overdue tax relief.” People aren’t going to want to appear greedy after saying they were in favor of building more schools (because it’s for the children, you know.) So that only had a 55% agreement. (56% if you count me.)
There is at least a $600 million surplus. If the Sun figures are correct, Ehrlich could completely erase this year’s state portion of the property tax burden on everyone (13.2 cents per $100 of assessed value) and still have some money left over. That would put $528 million back into the hands of property owners and still leave a small surplus. Obviously the Democrats would rail about “tax cuts for the rich.” But money would return to the state with additional sales tax revenue and just maybe a few thousand new jobs created.
I don’t want to come off as saying that new schools are unnecessary after a period of time. But, honestly, is a Taj Mahal-like school building really more conducive to learning than a good teacher? All a primary school for 300 kids in 6 grades really needs are 12-14 classrooms (which includes 2 for special ed), a gym, a media center, rooms for a science lab, art, and music, office space for a few staff, and a cafeteria. That and be well-designed for expansion. I honestly believe that no primary school should be larger than about 450 kids.
The other thing I’d like to know is whether any new school construction would have a provision to save taxpayers money by waiving the (so-called) “prevailing wage” requirements. Ohio did this with their school building program.
And of course, every other advocacy group wants a cut of this rapidly-shrinking surplus. A group called Advocates for Children and Youth wanted $400 million for schools PLUS $375 million for other social programs.
But you can’t pay big money for schools without getting the teachers’ union seeking a piece of the pie, to wit:
News item: Support builds for better pensions (an AP story in the Daily Times, December 26, 2005)
The teachers’ union wants another $480 million a year for their pensions, although they would generously share about 1/3 of that for other state employees. They whine about the measly pensions that Maryland teachers get, and in raw numbers they are right: it’s about half of Pennsylvania’s average and roughly 50% less than the averages in Delaware and Virginia. An average Free State teacher’s pension is only 36% of their salary, which is tied for the bottom with Hawaii’s average.
But, and this is a big but, Maryland teachers contribute just 2% of their pay toward their pensions. (Hawaii contributes none, but it’s a far smaller state.) While the teachers are willing to kick in another 3% of their pay, they also want to change the multiplier rate to a retroactive 2 percent – an increase of almost half over the current 1.4%.
I actually participated in Ohio’s system for a very short time, back in 1991 when I taught one section of AutoCAD for one semester at Owens College (about 12 hours a week.) It seems to me that I had a lot more than 2% taken out, even then. I recall my rebate being over $100 when I dropped out of the system shortly after leaving Owens, but my salary there was a low four figures.
I’d be curious to know what TB thinks about this one.
News item: Democrats target Ehrlich vetoes (Baltimore Sun, December 11, 2005)
In a nutshell, here is the Democrats’ idiocy Governor Ehrlich properly vetoed:
1. The “Fair Share Health Care” bill, aka the Wal-Mart bill. Bad legislation to target one successful (and non-union) business. The proponents speak of “fairness” but forget that it works both ways.
2. A bill allowing voters to cast their ballots up to a week before Election Day. Can you say electoral fraud? Sure you can. I don’t buy the higher turnout argument because now it’s fairly easy to get an absentee ballot. If I can make time to vote because it’s that important to me, others can sacrifice as well.
3. Increasing the state minimum wage $1 to $6.15 per hour. So, when the inevitable uptick in the unemployment rate comes of this, I’ll bet the Democrats blame Gov. Ehrlich for messing up the economy instead of their support of this artificial wage increase that squeezes business.
4. A juvenile justice bill that simply seems to create more red tape and regulation.
5. A bill that allows same-sex partners to make medical decisions for each other. Just another step toward legalizing gay marriage. But the Ehrlich administration claims they’re seeking a compromise, which means that he only gives away 3/4 of the store instead of 100%. Much like most other liberal programs, get the camel’s nose in the tent and pretty soon you have a humped roommate.
It’s going to be very interesting in Annapolis about two weeks hence. That’s going to really kick off the 2006 campaign. Ironically, Governor Ehrlich will be at a fundraising disadvantage for the 90 days of the legislative session as he cannot raise money during that period, while his Democrat opponents can. But he does have the advantage of a late primary (Maryland’s primary is in mid-September) so both Martin O’Malley and Doug Duncan can beat each other up all summer – unless the powers that be in the Democrat party convince one to drop out, or the Democrats game the election cycle and move the primary back to June.
But the Democrats would NEVER change the rules in the middle of the game, would they?