Look for the union payoff

January 31, 2010 · Posted in Liberty Features Syndicate · Comments Off on Look for the union payoff 

A final step in the closed-door negotiations among Democrats trying to pull together a health-care bill from the versions which passed the House and Senate was the disposition of a tax on Cadillac health plans. Employers generally provide these high-dollar health benefits to two classes of help: corporate executives and union workers.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average cost for a health insurance plan covering a family is $13,375. The 40 percent tax on Cadillac benefits is slated for adoption once premiums reach about $8,900 for individuals or $24,000 for families – but union negotiators managed to get a carve-out on the tax for an additional five years after the 2013 effective date, purportedly to allow benefits negotiated in current contracts to expire. Others benefiting from exceptions will be residents of certain states where premiums are highest and those in some high-risk occupations. A large percentage of these beneficiaries are union workers as well.

One part of the equation gets little explanation, however. Few seem to be asking what it is that makes a Cadillac plan so costly? To have a plan be significantly more expensive than average it usually requires one or both of two factors to be in play.

In the case of union labor, some of the additional cost comes from the overall group skewing towards older and sicker workers or, more precisely, the coverage of retirees in these plans. With union-dominated heavy industries losing workers as a percentage of the overall labor force, fewer younger laborers are picking up the slack for their more elderly counterparts.

But a larger share of the insurance cost comes from the much more generous benefits afforded to the workers who are enrolled in union-sponsored plans. Employers in union shops haven’t succeeded nearly as well in passing their health care costs on to workers, so they bear a disproportionate burden compared to their nonunion competition. The automotive industry is a prime example, with the toll of providing health care for workers and retirees placing Detroit at a disadvantage of up to $2,000 against automakers not saddled with this sort of overhead cost.

Conversely, with the health care carve-out union workers win twice – once by maintaining these gold-plated plans for several more years at little cost to them and again by skirting the taxes other workers with similar health insurance plans (mostly in the ranks of management) will have to pay for their coverage once collection starts in 2013.

Over the last decade or so unions have eschewed large wage increases, trading them away in order to keep their generous health benefits. With the advent of Obamacare and the prospect of the 40 percent surtax on Cadillac health care plans, those labor leaders who invested heavily in making an Obama presidency a reality threatened to withhold support for the compromise bill if their concerns weren’t addressed. Their millions in political contributions indeed gave them a seat at the table.

But taking away from one corner means a cut on another side if negotiators want to maintain the prospect of reform being budget-neutral, so there has to be some other compromise on costs to make up for the loss of up to $150 billion in revenue over the first decade the bill is enacted. Look for that shortfall to be made up by some group not invited to the confab considering the final health care bill deep within the bowels of the White House. That would be the American people.

Michael Swartz, an architect and editor of Monoblogue, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

This op-ed for LFS cleared on January 22nd. Little did I know when I wrote it that health care would soon be dead.

Could Maryland be another Massachusetts?

Well, Senate candidate Dr. Eric Wargotz thinks so. He wrote to the Gazette and said this:

With all deference to former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, I find his comments, through his spokesman and published in The Gazette to be inaccurate.

Having door-knocked for Scott Brown and then witnessing his victory in Massachusetts firsthand, I know that an independent candidate, free from machine politics, can and will win against any Democrat or Republican in any state, including Maryland.

In fact, President Obama admitted as much during a post-election interview when he stated, “the same voters that voted for me, voted for Scott Brown.”

Ehrlich saying that Barbara Mikulski is no Martha Coakley is also not accurate. Both officials are lifelong politicians, both are beholden to machine politics and both stand for higher taxes, greater governmental spending, amnesty for illegal immigrants and a federal takeover of the health care industry. And both are/were well-liked.

Scott Brown’s reputation for listening to voters, his record of fighting for open, transparent and accountable government and his campaign theme of “we can do better” resonated with independent, Democratic and Republican voters alike.

In my campaign for United States Senate, as I go door to door and event to event, I am finding a similar response — Maryland voters want elected officials that will listen to them and that will then act in their best interest, not the machine’s best interest.

Maryland voters believe that “their” United States Senate seat, afforded to “them” by the Constitution, does not belong to Barbara Mikulski or to any one political machine or party … it belongs to “them,” the people.

My candidacy for U.S. Senate, like Scott Brown’s, gives Marylanders a chance to once again have their voices heard in Congress.

I am hopeful that Bob Ehrlich might reconsider his comments given this firsthand accounting from both Massachusetts and Maryland, and perhaps have the evidence he needs to run for governor — a decision that I would support.

First of all, it’s worth noting that Wargotz was responding to this article. The piece by C. Benjamin Ford correctly points out that Maryland’s voter registration numbers are indeed quite different from those in Massachusetts.

But, if voter registration was the only indicator of success you would have an entire slate of Democrats in all of our local countywide offices, since Democrats hold somewhat of an advantage in those numbers locally. Yet Republicans hold 3 of the 10 countywide offices available in Wicomico County (Sheriff, one seat on the Orphan’s Court, and one of two at-large County Council seats), and three Democrats are in their posts simply because they were unopposed (Registrar of Wills, State’s Attorney, and one of the three Orphan’s Court judge seats.) In contested races, the two parties pretty much split equally.

With the right campaign and right backing, certainly any Republican can make a run at and beat Mikulski. The difference between her previous campaigns and this one is that people are beginning to pay more attention to her record. As Eric notes, Mikulski “stand(s) for higher taxes, greater governmental spending, amnesty for illegal immigrants and a federal takeover of the health care industry” based on her voting record. Outside of the immediate D.C. area, does Maryland really want that?

The only sour note Eric hit was his support of Bob Ehrlich running for governor, because Bob’s now dithering until March to make his decision.

This statement may not make me a lot of friends among the Maryland GOP faithful, but I’ve pretty much lost my respect for the guy politically – as I see it, Bob Ehrlich is handing Martin O’Malley a second term on a silver platter by crippling Larry Hogan, who could be truly ramping up his campaign now in the wake of Scott Brown’s victory. If Ehrlich wanted to push his way to the lead in polling (particularly the important one on November 2nd) he should’ve jumped in two or three months ago. Even with Ehrlich’s name recognition, it’s tough to beat an incumbent with a short campaign – that’s why the major contenders in the race for the Senate seat began their campaigns last year as did Hogan and former candidate Mike Pappas.

I can already see a scenario where Bob Ehrlich gets into the race late, loses, then points the finger of blame at the Maryland Republican Party for not being supportive enough early on while he was making his decision. Sorry, it’s not my fault you waited around.

I wonder if Bob Ehrlich will be taking questions at our Lincoln Day Dinner next week. I know I have one or two.

Obama agrees with the GOP. So what’s the holdup?

January 30, 2010 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on Obama agrees with the GOP. So what’s the holdup? 

One interesting point made in President Obama’s State of the Union speech last week was the idea of opening up more offshore drilling – something Republicans have advocated doing for years but a task where Democrats and environmentalists (sorry, I repeat myself) continually throw up roadblocks to progress.

Recently inaugurated Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell noted in his SotU response that:

Here in Virginia, we have the opportunity to be the first state on the East Coast to explore for and produce oil and natural gas offshore.

But this Administration’s policies are delaying offshore production, hindering nuclear energy expansion, and seeking to impose job-killing cap and trade energy taxes.

Apparently there’s a disconnect between what Obama is now saying and what the Department of the Interior (led by its secretary Ken Salazar) is actually doing – apparently Interior wants to delay a planned lease sale. Writing on the Energy Tomorrow blog, my friend Jane Van Ryan notes:

There’s a lot to like about the planned Virginia offshore lease sale. It’s believed the leasing area could contain 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

If energy companies are allowed to develop this offshore energy, they could create about 2,600 jobs, make about $8 billion in capital investments and generate $271 million in Virginia state and local taxes, providing a huge boost to the Commonwealth’s economy. (Emphasis in original.)

Needless to say, given its location, the Eastern Shore of Virginia could gain much-needed economic development if energy companies are allowed to set up shop and explore off the coast. They may not get all of the jobs and investment (some would likely settle in the Tidewater area) but any boost would be a help for Accomack and Northampton counties.

Yet it seems like DOI wants to work at cross purposes with President Obama’s request – assuming, of course, his words are truly sincere and not just a sop to conservatives after a series of electoral spankings culminating with the win by Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

It’s just something to think about as the snow falls along the Eastern Shore and people use the natural gas, heating oil, and electricity (created in part by natural gas) to keep themselves warm as the snow falls and the mercury continues to dip.

Friday night videos episode 21

January 29, 2010 · Posted in Inside the Beltway, Local Music, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Friday night videos episode 21 

It’s time for another edition of Friday Night Videos. This one will be mostly political, since these were the items which piqued my interest.

We’ll start out with Washington News-Observer’s chat with Rep. Darrell Issa of California on a number of subjects.

WNO also asked an assortment of Congressmen about the fate of the health care bill after Scott Brown’s election. My guess is this was taped during the pro-life rally last week since they were outdoors.

Just a little name dropping about the cast of characters: Bob Latta was my State Representative when I last lived in Ohio. I’ve done a couple conference calls with Cathy McMorris Rodgers and she’s quite well-spoken. (You’ll see more of her.) And last night one of the other guests on the radio show I did with Melody Scalley was Rep. Louie Gohmert. Small world.

Here’s the second video with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Obama talked about transparency, the Republicans put it into action.

We go from current members of Congress to a past member talking about how future members should run for election. This would be one Newt Gingrich.

It’s all about the ’80-20′ issues, huh? Let’s ask Dede Scozzafava or Wayne Gilchrest about that. If those two were 50-50 I’d be shocked.

In other news, the Center for Individual Freedom was among many who were pleased with the Citizens United ruling. The group’s Renee Giachino explains in their “Freedom Minute” (which is actually about 4 minutes.)

President Obama was among those who dissed the Supremes’ decision, and Americans for Prosperity put together a video of their members’ reaction to the State of the Union at gatherings across the country.

It’s probably a good thing they didn’t do the local gathering. *ahem*

Finally, it’s time for local music to wrap this up. This is the cover band Gravy, doing their version of the CSNY protest song “Ohio.”

I have two or three more videos from the event, but as the old Hollywood saying goes, “always leave them wanting more.” So I will, until next week!

Senator Jeff Sessions speaks out on interrogation

January 29, 2010 · Posted in Red County National · 1 Comment 

Those on the left may think Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has his own underwear in a wad over the decision to treat “panty bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a civilian and accord him Miranda rights. But Sessions, who is Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, makes some brilliant points.

First, though, a bit of background is in order.

In most cases, enemy combatants captured on the battlefield remain in some sort of detention facility until cleared for release. This practice makes logical sense because those who took up arms against us may have useful information about other enemy operations – data which could save untold lives both in the field of battle and among innocent civilians otherwise caught in the crossfire.

However, Abdulmutallab was captured in a unique venue, one which most wouldn’t associate with the shadowy war between radical elements of Islam and our nation. Instead of carrying a rifle or rocket-propelled grenade launcher, the Nigerian national who trained for his assignment in Yemen boarded the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit without luggage or a coat, but with underwear lined with explosive material. In short, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was destined to be a suicide bomber in a bid to kill hundreds of Americans on Christmas Day.

We all know what happened on Flight 253, but because the Obama administration has taken the unwise course of treating the war on Islamic terror like a civil case, the Nigerian national had a brief 50 minutes of questioning before he was informed of his Miranda rights. Not surprisingly, Abdulmutallab clammed up.

Understandably Sessions is fuming about the decision. “Instead of trying to excuse the inexcusable,” he said, “the administration should take responsibility for the dire consequences of its decision to swiftly grant civilian rights to this foreign terrorist. Civilian interrogation means that a suspect must be told he does not have to answer any questions and that he will be provided a lawyer. Captured combatants do not enjoy these same privileges.”

By changing the rules of the game and granting Constitutional rights to non-citizens, Obama and his dovish allies may cost more lives in the name of granting “justice.” Instead, Sessions is calling for, “a clear protocol…for the detention and interrogation of captured terrorists so these dangerous mistakes are not repeated.”

Apparently the only clear protocol we have now is bending over way too far backwards to those who would never even consider allowing us similar rights if the situation were reversed. Sessions is correct in pointing this out, but unfortunately isn’t in a good position to change the policies in place just yet.

This article ran on the Red County national page yesterday.

Looking glass government

January 28, 2010 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Looking glass government 

Once in awhile Democrats can come up with a good idea, although I’m not so sure they didn’t steal a GOP one as their own.

Anyway, on Wednesday a bill was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to open up the process of government. HB344 would, among other things, make committee votes easier to access and allow people to sign up online to testify on pending legislation. Those hearings would also be broadcast over the General Assembly’s website.

HB344 would also make the subscription “Up-to-the-minute” service free, with the shortfall made up for by increasing the fee for registering lobbyists from $100 to $145. Finally, a tax increase I can live with.

Maryland’s Americans for Prosperity leadership was also pleased. AFP Maryland director Dave Schwartz stated:

“HB344 is not about left, right, Republican or Democrat. This bill is about good government and making it easier for Marylanders to hold their elected officials accountable.  We thank Delegate Mizeur for her introduction of this proposal, and will be encouraging our members to support HB344.”

Americans for Prosperity-Maryland is a free market, grassroots organization that also encourages good government policies.  With the exploding popularity of social networking websites, we believe the internet is a cost effective tool to encourage transparency and accountability within state government.  HB344 uses that technology in a way that promotes those virtues.

The bill already has 76 co-sponsors, with 7 of them being Republican. Why that number is so low I don’t know, but perhaps more will come on board as often happens once a bill moves farther along in the process. Its only drawback is that the law wouldn’t take effect until October 1st, meaning the remainder of this year’s pivotal session won’t be broadcast under these rules.

No hearing has yet been scheduled for the bill, which lies under the jurisdiction of the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. That committee (see page 28) is chaired by Delegate Hattie Harrison of Baltimore City, with her vice-Chair being a local Delegate, Rudy Cane (District 37A, Dorchester/Wicomico). Delegate Norm Conway (one of my Delegates here in District 38B, Wicomico/Worcester) is also on the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. Obviously local AFP members are familiar with Conway, so he should get a little encouragement on helping this along.

Senate puts grandkids farther into debt

January 28, 2010 · Posted in Campaign 2010, Inside the Beltway, Politics, Senator Watch, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Senate puts grandkids farther into debt 

Breaking: in another Senate vote, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was confirmed for another term by a 70-30 vote. Both Maryland Senators supported Bernanke, but Delaware’s Senators split as Ted Kaufman voted against reconfirmation while Tom Carper voted in favor. No nominee for Federal Reserve Chairman has ever received that many negative votes.

It’s not surprising or even shocking anymore, but on a strict party-line 60-39 vote the Senate today increased the nation’s debt limit for the second time in two months. The new debt limit is $14.29 trillion.

Bill Wilson and Americans for Limited Government were understandably angry over this. I, on the other hand was resigned to it.

Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson today condemned the U.S. Senate for voting to increase the national debt ceiling by $1.9 trillion which would bring the national debt limit to $14.294 trillion if passed by the House. 

“Not even 24 hours after Barack Obama called for a ‘freeze’ to bring spending under control, the Senate has voted to increase the national debt by almost $2 trillion,” Wilson said.  “Is this some kind of sick joke on the American people?”

“By increasing the national debt to $14.29 trillion, the Senate has voted to set the debt ceiling to be greater than the nation’s entire Gross Domestic Product,” Wilson added.  The current GDP is $14.242 trillion, based on third-quarter data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The vote in the Senate was 60-39.  Not a single Senate Republican voted for it.  In December, Congress voted to increase the debt ceiling by $290 billion to $12.394 trillion.

“The national debt is increasing so fast that it is going to bury the U.S. dollar and wreck the economy, leaving nothing but a trail of inflation, unemployment, and a pile of worthless paper,” Wilson said, adding, “We’re going to default.”

There’s more to the release, but the part I quoted is pretty much depressing enough. Wilson and ALG did point out that the current $202 billion required simply to service the debt would balloon up to $700 billion by 2019. By way of comparison, the final number for the Department of Defense in the FY2010 budget was $680 billion – which includes “overseas contingency operations.” (Those operations could easily be paid for with the interest we’re paying on the debt now, as that total for the War on Terror is presumably about $130 billion over the original appropriation.)

I would guess that statements on this will be upcoming from the men running to unseat Senator Barbara Mikulski, who was one of the Democrat puppets who reflexively voted to place our nation even farther into debt.

And President Obama is already working on spending his newly authorized debt. The National Taxpayers Union estimated that the promises made in Obama’s State of the Union address will cost taxpayers an additional $70 billion. But that’s chump change anymore in this day and age.

Colburn draws second challenger

The Uptown Cafe opened up a little early to host this morning's event. Owner Molly Taylor noted it was the first political event she'd recalled having in her restaurant.

This morning, Chris Jakubiak began a four-city announcement tour in Salisbury as he seeks to unseat incumbent State Senator Richard Colburn of District 37.

Wye Mills resident Chris Jakubiak kicked off his four-stop announcement tour in Salisbury this morning, as the Democrat makes his initial run for office attempting to unseat a longtime State Senator.

Speaking from prepared remarks in front of a small group of supporters and press, Chris laid out his agenda and detailed his background as business owner and practicioner in the field of urban planning, including work here in Salisbury. Jakubiak revealed he was running because “it’s time for a new direction, a new energy, a new commitment, and a new matter-of-fact way of solving problems.”

Included in this group were a writer and photographer from the Daily Times along with former Salisbury City Councilman Mike Dunn.

Among his priorities if elected will be advancing economic development, restoring local waterways and Chesapeake Bay, and education. He noted that, “I seek a state government that is lean and effective, pragmatic and affordable.”

Saying that 135,000 Marylanders lost jobs last year and the state has a budget deficit of $2 billion, Jakubiak blamed Republican incumbent Senator Richard Colburn for being “as much a part of the institution as anyone else in Annapolis,” but will choose to unveil his legislative priorites over the next several months.

Chris Jakubiak was kind enough to answer the question I had after making his remarks. It'll be interesting to see the coverage provided in the Daily Times.

Yet in looking at Colburn’s voting record, he’s one of the more moderate GOP Senators. In the past, he’s voted with Democrats on several environmental issues (like the so-called Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2009, 2008 legislation restricting growth in critical areas, and the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007, which banned smoking in restaurants) and has voted for each of Governor O’Malley’s three budgets (while he also voted for amendments to reduce the budget, his opposition didn’t carry through.)

Afterward, I asked Chris, “You say that Senator Colburn is ‘part of the institution’ yet he has generally voted against many of the policies you decry. Would there be reason to believe you’d make the ‘tough decisions’ when the majority hasn’t been able to do so?”

Chris thought there was a “disconnect” in state government and that he could “bring a realistic point of view to problem solving.” The issues before Annapolis were not simple, but complicated and he would work to be a “consensus builder.”

His four-city rounds continue today through Cambridge, Preston, and Easton, including a Cambridge stop at a local high school to speak to a group of young Democrats there.

Jakubiak, of Wye Mills, will square off with 2006 candidate Tim Quinn in the Democratic primary on September 14.

My own State of the Union

January 27, 2010 · Posted in Campaign 2010, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on My own State of the Union 

Generally I don’t watch the State of the Union address because, quite frankly, I have better things to do for an hour than watch self-platitudes. To me, it’s normally a laundry list of things the President wants to do to increase the size and scope of the federal government. These speeches always remind me of Reagan’s famous line about the role of government: “The nine most frightening words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

No one really wants to be honest about what truly needs to be done. If I were to enact a legislative wish list, it would start by going through the Constitution and defining what the true role of the federal government is. The chances are pretty good that before long a number of bureaucrats would be out of work, most likely beginning with those at the absolutely useless Department of Education. I’ll bet I could run the government well on half the budget.

Naturally having such a platform would mean a lot of oxen would be gored. Awhile back, I did a series of posts on what I considered the 50 year plan and for the most part I still stand by what I said back then. I even wrote a rough draft manuscript based on these, so if anyone knows a good literary agent who wants to publish a book I’m sure I can update it and have it ready fairly soon. After reading Mark Levin’s tome Liberty and Tyranny I believe I have just about the same length as he does, although my subject matter is somewhat different.

I think the state of the union is such that we’re ready for change, just not the change President Obama was hoping to make. It’s interesting that suddenly he’s becoming a budget hawk and wants to give more tax breaks to the middle class. Personally, though, I detest the idea of targeting tax cuts (or increases) because I think the tax burden should be fairer and flatter. (Ideally, I’d prefer a consumption-based tax, but that’s well down the line if ever because we’d also have to simultaneously repeal the Sixteenth Amendment.)

While we’re talking taxes, I’m not sure where I read or heard it today, but a proposal drew my interest. We would have just two brackets – 10% for those making $100,000 and less and 25% for those making more. It’s not perfect but better than what we have now. I seem to recall whoever came up with it also wanted to eliminate the death tax and capital gains taxes.

Rates really don’t matter so much to me, though, as does the concept of using the tax code to regulate or encourage behavior. Yes, I’m quite aware that many thousands of people were talked into buying a home in part because of the deductability of mortgage interest, but wouldn’t it be advantageous to own a home even without the break? Just try to remove it and watch the realtor lobby scream bloody murder, though. Many of the energy conservation programs are sold the same way, as if they didn’t have enough merit on their own. Wait, I guess they don’t because if they did everyone would be doing it, right?

I guess what it comes down to is these things all offend my sense of fairness. We preach equality in all things, but obviously God didn’t make us that way. I never had the ability for putting a 95 mph fastball knee-high on the inside corner, but I could put together lines, symbols, and text to make a set of building plans make sense to the contractor. Ask me to have a caring bedside manner for a terminally ill cancer patient and I probably couldn’t pull it off properly, but ask me to have a 600-word op-ed or some other writing assignment ready by a deadline and that comes relatively easily to me.

We all should play by the same rules, not work to game the system we all live under in order to gain wealth, power, or advantage over others who would be placed at a disadvantage. As I see it, the Constitution is perhaps the best example of having rules of the road that increase individual liberty at the expense of oppressive tyranny.

Yet I’m certain Barack Obama will talk about how he can make things more fair for some while punishing others for their achievement. Sure, he won’t use those terms but the practical effect of his actions will accomplish this for him.

Lord knows we don’t have the “more perfect Union” our Founders strove for. But it is up to us to push things in the proper direction.

So some will have fun watching the SOTU by making it into bingo or a drinking game. But the items being discussed are deadly serious and come tomorrow it will be the agenda President Obama tries to enact. My guess is that it will lead to neither fairness nor a more perfect union.

Jobs? What jobs?

I haven’t heard a lot from new GOP state Chair Audrey Scott compared to her predecessor, but the party weighed in on the loss of jobs in Maryland. As Scott notes:

Over the past three years the O’Malley Administration has implemented policies that have killed jobs in Maryland. Rather than working to improve and grow the economy in Maryland , Governor O’Malley and the Democrat leadership in the General Assembly have pursued measures that have made Maryland hostile to business and alienated those who create economic opportunity.

Now, in an election year amid the highest unemployment in decades, the Governor is claiming to be all about ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.’ The people of Maryland can see through this pandering. They deserve better and in November the voters will have the opportunity to elect fiscally responsible leaders who will put Maryland back on track.”

Trying to overcome sagging poll numbers and a drove of broken promises Governor Martin O’Malley is attempting to reinvent himself as the jobs governor to get through the election year.  He seems to believe that if he keeps chanting “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” the voters of Maryland will forget that under his leadership Maryland has become one of the most hostile environments in the nation to do business.

While it’s true that Maryland’s unemployment rate remains lower than the national average and comes nowhere close to the rate for economic basket cases like Michigan and California, there are parts of our state which are hurting more than others. It belies the “One Maryland” message the current administration tries to play up, and makes the case that the “one-size-fits-all” solutions generally proposed by Annapolis don’t work for many parts of the state.

Martin O’Malley ratcheted up the tax burden on businesses and producers over his three years in office, and those chickens are coming home to roost. (They’re just not roosting in any new chicken houses because of oppressive environmental regulations.) We’ve tried things his way since 2007, and while O’Malley can blame the national economy and certainly tries to blame his predecessor as much as he can, the hard truth is that Maryland has lost ground in the aspect of being a good place to start a business or be a producer.

Just putting things back the way they were before the 2007 Special Session would send a signal that Annapolis can learn from its mistakes. Would that be difficult on the state budget? Not necessarily. Bringing back business and employment would lift the tide and bring fresh revenue to state coffers – we might be all surprised that we didn’t have to cut spending nearly as much as we thought we would. Then again, the state budget could use some trimming anyway, so perhaps we don’t want to root for too much success unless the money goes directly to the rainy day fund, or better yet right back to taxpayers. (Ohio did this in the 1990’s – I was always pleasantly surprised to find the tax tables adjusted downward to return surpluses to the taxpayers.)

It’s safe to say that the job creation record of the O’Malley adminstration leaves a lot to be desired, particularly if you’re counting on re-election.

AFP welcomes Holloway and Rutledge to January meeting

As I like to do when I have the opportunity, tonight I checked out the latest meeting of Wicomico County’s Americans for Prosperity chapter. So did a lot of other folks, as this was but half the crowd.

I didn't do a panning shot of the remainder of the room, but Adam's Ribs was packed with well over 50 onlookers.

The topic of this month’s meeting was the first of several “Meet the Candidates” nights, with two featured this evening. One brought signs and literature, the other didn’t. Maybe it’s because Jim Rutledge is running statewide and Joe Holloway isn’t.

The red and yellow Rutledge signs weren't plastered everywhere, but one was by my seat.

Yet the opening portion of the meeting dealt with AFP-specific topics, including a rehash of the recent March on Annapolis and, for the handful of new attendees, an introduction to the group by local co-chairs Joe Collins and Julie Brewington. They wanted to “tell the truth and do what’s right.”

But the focus of much of their time was the 189-page Maryland state budget, just released by Governor O’Malley’s office. According to the PowerPoint presentation put together by Collins, since 1918 the state’s budget had to be balanced but only since 1974 have the numbers been publically available. (Heck, that was even before the internet!)

Most readers here know that Governor Ehrlich inherited a $4 billion hole but left Governor O’Malley a $1 billion immediate surplus and $3 billion structural deficit that was “trending to zero.” But O’Malley is leaving his successor (or himself if re-elected) an $8.3 billion hole. The only reason this year’s budget was balanced was having a “rich uncle – Uncle Sam” help us out, along with floating more bonds to create more long-term debt. Even Warren Deschenaux, who is the Chief Budget Analyst for the General Assembly, warned that, “Maryland lawmakers should consider a Plan B” if the $389 million in stimulus money counted upon to fill the gap doesn’t show.

Collins also pointed out a couple examples of “pay to play” such as a key DNC donor securing $625,000 in the budget for an adventure camp and the Ocean City Convention Center picking up $2.8 million thanks to two Democrat delegates. (Wow, Norm Conway actually brought home bacon so you know it must be an election year!)

The message was quite clear:

Julie Brewington was making a completely different point but the message on the wall was clear - we must defeat this budget!

Julie Brewington took over and reviewed the March on Annapolis. Now the next step was to make our voices heard through testimony on the budget and other important bills facing the General Assembly. She also noted that this was the first of several planned “Meet the Candidates” gatherings and representatives from all parties were welcome as AFP was a non-partisan group.

She also pointed out the need for “ambassadors” to take the time and be point people for both Salisbury City Council and Wicomico County Council meetings. (It’s also a good idea for other local municipalities as well.) Along with that, another goal was to establish a regular, predictable meeting night each month.

After that soliloquy, District 5 County Councilman Joe Holloway was introduced to the group.

County Councilman Joe Holloway speaks before the Americans for Prosperity meeting on January 26, 2010.

He noted that county bureaucrats didn’t always like him, and sometimes “I get angry.” But Joe’s developed a reputation as the county’s fiscal watchdog, and he went through his perspective on a number of different issues he’s faced over three years as a County Councilman.

It started by getting a crash course on tax increment financing just two weeks into his term (“I didn’t know a TIF agreement from a cucumber” when he was elected) in deciding the fate of the former Salisbury Mall property. Right after that came the controversy over binding arbitration for the Sheriff’s Department where the County Council had to go against an overwhelming vote in favor of the concept because of questions on the law. Joe still hoped that the County Executive would come up with a plan so that could be adopted.

Other contentious votes came on taxation of the Crown Sports Center, animal control (“we put more teeth into our dog law”), a land purchase for a new park on the county’s western side, the landfill scandal (where those convicted of theft from the county can no longer receive the county’s contribution to their pension plan), and the liquor dispensary – Holloway and two other County Council members spent hours poring over the liquor dispensary’s checkbook and found a number of questionable purchases. Currently, Holloway is spearheading a similar effort at the Board of Education.

After all, Joe pointed out, the county’s budget has increased 39% even with a revenue cap. He noted that current County Executive Rick Pollitt seemed to be following the “3 and 1” theory – complain about a revenue cap for three years then play budget hawk for one year at election time.

One question Joe took made for an interesting response. When asked about the accounting error which led to the county “finding” $3.5 million in an audit, Holloway replied that the “financial office is in chaos” and the practice of splitting invoices hadn’t stopped, even in the wake of the landfill theft scandal. Obviously it’s a situation Joe will continue to dig into.

Ironically, the next big item County Council looks into brings them full circle back to the old mall property, where the developer is attempting to sell five acres to the county for $1.5 million so they can use it for parking for the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. That public hearing is next Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the Government Office Building, and Holloway is leading the charge of those questioning the wisdom of the deal.

After hearing a lot on the local scene from Holloway, many were finally introduced to U.S. Senate candidate Jim Rutledge.

Jim Rutledge, Republican candidate for United States Senate, speaks before the Wicomico chapter of Americans for Prosperity on January 26, 2010.

The now clean-shaven Rutledge began by announcing to the appreciative crowd: “I am a Ronald Reagan conservative.” He continued by stating the “foundational principles (of the country) are hanging by a thread” and the current administration and Congress are, “dead set on a course to bankrupt America.” He chided his presumptive opponent, Senator Barbara Mikulski, for voting to increase the debt limit.

Jim was running “because ‘We the People’ cannot sit on the sidelines” and that New Jersey and Massachusetts results pointed to “something historic” possibly happening in Maryland. He actually only spoke a short stump speech before opening the floor to questions.

When asked if he thought there were “any cold, naked truths you don’t know” but would know upon election to the Senate, Rutledge joked that, “with Scott Brown winning I thought the adjective was interesting.” But obviously he would be privy to a large amount of information when he became a Senator. However, he also told those gathered that, “I will count on you to keep me accountable,” but, “I won’t be a miracle worker,” either. He may not know everything yet, but he promised to stand on his guiding principles. The Constitution says “We the People” and not “We the Congress,” Rutledge said.

On the subject of term limits, Jim said he supported a Constitutional amendment to allow them.

Turning to a question about health care reform, Jim said that we had the best system in the world – so we shouldn’t do anything to destroy it. “My solutions are free-market solutions,” and were similar to those proposed by AFP during their summerlong series of health care townhall meetings. In particular, Jim favored insurance portability by allowing more purchasing at the individual level and getting state governments on board by their loosening of restrictions.

A oft-cited solution to health care woes is tort reform, and Jim departed from many of his colleagues in the legal profession by openly favoring the concept. But he warned tort reform is “a term you can drive a tractor-trailer through.” Currently, he stated, the “litigation system benefits the attorneys involved” and added that tort reform should be limited to medical malpractice but other aspects of liability as well.

Finally, Jim believed we could save American jobs by providing a better transport system for our resources and repealing much of the regulation preventing us from taking advantage of them. The role of Congress is to repeal laws – and while they’re at it, defunding the “czars” put in place by President Obama.

I also wanted to note that I had a few minutes at the end of the meeting, speaking on the need for those in attendance to take the next step and run for office. Julie was kind enough to remind me to talk about my upcoming radio appearance Thursday evening (“Politics on the Edge” with Melody Scalley) and the Lincoln Day dinner on February 6th with Bob and Kendal Ehrlich.

Overall, it was an informative meeting. Let it be known, though, that Joe and Julie are trying to secure Frank Kratovil and Barbara Mikulski to tell their side of the story (recently the Worcester County chapter had Democratic Delegates Jim Mathias and the aforementioned Norm Conway as speakers.) Unlike the Republican club I also belong to, the AFP is playing no favorites on an “official” basis and stresses its nonpartisanship.

I have no idea who will speak next month, but this month may be hard to top.

Leading conservative to stay in House

January 26, 2010 · Posted in Campaign 2010, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Leading conservative to stay in House 

From Erick Erickson at RedState this afternoon comes word that Rep. Mike Pence (R – IN 6) will continue to serve in the House of Representatives.

Pence, the third-ranking Republican in House leadership, decided against running against vulnerable Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, leaving “several (other) capable and qualified candidates” to vie for the GOP nod.

In a letter to supporters, Pence noted that:

As many of you are aware, I have been approached about running for the United States Senate in 2010. Karen and I have been humbled by the outpouring of support and encouragement which we received from across Indiana, especially since there are several capable and qualified candidates already seeking the Republican nomination.

After much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to remain in the House and to seek reelection to the 6th Congressional District in 2010.

I am staying for two reasons. First because I have been given the responsibility to shape the Republican comeback as a member of the House Republican Leadership and, second, because I believe Republicans will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010.


As a Republican leader, I have the opportunity to shape the policy and strategy that will return a Republican majority to the Congress in 2010. So my duty is here, in the House, serving my constituents and my colleagues as we fight to restore a conservative majority to the Congress of the United States. I am not going to leave my post when the fate of the House hangs in the balance. My place is here, in that fight, with the brave men and women who will be winning that victory for the American people.

 I also am staying because I believe we will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, and I am excited to be a part of it. While the opportunity to serve in the United States Senate is significant, I believe the best chance this nation has to restore fiscal discipline, common sense and common values to Washington, D.C., is for conservatives to retake the House in 2010. When we win back the House, we will make history and we will have the power to stop the big government plans of this administration and to steer our nation to a more secure, free and prosperous future.

As most of my readers know, Pence is one of my favorite conservatives and has lent much-needed support and credibility to the TEA Party movement – he was one of the few members of Congress to speak at the 9-12 event in Washington and similar subsequent gatherings.

While optimism in politics is somewhat of a parlor game, the chances of a GOP takeover of the House are increasing as retirements from the Democratic ranks mount. Add in the anti-incumbent sentiment among voters enraged with “business as usual” in Washington, D.C. and Pence, who should have little trouble being re-elected in a rural district which runs along the Ohio line between Fort Wayne and Cincinnati, obviously likes his chances of keeping his leadership post as a member of the majority party once again.

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