Being the press

For those of you on the western portions of Wicomico County you may or may not be familiar with Chris Jakubiak; he’s one of three Democrats trying to unseat longtime State Senator Richard Colburn in District 37. That unfamiliarity may well extend to a lack of interest from the press in his candidacy – his press conference in Salisbury last Friday apparently merited the presence of exactly one member of the media, and that was me.

But leave it to Jakubiak to somewhat mess up my exclusive by sending out a press release entitled, “Jakubiak Holds Press Conference on Fiscal Responsibility.” After going through the fact that he held the press conference, Jakubiak noted in the release that:

“Our State budget should reflect the values that we share in Maryland, and especially here in District 37,” said Jakubiak. The candidate outlined the budget’s everyday impacts on infrastructure, education, healthcare, and economic development/recovery.

Jakubiak once again drew attention to the startling structural deficit of the Maryland Budget. “The General Assembly finished 2010 without fixing the ongoing gap between mandated spending and revenue. They plugged the $2 billion hole in the current year’s budget with temporary fixes and federal funds. Every tax dollar borrowed or transferred to close the deficit is a dollar not invested.”

Jakubiak outlined the economic principles that he would encourage the General Assembly to follow. First, spending mandates must be tied to revenue. This is more commonly known as pay-go. Second, dedicated funds, such as those for transportation and farm conservation, must be protected. Third, the costs of pensions and health insurance must be reduced. Fourth, there must be dedicated revenues for K-12 education. For the Eastern Shore, this must also include changing the State allocation formulas to provide more funding for school districts that lack a supportive tax base. Fifth, cuts in discretionary spending, excluding veterans’ services and public safety, must be on the table. Finally, taxation and spending reforms must expand economic growth, not contract it.

“We must put this structural deficit behind us so we can look to build a better future,” stressed Jakubiak.

The Wicomico County event will be followed in next two weeks with events in the Talbot and Dorchester Counties, focusing on restoring the health of the Bay, and economic development and recovery/job creation.

Fair enough, although I personally would have slotted the economic recovery release first, followed by the fiscal responsibility one. Education and the environment are secondary issues to me, although education takes up a large share of the state’s budget. In my view, we definitely lack the bang for the buck in that department.

Having the opportunity to discuss the budget with Chris at some length, I focused in on a few areas of the statement he passed out Friday. One area was setting regional priorities, which Jakubiak saw as “critically important”; for example his statement discussed how “highway funds have been misappropriated and the Dover Bridge (between Easton and Preston) remains dangerous.” That bridge hasn’t received the attention it deserves because it’s not on a highway commonly used for tourism, Chris claimed.

Another priority item for Jakubiak would be putting money into the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund. Created in 2006 through bipartisan effort, the fund had the “objective…to help raise the overall standard of living in rural areas to a level that meets or exceeds statewide benchmark averages by 2020, while preserving the best aspects of a pastoral heritage and rural way of life.” But Governor O’Malley has chosen not to fund this effort despite near-unanimous support in the General Assembly. Rather, Jakubiak claimed the state “is pouring millions of our tax dollars into bio tech business parks in the the metro areas.”

And the fact that Chris has (and presumably supports) a governor of his own party in power wasn’t lost on me because I pointed out his priorities seemingly weren’t in line with Governor O’Malley’s. Yet Chris replied, “a legislator will have the governor’s ear if he’s doing his job” and pointed out his “track record of consensus” in working with municipalities doing urban planning.

Another difference in opinion occurred when I asked him about prioritizing dedicated funds such as the Bay Restoration Fund, the Transportation Trust Fund, and Program Open Space. Obviously these money pots become piggy banks for balancing the budget and, aside from the TTF,  given this repeated usage they may not be as much of a priority as people think. I especially disagree with the premise of Program Open Space because taking land off the tax rolls affects counties adversely.

More controversial may be two planks in the Jakubiak budgetary reform plan – increasing the pension-eligible age and retiree contributions for health insurance and dedicating revenues for K-12 education – an “essential priority” in Chris’s view. The former will likely raise the ire of state workers and their unions while the latter has been tried through a number of funding sources – even a proposal for confiscating the value of unused gift cards. And adding school days, part of Jakubiak’s educational wish list, won’t be done for free.

It’s obvious that fiscal responsibility is a prime issue when even a Democrat makes it a priority. Pledging that “cuts in discretionary spending, excluding veteran services and public safety, must be on the table” while simultaneously claiming that “tax increases that contract growth are counter-productive” makes me wonder how Chris can pull the Houdini act off. But given the apparent disinterest in his campaign we may never find out anyway.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.