Four bits a gallon (or more) for a state gas tax?

Governor Martin O’Malley, he of the trial balloons, may have yet another one up his sleeve.

His latest (of many) tax proposals would extend the state’s 6% sales tax to purchases of gasoline, on top of the current 23.5 cents per gallon surcharge the state takes. If adopted, Maryland would join a handful of other states which use this nebulous practice of profiting off high gasoline prices.

The other states which do this are California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and New York. To see what impact this proposed tax would have on our wallets, we need to use three methods of comparison. First, here are the per-gallon gasoline taxes charged by each of these states and Maryland, ranked lowest to highest, not including sales taxes or various fees added by each state: (Source)

  • Florida, 4 cents per gallon
  • Georgia, 7.5 cents per gallon
  • New York, 8.1 cents per gallon
  • Indiana, 18 cents per gallon
  • Illinois, 19 cents per gallon
  • Michigan, 19 cents per gallon
  • Maryland, 23.5 cents per gallon
  • California, 35.7 cents per gallon

And now the sales tax rates which are (or would presumably be) applied to gasoline, also listed lowest to highest:

  • California, 2.25%
  • Georgia, 4%
  • Maryland, 6%
  • Michigan, 6%
  • Illinois, 6.25%
  • Indiana, 7%
  • New York, 8%
  • Florida, 12%

Finally, the combined bite between all taxes (federal, state, and local) impacting gasoline in the states which charge sales tax, which includes where Maryland would eventually rank. To do their calculations, API uses the average cost per gallon in each state according to AAA as of 1/1/12. For Maryland, I couldn’t find the price on the specific 1/1 date but according to the latest AAA figures, the average price one month ago from today was $3.26 and that should suffice for being roughly the price on January 1st. Again, this is lowest to highest.

  • Georgia, 47.8 cents per gallon
  • Florida, 53.4 cents per gallon
  • Illinois, 57.3 cents per gallon
  • Indiana, 57.3 cents per gallon
  • Michigan, 57.8 cents per gallon
  • Maryland, 61.5 58.9 cents per gallon*
  • California, 67 cents per gallon
  • New York, 67.4 cents per gallon

If this is passed, Maryland would have the fifth-highest total gasoline tax in the country, trailing New York, California, Connecticut (also 67 cents per gallon) and Hawaii (65.5 cents per gallon.) Maryland drivers would be ceding a much higher bite out of their wallets than their neighbors in West Virginia (51.8 cents per gallon), Pennsylvania (50.7 cents per gallon), Washington D.C. (41.9 cents per gallon), Delaware (41.4 cents per gallon), and Virginia (38.2 cents per gallon.) Retailers in those states who are fortunate enough to be close to the Maryland line are probably licking their chops about now.

Of course, this doesn’t factor in the addition of some of MOM’s other trial balloons like a separate 15 cent per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax or increasing the sales tax to 7 percent. And as Todd Eberly points out at The FreeStater Blog, this could all be a feint to make a direct 15 cent additional surcharge more palatable.

As it is currently proposed, the gasoline sales tax would be phased in 2% at a time so drivers wouldn’t be hit all at once. But when they’re projecting $613 million in new annual revenue at a time when the state is over $1 billion in the hole, it will be a surprise if they don’t rush the process. It may get passed this way for now, but wait for the new, improved bill to accelerate the increase next session when money is still tight.

We’re also being told that a gas tax increase is about infrastructure jobs in fixing bridges and roads. But the Maryland Public Policy Institute does a magnificent job of not only blowing that argument out of the water but also pointing out the folly of public transportation while they’re at it. Simply put, it’s another component of the War on Rural Maryland as those of us who drive greater distances because we choose to live away from urban woes will be subsidizing those who ride the buses or light rail in more-developed areas. That group doesn’t quite comprise the 1% but they’re pretty darn close, and they don’t come close to paying their own way.

Putting private transport out of reach to the average family through higher prices also fits neatly into the goals of so-called “Smart Growth” and “sustainable development”, which strives to increase the usage of mass transit. Perhaps this is a line of thought more suited to the tinfoil hat crowd, but one can’t deny it’s much easier to control the population if their movements are controlled.

In any event, the first step in rebuilding Maryland’s crumbling transportation infrastructure needs to come from locking away the Transportation Trust Fund from greedy governors who can’t shake their spending addiction. And if we take back the half of transportation spending we waste on a tiny percentage of commuters and instead gave them a more appropriate share of a nickel per dollar, there are a lot of bridges, road widening projects, and traffic control measures which could be completed for the rest of us who get tired of sitting in traffic.

On the Eastern Shore, we already will bear a significant burden from the newly increased tolls on the Bay Bridge, so we should get a break when it comes to gasoline taxes. The state should quit using the knee-jerk reaction it always seems to have about raising taxes and instead consider spending the vast amounts already collected more wisely.

* I was also taxing the existing tax, not the actual price. Subtract out the 41.9 cents we currently pay in taxes and the sales tax is actually on $2.84 of the $3.26 per gallon.

Odds and ends number 42

As you likely know, this is the post where I pick out a few items worth a paragraph or three but not a full post. So here goes.

Polling is in the news these days – sometimes as a real reflection of the political scene, and sometimes just to make news and push a particular agenda. There are two recent polls which I believe reflect the latter.

I’m usually not too trusting of polls in which I can’t find a political or geographical breakdown, and a recent Washington Post poll fits this bill. Taken simply as a sample of 1,064 adults in Maryland, the Post poll gives Martin O’Malley a 55% approval vs. 36% disapproval – compare that to the 53-40 split in the recent Gonzales Poll, which I can easily ascertain subgroups and methodology in. Other disagreements: a 50-44 split in favor of gay marriage on the Post poll vs. a 49-47 split in favor on Gonzales and the “key issue” question: the economy was the top choice of 49% in Gonzales but only 32% on the Post poll.

Without seeing the methodology besides the sample size, my guess is that the local Washington D.C. area was oversampled by the Post. Obviously the economy is better there than in some other portions of the state, and since the area is more liberal than the rest of the state (hard to believe, but true) the other numbers seem to point in that direction as well.

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The McDermott notes: week 3

January 30, 2012 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The McDermott notes: week 3 

As I stated last night, this report is slightly behind schedule – from here on out, the intention is to put this up Sunday evening if possible. In case you missed them, here are the week 1 and week 2 reports.

Things must be getting a little more hectic in the General Assembly as Mike abandoned his day-by-day descriptions in favor of a general overview of the week’s proceedings.

The first topic was a quick look at judicial electronic filing, updating the progress and determining how to pay for it. I’m guessing the trial attorneys and others involved in the legal system are going to balk at additional user fees just as those of us in rural areas have no desire to pay a higher “flush tax.” But in their case, I think the benefits would be more tangible.

Second in line is probably the most important thing the General Assembly is entrusted with each year – the passage of the Governor’s budget. It’s the only item the legislature can pass and enact into law without the Governor’s formal approval.

And Mike is definitely a critic of this year’s spending bill, noting the “significant proposals that would affect every family in Maryland if they are adopted”: changes to income tax deduction, a variety of fee increases, a rise in college tuition, and the expansion of sales tax to a multitude of services, including the internet. We call that the “app tax.”

Mike also noted on Wednesday the fifteen House Republican freshmen, a group of which he’s a member, held a press conference to reveal that a majority of Maryland residents were convinced (to turn a phrase) the taxes are too damn high. In fact, 96% believe they are Taxed Enough Already – so I guess 96% belong to the TEA Party. Now if they only voted that way we wouldn’t have these problems.

Another update McDermott added to the notes was the fact both Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello and his Somerset County counterpart Dan Powell came to Annapolis to share their thoughts on the subject of a bill Mike is sponsoring (HB112), which would eliminate the requirement for a public defender at certain court hearings.

Something which really should be carefully read in McDermott’s original notes are his accounts of the Eastern Shore Delegation meetings. Obviously we have a mixed group, with three moderate-to-liberal Democrats interspersed among the 12 members of the General Assembly who hail from this part of the state (Districts 36, 37, and 38.) Most of the others are conservative Republicans, although some tend to stray from the party line from time to time.

My sense – and in looking at the monoblogue Accountability Project I can bear this out – is that McDermott is the most conservative of the group. In fact, the four freshmen Delegates we have from the Shore (all Republicans) rank among the five highest (most conservative) out of the 12-member Eastern Shore Delegation, at least by my measure. Senator E.J. Pipkin breaks that group up; otherwise the freshmen are the ones who most agree with how I would vote.

But McDermott also states that there may be a couple Department of Natural Resources projects in the pipeline; an upgrade to the bathhouses on Assateague Island and a proposed boat ramp on 64th Street in Ocean City. Perhaps that would be money well spent, although I’d be curious to know if any property acquisition is needed for the 64th Street project.

Finally, Mike promises an update in next week’s field notes on the bills he’s sponsored (there are now four where he is lead sponsor, while he’s a co-sponsor of 38 others) and restates his promise not to introduce any bond bills this session. So far, the local Republicans in the House have made good on not introducing any bond bills; however, both Shore Republicans in the Senate seem to want to go their own way on this. (Needless to say, Democrats will introduce these debt creators with impunity, since it’s only our children’s money they’re spending.)

This was a somewhat shorter summary than we had the first two weeks, probably because the routine is now setting in and there’s a lot of ground to cover – so far there are nearly 700 bills in the hopper.

But there is one omission, a bill I haven’t seen yet in the House. Last year Delegate McDermott promised to move our bill on an elected school board early in the session, but to date there is no House version. In the Senate, though, Senators Mathias and Colburn introduced SB99, which is a clean up-or-down vote, on January 17. A hearing slated for January 25 was cancelled, which may mean trouble for our cause. (Remember, a similar bill passed the Senate last year only to be bogged down by Delegate Norm Conway in the House.) Perhaps the Delegate can inquire as to why this cancellation occurred and get this bill moving in the House.

The McDermott notes: week 2

If you missed it two weeks ago, my intention is to spend time on Sunday evening reviewing local Delegate Mike McDermott’s weekly field notes. I find them a fascinating look into the workings of the Maryland General Assembly.

I skipped last week, but this edition of the General Assembly session seems to be settling into a familiar routine: a few bill introductions and hearings, with Mike sitting in on the Judiciary Committee hearings. Tonight I’ll do a review of week 2 based on Mike’s observations and tomorrow afternoon I’ll catch up with week 3.

To begin week 2, Mike commented on the celebration of Martin Luther King Day and remarks from former football player and Delegate Jay Walker, but concluded by reminding readers that MLK was a Republican and the civil rights movement seems to have both forgotten this and the fact Republicans helped get civil rights legislation passed despite the efforts of southern Democrats.

On Tuesday of that week, Mike helped to pass the very first bill to make it through the whole legislative process this year. SB46, which changed Somerset County’s legislative districts, passed as an emergency bill with the only dissenting vote cast by Anne Arundel County Delegate Don Dwyer.

But there’s an interesting sidelight to this particular bill. SB46, sponsored by Democrat Senator Jim Mathias of Worcester County, was passed through the legislative process. The crossfiled bill in the House, HB50, was sponsored by Republican Delegate Charles Otto of Somerset County but didn’t proceed past first reading. So who do you think will get credit and who will be cast as not doing his job?

The remaining time that Tuesday was spent reviewing bills on elder abuse, increasing penalties for malicious destruction of property by graffiti, and the release of mental patients found not criminally responsible. Obviously this can make you an expert on a lot of mundane, picayune items. But the Judiciary Committee only hears its portion of the bills before the entire General Assembly so one has to assume Mike does a lot of talking with fellow Republicans on other committees to hear their take on other bills which will be voted on later this session.

On Wednesday Mike spent the day in a hearing on out-of-court settlements, which brings me to the point above. It’s not clear whether this is germane to a bill already in the hopper or one being considered.

Thursday brought the Israeli Ambassador to the United States before the General Assembly as well as hearings on bills mandating the members of the Baltimore County Orphans’ Court be members of the Maryland Bar, abolishing some of the immunity enjoyed by members of the General Assembly, and expanding the harassment statute to add in items like text messaging and social media.

I suspect the Baltimore County bill is a trial balloon by the Maryland Bar Association to eliminate the possible competition for Orphans Court judge around the state. It’s the only judicial position a lay person can hold, and reducing the pool of people who can run allows attorneys a crack at another cushy judgeship.

Week 2 ended on Friday with the meeting of the Eastern Shore Delegation. Mike describes the speakers they heard from: Department of the Environment Secretary Robert Summers, Susquehanna River Basin Commission Director Paul Swartz (no relation), and the nine school superintendents on the Shore. Obviously he had many more questions than they could answer, but Mike brought up salient points regarding all three.

I happen to agree with Mike that the Eastern Shore takes an inordinate share of the blame for the Bay’s problems. We only contribute a small amount of the nitrogen that finds its way into the Chesapeake, but our farmers have to jump through hoops regardless. Soon they’ll be joined by those who will see the “flush tax” doubled if Governor O’Malley and Annapolis liberals have their way. Meanwhile, we can’t do much about the pollution which comes to the bay via the Susquehanna River – Mike uses the analogy of having a swimming pool with a hose connection to the neighbor’s septic tank. Obviously that would mean Pennsylvania and New York have to help us out, but they don’t really have to deal with the problem.

And as for the third meeting with the superintendents, it seems to me that any time Memo Diriker is brought into the conversation taxpayers need to watch their wallets. Somehow he always seems to advocate the most expensive solution, and I’d love to see the calculations that Diriker uses to claim each dollar spent on public education creates $1.90 in return. If that’s true, building Bennett Middle School should make next year’s Wicomico County budget a snap.

I’m not holding my breath.

Also on Friday of week 2, Mike introduced bills dealing with the criminal justice system, HB112 and HB119. Both will have a hearing Tuesday afternoon. Compared with some of the other bills I’ve read, these are very simple changes in the law. I’m not sure what fate HB112 will have, since I’m betting the ACLU and other similar groups will press hard against the measure, but HB119 has a fighting chance for success: it allows law enforcement officers in the field greater latitude to use their judgement on whether a misdemeanor offense deserves a simple citation or more intrusive action and has a small but bipartisan roster of co-sponsors.

During week 2 Mike also penned his thoughts on Martin O’Malley’s budget, where he chastises the governor who “lifts his eyes to Pennsylvania Avenue.” I agree with Mike: the 2016 campaign is already underway for Martin O’Malley, and my guess is that state Democrats have already been given their marching orders to try and make that happen.

I’ll look at Week 3 tomorrow, and try to get back to a Sunday evening routine afterward.

Cain: Gingrich is able

This truly wasn’t a shock; back in December when Herman Cain exited the race I came right out and said I wouldn’t be surprised if he endorsed Newt Gingrich. They’re very familiar to one another as both hail from Georgia and you may recall they had a one-on-one debate with each other last fall. (Gingrich also had a similar debate with Jon Huntsman, which neither did anything for Huntsman nor got him to endorse Newt, as Jon Huntsman now backs Mitt Romney.) Cain’s consolation prize is now a position chairing Newt’s tax reform efforts.

However, the timing of this perhaps shows Cain’s lack of political savvy – or, to play devil’s advocate, means he marches to his own drummer and eschews standards which would place him within the political norm. Your choice. The latter seems especially true when you consider Cain had already made his “unconventional endorsement” of “the people.”

Honestly, as a former Cain supporter, I think Herman’s post-campaign decisions have been quite disappointing. His TEA Party response to the State of the Union address was all right, but it seemed to me he pulled his punches somewhat; of course one could also argue that had he endorsed Newt earlier he would not have received the slot. As I said up top, it wasn’t unexpected that he endorsed Gingrich but doing so at this time, when Newt’s campaign is otherwise imploding in Florida, smacks of desperation on the part of both – but moreso Gingrich, who’s trying to corral onetime Cain supporters into his camp.

Too bad that, for many, the horse has already left that barn – Newt isn’t going to get much of a bounce from an endorsement eight weeks after the candidate’s withdrawal. Obviously it wasn’t needed for Newt to win South Carolina, so to do so now indeed seems like flailing from a candidate who vows to “go all the way to the convention.” That movie has played before, and usually that sort of declaration comes just before the closing credits roll on the campaign.

Unfortunately, the GOP voters and caucus participants who have come before me have seen to eliminate most of my top selections from the race. It will leave me a choice – as too often seems to be the case in Presidential politics – of:

  • voting my conscience (even if he dropped out before the primary), or
  • voting for my third- or fourth-favorite choice who’s still there, or
  • voting against the guy I don’t want to win with his strongest remaining opponent.

A combination of the second and third options was the approach I took in 2008, basically voting against John McCain rather than for Mike Huckabee. Huckabee was pretty much my fourth option after Duncan Hunter, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani withdrew. (As I recall, Florida was Giuliani’s Waterloo, too.) In 2012 I’ve already lost Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry (although Perry is on the ballot here.)

But we’ll see if Cain’s backing for Gingrich is too little, too late. If it ends up I vote for Newt Gingrich, it won’t be because Herman Cain endorsed him. Instead, see bullet point #3 above and you’ll find my reason.

1,000 days…and counting

January 28, 2012 · Posted in National politics, Politics, Senator Watch, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on 1,000 days…and counting 

There are certain things Congress is supposed to do, and creating a budget is one of them. But on the very day President Obama delivered the State of the Union address, we “celebrated” an ominous milestone:

It didn’t take the House long to do its job, but the title of the “do-nothing” Congress belongs to the Senate. While gridlock can be a good thing in a lot of instances, not performing their Constitutional duty is inexcusable.

The House did their job, so tell the Senate to do theirs. We’re always being asked to compromise so now it’s their turn.

And if they don’t, perhaps it’s time to elect some new Senators who would work more closely with a Republican house. A few good candidates come to mind, none of them named Ben Cardin.

Scott reveals support group

For most, the contest to represent the Maryland Republican Party nationally as National Committeewoman has no meaning and is just another example of the “inside baseball” of party politics. But those who are astute should see the parallels between this race and the power struggle within the Republican Party on a national level.

To review, last month current state National Committeewoman (and onetime MDGOP Chair) Joyce Lyons Terhes announced she would not seek another four-year term in the post. To date two contenders have announced their intention to seek election – former YRNF Chairwoman Nicolee Ambrose and former state party Chair Audrey Scott. Anyone who’s paid attention to this space has seen me rake Audrey Scott over the coals for her participation in a rally supporting an increase in the state’s gasoline tax and, secondarily, for locking up the Transportation Trust Fund to prevent it from being raided every time Martin O’Malley needs to balance his budget. (The latter I’m fine with, but not the gas tax increase. Correctly prioritize what we have first.)

Audrey Scott, though, has a lot of backers who don’t mind that misstep with six members of the MDGOP’s executive board, six of the 24 local county Chairs, 24 of 43 Delegates, and 5 of 12 Senators on a list of endorsers Audrey has on her Facebook site devoted to the race. On the other hand, Ambrose has fewer elected officials supporting her (only Delegates Donna Stifler and LeRoy Myers, Senator J.B. Jennings, and U.S. Senate candidate Dan Bongino have expressed their support for Ambrose) but far more “likes” on her campaign’s Facebook page (143 vs. 17 for Scott.) Perhaps that’s a generational thing, but in any case the votes which will count are coming at the party’s Spring Convention April 27-28 – over three months from now.

(This upcoming state convention will also feature the election of ten Delegates and ten Alternate Delegates to the Republican National Convention. I unsuccessfully ran for this in 2008 but will take a pass in 2012 since I have something far more important to attend to that month and money enough for just one trip. We also elect a National Committeeman but thus far I’m unaware of anyone who will challenge current officeholder Louis Pope.)

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A triple return

January 27, 2012 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on A triple return 

Now that we are just about through football season, we’re just weeks away from the start of Spring Training and only 76 days away from the Shorebirds’ home opener on April 12. So I’m going to take a brief moment to welcome back three members of Delmarva’s staff and welcome a new member to the flock. This is from the Orioles’ news release:

Ryan Minor, who enters his third year as manager, will be with Class A Delmarva, along with pitching coach Troy Mattes and field coach Einar Diaz. Athletic trainer Will Lawhorn is back for a second year in Delmarva and his fourth in the organization.

Both Minor and Mattes came to the Shorebirds for the 2010 season, and Minor has a 114-166 record in two seasons as Delmarva’s skipper. Having said that, though, Ryan has also gone through two tumultuous seasons insofar as personnel is concerned. In the 16 year history of the team, only the 2004 edition (57) has suited up more players than Ryan did last season, with the 1999 squad also featuring 53 players. Ryan’s 2010 team is right behind with 52.

Diaz returns to the dugout after a season away, since he managed the former Bluefield Orioles in their final two seasons as a Baltimore affiliate (2009-2010.) The former catcher played 11 big league seasons, mainly with Cleveland. (I won’t hold that against him.) It’s the third season in a row the Shorebirds required a new field coach; Jose Hernandez was field coach in 2011 and Mike Devereaux held the job in 2010. Ryan Minor held the job for the previous two seasons before being promoted, making this his fifth season in a Delmarva uniform as a coach and sixth overall since he starred here in 1997.

At the end of next weekend’s Super Bowl, I’ll have only one thing to say regardless of who wins: the Super Bowl is over so you know what that means? FOURTEEN DAYS UNTIL PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT! Woohoo!

Movin’ on out

As I’ve said from time to time on this forum and others, Maryland is the first place (besides, to a limited extent, my college alma mater) where I lived by choice. And the main reasons I moved here, as opposed to other prospective places where I could have worked like Jacksonville, Las Vegas, or Phoenix, were the somewhat rural setting and the idea that this area had plenty of room for growth. Needless to say, when compared to those urban areas, Salisbury was by far the smallest location I considered.

There are serious economic handicaps about living here which have always existed more or less, but at the time of my arrival they were held somewhat in check by the state government in place in the fall of 2004. Sure, Bob Ehrlich was no doctrinaire conservative but most of his ideas for revenue enhancement were limited to increasing user fees, and Maryland participated fully in the national economic boom which was taking place during the Ehrlich era here. Unemployment for the state was just 4.4% when Ehrlich took office and 3.6% when he left – the rate never exceeded 4.6% during his tenure. Obviously things are different now, and Maryland reflects the national situation in that respect. Oddly enough, though, the other three places I was considering were among the hardest hit by the recession, so while Salisbury never quite reached that exhilarating height this fact made the low point easier to handle.

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Endorsements and other fun stuff in the Maryland U.S. Senate race

It seems to me that, much as I could probably like the other eight gentlemen seeking the Republican nod to charge up the hill that is Senator Ben Cardin, I only get to hear a lot from two of the ten contenders. And the dynamic between their campaigns is generally interesting, although I have to concede the advantage in communication goes to Dan Bongino over fellow candidate Rich Douglas. This list is culled just from items this week, which are coming at me in rapid-fire fashion.

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An update on the Audrey Scott flap

Obviously this story from yesterday has gotten a little bit of play around the state because former MDGOP Chair (now National Committeewoman candidate) Audrey Scott claimed we bloggers got it wrong.

(Insofar as I know, those “bloggers” would be me. Richard Cross of Cross Purposes made the statement as part of linking to the Washington Post story on Facebook, and I just pointed to his site as a professional courtesy. To date he hasn’t weighed in on the subject on his site.)

Regardless, Scott’s contention is that she was only at the rally to support protecting the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), a position she staked out at Kevin Waterman’s Questing for Atlantis website. Apparently she also defended herself at the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee meeting, according to county Chair Mark Uncapher.

But Mark also sent along a link to the press release the Greater Baltimore Committee did regarding the rally, noting that their Chairman also served on the Blue Ribbon Commission which recommended the gas tax – along with a slew of other fee and toll increases and enactments, including “development of revenue mechanisms that are directly tied to the use of the transportation system…commonly referred to as mileage-based or vehicle miles traveled (VMT) charges” –  in the first place. (Not only that, those who are up in arms about PlanMaryland should also pay attention to Issue Area III in the 32-page report.) The rally’s basic purpose was to show support to the General Assembly for raising $800 million annually in revenues for the TTF, according to the GBC release. A tax increase is also part of the GBC legislative agenda.

To be fair to Audrey, neither she nor Doug Duncan, who was also quoted in the Post article (which was a reprint of an AP story), was a featured speaker at the event. Apparently she was a face in the crowd who wanted to lend her support for the protection of the Transportation Trust Fund. Certainly I would like to see the TTF protected as well – if we have to have any gas tax, it should go to keep up roads and bridges. Mass transit should pay its own way, although the Blue Ribbon Commission believes farebox collection should only make up 35% of operating revenues. So much for building bridges and highways.

But as I said yesterday the perception of Audrey Scott, who is a symbol of the Maryland Republican Party, being at a pro-tax increase rally was something the Post would seize on to undermine the principled position Republicans in the General Assembly would stand upon that we are taxed enough already. It doesn’t necessarily matter what she actually said, for perception is often reality.

On the other hand, if we eliminate the items which aren’t germane to transportation infrastructure, like mass transit, and pass the legislation already introduced by a bipartisan coalition that would protect the TTF, we can see what can be done under the existing tax structure first.

Let me state for the record that I haven’t made up my mind in the National Committeewoman race yet. But when Audrey Scott is already infamous in some quarters for her “party over everything” statement, she’s already behind the 8-ball with a lot of Republican regulars and supporters. And I come from a muckraking county Central Committee which definitely goes against the flow the establishment attempts to create because we have a heavy TEA Party influence on our body, so Audrey already has a tough sell locally.

Now if you want to know what was said at this rally, the Greater Baltimore Committee has a YouTube channel with four videos of the January 19 event. None of them feature Audrey, so presumably the AP stringer covering the rally recognized her as someone important and got her take. But what I did hear being said was speakers who were only too happy to raise our taxes, with the TTF protection being secondary at best.

Judge for yourself whether you agree with me that her attendance wasn’t a politically wise choice.

Update: Scott has garnered a key local endorsement. District 38B Delegate Mike McDermott wrote in a note to local Central Committee members:

I ask you to give strong consideration to (Audrey Scott’s) candidacy as I know that she has everything it takes to represent the interests of Maryland and our party to the uttermost.

He also pointed out Scott’s involvement in the Ehrlich administration as Secretary of Planning. One thing in Scott’s favor: no move toward a PlanMaryland was made during her tenure there.

WCRC meeting – January 2012

It was one of those meeting where we had a featured speaker, but someone else stole the show. That’s not to show any disrespect to Cathy Keim, who ably represented Election Integrity Maryland, but a testament to the hot-button issue of the day.

With the meeting conducted by Second Vice-President Marc Kilmer in Larry Dodd’s absence, the meeting had a little bit of a different feel to it. Maybe it was the new year. Regardless, we went through the usual preludes and club business, also taking a moment to thank Ann Suthowski for her handling of the club’s Christmas Party last month before turning over the meeting to Cathy for her presentation.

She introduced her group, Election Integrity Maryland, as a nonpartisan watchdog group which was an offshoot of the True the Vote organization based in Texas.

In essence, what she had to share was startling – but not surprising. There’s no question that those who favor common sense steps like photo voter ID, proof of citizenship, tightened registration rules, the elimination of same-day registration, and a shorter early voting period are accused of fomenting disenfranchisement at best, and racism, homophobia, bigotry, and the remaining laundry list of liberal insults which normally follow once they can’t stand on the facts. And they can’t, instead trying to portray this as a “GOP war on voting.”

On the contrary, a Rasmussen Poll found 82% favor voter ID, no decrease in turnout has been reported in states requiring voter ID, and laws to safeguard against a mass registration dump on the eve of the election (in order to make it more likely fraudulent registrations are allowed) make it easier on legitimate voters to be registered.

Yet there are still rampant examples of the system being tampered with. As a recent example, in the New Hampshire primary, filmmaker James O’Keefe enlisted volunteers who entered and asked for ballots representing voters who had recently died to prove a point, carefully not representing themselves as the deceased voter. Because New Hampshire doesn’t ask for a photo ID, there was little chance a person who actually wanted to misrepresent himself as a voter couldn’t get away with it.

Cathy also outlined the Secretary of State Project, which is a 527 organization devoted to electing the chief elections official in each state where that post controls the balloting. Its biggest success was in Minnesota, where their Secretary of State (elected with backing from the SoS Project) conducted the 2008 recount that cost Republican Norm Coleman a U.S. Senate seat, given instead to Sen. Al Franken. Prior to that election, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who was elected in 2006, ended a ballot reconciliation program and refused to investigate claims of registration fraud.

Some of the more immediate goals of Election Integrity Maryland are to assure accurate voter rolls, promote an active citizenry with an interest in the voting system, conduct poll watcher training (for anyone, regardless of affiliation), and work on legislative measures which promote a clean and fair election. Along with the poll watcher training, they also seek volunteers to sift through the voter registration database and help eliminate duplicates or people registered at phony addresses. On a national level, they are also assisting with verification of signatures in the Wisconsin recall, since some have stated they signed petitions dozens of times. Election Integrity Maryland is a 501(c)(4) group so it can be involved in political activities.

All in all, Cathy put together a nice and informative presentation. But Joe Holloway rose to speak, and that’s when things got very interesting.

Joe stated up front that he “needed to see some friendly faces.” He and three other Republicans on County Council had come under withering criticism for their proper vote to hold off on building Bennett Middle School until the county was on more solid fiscal footing. Fellow County Council member Bob Culver, who was also at the meeting, said “I’ve never been spoken to like I have over this (Bennett Middle School) issue.” He had opined that we should explore the cost of remodeling the existing building instead.

Yet Holloway was clear on his intentions. “Bennett Middle School will be built,” said Joe, “but we want it done right.” However, he listened to four members of County Council and reluctantly agreed to hold a special meeting to reconsider the subject. (That meeting, held earlier today, is the subject of this update to a previous post.)

Holloway wasn’t as quick to approve the school, though, because a lot of the “new” financial information they were presented was based on a number of assumptions which he was determined to challenge.

And what impact would a new school have on county finances? Well, Holloway believed that around 80% of what we have bonded are education-related projects, and Joe also reminded us the new school would affect both the capital and operating budgets, since we pay millions in debt service annually out of the operating fund.

One questioner reminded us of the prospect of having to adopt teacher pensions at a county level, and another wondered if it was simply a tactic to have the revenue cap removed. But former County Executive candidate Joe Ollinger challenged Holloway to name a figure he could live with. Regardless of the figure, Bob Culver bluntly assessed that “we’re going to have to raise taxes.”

But Central Committee member John Palmer would have none of it. “I’m disappointed that County Council can’t move a Republican agenda,” he said. He’ll certainly be disheartened by today’s vote.

Speaking of the Central Committee, Dave Parker reminded us of the upcoming Lincoln Day Dinner, but also predicted rough times were ahead for the county. “It’s going to be worse than Martin O’Malley is telling us,” said Parker, and County Council is being “snookered” by those who would “misuse political power.”

However, Parker had some better news as he was promoting the Republican message both in a PAC-14 forum which featured Democratic Central Committee member Harry Basehart in a discussion of the differences between the two parties, and a regular point-counterpoint feature in the Daily Times leading up to the election. (I’m not the only self-promoter here.)

Mark McIver spoke on behalf of Congressman Andy Harris, who was unopposed in the primary and would use the advantage given to him by redistricting to help other GOP causes and candidates. “Andy wants to build the party,” McIver said. Mark also announced Andy had become a lifetime member of the WCRC.

A pair of relatively new faces were present as well, as Donnie Scholl and Charles Landherr stopped in to represent Dan Bongino’s campaign, which is promoting itself around the region. Bongino was a guest at our June meeting last year.

Finally, we had nominations for our 2012 slate of officers, and unless someone steps up to challenge that slate at our February 27 meeting, that group of five holdovers and two new participants will be the 2012 cadre of officers for the WCRC.

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