Editor’s note, July 2019: This was originally an article intended for Examiner.com, but since that site no longer exists I have taken the liberty to update this post.
The original slideshow will be at the bottom, although captions are updated.
On Wednesday night the Wicomico Society of Patriots met under dire circumstances, at least in their point of view. Once Dr. Greg Belcher, a local chiropractor who conducted the WSOP meeting, led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer he turned the meeting over to political activist G.A. Harrison.
Harrison welcomed the forty or so who comfortably filled the room at a local eatery to Wicomico County, the “former home of the revenue cap.” After declaring it “effectively dead,” Harrison pointed the blame to two local members of the Maryland House of Delegates: Rudy Cane and Norm Conway. They were the only two from the Eastern Shore who voted in favor of Senate Bill 848, a bill which allowed the state to trump locally-imposed taxation limits like Wicomico’s revenue cap, provided the funds went to education.
(continued at Examiner.com, including a slideshow…) By the way, if you had subscribed to my old Examiner sites you need to switch over to the new one. If you didn’t subscribe before, now is the perfect opportunity. Just click the “subscribe” button at the top and follow the prompt.
Yet even Harrison admitted the county wouldn’t dare raise property taxes the staggering 19.9 cents per $100 of valuation to fully fund maintenance of effort, better known as MOE. It would be “our doomsday” if that occurred.
But while Wicomico will be forced to raise property taxes to the maximum extent allowed, G.A. declared the county’s FY2013 budget was a “fiction…premised on the hope the General Assembly will reverse Senate Bill 848” in the upcoming Special Session. Nor would the county get a MOE waiver, continued Harrison, without the approval of both the county’s Board of Education and teachers’ union. Both have denied the county’s waiver request, with the proviso that they may change their mind if $2 million more is allocated toward educational needs. The word “extortion” crossed the lips of several attending upon hearing that news nugget.
With that initial salvo, Harrison critiqued the entire Wicomico budgetary process. What’s available to the public “doesn’t tell you a whole lot,” said the presenter, adding “you are not allowed to see the budget detail.” Even County Council is only allowed to make cuts to nonspecific “pots of money,” with the County Executive who sets the budget under no obligation to make the specific cut the Council may desire. Meanwhile, other counties which have revenue caps are more prepared for any eventuality than Wicomico is, contended Harrison.
To address this in the short term, Harrison suggested demanding a more detailed line-item budget be made available and using it to request specific cuts. We also should ask that the county auditor perform an audit of the educational budget, which makes up 46% of county general fund expenditures, G.A. added.
In the long term, Harrison believed County Executive Rick Pollitt “needs to accept there’s a new paradigm,” one which includes persuading him to support the adoption of an elected school board. Wicomico County is one of just a handful of counties where the local school board is still appointed by the governor. Most distressingly, though, G.A. conceded that we need to resign ourselves to the fact we will pay higher taxes, particularly as legislators on the Western Shore are “convinced we are undertaxed.”
“Annapolis is gonna lay a big whoopin’ on us,” concluded Harrison.
Among the audience of about 40 were a number of local politicians and candidates. But the one who stole the show was Delegate Mike McDermott.
Due to redistricting, McDermott no longer represents Wicomico County. But in response to a question from a fellow attendee, the Worcester County-based Delegate and gifted extemporaneous speaker devoted a lengthy monologue to the entire set of issues county governments need to come to grips with: the usurpation of their power by the state government in Annapolis. “The real problem is why do we have a state dictating to us,” said McDermott.
He also blasted fellow Delegate Norm Conway, stating that Conway is always “ticked off about the failure of Wicomico County to raise taxes and increase spending on their own,” hence, Conway’s support of Senate Bill 848. McDermott also believed “(Democrats) have already cut the deal (on a tax package),” said Mike, predicting a brief two-day Special Session.
But Mike also felt the General Assembly “let the state of Maryland down” and deserved to be “thrown under the bus.”
“It’s going to get bloody and ugly in Maryland,” McDermott concluded.
Also in attendance was Libertarian First District Congressional candidate Muir Boda, who added that “it’s a shame that (government has) come to robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
There’s no question the news at the meeting wasn’t what those who came wanted to hear; however, these activists have become accustomed to bad news coming from both Annapolis and Washington. Yet they continue to speak out, with many spending the post-meeting time discussing how to maximize their numbers in Annapolis and making carpool arrangements for a planned protest rally there next Monday evening.
The tax and spend die has apparently already been cast, though, as the state will throw out the previously approved and balanced budget in favor of something bigger – but not necessarily better.