Swerving toward a hard truth

Each week I read Dan Bongino’s commentary at Conservative Review, normally nodding my head in agreement to the point being made. This week’s is no exception, but the title of the piece led me to believe he was swerving into a point I have made for years. He began moving in the right direction when he wrote:

As small business owners, my wife and I do not have income taxes withheld from the money we earn. As many small business owners do, we have to periodically write checks to the state and federal governments for taxes owed. I mailed these tax payments this past week and, while writing out the checks and observing the amounts, I couldn’t believe how much money I had to pay to finance this out-of-control government. I cannot be the only one writing these substantial checks who feels this way.

Later in the piece he adds:

Income tax withholding has softened us. Many of us no longer have to go through the motions of actually picking up a pen and writing out a check to the government to pay our individual tax bills. We all owe it to ourselves to look at the amounts we are paying and to ask ourselves why we aren’t demanding better.

As far as that goes, I couldn’t agree more. But several years ago I penned a series of pieces which eventually became the kernel of a book I wrote. One of them dealt with taxation, and it was written about a year before we had the unsuccessful attempts to “stimulate” the economy through tax rebate checks. At that time I noted:

All right, so I get an $800 check. The feds want me to buy something in the hopes of goosing the economy. But a lot of people who are behind on their mortgage bills and credit cards will simply send that cash along to whomever they owe, which will help bail the banks and creditors out. It’s a similar argument to the one over the subprime mortgage bailout, which helps the creditors but doesn’t teach those who weren’t of enough sense to borrow within their means that they should consider their options more carefully.

And why is it that the federal government now reflexively hands out taxpayer money when the chips are down? They seem to have become the insurer of last resort for America.

If you really want to put money in the pockets of Americans right now, I have another suggestion for a short-term fix. How about suspending backup withholding for a few months? Since most Americans have their tax lives set up to get a hefty refund and “screw” the government (who’s actually screwing these people by receiving an interest-free loan from them) all that would do is make their eventual refund a little smaller. Furthermore, maybe if people actually had to write a check for the full amount due they’d understand just how much of a bite we all have taken from us.

So a little over seven years ago, before anyone outside the circle of the Secret Service had ever heard of Dan Bongino, I was on this track of discarding backup withholding. The onus should be on the government to collect rather than the taxpayer to get back what is rightfully theirs because it’s our money. On the whole, I still think dispensing with backup withholding is a wonderful idea short of adopting a national consumption tax like the FairTax (after the repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, of course.)

Still, this is a good indication of how much Dan Bongino “gets it.” Whether he decides to run for Congress again, the Senate again, or waits until 2018 to pursue a state office, it’s clear he has a clear understanding of how the economy should work.

Hogan’s first veto?

I don’t know our governor’s position on Senate Bill 190, dubbed by some as the “travel tax,” but no less than Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform is urging a veto. His organization has sent a letter (detailed at the previous link) to Governor Hogan asking him to reject this bill that was passed by both chambers during the session. As they explain:

This legislation would disparately impact the Maryland travel industry by apply the Maryland sales tax to online travel agents, brick and mortar travel agents, wedding planners, tour operators, and other service providers. With summer almost here, and tourism season gearing up, a new tax would hurt many small businesses in Maryland who rely on tourism for revenue.

Interestingly, the ATR letter quotes local Delegate Christopher Adams, who cites the hundreds of travel agents who would be affected by the bill. On the other hand, his Senator, Addie Eckardt, was the only GOP sponsor of the bill and lone GOP Senator to vote in its favor.

Perhaps the best explanation of the legalese of the bill comes from its Fiscal Note:

Online travel companies (OTCs) typically obtain access to hotel inventory (rooms) through contractual agreements with hotels. OTCs pay a discounted rate for these hotel rooms that they sell (as room rentals), and then retain certain fees that are part of the total price paid by customers. The purchaser of the room rental is typically charged the same rate as the person would be if the hotel room rental was purchased directly from the hotel. The issue that has arisen in recent years is the definition of taxable price that state and local sales and use taxes and hotel rental taxes are to be based on. OTCs have typically been paying and remitting these taxes based on the reduced rate that they pay for the hotel rooms; however, states and local jurisdictions have been arguing in court that these taxes should be collected on the total room rate paid, which is the base for which the taxes would have been imposed if a customer rented the hotel room directly from the hotel.

As I understand it and to create an example, let’s say a hotel room rents at $150 per night to the general public. An OTC comes to the hotel and says they will rent the remaining lot of rooms for $75 apiece – obviously the hotel profits by not having to deal with unsold inventory for the night while the OTC can provide a discount to the standard rack rate and still make money. Everybody wins – but the state.

The contention is that OTCs are paying room taxes based on the $75 rate, while the state believes they should be paying based on the $150 rate. That’s what this law would provide for, and while some jurisdictions in the state have come to agreements with the OTCs (and there is a court case on the subject pending) this law would force OTCs to pay taxes based on the higher rate, eating into their bottom line for dubious overall benefit. The Travelocity vs. Comptroller case cited by the Fiscal Note involves $6 million over eight years; even if Travelocity is accounting for just 10 percent of the overall market the amount in question is only a few million dollars out of a $40 billion budget.

If Hogan vetoes the bill, the margin in the House is close enough to make it very possible a veto would be sustained as it passed in the House of Delegates by an 84-56 margin – one vote short of 3/5. Delegate James Proctor could be the swing vote since he was absent from the original balloting.

Because Maryland law allows the governor to sign bills well after the legislative session has concluded, it’s quite likely that Hogan can wait as long as he needs to make the decision. While this bill is dubbed the “travel tax,” there is the complication of Marriott possibly moving from Maryland that Hogan may have to consider.

But the idea of electing Hogan was that of no new taxes, regardless of whether this is a “clarification” or not. Let the court case take its course, and veto the bill. It’s another vote that is likely to find its way to the monoblogue Accountability Project.

Is the era of full employment over?

Simply put, March was not a good month for job creation around the country. Numbers were down markedly from previous months while, as the Americans for Limited Government advocacy group pointed out, the labor participation rate tied a 37-year low.

The news was even worse in the manufacturing sector, where it contracted by 1,000 jobs. While Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing blamed the strong dollar, calling it “a big loser for factory jobs in the United States,” it’s only a piece of the puzzle.

Paul would favor a more interventionist solution, adding:

There’s plenty that could be done to turn this around. The Treasury should crack down on currency manipulators, the Federal Reserve shouldn’t act prematurely, USTR should be assertive about enforcing our trade laws, and Congress must address currency and trade enforcement in the context of new trade legislation.

Based on Barack Obama’s promise to create a million manufacturing jobs in his second term, he needs to add 628,000 in the next 21 months – a Herculean task for any president, and almost impossible for this one. Let’s consider a few facts:

First of all, the continued low price of both oil and natural gas has tempered the energy boom to some extent. According to Energy Information Administration data, the number of oil and natural gas rigs in operation last week was 1,048. In terms of oil operations, the number is down 45% from last year and for gas it’s down almost 27%. While gasoline in the low $2 range is good for the overall economy, oil prices need to be between $60 and $80 a barrel for operators to break even, and the benchmark price has held lately in the high $40s.

As I noted, low energy prices are good for some aspects of job creation, but the energy boom is on a bit of a hiatus and that affects manufacturing with regard to that infrastructure. Throw in the unfair competition we’re receiving when it comes to OCTG pipe and it doesn’t appear this will be the cure to what ails us as far as job creation goes.

More important, though, is the financial aspect. Our corporate tax structure is among the most punitive in the developed world, which leads to capital flowing offshore despite the “economic patriotism” appeals of our government to demand it come back. Once you have the opportunity to take advantage of other countries’ willingness to charge 20% or even 15% tax, why should you willingly pay a 35% rate? Their slice of the pie may be less, but they get a lot more pies this way.

And then we have the aspect of regulations, particularly when it comes to the financial restrictions that Dodd-Frank places on the lending industry and the environmental mandates an overzealous EPA is putting on industry – look at coal as an example. If we went back to the conditions of 2006 the environment would likely not suffer serious harm and companies would have a much easier time with their accounting. I haven’t even touched on Obamacare, either.

Not all of this is Obama’s fault, but the majority of these problems can be laid at his feet. Alas, we have 21 months left in his term so many of these things will not change despite the presence of a Republican Congress which will be blamed for any setbacks.

So the question becomes one of just how many employers in general, not just in manufacturing, will be able to weather this storm. Even the recent news that both Walmart and McDonalds will be increasing their wages brought out the cynics and doubters. But it’s worth pointing out that both Walmart and McDonalds have stated they wouldn’t oppose a minimum wage hike. Such a move makes sense for them because their bottom lines can more easily manage a modest wage hike for their employees and they know their local competitors can’t. Both also have the flexibility to adopt more automation where they used to have a row of low-wage employees. As an example, most of the local Walmarts adopted a number of self-serve checkout lanes over the last year or so. If you hire a dozen fewer cashiers it’s easier to give the others another dollar an hour.

Change is a constant in the labor market, and we know this. But there are some circumstances under which businesses thrive and others where they struggle, and history has gone long enough to suggest the broad outlines we should follow. It’s unfortunate that some want to blaze a new trail when we know where the correct path is.

A lot of pizza and a lot of support

As of this writing an otherwise nondescript pizzeria in a typical Midwestern small town has $842,347 in a GoFundMe account.

I’ve never been to Walkerton, Indiana, but the small (population 2,248) community straddling U.S. 6 in the northern part of the state probably isn’t too different from the towns I spent my formative years nearby in neighboring Ohio. Before this week, no one had ever heard of the restaurant or the town but now it’s Ground Zero for a culture war sweeping the nation and pitting a very tiny but exceptionally vocal minority against a much larger group that’s been turning the other cheek for far too long.

The events leading up to the sudden fame and fortune of Memories Pizza are well-documented: owner Crystal O’Connor admitted her religious beliefs would prevent her from catering a same-sex wedding. Never mind the business hasn’t been asked to do so (and probably would not be), that admission coupled with the passage of Indiana’s original version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was enough to become a “gotcha” moment for the ambitious news department of a station whose personnel are otherwise toiling in the #96 media market in the country – success for them would be advancement to a station in Indianapolis or even Chicago.

Yet the question has sprung to mind several times as I’ve heard the events playing out: why doesn’t the Christian community fight back and demand the RFRA protect our interests?

Some would sneer that Christians are the majority and therefore undeserving of protection. As it has turned out from previous cases, a state having the RFRA on the books was still ineffective in stopping the loss of their businesses when their owners refused service to gay weddings, citing their religious beliefs. Because of this track record, I again ask: what’s the big deal then? In almost every case, those who seek service have several other options and it seems to me that business owners should have the right to say, “no, thank you.” That’s what a series of Muslim bakers did in this video.

So what would be the problem if church-going people who believe the Bible is the Word of God and should be followed stood up to the gay lobby and those who bend over backward to accommodate it unquestioningly in the name of “tolerance?” In my estimation, tolerance should work both ways.

Just look at the economic power of the churchgoing. On the Sundays we’re in church, I’m generally sitting amid 75 to 100 people. Other churches in town are somewhat larger; most are probably smaller. But let’s say Salisbury’s church attendance is slightly better than the national average, which ranges between 36 to 39 percent nationally according to recent polls. 40 percent is an easy number to work with, and that means out of a population of about 30,000 in Salisbury churchgoers have the economic might of 12,000 people.

Arkansas has been working on passing its own version of the RFRA, but Walmart (which is headquartered in the state) has been encouraging a veto. What if 12,000 people in Salisbury decided to pass on Walmart and do their shopping elsewhere? I’m sure Target, KMart, Sears, and Kohl’s would welcome the extra business.

Erick Erickson of RedState has popularized a saying over the last couple years on the subject, “you will be made to care.” Christians aren’t generally going around looking to stir up trouble, but we’ve spent the last fifty years or so retreating from the culture and watching deviancy be defined downward. At some point there has to be a stand for values; oftentimes it occurs on a generational level as the offspring rebel against the excesses of the parents.

At $15 per pizza, the money grossed by the GoFundMe account set up for Memories Pizza would be equivalent to them selling over 56,000 pizzas. Being a small town pie maker, it’s doubtful they make over 75 pizzas a night so this is perhaps two years’ worth of business for them. Of course, I can almost guarantee that people will be coming after their newfound windfall in some way, shape, manner, or form – probably demanding they donate it to a same-sex marriage advocacy group under threat of lawsuits for imagined pain, suffering, or fraud.

Personally, though, I hope that after they tithe an appropriate amount to their church, they use the money for their business – perhaps opening a second store or investing in new equipment to bolster their menu. Maybe they can start a bakery.

Splitting the difference

A couple weeks back I alerted you to an issue brought to the fore by Delegate Christopher Adams, a situation which would leave a large number of Medicare patients with long drives to a pharmacy as opposed to perhaps being able to use a more convenient hometown outlet.

While the deadline has come as of today, Adams has introduced and advanced a bill, HB1290, that would halve the distance prescribed by the state. Recall that:

According to a source in the know, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sets the criteria for considering a patient to be “covered” and it depends on their location, stating,”as long as pharmacies are within 10 miles in urban, 20 miles in suburban and 30 miles of patients in rural communities the standards for access to care are met.”

HB1290 would simply cut those distances in half, meaning no one in the state would have to travel more than 15 miles to a covered pharmacy.

Oddly enough, HB1290 is the second-to-last introduced House bill, with the final one (HB1291) also dealing with the subject and introduced by Democratic Delegate Eric Bromwell. His bill would ensure that “an enrollee may elect to receive pharmacy services at a site in the pharmacy provider network of any managed care organization.” Bromwell’s bill was introduced four days after the Adams bill, perhaps as an effort for House Democrats to secure some credit for solving the problem. (Bromwell is on the committee that will deal with both HB1290 and HB1291.)

In a release today, Adams noted that:

This bill originates from a very real problem on the Eastern Shore where pharmaceutical services are not readily available. And under the existing 30 mile rule, it would have made existing pharmaceutical services beyond the reach of many senior citizens. This is just another example of the unintended consequences of the State of Maryland’s early embracement of Obamacare. HB1290 is a reasoned response that will make pharmaceutical services more accessible to senior citizens on the Eastern Shore, as well as save hundreds of pharmacies from going out of business throughout Maryland.

Adams also quotes local pharmacy owner Jeff Sherr:

I am encouraged that small businesses like ours will continue to be able to serve our patients. This bill addresses not only issues with access to care, it is also a protection for businesses that serve our rural Eastern Shore communities and employ our local citizens.

The fact that Adams’s bill got a quick hearing (on tap for tomorrow) is an encouraging sign that the General Assembly may address this problem before it goes home in a couple weeks. While it’s hard for late introduction bills to make it through the process, it has been done before – the gas tax we were saddled with in 2013 was a similar late introduction.

When it comes to services in rural areas, it’s often up to small providers to handle the diminished volume of business that may come from a little community like Snow Hill, Crisfield, or Hurlock. While some may have a larger chain, for the most part they depend on family-owned outlets that may not have the lowest price but are far more convenient.

We’re always told family-owned small businesses are the backbone of the community, so if we can lend them a little support with a common-sense law it should be encouraged. Hopefully Adams will have the legislation to his credit once the session is over.

Are the devoutly religious the new persecuted group?

By Cathy Keim

To those of us old enough to remember 1993 like it was yesterday, all of the hysteria over the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) seems a bit overplayed. That was the year that Congress passed the federal RFRA with a unanimous vote in the House and a 97 to 3 majority in the Senate. President Bill Clinton happily signed the bill with not a protest or complaint.

For those of you that were not around then, the bill came about because Native American Indians were having trouble protecting their sacred grounds from intrusions such as roads and also were getting into trouble for using peyote in their religious ceremonies and then testing positive for drugs at their place of employment.

Many groups across a broad spectrum from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Association of Evangelicals united behind this law. And hold on to your hats: then-Congressman Chuck Schumer of New York introduced it into the House!

So, if we have a federal law protecting us from being substantially burdened from our free exercise of religion, then why do 19 states have their own RFRA? In 1997 the Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA could not be applied at the state level, so some states enacted their own RFRA to cover issues at the state level. These state laws are essentially the same as the federal law.

How did 19 states pass their RFRA laws without any protest, but suddenly when Arizona passed an amendment to their existing law in 2014 there was such a ruckus that the governor vetoed it? In an action foreshadowing the NCAA threat to remove their basketball tournaments from Indiana, the NFL threatened to move the Super Bowl XLIX from Arizona if the law stood.

The thing that changed in the intervening 22 years was that gay marriage went from not even being on the horizon to an accomplished fact in many states. An example of how incredibly fast this sea change occurred is right here in Maryland. The gay marriage law was defeated in 2011 by a close vote mainly because black lawmakers from Prince George’s County and Baltimore declined to accept the argument that homosexuals were being discriminated against in the same way that blacks had had their civil rights denied.

In February 2012, the bill passed by a narrow margin. In response, petitions were circulated and signatures obtained to place this bill before the voters on the November elections as a referendum for its repeal. This is where it got very interesting. On May 9, 2012, President Obama publicly stated that he was for gay marriage. Once he changed his position, the opposition to gay marriage in the black community decreased markedly and Maryland became the first state to pass gay marriage by a popular vote with 52.4% voting to maintain the state law permitting it.

The change in the last 22 years was one-sided. The conservative Christian voters and the orthodox churches did not change their position. They are still standing squarely on their Christian beliefs as stated in the Bible, which they believe is the infallible Word of God.

The liberal churches and politicians are the ones that shifted. Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic, decided that he favored gay marriage. The Catholic Church did not budge. For the first time in history, sexual orientation has become the most important defining factor in our society.

Christians have been the acceptable group to ridicule; in fact, the only politically correct group that can be ridiculed for some years now. Christians that actually believe the orthodox tenets of their faith are considered to be bigots, rubes, stupid, and pathetic.

Homosexuals are defined only by their sexual orientation. Think about it: it doesn’t matter whether they are male or female, black or white, old or young, beautiful or ugly, intelligent or stupid – the only characteristic that counts is their sexual orientation. No other group wants to be so rigidly defined by only one characteristic.

Once that one characteristic is made known, all other people are to acknowledge that being gay is the best choice, not only for the homosexual, but for everyone. They are not equal; they are more equal.

My preference is that I would know somebody by their many attributes, not just one. I don’t know of heterosexuals that make this the defining factor of their existence. We are all sexual beings to one degree or another, but it is not the highest or most important part of our being.

Since homosexuals insist that this is the most important piece of their identity, they leave the rest of us little room to go our merry way. Despite most people not wanting to engage on the issue, we are forced to declare where we stand.

For orthodox Christians, there can be only one position. The Bible declares in both the Old and the New Testament that homosexuality is wrong. I know that this is hurtful to our friends and relatives that are gay, but the Bible leaves no room to wiggle. Trust me, I do not know any Christians that are gleeful about the difficulty that this truth brings to anyone that is struggling with their sexual identity.

So now we are at the point of the RFRA laws. The gay agenda and the orthodox Christian beliefs are on a collision course that cannot be avoided. Indeed, it would seem that the gay agenda is devised with this end in mind. No other course of action is acceptable except that everyone agree that the homosexual lifestyle is equal to the heterosexual lifestyle.

This is why we are seeing so many religious freedom lawsuits across the land. When orthodox Christians are pushed to choose between their religious beliefs and the law of the land, they will choose their religious beliefs, even if it means losing their business as several have.

These cases are not as simple as have been reported in the media. For instance, the florist in Washington state, sold flowers to the gay man on a regular basis, ostensibly a nonreligious transaction. What she refused to do was to use her God-given artistic talents to create special floral arrangements for his marriage to another man, which her conscience could not allow.

The wedding photographer in New Mexico refused to use her God-given artistic talents to create photos for a gay wedding that would have required her to be an integral part of the ceremony. These people were unable to violate their conscience by participating in a ceremony that their religious convictions and all of history said was wrong.

So, whose beliefs are more important: the gay couple that wants to force people to participate in their wedding – a religious event – or the people that respectfully decline and refer the gay couple to another business?

How it is answered will determine whether our country is still a land of religious freedom as outlined in our First Amendment.

In Indiana there is an overwhelming flood of coercion from many companies that say they will not do business in Indiana if the governor does not veto the law. This is another case where the conservative politicians need to stand their ground. Once they have chosen their position based on their principles, then they should stand no matter the pressure that is exerted.

The presidential candidates had better be looking at this issue and deciding where their principles lead them because this question will be tossed at them. In fact, it would be helpful if they would intervene now and let everyone know where they stand. Rather than cowering before the media, let the conservative politicians play offense and stand for their principles and support Governor Pence.

RFRA: what’s the big deal?

Much has been made about the state of Indiana passing its version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, making it the 19th state to have such protection. According to this Washington Post blog post by Juliet Eilperin, Indiana already had an RFRA-style mandate from the courts, but took the additional step of codifying it into statute. Indiana Governor Mike Pence took to the Wall Street Journal to explain that:

As governor of Indiana, if I were presented a bill that legalized discrimination against any person or group, I would veto it. Indiana’s new law contains no reference to sexual orientation. It simply mirrors federal law that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.

It’s worth pointing out that Illinois has a similar law, one passed with the support of some obscure state senator named Barack Obama.

But what I would like to know is why it’s been cast as a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians. This narrative is an extension of various cases where devoutly religious business owners have been sued by same-sex couples who wished to use their services but were refused on account of the business owner’s religious views. To me, common sense and courtesy would dictate that the couple simply take their business elsewhere, but in these cases the aggrieved parties tried to make examples of the business owners (and generally succeeded in wiping them out of business.)

Ask yourself: would the same result have occurred had a homosexual male refused to print something a devout Christian sought related to Romans 1:27, which in the KJV Bible reads, “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” It’s unlikely such a request would even be made, but somehow I think the results in this case would be in favor of the business owner.

We could also create a number of parallel examples which ignore sexual orientation, though. Eilperin quotes extensively University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, who makes the case that:

“These state RFRAs were enacted in response to Supreme Court decisions that had nothing to do with gay rights or same-sex marriage,” explained University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock in an e-mail. “And the state court decisions interpreting their state constitutions arose in all sorts of contexts, mostly far removed from  gay rights or same-sex marriage. There were cases about Amish buggies, hunting moose for native Alaskan funeral rituals, an attempt to take a church building by eminent domain, landmark laws that prohibited churches from modifying their buildings – all sorts of diverse conflicts between religious practice and pervasive regulation.”

Seems to me this only developed a sexual orientation angle because there’s an agenda to “normalize” homosexual relationships, expressed best in the ongoing to equate same-sex “marriage” (which I consider a civil union) with the real thing, between a man and a woman. Of course, the state of Maryland recognizes these same-sex unions so in the eyes of the law of this state they are equal.

So I hear all these threats to boycott or punish the state of Indiana, and the threats seem to be working as some want to “clarify” the law. Does that mean that one group will be given special protection? I thought the idea was equality under the law, but we see what the real goal is.

One truth of modern life is that discrimination exists, generally on a small scale: I may discriminate against McDonalds in favor of Burger King because I don’t like the service I receive at the golden arches or think I don’t get value for the money. In its most basic terms I discriminate every day, making my choices based on a number of factors, so I suppose if the aforementioned McDonalds had a gay manager I might be in trouble.

But John McCormick of the Weekly Standard makes a good point:

Indiana’s RFRA does not grant a license to discriminate. First of all, the state of Indiana, like 28 other states, has never prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation at public accommodations. Even without such laws in most states, discrimination doesn’t commonly occur because the United States is a nation that is tolerant of gay people and intolerant of bigots. Mean-spirited actions by a business owner anywhere in the country would almost certainly be met with a major backlash. (Emphasis mine.)

The fact is 99.9% of businesses don’t give a rat’s rear end about gay, straight, white, black, male, female as long as the money is legal tender and the checks don’t bounce. RFRA simply dictates the terms when the exceptions prove the rule.

Informally making it formal?

When you stop laughing, hear me out.

It’s only been two months since he left office, but I think we can all agree our somewhat esteemed former governor is all but an official announcement away from throwing his hat into the 2016 Presidential ring. And when you consider that Hillary Clinton is continually being tarred by scandal after scandal (Benghazi and her e-mail questions) and blunder after blunder (the Russian “reset” button and discussing the “fun deficit”), Martin O’Malley almost looks sane. Come on, what else do you have on the Democratic side – the gaffe-prone Joe Biden? “Fauxcahonotas” Elizabeth Warren? One-term Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is the one who has the exploratory committee going, but the far left considers him a “Reagan Democrat” who they can’t support.

So when you see the above photo on the O’Malley Facebook page (which is where I got it) you have to ask if the “taking on powerful and wealthy special interests” message is meant for Hillary? After all, look how much the Clintons’ foundation has raked in over the years. And his message today about the presidency “not (being) some crown to be passed between two families,” would resonate with a lot of people who believed the propaganda about how disastrous the George W. Bush tenure was and are already tired of the constant turmoil surrounding the Clinton family.

Perhaps Delegate Herb McMillan put this best, noting, “Raising taxes on the poor and middle classes 83 times isn’t the same as taking on powerful wealthy special interests.” But it’s more than that.

Obviously the laughter among many who read this website comes from knowing how rapidly O’Malley would genuflect to particular special interests when it suited his purposes. Environmentalists got a lot of goodies during MOM’s reign: California rules on emissions, punitive restrictions on development in rural areas (via the “tier maps”), an ill-advised and job-killing moratorium on fracking, and of course the “rain tax.” Illegal immigrants, too, had a friend in O’Malley, but productive taxpayers – not so much. He also decided to work on legalizing gay marriage only after his electoral coast was clear in the state – if he had tried to run for re-election on the issue he would have lost the black vote in 2010. (Remember, that was before Barack Obama’s flip-flop on the issue.)

Say what you will about Martin O’Malley, but he is the lone Democrat openly considering the race who has executive experience – on the other hand, there are a number of GOP candidates who can boast the same thing: in alphabetical order there’s Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker. Depending on who the GOP puts up, the “experience” tag could apply to the Democrat. We’re not saying the experience would be a good one, but it is what it is.

Don’t be too shocked if the O’Malley’s March national tour makes a lot of stops in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s his way of pandering to the special interests he cherishes the most, and if people are fooled by this sudden bout of populism it’s their own fault. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Update: At Front Line State Jim Jamitis echoes these sentiments, with a great headline to boot.

Competitive advantage

March 22, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

On Friday I received the latest update from Newt Gingrich in my e-mail box. Even though I don’t always agree with him as to tactics – and his Presidential campaign in 2012 went nowhere but to Salisbury University – the one thing you cannot take away from him is the 1994 Contract With America, signifying a Republican resurgence in the post-Reagan era. And you have to respect him for thinking years or decades forward, such as he did in this case.

His piece on Friday looked at the economic prowess of states which did not collect an income tax in comparison to those that did. It even cited some of the same Art Laffer data that unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar used in his pitch to eliminate Maryland’s state income tax.

But the part which intrigued me came toward the end, when he wrote about the effort by Vince Haley, a State Senate candidate, to eventually eliminate Virginia’s state income tax. Certainly it doesn’t have a great chance of success in the near term with a Democratic governor, but one has to ask what the effects would be if the commonwealth made it all the way down that path – and how would it affect us?

For nearly four years, a significant part of the time of my outside job has been spent on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I’ve been over most of that strip from Chincoteague to Cape Charles for some task or other, but if you just pay attention to the drive along U.S. 13 you can see that the ESV is not the wealthiest area, nor are many ingredients for prosperity present. Compared to Virginia’s 4% population growth as a whole, the two counties which make up the Eastern Shore are leaking population, with Northampton County (the more southern of the two, closer to the Norfolk region) dropping by 2 percent and Accomack County (closer to Maryland) holding almost steady, with an estimated decline of less than 20 people in a county of just over 33,000.

By way of comparison, the two combined are less than half the population of Wicomico County, and there are good reasons for that: their geographic isolation at the end of the Delmarva Peninsula and a lack of job opportunities outside of the Wallops Island NASA station. Locally, their slogan is “You’ll Love Our Nature” and that is one thing the area can boast given its coastlines on Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean are often less than 20 miles apart and meet at its southern tip.

Elected officials of all stripes are trying to increase business at the Wallops Island complex as they see the potential of unmanned space flights from the facility, with the prospect of good-paying ancillary jobs the spaceport creates. But the benefit of not having an income tax would likely be an influx of well-to-do retirees and others with the disposable income residents of the ESV currently lack. It may even be a better attraction than coastal Delaware and its lack of a sales tax, since those outlets are a relatively easy drive away from the northern reaches of Virginia’s slice of the peninsula.

Those who try to promote the area probably realize that prospects for certain types of businesses wouldn’t be very good because the ESV lacks some of the infrastructure necessary for manufacturing. But if the area becomes advantageous in a financial sense thanks to an elimination of the income tax, it can become a playground of sorts for affluent retirees who would like to slow down and enjoy a more rural lifestyle, allowing the remainder of the residents to share in that wealth. On the other hand I can also understand where many ESV residents may object to eliminating the state income tax, especially if they receive Virginia’s version of the Earned Income Tax Credit they call the CLI.

If all this came to pass, though, Maryland would be left in the middle, suffering from having a sales tax-free state siphoning off its retail industry and an income tax-free state choking off its wealth. (Don’t forget that an income tax-free Virginia may have devastating effects on the capital region of Maryland, too.) Of course, we can work to eliminate both those issues but it would take a larger sea change in philosophy than Annapolis has the stomach for.

It may not be the golden ticket to prosperity, but given the slow decline of our Delmarva neighbors to the south a drastic measure like eliminating their income tax may be the only way to resuscitate the area.

O’Malley PMT regs pass legislative hurdle

An amended version of the O’Malley Phosphorus Management Tool regulations passed the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on a 7-4 party line vote, setting it up for review by the full Senate at an unspecified future date.

You may recall that one of Larry Hogan’s first actions as governor was to unceremoniously yank the PMT regulations hours before the deadline for publication in the Maryland Register, only to come back a few weeks later with retooled regulations of his own. However, those regulations weren’t good enough for environmental groups and they’re supporting the original version as it winds its way through the General Assembly.

So while Hogan’s Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative regulations have been proposed (but not yet placed in the Maryland Register), the Democratic counterpart has moved a step closer to passage. It’s worth noting that the Senate is still 33-14 Democrat, so even if the one Democrat representing an agricultural area (Jim Mathias) breaks with his party it’s still likely to pass with a vetoproof Senate majority.

One change from the last election is the wipeout of most of the moderate, centrist Democrats in the General Assembly to be replaced by conservative Republicans. This will be key if the O’Malley PMT regulations make it through the process, as it’s likely Governor Hogan would veto them. With 50 House Republicans, the chances of a veto override in the House are much slimmer as only a handful of Democrats need to back Hogan and the GOP to sustain the veto. With seven more Republicans in that body, presumably they’re more reliable administration supporters than the Democrats they replaced.

Yet this uncertainty places a number of farmers, particularly on the Lower Shore, in a sort of administrative limbo as they can’t predict how the 2015 growing season will shake out as far as the usage of manure on their fields. We’re only a few short weeks away from planting for many farmers who don’t have winter wheat in their fields. Lower Shore farmers are especially affected because about 1 in 5 would face an immediate ban on applying manure to their fields under the Hogan regulations. (Many have already started, though, as the first of March brought the end of the state’s winter prohibition on the practice.)

Of course the agricultural community, forced to pick its poison, would prefer the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative to the bill going through the General Assembly. (One important caveat, though: SB257 was passed “with amendment” but the amendments weren’t available as I wrote this.) But the General Assembly bill would take precedence over any regulations Hogan writes, so it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that April 14 can’t come quickly enough for that community.

The law of unintended consequences strikes again

One hopes this will be a cruel April Fools’ joke, but for many on the Eastern Shore it may only be a cruel reality.

Delegate Christopher Adams shared the bad news:

United Health Care has decided to dramatically narrow their network of pharmacies on the Eastern Shore effective April 1st. This new decision will cause residents to drive upwards of 30 miles to get a prescription filled and be the end of the local pharmacy.

It appears that this is another one of those “hidden” consequences of OBAMACARE and Gov. O’Malley’s decision to make Maryland first with implementing OBAMACARE.

Nevertheless, driving 30 miles to get a prescription filled by one of the State’s “favored” pharmacists is wholly unacceptable. I am meeting with United Health Care tomorrow in a first step to ultimately reverse or greatly modify this decision.

According to a source in the know, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sets the criteria for considering a patient to be “covered” and it depends on their location, stating,”as long as pharmacies are within 10 miles in urban, 20 miles in suburban and 30 miles of patients in rural communities the standards for access to care are met.” So if you are in a town like Crisfield, where the nearest “chain” drugstore is the Rite Aid in Princess Anne or Pocomoke City – each about 20 miles away – you are “covered” but it’s not nearly as convenient as a local independent pharmacy. On the Lower Shore stores of the big three chains (CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens) are only found in Berlin, Cambridge, Delmar, Ocean City, Pocomoke City, Princess Anne, and Salisbury. It leaves large coverage gaps in rural areas which may have a pharmacy no longer used for the Medicare programs.

Obviously United Healthcare can choose whoever they want to be in their networks. But the problem with the health care system we are slowly, surely, and not necessarily willingly adopting is that cost is the primary consideration, not patient care. It’s been true ever since we’ve had a third party paying for our medical expenses, but it wasn’t so long ago that we had many more options for our care. Those days are now over as some former providers have left the state, leaving us with fewer from which to choose.

What Adams points out is that Martin O’Malley’s decision to jump right ahead with a fairly restrictive state exchange is now making life more difficult for the people it was supposed to help. Obviously there’s a lot of recovery needed on a national scale just to get back to a system which most were satisfied with, even though some chose not to participate by not purchasing health insurance and some could not afford it. Now while everyone is supposed to have health insurance (or pay a tax penalty) we find that care is even more expensive and difficult to obtain.

Chris isn’t going to get a lot of answers, I’m afraid, because it appears the die has been cast. And as a state legislator his impact on the national argument is small. But even if some of the independent pharmacies in under-served areas are added back in, it would be a step in the right direction. There may be a chain drugstore on every corner in Salisbury, but some of the smaller towns still cling to their local drugstore because it’s a sufficient size to cover the small market of a little village.

Thirty miles is a long way to go to get a prescription. That may be necessary for a need late at night or on a weekend, but for most refills and common items it shouldn’t be a requirement.

Local Democrats make big claims to receive handouts

Fresh off a shellacking where their statewide standard-bearer had his doors blown off locally by 30 points and only two of their eleven state race contenders won - one by just 30 votes locally and the other in an ostensibly non-partisan race – the Wicomico County Democratic Party finds itself in somewhat desperate financial straits. So in order to raise a little money, the party is making some claims which have to be seen to be believed – and I’m going to show you.

Let’s go through this a little bit at a time, shall we?

Maryland voters decided to “Change Maryland” last November, with the election of Larry Hogan as Governor. However, with only a month in office, Hogan is already proving himself to be just another Tea party Republican.

Perhaps the idea was to indeed elect a TEA Party Republican, rather than four more years of the O’Malley/Brown debacle? We certainly were due for a change.

And as far as the TEA Party goes, it’s worth recalling that TEA is actually an acronym that stands for “Taxed Enough Already.” We heard for three-plus years about all the tax increases put in place by the O’Malley/Brown administration so people naturally decided enough was enough.

But they continue:

Here are just a few of his first actions:

  • Slashing education funding – $1.9 Million from Wicomico County alone
  • Recklessly raiding over $2.5 Billion from our Transportation funding
  • Eliminating programs that help to keep the Bay clean

Apparently I’m supposed to take their word about these so-called cuts, since there’s no context or backup information provided.

I will not profess to be an expert on the state budget; however, I did look under public education and on all three line items I found for Wicomico County:

  • “compensatory education funds to local school systems based on Free and Reduced Priced Meal Eligibility counts” goes from $37,322,878 actual in 2014 to $38,615,082 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $1,292,204.
  • “additional support for students with limited English proficiency” goes from $3,092,879 actual in 2014 to $3,407,287 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $314,408.
  • the automatic supplement to counties “which have less than 80 percent of the statewide average wealth per pupil” goes from $3,670,117 actual in 2014 to $4,579,323 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $909,206.

By my count that’s an increase of $2,515,818. It appears the Hogan administration is well taking care of those things it needs to, prioritizing at a time when the state had to address a $750 million structural deficit.

I still haven’t figured out where the $2.5 billion “raid” to transportation funding is – the repeal of the automatic gas tax increase would save consumers nearly $1.56 billion over the next five fiscal years. We know Democrats own tax increases, so perhaps they bemoan that “lost” revenue to the state.

As for the elimination of programs for the Bay, I’d like to know precisely what they are referring to. They’re getting the PMT regulations so they should be happy.

Anyway, let’s continue.

And the story is the same in Wicomico County where Larry Hogan’s Tea Party partner, Bob Culver, is becoming the anti-education County Executive by refusing to fund a new building to replace the clearly antiquated West Salisbury Elementary School and scraping (sic) completion of the Bennett High School athletic complex.

Obviously the WCDCC has little concept of debt service. It would be one thing if the county could reach into its pocket and fish out $40 million for a new elementary school but the idea of pulling out the county’s credit card to put yet another multi-million dollar expenditure on it doesn’t appeal to the new County Executive. Just like they did in electing Larry Hogan, county voters wanted a change in direction from the former administration.

Instead, the county will improve the school in the areas where the need is greatest, with the list compiled through a consultation with experts and school officials. It may not be the “new” West Salisbury Elementary, but it will be an improved one. Perhaps that approach would have saved the county a lot of money with the former Bennett High School.

As for the Bennett Middle situation, completion of the athletic fields would not be “scrapped” (as the letter should have said) but simply placed in a different area of the site. The former Bennett Middle would be repurposed for office space, allowing the opportunity for the county to consolidate some of its operations. The change still needs the approval of County Council.

Picking back up, with the sad trumpet appeal for funding:

This isn’t the change I voted for in November, and I know you didn’t vote for this, either. We need your help to fight back. We cannot elect more Democrats in 2018 without your support over the next four years. Every dollar you donate to the Wicomico Democratic Central Committee goes to funding our efforts to recruit and help good local candidates.

Most importantly, your donation goes to helping us communicate our party’s values to the voters… personal responsibility, educating all of our children, cleaning up the Bay, protecting our agricultural community, equality for ALL, supporting local businesses, and protecting the Middle Class… and we need your support!

Actually, I did vote for some of this change. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change enough members of the General Assembly to make the total difference that’s needed – although my personal representation in the House of Delegates got a whole lot better.

But if the WCDCC wants to elect more Democrats in 2018, those Democrats can’t be in the tax-and-spend, socially liberal mode. Not in this county.

And after reading that Democrat screed, I realized it’s really conservatives who advocate for all those things the Democrats claim to stand for. That’s not to say a Democrat can’t be conservative but they are fewer and further between, even in this area.

So how would I, as a conservative, respond to their letter? I’ll go through what they claim to represent.

We believe that personal responsibility begins with keeping more of the money you earn by taking advantage of the opportunities a capitalist system creates.

We believe that money should follow the child so you can choose the best educational opportunity for your children, whether in public or private school or through a homeschooling regimen.

We believe in cleaning up the Bay through a balanced approach, beginning by addressing a proven detriment in Conowingo Dam and not punishing farmers who have been trying their best to address the issue.

We believe in protecting the agricultural community by allowing farmers the option to do as they wish with their land, not arbitrarily shutting off development options to them.

We believe in equality for all, not discriminating for or against anyone. But we also know our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values which have stood the test of time.

We support local businesses by allowing them more freedom to do what’s productive and less time to have to deal with governmental edict and regulation. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we want to encourage them to grow and prosper for the community’s sake, not as a cash cow.

We want to protect and grow the middle class – not at the expense of the upper classes, but by allowing the conditions where those on lower rungs of the economic ladder can climb their way up through hard work and ingenuity.

The jury is still out on this, but I think all the Democrats have is rhetoric. We will have to keep an eye on the GOP to make sure they deliver the results their philosophy should yield.

So if you are a local Democrat who received this letter, there’s only one thing to do: go to the Board of Elections and request the change of registration form to become a Republican. It may be your best chance to influence election results in the future.

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