Out to build a state (and a nation)

Originally I was going to add some of these items to my “odds and ends” post but decided to promote the idea to a post of its own. I have a lot of things which I can neatly tie together.

It’s now been a decade since America’s economy even grew at a 3% rate, as Rick Manning pointed out a few weeks ago. While he lays a lot of the blame for what he later termed an 8.9% ”real” unemployment rate on government regulation and policy, other industry groups like the U.S. Business & Industry Council (USBIC) and Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) point the blame squarely at China. First is USBIC President Kevin Kearns:

Can anyone doubt that America’s trading relationship with Beijing is a one-sided, one-way catastrophe for the American economy? Our massive trade deficit with China represents a constant outflow of jobs and productive capacity to a country that refuses to play by the rules of world trade. It’s been 15 years since China joined the World Trade Organization. There can be no doubt that America’s experiment in so-called ‘free trade’ with China is a miserable failure.

AAM’s President Scott Paul:

Now we have even more evidence as to why voters are deeply concerned about China and its impact on the American economy. Our trade deficit with China in 2015 again surged to record levels, and that helps explain the struggles we’ve seen in manufacturing recently – particularly in critical sectors like the steel industry.

The 29,000 factory jobs gained in January is good news, but it’s certainly no indication of an upward trend. Many dangers persist, including a strong dollar, China’s economic weakness, and its massive industrial overcapacity. It strikes me as an inopportune time to be pushing a Trans-Pacific Partnership that is projected to cost America more than 121,000 factory jobs, according to the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

So just how do we compete? There’s no question that 40 years of buildup and advantages accrued by foreign competitors in the areas of lower wages, lack of regulation, and outright cheating more than make up for the millions of dollars in shipping costs required to ship cargo across the Pacific to the American consumer market. The relics and ruins of our Rust Belt convey the depth of the opportunities squandered. If we can’t beat them on price, we have to beat them on quality and be smarter than they are.

One thing I’ve noticed about the Senate race is that several GOP candidates are focusing on the manufacturing sector as a ticket to the state’s prosperity. For example, Rich Douglas had this to say the exodus of jobs to Mexico and about his platform:

Ten thousand jobs lost in Maryland alone.  That’s what Texas businessman Ross Perot meant when he predicted a “giant sucking sound” of U.S. factories moving to Mexico after Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  If elected to the U.S. Senate from Maryland in November, I will work to bring them back.

The “sucking sound” was real.  In the mid-1980s I lived and worked in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso, Texas.  The Juarez of my memory is a vast collection of big-box factories in the desert, bearing well-known U.S. names.  Jobs lost from the U.S.

(snip)

Citizens with a path forward to jobs, homes, and a future remain in school, avoid drugs, do not riot, and keep their unborn children.  Maryland needs factories and jobs.  A way to attract them is to send the right people to Congress.  What sets me apart from the rest of the Senate field?  Experience and scars earned in markets where U.S. ethics are mocked.  Experience with U.S.-imposed hurdles to U.S. exports.  Experience with the human cost of free trade.

But Douglas is not alone. It turns out fellow candidate Chrys Kefalas is a vice-president at the National Association of Manufacturers, which again is urging people to be manufacturing voters:

Notes Kefalas on his social media page:

I’m all about manufacturing more jobs in Maryland and the U.S. And that means fighting so that companies like Under Armour and small businesses can bring more jobs to Maryland. I will.

Adds yet another Senate hopeful, Dave Wallace:

Many will remember when Marylanders proudly made steel, Chevys and many other quality products and enjoyed a prosperous life. Today our infrastructure and job prospect are crumbling, and high taxes and regulations are driving away the jobs and investments we need.

While this is a promising beginning, Wallace remains short on details. But it’s better than nothing, as I’m not finding where the other major candidate, Kathy Szeliga, addresses manufacturing at all.

Actually, I take that back. Nothing is better than this mess that punishes achieving businesses and expands the government’s role at a time when they need to stand down and let the market grow. Remember, doing it this way has led to a “lost decade” of slow-to-no economic growth.

Since this part of the state isn’t dependent on government jobs to survive – but could use an economic shot in the arm to diversify from the poultry and tourism industries – it seems like we would be an ideal location to be the place to make things. The cost of living is fairly decent, the area is nice, and there are a lot of people who are willing to put in a little bit of elbow grease to get things moving. All they need is for the state to let them compete, and even though a Senator doesn’t necessarily guide state policy he or she can lead by example.

Odds and ends number 80

For awhile I wasn’t sure I would ever make it to the 80th edition of this longtime monoblogue series but I have finally arrived with more tidbits that require only a few dozen words to deal with.

Since this category has the item I’ve been sitting on the longest, I’m going to talk energy first. Some of my readers in the northern part of the state may yet have a little bit of remaining snow from the recent blizzard, snow that may be supplemented by a new blast today. But the fine folks at Energy Tomorrow worry about a regulatory blizzard, and with good reason: Barack Obama has already killed the coal industry, states are suing for relief from the EPA,  and a proposed $10 a barrel oil tax may further hinder the domestic oil industry already straining under a price war with OPEC. So much for that $550 annual raise we received, as Rick Manning notes in the latter story I link – for the rest of us, that’s like a 25-cent per hour raise without the increased taxation that normally comes with a pay increase. Yet that quarter would be lost to taxation under the Obama scheme.

It’s interesting as well that the Iowa caucus results favored Ted Cruz over Donald Trump despite their competing stances on ethanol, as Marita Noon wrote, but Cruz’s Iowa win also emboldened others to speak more freely about rescinding the ban.

Speaking of Cruz and Iowa, over the last week we’ve heard more about third-place Iowa finisher Marco Rubio in New Hampshire, as Erick Erickson predicted we would. It’s obvious to me that the media is trying to pick a Republican candidate for us, so they have been pushing either Donald Trump (who is far from conservative on many issues) or Marco Rubio (who has been squishy on immigration and perhaps can be rolled more easily on the subject again.) Or, as Dan Bongino writes, it could be the left’s divide-and-conquer strategy at work once again.

It seems to me that today’s New Hampshire primary should bring the race down to about five participants on the GOP side. The herd will almost certainly be culled of Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Jim Gilmore based on results, polling, and financial situation, and that would cut it down to six. The loser between Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich should whittle the field to five in time for South Carolina and we will begin to see if Donald Trump’s ceiling is really about 25 percent.

Trump’s popularity has been defined by a hardline approach to border security, but once again I turn to Rick Manning who asks what Trump would do about Obamacare, He also shrewdly invokes Bobby Jindal’s name, since the policy wonk had a conservative approach:

Jindal understood that the Obamacare system has put down some roots, and tearing it out was not going to be an easy task that could be glibly done with the wave of a wand or a pronouncement from a podium. He understood that whatever health care system replaced Obamacare would set the tone for whether or not the federal government continued its expansion in scope and power. He understood that what we do about Obamacare is likely to be one of the most important domestic policy decisions that any president will make. So, he laid out his vision for what health care should look like in America. (Link added.)

Yet on another domestic issue New Hampshire’s neighbor Maine is making some serious steps in cleaning up their food stamp rolls. It’s a little scary to think that the Millennials and Generation X decided keeping the “free” stuff wasn’t worth actually getting a job (or taking alternate steps to improve themselves or their community.) Perhaps it is fortunate that these are childless adults.

Turning to our own state, Maryland Right to Life was kind enough to inform me that a rebadged “death with dignity” assisted suicide bill was introduced to the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate (HB404 and SB418, respectively.) The 2015 rendition never received a committee vote, but it also had a late hearing – this year the setup is a little bit more advantageous to committee passage and the number of sponsors (all Democrats) has increased. They thought they had enough votes to get it out of committee last year, and chances are they are correct.

I have postulated on previous occasions that this General Assembly session is the opportunity to plant the seeds of distrust Democrats desperately need to get back that which they consider theirs in 2018 – the Maryland governor’s chair. It will likely be a close, party-line vote but I suspect this bill will pass in order to make Governor Hogan either veto it (which, of course, will allow the press to make him look less than compassionate to cancer sufferers such as he was) or sign it into law – a course for which he will accrue absolutely zero credit from Democrats for reaching across the aisle but will alienate the pro-life community that is a vital part of the GOP.

Try as they might, the Democrats could not bait Hogan into addressing social issues during his 2014 campaign but that doesn’t mean they will stop trying.

On a much more somber note insofar as good government is concerned, the advocacy group Election Integrity Maryland announced they were winding up their affairs at the end of this month. As EIM president Cathy Kelleher stated:

The difficulty of maintaining a small non profit was a full time job and the responsibility fell on the same few individuals for far too long.

We can proudly say that in our 4+ years of operations, we made a difference in the way citizens view the record maintenance of the State Board of Elections and had an impact in the legislative process.

The problem EIM had was twofold: first, a lack of citizens interested enough to address the issues our state has with keeping voter rolls not just up to date, but insuring they are limited to citizens who are eligible to vote; and secondly just an overwhelming task considering there are over 3 million voters registered in Maryland. And for some of the counties that are more populous, the powers that be didn’t much mind having inaccurate voter rolls that may have had a few ineligible voters among them just in case they needed a few extra on election night.

And it’s that prospect of fraud which is among the reasons not to adopt National Popular Vote, as Natalie Johnson notes at the Daily Signal. It’s a good counter to an argument presented in the comments to one of Cathy Keim’s recent posts. After the angst of Bush vs. Gore in 2000, could you imagine the need for a national recount with states hanging in the balance?

I think the system can be improved, but there’s a time and place for that proposal and it’s not here yet. There’s also a time and a place to wrap up odds and ends, and we have arrived.

The problem with The Donald

Most of the news cycle of the last three days or so has been about the Iowa Republican debate, but the conversation centered about who was not there. I don’t recall nearly as much ink about Rand Paul missing the previous debate because he finished just outside the cutoff for the prime-time affair and refused to be an opening act. Last night, those opening act players were Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum – the latter two then went to Donald Trump’s event set up to compete with the Fox news debate. (At least Gilmore was promoted to actually making a debate, so that’s progress for him.)

But this piece isn’t about the debate, but about something my friend Rick Manning wrote at NetRightDaily. In some respects it makes the same case I have been making about Trump all along.

A dealmaker by definition cuts deals, and Trump has by his own admission cut deals that used the government to serve his interests quite profitably. A dealmaker doesn’t stand on principle; instead, a dealmaker looks for common ground.

If the past seven years have taught me anything, it is that the Democrats are unrelenting in their pursuit of bigger, more expansive government, and the GOP consistently looks for common ground that is only partially disastrous, calling that a bipartisan win.

When Trump says he would repeal ObamaCare and replace it with a government-paid healthcare system, I believe him, and that makes me very uneasy.

Not because of the policy difference, but rather because what the policy difference reveals. It reveals a man who accepts big government and would expand it if the right deal were on the table. It reveals that a Trump presidency may be completely unmoored from the constitutional, limited government perspective that has traditionally driven Republican candidates.

In my study of the issues there are a number of areas, such as entitlements, ethanol, and even his tax plan, where Trump is far from a limited-government conservative. I will grant that my idea of limiting government in the case of entitlements and ethanol would be to sunset the programs and subsidies entirely over time, but part of that is not recalling just where in the Constitution it specified that the federal government had a role in retirement, supplying medical care, or propping up the fortunes of grain farmers. As far as the tax plan goes, whenever I see the idea of cutting rates at the low end and “paying” for it with reducing deductions for the top earners I know that the trust fund babies will find new loopholes in short order, leaving the government short and those business people who see accounting as a necessary evil (after all, they have a business to run and not beans to count) getting the shaft. You all know I would prefer a consumption-based system.

So when it comes to the “art of the deal” who do you think Trump will compromise with? Certainly the Republicans have nothing of interest to him since he is “representing” that party in the White House, so his dealing and compromise will be with the Democrats who we already know will bite the arm off anyone reaching across the aisle. The middle ground between the left-of-center (on most domestic issues except for immigration) Trump and the foaming-at-the-mouth statist Democrats promises to be right about where Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would govern anyway. In the case of Trump Republicanism, there truly is not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.

Ireton makes a splash

 

Photo credit: Ireton for Congress via Twitter

A comparatively modest gathering stood by Salisbury City Councilman (and former mayor) Jim Ireton as he embarked on his quest to unseat current Congressman Andy Harris in Maryland’s First Congressional District. And his opening salvo naturally was critical of the incumbent:

I’m here (in Crisfield) today because the 1st District needs a Congressman who won’t just say no and vote no. In just 6 years in Washington, Andy Harris has done nothing for the people of the 1st District.

Crisfield, the southernmost city in Maryland, was chosen by Ireton because it was hit hard in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, with Ireton contending it has not recovered. Jim chastised the incumbent because “he voted against $9.7 billion in hurricane relief.”

So I did a little research. It turns out the $9.7 billion bill Harris voted against was a measure to extend the borrowing authority for FEMA. Harris later voted against the overall supplemental appropriations bill but supported a substitute which would have offset $17 billion in approved aid by making other cuts (making it budget-neutral.) He ended up voting for a different appropriations bill that improved the original but did not clear the Senate. You may recall many were concerned about the budgetary impact in that era of sequestration.

Ireton went on about how Harris doesn’t support farmers and voted multiple times to repeal Obamacare before stepping boldly into Jim Crow territory.

He wants to return us to the days of insurance companies legally discriminating against Americans. Just like landlords in the 1950s could tell a black family no, and do so legally, Andy Harris wants to give insurance companies the legal right to say no to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

I think Jim forgets that insurance companies are like any other business as they need to be profitable to survive. Then again, that can be expected of a mayor who enacted the “rain tax” in Salisbury and decided landlords shouldn’t charge what he considered excessive rent.

And in the department of “it takes two to tango”:

From here on, it’s going to get ugly – Andy Harris will make sure of that. He will attack me as a person, and attack the issues you care about. He will issue dire warnings about taxes, even though I have a record of cutting fees as the mayor of Salisbury. He will issue dire warnings about crime, even though Salisbury’s Part I Violent Crimes dropped every year I was in office, and dropped almost 50% over my 6 years as mayor. He will try and scare farmers, even though the Wicomico River is now healthier than it’s been in decades due to the work of the city while I was in office.  And I can only imagine what he will make up to say about me personally. (Emphasis mine.)

I noted back in October when the rent stabilization program was bounced out of City Council that Ireton is in a catbird seat of sorts. During the next 9 1/2 months, assuming he wins the primary – and he is the prohibitive favorite given the field – Ireton can take credit for all of the city’s successes by saying that he initiated them as mayor, yet any failures will see Jake Day thrust in front of the nearest Shore Transit vehicle. I figured that Jim was simply using the office to cool his heels for a later political run, but my error was in assuming that he’d have the decency to at least wait until the results became official before jumping into his next campaign, not spill the beans on election night. (Had he upset just 33 of his prospective voters enough to make them change their minds. he would have had a lot more time to run.)

Harris now has a challenge from both the Democrat and Republican sides, with both being uncommonly well-known entities. It’s the first time he’s had elected officials against him since he took office in 2011. And it already is ugly with push polls and charges of not doing his job, so we’re already on the glide path to a nasty campaign.

Odds and ends number 79

With the winds of Jonas howling around us last night, I decided it was a good night to clean out the old e-mail box. One result of that is the Liberty Features widget I placed in my sidebar. They have a lot of good content I use for these “odds and ends” posts as well as other content – that and once upon a time I was a writer for them. You just never know when doors may open back up.

On Tuesday last I alerted readers to the Maryland Senate bill that would allow Wicomico County to determine whether or not they want an elected school board. It’s doubtful they picked up on the coincidence that their hearing will occur in the midst of National School Choice Week. But we deserve a choice, so there’s just something appropriate about this – it may even occur during the #schoolchoice Tweetup occurring Wednesday afternoon.

Teachers may be gaining a choice in how they wish to be represented thanks to an upcoming Supreme Court case. Here’s hoping the side of right prevails and teachers are freed from paying excessive union dues to support political causes they don’t agree with.

And since a lot of my cohorts in the region are using their heat, it’s a good time to talk a little about all the energy news that’s been piling up. For example, energy writer Marita Noon recently detailed the Obama administration’s War on Coal. She quotes one Pennsylvania United Mine Workers officer who says, “Obama’s actions have alienated those who work in the industry from Democrats in general.” I think someday there may be thousands of workers in the green energy field, but for now the people who work in the coal mines are looking desperately for jobs.

On the other hand, if the government showers you with favored status, you have a golden ticket. Noon also wrote about the subsidies and rent-seeking that green energy company Solar City is in danger of losing in several states.

Our fracking boom has gone bust, though, since oil has approached $25 a barrel. Some of those furloughed employees could be rehired to pump oil for export, but this game of chicken between OPEC and American producers shows no sign of ending soon.

Those would-be workers could also be good candidates for rebuilding American manufacturing – if any jobs were to be had, that is. Over at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, Scott Paul notes:

I know I don’t have to tell you how important manufacturing is. More than 12 million Americans are directly employed in manufacturing, and many more are employed indirectly.

These good-paying manufacturing jobs are key to a healthy middle class. It’s no coincidence that the middle class is shrinking at the same time manufacturing is struggling.

Manufacturing certainly faced a tough 2015. There were only 30,000 new jobs created nationwide. We still only have gained back 40 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

They ponder what the 2016 Presidential candidates will do and invite you to ask for yourself (through their form letter, of course.) The valid question is:

What will you do differently? How do you plan to help spur manufacturing job growth and grow the middle class?

Perhaps Larry Hogan’s plan is one answer, although federal intervention may be needed to bring jobs back from overseas. Maryland, though, could create the conditions for growing new companies.

Finally, I wanted to give a shout out to a long-distance supporter of mine over the last several years, one who has decided to make the leap and run for public office. Jackie Gregory threw her hat into the ring for Cecil County Council back in November, running as a Republican in the county’s District 5. That district covers the central part of the county, from the town of North East south along the Elk Neck peninsula.

If you are in the area, she’s having a breakfast next weekend in North East so I would encourage you to drop by and give her some support. Cecil County has been an interesting subject to me for several years, with Gregory’s Cecil County Patriots group being an advocate for change.

So my 79th edition of odds and ends comes to a close as my heater kicks on again. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for summer. By the way, I also finally finished my updates to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame so the page is back up. I’m not sure it’s odd, but it is the end.

My first vote

Surely you follow my site and know that each year, once the General Assembly session is over, I compile the monoblogue Accountability Project. Last year I believe I mentioned that some of the bills that I tracked were vetoed by Larry Hogan but would likely be revisited by this year’s group – sure enough, the “travel tax” was passed for a second time despite the efforts of every Republican who stood behind his or her governor. Even Senator Addie Eckardt, who co-sponsored the original bill, voted to sustain the veto.

That was one of the two bills I used for last year’s mAP. The other bill, which allows felons to vote before completing their sentences (as parole and probation are part of the sentence) has not received a veto vote yet. According to the Maryland House Republican Caucus, the reason why is that Mike Miller is one vote short and waiting for an appointee to replace former Senator Karen Montgomery, who resigned effective January 1. Given the fact Democrats hold a 32-14 edge and will get the 33rd vote when Montgomery is replaced, it appears four Democrats are feeling the pressure to stand with the governor. (If I were to guess I would say three of those four are John Astle, Jim Brochin, and Jim Mathias. They tend to be the most willing to cross the aisle in the Senate and represent conservative districts.)

Assuming the Senate gets that vote – and it won’t happen if Miller can’t rustle up the votes – that will be 2 of my 25 votes. I’m debating whether to eliminate one committee vote and one floor vote or two floor votes to accommodate these veto votes – it may depend on what else shakes out.

The felon voting override was particularly galling because it made it by one vote, and the one member of the Eastern Shore delegation who voted to override should have known better. Perhaps a “soft on crime” label will come in handy in four years because Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes won’t have an incumbent to protect her next time. It was an office that should never have received the free ride she got in 2014.

Next week’s assignment will be to get testimony in favor of our elected school board bill. Those of us who do honest work for a living can’t drop everything and go to Annapolis, but I will make it a point to write up my own statement of support. The hope is that the bill emerges unmolested and we get to decide how we want our school board to be come November.

The magic potion?

One little piece of Larry Hogan’s FY2017 budget proposal caught my eye, but I want to begin with a little reaction to the State of the Union show from my favorite manufacturing advocacy group, the Alliance for American Manufacturing and its president Scott Paul:

President Obama cited economic progress in his State of the Union address, and he also noted the need to address income inequality. If he wants to address this, he need look no further than manufacturing, which had its worst year in 2015 since the Great Recession.

While the president was right to highlight economic progress, he missed an opportunity to address some of the core concerns that are holding back manufacturing. Yes, manufacturing has added nearly 900,000 jobs over the past six years, but that represents less than 40 percent of the factory jobs lost over the recession. Only 30,000 jobs were created in 2015.

Keep that in mind as you read on, particularly the income inequality part. So I noticed a particular piece of news today, and after a bit of searching I found that Baltimore Sun writer Erin Cox included this in a story on Hogan’s tax plan:

Hogan also proposed granting a 10-year corporate tax income break for manufacturing companies new to the state who open in Western Maryland, Baltimore and the lower Eastern Shore, areas where unemployment is dramatically higher than the rest of the state.

“We’ve lost 28 percent our manufacturing base because other states were stealing our manufacturers,” Hogan said. “It was like spearing a fish in a barrel. It was too easy. We’re trying to bring back the manufacturing base because there are a lot of hard-working people in the heartland of Maryland who want to work.”

Hogan’s manufacturing tax amnesty would extend to employees of those businesses. Workers earning less than $65,000 a year would be exempt from state income taxes for a decade.

So let’s say XYZ Widgets opens a manufacturing plant in Salisbury. Not only would they get a tax break from the state of Maryland for a decade, so would the workers who make less than about $30 an hour be exempt from paying Maryland state income tax. (This would probably come as a refund once the taxpayer files his or her return.) I will cheerfully admit this goes against my grain of not supporting targeted tax cuts – particularly since it’s micro-targeted to maybe a few thousand taxpayers at most over the ten-year period – but it is an idea for the hopper that could be successful.

In fact, it extends a practice of states and municipalities granting a tax abatement to chosen entities to convince them to set up shop there. We have enough of a knowledge base now to see how these programs work for large-scale employers such as automotive assembly plants – here is one example from South Carolina, where BMW set up shop over two decades ago.

The other fly in the ointment, though, is determining what happens when the decade is up. Surely it’s the hope of Hogan and his economic development team that these companies would stay, but if not it’s the problem of his successor. My suspicion is that this program will maintain the exemption for the workers, because let’s say you’ve put your ten years in at XYZ Widgets and have become accustomed to that big state refund check. When those sands run out there will be a lot of upset taxpayers who just saw their state tax bite increase by up to $3,000 depending on income and deductions.

There’s also the question of timing. If we are to assume that the 10-year clock begins to tick for a company when they set up shop, we may see a cottage industry of new employers taking advantage of workers who are on the eighth or ninth year of their term of employment and hiring them on. Not only does the new employer poach skilled labor from the older competitors, the older companies won’t have the incentive of being able to work tax-free anymore. Conversely, a blanket starting date means that the program will work well for years 1 through 5, then begin to peter out unless extended.

And then there’s the job creation aspect that Scott Paul and AAM touch on above. Oftentimes with the use of tax incentives a manufacturing job isn’t so much created as it is transferred from somewhere else, and this particular proposal is specific to companies new to the state. So we may see a zero-sum game being played, particularly in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore as companies simply move a few miles from Delaware, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia to take advantage with many of the same workers staying on. Locally, we will see this in reverse as Perdue moves some of its operations in the next few years just across the state line to Delaware – it makes Delaware’s bottom line look a little better and takes a little bit from Maryland, but the workers are just driving a different distance and will stay in this area. (Those who live in Maryland and work in Delaware, though, will have the joy of filling out two state tax returns.)

Overall, this is an interesting idea but there are a number of ways I’ve already found to play devil’s advocate with it. Lord knows ours is a region of the state which could use an economic shot in the arm, though. I still think the complete elimination of the corporate tax (which is also discussed briefly in the South Carolina study I referred to earlier) is the better play as a job creator overall.

And lastly, I’m sure Democrats will be whipping up their base in the Capital region by pointing out they’re not included in this deal. I guarantee that if this program works for the areas with high unemployment there will be a bill within the first year or two adding the rest of the state to the mix (in the interest of fairness, of course.)

Since it’s not clear what the vehicle for attempting to bring about this change will be, I can’t track this proposal to see just what progress it makes. Perhaps it will create a split in the majority party since Baltimore City will be a beneficiary and they’ll back the Republicans who follow the governor to see this through with a narrow victory.

Let the terror begin

For years I have dubbed the annual Maryland General Assembly session the “90 days of terror,” and with good reason: no wallet or personal liberty is safe when the statists who inhabit most of the seats therein get together. Over the eight years of the previous two terms we endured tax increases, spending boondoggles, and enough new regulations to choke a horse, not to mention three measures which were petitioned to referendum by angry citizens.

While a new broom swept the governor’s office clean last year, Larry Hogan needed to get his sea legs under him as he took the helm of the ship of state so he didn’t create a huge legislative agenda last year – in a broad sense, it was about easing some of the tax burden Marylanders had been subjected to over the O’Malley administration, including repeals of the rain tax and automatic increases in the gasoline tax. Other items Hogan focused on were charter school reform and public campaign financing, which were among the few items Hogan had passed.

So since Hogan didn’t get his tax relief last year, it’s the front and center item on his 2016 agenda that kicks off later today. Democrats, of course, believe shoveling money into a bloated public education system is more important than giving hard-working Marylanders a tax break.

Something else to keep an eye on, though, are the department-sponsored bills, which now will bear the stamp of Hogan’s departmental appointees. Just like the governor, this is their first full legislative session as well and I’ve noticed a number of interesting measures coming from various departments that have already been pre-filed.

But the tension will be thick as Hogan tries to enact the agenda he promised while Democrats strive to make sure he’s another one-term Republican governor. As of 2018, it will have been 64 years since a Republican was re-elected as Maryland governor; however, Hogan has began his term as one of the most popular governors in the country and this session will occur with the backdrop of a Presidential race in which the Democrats aren’t utterly sold on their potential nominee. (Tellingly, the previous governor couldn’t even be a “favorite son” Presidential nominee from his own state.) In a contest over pocketbook issues, Hogan may have the public on his side.

We will know quickly just how the session will go as several of Hogan’s vetoes will be up for override. This was a rarity in the previous administration, but it’s worth recalling that the Democrats didn’t give Bob Ehrlich much of a honeymoon so I expect there to be at least one Hogan veto rebuffed. Democrats want to raise taxes, give felons the right to vote before completing their full sentences, make some reforms on civil forfeiture, and decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia. Out of those four vetoes, only the civil forfeiture bill originally had enough House votes to override a veto.

On a local level, we will be very interested to see what becomes of our elected school board bill. Will this finally be the year the state relents and lets the voters of Wicomico County decide its fate?

With a projection that we will have a large increase in filings over last session, it should be a year worth watching. I suspect I will have a difficult time keeping it to just the 25 votes I use for the monoblogue Accountability Project given that the veto votes will likely be included. But with a little help from my friends I look forward to the challenge.

Odds and ends number 78

Here I go again, producing those little dribs and drabs of information that I need a sentence to a couple paragraphs to discuss.

For example, I don’t need to give much more than an “attaboy” to Ted Cruz for continuing to stand against ethanol subsidies yet succeed in Iowa, as Leon Wolf pointed out recently at RedState. Such a stance may not make me a lot of friends among the corn farmers locally, but I’ll bet the chicken producers would love to see a decrease in the price for a bushel and I suspect once the Renewable Fuel Standard is pulled it will give them a break. Let’s hope Cruz (or some other GOP candidate) follows through on this common sense. After all, according to my friend Rick Manning at Americans for Limited Government, the deficit last year was $677 billion so putting ethanol subsidies on the chopping block would make fiscal sense as well.

As Richard Falknor at Blue Ridge Forum points out, though, we have a large number of gutless wonders in our House of Representatives who don’t care that the latest omnibus was a budget-buster. Maybe they just need to read some advice from my Patriot Post cohort Mark Alexander, who reminded us of what our Founding Fathers said 240 years ago. We really do need a revival of the Spirit of ’76. (I’m old enough to remember the Bicentennial, by the way.) As Alexander writes about the current GOP crop:

Patriots, in this presidential election year, I invoke this timeless wisdom from George Washington’s farewell address (1796): “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” Indeed, there are among even the ranks of Republican presidential contenders some pretenders. Caveat Emptor! The future of Liberty hinges on the ability and willingness of grassroots Patriots to distinguish between the genuine article and the false prophets.

Yet while Ted Cruz seems to be one of the few who is standing up for conservative principles in Congress, as Erick Erickson adds at his new website, The Resurgent, the Establishment has decided to throw its lot in with Donald Trump to stop Cruz’s polling advances. Yes, politics makes strange bedfellows.

None may be stranger than those in the state of South Dakota where the drive for non-partisan elections I told you about a few weeks ago made the ballot. Local talk radio host Rick Knobe is spearheading the effort:

For too long, both political parties have been shouting over each other at the expense of the voters, and now have an opportunity to do something about it. Just look at the growing number of registered Independents, which now numbers over 100,000 in South Dakota. That number is growing here and across the country. When this measure passes, those 100,000 South Dakotans will have the opportunity to fully participate in the election process.

The state as a whole had 521,017 registered voters as of the 2014 elections so it appears about 20-25% are not affiliated. If it is adopted in this election, the state will move to a non-partisan primary for 2018. I suspect the two major parties will lose a significant amount of their support should this happen, so this is something to watch as it develops.

Immigration is one of the issues that has thoroughly disgusted a number of former Republicans who bolted the party when the elites adopted a pro-amnesty stance. Recently many Republicans (including the aforementioned Ted Cruz and our Congressman Andy Harris) supported a major expansion of H-1B visas despite a claim from the Center for Immigration Studies that found no evidence of a labor shortage in those occupations. One has to question how many semi-skilled workers are idle in this area due to the H-1B visa.

Finally, I’m going to circle back to Erick Erickson. I’ve been impressed with his new website, one which I can read without being overrun by annoying pop-up ads and false story breaks that only serve to increase page view count (in order to extort more money from would-be advertisers.) On Thursday he had a candid assessment of how his website was doing and so far he seems to be successful. Good news for those of us who value content over clickbait.

So ends another (hopefully) clickbait-free edition of odds and ends. Now my mailboxes are empty once again.

The quality of Salisbury’s life

January 8, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off 

One of the talking points that Salisbury mayor Jake Day has continually made about bringing jobs to Salisbury is that we need to improve our quality of life. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying the argument, but if we have a quality of life attractive to younger workers they will come here and create the jobs – or so the thinking goes.

So it was interesting that a few weeks back I received an e-mail from a company called LawnStarter. The reason I received it was that I have used business-related survey data from Thumbtack.com in the past and this entrepreneurial outfit had created something they called their Quality of Life Index. (Naturally, the company specializes in assisting lawn care startups by bringing customers and businesses together.) As a state Maryland ranks 13th out of 50, but the lone metropolitan area considered (Baltimore) ranked 73rd out of 101. (We in Maryland surely had assistance from 9th-ranked Washington, D.C. though.)

You may ask how they come up with this index – well, let them explain it:

The index is based on six quality-of-life factors analyzed by LawnStarter and borrowed from The Economist — GDP (economic output) per capita, average life expectancy, divorce rate, unemployment rate, geographic location (latitude) and male-female income equality. The Economist considers these factors to be good barometers for quality of life.

Based on some of the factors cited I suspect Salisbury would be near the bottom of the city list. However, they may not be at the very bottom because the lowest seven cities (and nine of the bottom ten) share one of two things in common:

  • They are in California (Sacramento, Riverside, Fresno, San Bernardino, and Stockton) or
  • are in close proximity to Lake Erie (Buffalo, Toledo, Cleveland, and Detroit)

Memphis is the outlier to that group, with Detroit occupying the 101st and bottom position.

However, Salisbury doesn’t have a particularly high GDP per capita or low unemployment rate, nor is life expectancy that great compared to other places. As a state Maryland is certainly aided by its close proximity to Washington, D.C. but Baltimore’s far lower rating may be closer to the conditions we have to endure here. It could be argued that our area has several of the same pitfalls that plague inland California (Sacramento, Stockton, et. al.) – chronic high unemployment in an area best known for agriculture due to a temperate climate. The agricultural base contributes to the low per capita GDP while the high unemployment eventually manifests itself in a shorter life expectancy thanks to crime and lack of preventative health care.

Short of a Bill Gates suddenly showing up and showering the area with wealth, these factors will remain common to our area. Unfortunately, the few assets we seem to have are difficult to leverage into productive careers. Most of our more lucrative jobs have to do with health care and government as opposed to STEM-based or manufacturing positions, which add more value and GDP. The exceptions to this are having the headquarters of Perdue in Salisbury and the Wallops Island NASA complex; while the latter is a government installation there are a number of private companies which use their facilities. While it’s almost 50 miles away, Salisbury is the closest city of reasonable size to the remote installation on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

But those two entities need to be joined by many others to truly bring a better quality of life to Salisbury. To use a good local analogy, it’s like a chicken-and-egg question: does the quality of life come from good jobs or do jobs spring from a good quality of life? I believe the former is true, while our mayor seems to side with the latter. Over the next few years, we will see who is correct in our local case.

When Salisbury arrives

January 6, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · Comments Off 

There are news stories that turn out to be much ado over nothing, and recently the Salisbury community has been roiled by such a story. To some, it’s a scandal and an outrage that our little community will once again be denied…a Cracker Barrel.

For some unknown reason, ever since I have moved here it’s been the dream of some for that restaurant chain - which has over 600 locations around the country including those on Kent Island and Rehoboth Beach - to open one in Salisbury. In general, the company opens their locations within sight of a major highway, so the first rumor was that there would be one built where the old Zia’s was torn down just north of the junction between U.S. 13 North and U.S. 50, which is perhaps the true crossroads of Delmarva. That interchange is close by the Centre of Salisbury, a regional enclosed mall.

After the former Zia’s parcel went by the boards (to become the location for a second Chipotle restaurant in Salisbury) the attention and gossip turned to a vacant parking lot outside the Centre of Salisbury in front of a shuttered J.C. Penney store. But that option has also been rejected thanks to one of the anchor tenants at the mall, according to this published report. Thus, local residents are up in arms.

I don’t make a living as a restaurant critic, but in my Ohio days I had eaten at Cracker Barrel perhaps a half-dozen times because I lived relatively close to the junction between I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike (definitely major highways) and there’s a Cracker Barrel close by that exit. While my ex liked it, to me Cracker Barrel was nothing special – unlike Buffalo Wild Wings, for which I was thrilled when they finally made it here from Ohio. (Admittedly, BWW has lost some of its charm since it went national - I go back to when it was called BW-3.)

It also amuses me that there are people who are pining for Cracker Barrel to come in on the one hand, but lament that there are no good local restaurants to eat at. Obviously Salisbury has a large enough market base that dozens of national and regional chains are located here, but they mainly tend to congregate around the Centre of Salisbury or Salisbury University. Located in other parts of town, particularly downtown, are a number of local business we’re continually being told we need to patronize. “Shop local,” everyone says. So why do we need a Cracker Barrel?

Of course, the answer is obvious since there’s apparently a pent-up local demand for average food and overpriced knick-knacks. But to go on for the better part of ten years? People were excited to get a Famous Dave’s here, but that folded up in short order.

If you ask me, the best spot for Cracker Barrel (or similar tourist-driven enterprises) is the parcel of land close by Perdue Stadium that was once slated for mixed-use development before the Great Recession tried to wipe the local economy out. It’s already annexed into the city, infrastructure can be added easily, and the site has major highway access and visibility. Another possibility is a parcel farther west on U.S. 50 recently purchased for development, according to the Daily Times.

Whatever the case may be, in the interim those who really like Cracker Barrel will have to drive an hour or more to get their fix.

Transcending the political

First off, welcome to 2016. As a politically-minded blogger, even-numbered years in America always seem to draw more interest in my site so I hope it begins today.

But to begin 2016 I want to write about something which on its face would appear to be political but goes beyond party politics. It comes from the 9-12 Delaware Patriots, a conservative political group and one that has its interest in pushing Delaware in a different direction than its leadership tends to want to go – a recent example was their opposition to Syrian refugees entering the state.

However, a conservative movement is well-served in branching out beyond politics so I thought this part of their New Year’s message was appropriate in that regard:

Many of our members face challenges this year; health, financial, employment, etc.  We hope to build a network of support throughout this new year for our members to bring resources to bear.  One of the exciting things we’ll be doing is developing a directory of members who provide goods and/or services in the community.  We also will be setting up resources for people to receive donated items and to donate items to our members or the community at large.  If you are familiar with setting up and managing one of these “Needs & Seeds” programs, please contact Karen Gritton.

Perhaps the best places to learn more about their particular program are their social media page and website. This, though, brings up a larger point about the willingness of political groups to help out.

I have been involved to some degree or another with party politics for over two decades. Many people who are connected to a party – speaking from experience as a Republican, but assuming it’s not uncommon among Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, or anyone else – also spend a lot of time helping out in the community on an individual level. They may be Jaycees, volunteer and donate their time to lead the local Relay for Life, be a deacon in a local church – whatever the case, they aren’t creatures of the party. On the other hand, while individual members of a political party may be community leaders, the party itself by definition serves solely as a vehicle to get their favored or voter-selected candidates elected to public office.

So there are interest groups which try and straddle the line between politics and community. To use an example I’m familiar with, the Wicomico County Republican Club has a scholarship they give to a local high school senior. While there is competition to win it, the most basic requirement is that the recipient be a registered Republican – so it’s not inclusive of the entire community. (This is true of many other scholarships and awards as well, such as those only available to public school students.) In previous years, the WCRC also had a food stand at the old Salisbury Festival. But as a group their primary goal and interest is to elect Republicans.

On the other side of the coin are interest groups that aren’t necessarily political, but have a strong common interest and desire to do politically-based things. Foremost in my mind in that regard is the Free State Project, which is a movement to gather 20,000 liberty-minded people who promise to move to the state of New Hampshire, deemed to be the most advantageous pro-liberty state. (As of this writing, they are at 18,406. Once the 20,000 goal is reached, which could be this year, those who signed pledge to move to New Hampshire within five years. Almost 1,900 already have.) It’s likely that this group would be politically active upon arrival, but as it stands they are more of a community.

As the TEA Party movement evolves away from the label that was unfairly tarnished by half-truths and innuendo, it also needs to become more attuned to how it can be of assistance in a broader sense. I don’t think it’s unfair to consider the 9-12 Delaware Patriots a TEA Party group, but by rule they do not endorse candidates and it’s rare that anyone left-of-center would come be a speaker at their meetings. (Kudos to those who do.) What they seek in this call to action is sort of a mini-Free State Project in the regard that it would be encouraged for them to patronize the businesses members own and help each other out in times of need. To me, that echoes some of the functions of the religious community, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find a disproportionate percentage of the 9-12 Delaware Patriots are church members compared to the population at-large.

At the heart of all this is the question of where we want to go as a nation. There are many in this society who would be perfectly happy to cede their decision-making to an all-powerful government in return for subsistence, almost to the point of needing assistance to wipe their behinds. Sadly, I suspect that number is growing because the Millennials and beyond aren’t being educated in the concept of American exceptionalism and the progress to which our laissez-faire capitalist system has led the world.

Yet there are still a fair number of us who desire the limited government we were taught the Constitution guaranteed to us. We may argue about whether or not certain functions are legitimate and proper, such as our role to combat radical Islam, but the overall idea is to be self-reliant and to try and obey the Golden Rule. Some argue that the 2016 election may be our last stand, and we don’t want Custer in charge of it. (Many portray Donald Trump as Custer, while others believe any politician with Washington ties will lead us straight to that ambush.) Regardless, they have been disappointed with the political trends ever since the TEA Party movement began in 2009 as the opposition to statism.

Over this year, the electoral process will play out and hopefully the side of liberty will prevail. In the meantime, though. the idea behind the 9-12 Delaware Patriots’ initiative will be worth following. Perhaps it can lead to a local resurgence in the TEA Party movement that faded away a couple years ago.

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