I’ve referred to this writer recently, but energy maven Marita Noon had a piece at NetRightDaily today talking about the difficulties customers in the Northeast may have this winter with electricity. It got me to thinking about the local situation, as we had a rough winter last year and indications are we’ll have more of the same this year.
While the Eastern Shore of Maryland is situated in a slightly better place for solar electricity than the Northeast, the reality is that very little of our electricity comes from renewable sources. Instead, the two closest power plants in the Delmarva Power region where we live are in Vienna, Maryland and Millsboro, Delaware. Both of those plants were once owned by Delmarva Power, but were sold in 2001 to NRG. According to NRG, the Vienna plant is a 167 MW oil-burning plant while Indian River in Millsboro uses coal to create 410 MW (and has a 16 MW oil-burning unit as well.) Another plant under construction in Dover, owned by Calpine, will add 309 MW of natural gas-fired capacity once it comes online beginning next year. Calpine also owns a number of small, locally-based “just in case” plants in the region as well – two of these oil-burning facilities are in Crisfield, Maryland and Tasley, Virginia.
The other regional power supplier, Choptank Electric Cooperative, produces about 2/5 of its supply from plants in Cecil County, Maryland and Virginia with the remaining electricity being purchased from various regional suppliers.
Infrastructure is also a concern. Several years ago there were plans to create the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway, a transmission line which would extend from Virginia to Delaware, connecting the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant and others in that region with the aforementioned Vienna and Indian River plants. But those plans were scrapped a few years ago due to slowing demand, which is unfortunate because our transmission otherwise comes exclusively from the north through Delaware.
In order to create good jobs, we need reliable sources of energy. Unfortunately, regulations aren’t on the side of plants like Vienna or Indian River so it may be time to think about encouraging investment in another natural gas-based power plant on Delmarva, with the requisite infrastructure to ensure supply. According to Calpine, the Dover site can expand to double its capacity but that would only partially replace the Indian River plant if it is forced offline. Realistically, though, the new power plant would probably be best sited in Delaware as it’s closer to the main body of pipeline infrastructure for natural gas.
But the new power plant is good news for the region, particularly in light of the issues Noon points out in her piece on the Northeast. With thousands of consumers using electricity to heat their homes in one way or another – either directly through baseboard heating or with a furnace and blower or pump – reliability is key. And when solar panels are buried in snow or wind turbines are frozen in place, they’re not much use.
It took several months longer than anticipated – and we don’t yet know exactly what the toll will be – but last night 80 percent of Salisbury City Council gave 100 percent of local property owners another tax to pay by approving a stormwater utility on a 4-0 vote, with newly-appointed Jack Heath being absent.
Council President Jake Day “doesn’t expect” the fee to be more than $20 a year for homeowners, and expects to raise $1.25 million annually from the “rain tax” – and yes, I think the moniker is appropriate given the business fee will be determined by the amount of runoff they produce. According to the latest Census data, though, there are 13,401 housing units in Salisbury so my public school math tells me that businesses are going to pay almost 80% of the total, to the tune of almost $1 million annually.
Interestingly enough, I was quoted in the Daily Times story from last Thursday from a post I wrote in February when the idea came up, and I think the point is still valid: we don’t know what impact there will be from this tax hike on the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay. It seems to me that the timing isn’t very good on this one, particularly as the state and county are working to make these entities more business-friendly and new taxes tend to work in the opposite direction.
I was curious about something, so I took a look at the city’s latest budget that was adopted in May. In it, Mayor Jim Ireton points out that “(t)his budget shows levels of monetary surplus at incredibly healthy levels for both the City’s General Fund and the City’s Water and Sewer Utility.” But it also is using some of the proceeds from the wastewater treatment plant settlement on sewer infrastructure, so why do they need this new tax now? Granted, it’s also stated in the budget that ratepayers get a 2.5% break on water and sewer rates this year, but the extra $20 fee will likely eat that savings up and then some.
The budget also makes the case that the $100 a month, give or take, that a residential property owner pays in property taxes provides a cornucopia of services, a palette which includes stormwater management. So we’re already paying for the service with our property taxes, but instead of adding the penny or two that would cover the additional services the city wants to create a new special fund. Currently the Water and Sewer Fund comprises roughly 1/3 of a city budget which runs about $50 million, with property taxes chipping in about $22 million toward the General Fund. With the city of Salisbury increasing the tax rate regularly, it’s doubtful we’ll see a corresponding decrease in property taxes to offset the new fee.
And while I’m not an expert on the city charter by any means, my question is why can’t the purview of the Water and Sewer Utility (which has a large surplus) be simply expanded to stormwater? Generally infrastructure improvements to the stormwater system involve changes to the remaining utilities as well, so the same work may well come out of two (or three) different funds given the city’s idea. It may be more efficient and less taxing on the city’s residents to amend the charter to add stormwater to the existing water and sewer utility.
So let’s review: the fee would cover something which is already supposed to be paid for, in an amount we haven’t quite determined yet, to achieve projects for which we don’t know the scope but are supposed to address a problem Salisbury contributes little to and is only compelled to deal with because the state refuses to stick up for itself and tell the EPA and Chesapeake Bay Foundation to go pound sand. What could go wrong?
Just remember all this come Election Day next year.
Update 11/26: I actually stumbled upon this as I was researching some items for my next post today, but it’s worth pointing out that Salisbury has justified its adoption of a stormwater utility by saying the town of Berlin has one in place.
The same group, called the Environmental Finance Center – which is part of the University of Maryland but serves as a regional hub for an existing EPA program – did studies to justify the need for Berlin (2012) and Salisbury (2013). The results were pretty much the same, although the suggested fee was higher in Berlin than it was in Salisbury, where they recommended a $40 annual fee for homeowners. Notably, the Salisbury report also recommends fee increases after a period of years – see the chart on page 15. So the problem won’t ever be solved and the program will run an annual surplus that likely won’t be rebated to taxpayers. Moreover, unlike a property tax from which religious-based entities have traditionally been exempt, they have to pay the fee as well.
We think that true sustainability and resilience – in an increasingly unstable, crisis-prone world – will depend on fundamental transformations of the systems (including the value systems) by which everyday life is organized. These include the systems by which we make and consume energy, food, and materials, and the systems by which we make and enforce social decisions.
We’ve already seen the results of a national “fundamental transformation” over the last six years, and many millions would like to transform back to where we were. But a tone-deaf government just wants to take more out of our pockets rather than prioritize existing resources.
This time next week bleary-eyed shoppers may already be ready to call it a day at a time when most normally arrive for work.
Playing on the theme of “black Friday,” the Patriot Voices advocacy group is seeking to make that shopping day a “red, white, and blue Friday” by encouraging shoppers to buy American. The “Made in the USA Christmas Challenge” is one that promotes both American-based manufacturing and small businesses by also promoting Small Business Saturday the following day. Patriot Voices founder and former Senator Rick Santorum noted:
This Christmas season, millions of hard-working families are struggling to make ends meet. If we hope to lift up all Americans, we must first support those families and the jobs they hold. This means supporting American companies and American-made products at the check-out line. While our effort may be small in the grand scheme of the holidays, everyone must do their part to making sure we support our family, friends, and neighbors.
The folks at Patriot Voices also added:
The 2nd annual Patriot Voices “Made in the USA” Christmas Challenge will bring attention to the need to buy American-made goods and shop at local small businesses this holiday season. Senator Santorum will encourage Patriot Voices members and Americans around the country to sign a pledge to shop locally and buy American made goods this Christmas.
For several months I’ve placed an emphasis on manufacturing jobs, believing it’s a great way to grow the economy and also return our country to a position of prominence in the world such that we had during the Greatest Generation, a time when we produced our way to victory in a world war. This is a continuation of that effort and it’s a worthwhile one. (It also doesn’t hurt that I know a good source for finding American-made products, one which just happens to be based in Santorum’s home state.)
Realistically, it would be difficult to get everything on your Christmas list “made in America.” In particular, those loss leader electronics which will be fought over on Thanksgiving night and/or the wee hours of Friday morning when stores open are generally made overseas. Unfortunately, we don’t make Xbox or PS4 consoles here nor do we produce most tablets, iPhones, or other such gadgets. I don’t think this has to be a permanent problem, though – it just takes some sound reworking of tax and regulation policies along the lines of that which Rick has supported in the past. Those philosophies led a lot of people in the Midwest and South to vote for Santorum in 2012 – even I did after my top choice(s) dropped out of the running.
Honestly, I’m not much of a shopper. But those who power-shop are encouraged to join in this effort because the job you could create might be that of your neighbor or family member. A new opportunity for a struggling breadwinner can be the greatest gift of all.
In 2012, Maryland voters foolishly rejected a bid to overturn in-state tuition for illegal aliens despite the fact thousands of voters signed a petition to bring it to referendum. Its passage further cemented Maryland’s reputation as a “sanctuary state,” where illegal aliens already had an easy time getting drivers’ licenses and (allegedly) illegally voting in elections.
So it’s not too comforting reading a report from the Center for Immigration Studies detailing a few abuses of birthright citizenship or finding from the same source that immigrant families account for 42% of Medicaid growth since 2011. Naturally, the CIS is biased against unfettered immigration, so one would expect these types of reports from them.
Yet if you look and listen around this area and see all the Spanish-language entities – whether storefronts, media, or just conversations on the street – there’s no question any change is simply locking the barn door after the horse got out. This was something of a culture shock to me moving down here, knowing I was a thousand miles from the southern border. But the local labor market, with its heavy emphasis on agriculture and poultry processing, provides the low-wage jobs immigrants flocked here to take. And as they came, their influence expanded outward into the construction industry and other areas where day labor is valued.
And while this area of Maryland and Delaware is actually below-average insofar as Hispanic population goes on a national scale, there are some enclaves like Georgetown where a high number of Hispanics have settled. Moreover, Census data is a little bit of a trailing indicator as local school districts have somewhat higher Hispanic kindergarten enrollment than the census population may indicate.
But the problem isn’t necessarily one of those who are here, but those who are promised to come if amnesty becomes the law (or lack thereof) for the land. There are only so many low-skill, low-wage jobs available in the region, jobs which can’t support a reasonable lifestyle. If the families of those who are already here get extended by the addition of other relatives, though, the support will have to come from somewhere. Someone has to pay for the additional schools, services, and assistance these newcomers will require. Unfortunately, most local and state budgets are already strained.
If the idea is to create a perpetual underclass that’s dependent on government, full amnesty is the way to go. But I’d rather reward those who do things the right way than the ones who game the system and catch a lucky break when we turn a blind eye. If we are to be a nation of laws, we need to do immigration reform in such a way that those who came illegally don’t use it to their advantage. Crime is not supposed to pay.
There are actually a couple things I want to tie together in this piece – they may seem disparate at first, but I think there’s a common thread in something I write about on a frequent basis.
For a guy whose party took a good old-fashioned ass-kicking in the midterms, Barack Obama sure is governing like he didn’t hear any of the voters, whether they showed up or not. We may like these gasoline prices which are the lowest they have been through his time in office, but he’s still determined to decimate our economy in the name of combating global warming. It was a point Peter Ingemi (aka DaTechGuy) made with some hashtag and messaging suggestions today.
In order for our economy to grow, we need to use energy. Like it or not, the vast majority of energy sources for our needs in the near-term future will be fossil fuels – thanks to advances in technology, oil and natural gas prices are reasonably cheap and supplies are plentiful.
And even if you say that cutting our greenhouse gas emissions is a worthy goal, we still are allowing China – you know, that country which seems to send us every product under the sun that’s not made here anymore because manufacturers bailed on America a couple decades back – to continue to increase its emissions. They say they would like their emissions to “peak” around 2030 – of course, that’s no iron-clad guarantee and since when have communists ever told the truth or lived up to an agreement? It’s a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the Chinese and it lasts for 15 years – meanwhile, we cripple what little industry hasn’t abandoned us yet due to shortsighted government policies and the obvious feeling that corporations are cash cows for exploitation to increase spending.
So, just like Obamacare has become the descriptive term for bad health care policy, “Obama China deal” and “Obama EPA regulations” should become part of the political lexicon. Admittedly, it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as Obamacare but all three are detrimental to our economy.
EPA regulations restricting the use of fossil fuels would interrupt what’s been a promising rebirth of an American energy industry many thought was dying just a few short years ago. Instead, they are at a point where the need for workers is great as the industry continues to expand, and writer Marita Noon hit upon a great marriage of supply and demand just in time for Veterans Day. As she notes:
The U.S. oil-and-gas industry has added millions of jobs in the past few years and expects to add more and more—especially with the new energy-friendly Republican-controlled Congress. Just the Keystone pipeline — which is now likely to be built — will employ thousands. Increased access to reserves on federal lands will demand more personnel. But finding potential hires that fit the needs of the energy industry in the general labor pool is difficult, as they lack discipline, the ability to work in a team and, often, can’t pass a drug test.
Obviously our veterans have these qualities in spades thanks to their military experience, (Similarly, veterans have been integrated into a successful local construction firm led by one of their own.)
The question of climate change isn’t one of whether it occurs, as our planet has veered between ice age and warm periods ever since its creation untold eons ago. It’s always been one of responsibility and corrective action – my view is that the sun is the prime driver of the climate and we can’t do a whole lot about that fact. Just the fact that global temperature has held near-steady over the last 18 years and not constantly risen with the amount of carbon emissions punches a hole in a lot of the global warming theory, and is a prime reason they’ve gone to the term “climate disruption.” If we ceased using energy tomorrow it wouldn’t make a dime’s worth of difference to the climate but millions would starve.
Fortunately, what Obama has proposed with China isn’t binding until the Senate says so and a climate deal is probably dead on arrival in a GOP-controlled Senate. But the EPA and other regulators can provide a backhanded way of putting our end of the China deal in effect without lawmakers having a say.
In a proposal that’s wrong on so many levels, the Baltimore City Council passed a surprise measure to ban plastic grocery bags beginning next April, according to the Baltimore Sun and their reporters Yvonne Wenger and Luke Broadwater. Perhaps most interesting to me was the fact they were originally going to slap a nickel fee on each bag but changed their mind based on election results:
Baltimore Councilman James B. Kraft, the bill’s sponsor, said he backed off the idea of charging a fee for plastic bags after last week’s election. He noted the victory of Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, a Republican who frequently criticized Democrats for passing too many taxes and fees.
“Last week’s election around the country showed us two things: People care about progressive issues; and they do not want to pay any more taxes or fees. We got the message,” Kraft said.
Naturally, the ban would induce an additional cost on businesses because paper bags are more expensive than plastic ones.
I actually heard about this a week or so ago. I’m on the mailing list of a company called Edelman Digital Public Affairs, and one of their clients is a plastic bag manufacturer, Novolex. They’re a little behind the times with this page, but apparently the proposed ban caught a lot of people off guard.
Yet a bag tax isn’t unprecedented in the region. Washington, D.C. put a nickel-per-bag tax out in 2010, and Maryland legislators considered this same measure shortly afterward. There wasn’t a push to ban them outright until now, though.
Can plastic grocery bags cause unsightly litter? Yes. But on balance they are far more useful than paper bags and more sanitary than reusable bags that have to be washed occasionally. (Frugal people like us haven’t bought a liner for our little wastepaper baskets in years because plastic grocery bags work just fine, so we are recycling.)
To me, it’s just another intrusion of the nanny state, and an indication that Baltimore City Council has its priorities wrong: with joblessness, crime, and failing schools plaguing the city, you’re worried about plastic bags? Yet with its margin of passage in this reading, even an expected mayoral veto would do no good.
Hopefully cooler heads will prevail next week, but I’m not holding my breath.
Yesterday we received word that the unemployment rate dropped again, with another month of job growth in the 200,000 range. It’s not the Reagan recovery of the 1980s – when we had 15 straight months of job growth in 1983-84 that would put this latest number to shame, including a whopping 1,115,000 jobs created in September 1983 – but it is a reasonably decent run.
Yet just as manufacturing didn’t share in the Reagan-era gains as much as other sectors did (in fact, it lost some ground), the second Obama term has also fallen well short of manufacturing growth goals. I’ve discussed this group and its job tally before both here and on my former American Certified site, but the Alliance for American Manufacturing tracks progress toward the one million manufacturing jobs Barack Obama promised in his second term.
AAM’s president Scott Paul isn’t all that pleased about it, either.
The good news is that manufacturing jobs have grown over the past few months. The bad news is that they haven’t grown fast enough. I’m very concerned that a surge of imports from China and a paucity of public investment in infrastructure will continue to hamper the great potential of the productive sector of our economy.
Hopes of achieving the White House goal of 1 million new jobs in the Administration’s final term are fading fast. Without some progress on the trade deficit and a long-term infrastructure plan, I don’t see that changing. No doubt the economic anxiety that many Americans still feel is compounded by stagnant wage growth and diminished opportunities for middle class careers.
Two of the key issues AAM harps on are, indeed, currency manipulation and infrastructure investment, although they also took time recently to praise Obama’s manufacturing initiatives and chastise Walmart for their ‘buy American’ effort because much of it comes in the form of produce and groceries. Around these parts, we don’t really mind that emphasis because we produce a lot of American-grown poultry so if Walmart is willing to invest in us we’re happy to provide. (Then again, that promised distribution center would be nice too.) Of course, AAM is backed in part by the steelworkers’ union so one can reasonably assume their view is the center-left’s perspective.
Even so, the group is useful because it makes some valid points. And I think we should have some focus on creating manufacturing jobs in Maryland, as the defunct gubernatorial campaign of outgoing Delegate Ron George tried to do.
Thus, I think the incoming Hogan/Rutherford administration should make it a goal to create 50,000 new manufacturing jobs in Maryland over his first four-year term – if he succeeds, you better believe he deserves a second. According to BLS figures, as of September an estimated 103,000 people are employed in manufacturing in Maryland. But if you look at past data, it’s not unprecedented to have 150,000 (as late as November 2002) or even 200,000 (as late as June 1990) working in the field. And when you take the confluence of a state that is supposedly #1 in education and combine it with the proximity to both major markets and inexpensive energy sources, there’s no reason we should have lost 30,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector under Martin O’Malley – or 16,000 under Bob Ehrlich, for that matter.
But how do you turn things around in four years? Maryland has to make people notice they are open for business, and there are some radical proposals I have to help with that turnaround.
First of all, rather than tweak around the edges with lowering the corporate tax rate, why not just eliminate it altogether? The revenue to the state from that toll is $1.011 billion in FY2015, which is far less than the annual budgetary increase has been. Would that not send a message that we are serious about job growth and immediately improve our status as a business-friendly state?
The next proposals are somewhat more controversial. To the extent we are allowed by the federal government and its environmental regulations, those who choose to invest in the state and create jobs should have an easier path to getting environmental permits and zoning approvals. Even if a moratorium is temporary, making it easier to deal with MDE regulations would encourage job creation. Most of Maryland’s towns and cities already have industrial sites available, but we shouldn’t discourage construction in rural areas if a job creator needs more space.
We’ve also heard about the construction of the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the Red Line in Baltimore - combined, the two are expected to fetch a price tag of $5.33 billion. For that sum, it seems to me we could build a lot of interstate highway – even if this $4 million per mile figure is low (and it would be 1,267 miles of highway based on the combined cost of the Red Line and Purple Line) we could do a lot to assist in moving goods through and from Maryland, whether by finishing the originally envisioned I-97 through to the Potomac (and with Virginia’s assistance, to I-95 near Richmond) or enlisting Virginia and Delaware’s help in improving the U.S. 13/58 corridor to interstate standards to provide a secondary route around Richmond, Washington, and Baltimore.
Once we eliminate the onerous restrictions proposed for fracking and begin to open up the western end of the state for exploration, and (dare I say it?) work on making Maryland a right-to-work state like Virginia – or even creating right-to-work zones in certain rural counties like the Eastern Shore and Maryland’s western panhandle – the potential is there to indeed create those 50,000 manufacturing jobs – and a lot more! It just takes a leader with foresight and the cajones to appeal to the Democrats in the General Assembly as well as a Republican Party unafraid to take it to the streets in the districts of recalcitrant members of Maryland’s obstructionist majority party.
But even if we only create 40,000 or 25,000 manufacturing jobs through these policies, the state would be better-positioned to compete for a lot of other jobs as well, and the need is great. For too long this state has put its economic eggs in the federal government’s basket and there’s a changing mood about the need for an expansive presence inside the Beltway. Rightsizing the federal government means Maryland has to come up with another plan, and this one has proven to be a success time and time again across the nation.
Since I parted ways with American Certified a few months ago, I haven’t followed the manufacturing world as much as I had while writing for them. But they still hold an important place in our economy and the question needs to be asked: are you a manufacturing voter?
This video was put out by the National Association of Manufacturers, which has a full-size spread just in time for this year’s election. They stress seven key issues:
The immigration system in the United States is broken. Comprehensive reform will strengthen U.S. economic and national security and ensure that manufacturers’ workforce needs are met, without displacing American workers.
Energy is poised to be a significant competitive advantage for manufacturing in the United States. In fact, the United States enjoys a slight advantage on energy costs compared to our major trading partners. The United States can widen this gap and enhance our energy security.
In recent years, the nation’s time-tested labor law system has faced significant challenges. The National Labor Relations Board, for example, has issued rules and orders that undermine employer flexibility and chill workplace relations. U.S. labor laws should safeguard the rights of employees and employers.
Nearly 12 million men and women work in manufacturing in the United States. This workforce can grow significantly if manufacturers can find workers with the skills needed for the modern manufacturing workplace. Today, 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled because of this skills gap.
To thrive in the global economy, manufacturers need trade policies that make the United States a better place from which to export. Manufacturers thrive when they can compete in open markets abroad.
Manufacturers rely on a strong infrastructure to move people, products and ideas. Unfortunately, the nation’s infrastructure is out of date and resting on the legacy of a bygone era. To compete in the 21st-century economy, the United States must invest in and modernize our infrastructure in ways that encourage economic growth, job creation and increased competitiveness.
Manufacturers in the United States face a significant disadvantage in the global competition for investment and jobs. In fact, it is 20 percent more expensive to manufacture in this country compared to our major trading partners and that excludes the cost of labor. Taxes drive this cost disadvantage.
I’m not sure whether their idea for immigration reform matches up with mine; presumably they operate under the incorrect belief that there aren’t enough qualified Americans to do the specialized engineering they need. But in a broad sense, what assists manufacturing would probably help the economy at large.
And our Congressman Andy Harris seems to agree with NAM’s approach – so much so that he scores a perfect 100 percent on their voter guide. By a wide margin, he has the best record of any Maryland or Delaware House member.
Yet this approach is also needed on a local scale as well. While Maryland state representatives can’t do a great deal with some issues that require federal input, they can pave the way on issues like tax reform, energy, job training, and infrastructure to put more Marylanders to work making things.
Lowering the corporate tax rate (or even eliminating it) would be a great step, as would opening up Maryland to fracking, promoting technical and vocational education as part of an overall broad “money follows the child” educational reform, and dumping inefficient light rail boondoggles like the Purple Line and Red Line in favor of creating alternative routes for through trucks, another Bay crossing from southern Maryland to the lower Shore, and upgrading the U.S. 13 corridor through Delaware – these are all worthy ideas for real investment.
Those who vote for manufacturing should keep that platform in mind when those candidates get to Annapolis and Washington.
On Saturday I was alerted to a story by John Fritze in the Baltimore Sun regarding Andy Harris and his attempt to level the playing field a little bit in Maryland politics by creating a superPAC called A Great Maryland PAC. According to the Sun, Harris donated $150,000 to the PAC, which turned right around and put out a commercial depicting Jim Mathias, Norm Conway, Martin O’Malley and Barack Obama as “liberal peas in a pod.”
I don’t have a copy of the spot to show you at the moment, but the theme seems similar to one Harris used in the 2008 primary against former State Senator E. J. Pipkin and onetime Congressman Wayne Gilchrest.
What’s funny to me, though, is the Democrats’ reaction, like from Jim Mathias:
“I don’t think it’s right,” said Mathias, who said he had no idea who was behind the television spot. “People’s freedom of speech — I support that with my every breath — but if you’re going to make these kinds of accusations, I think there should be accountability.”
Funny you should talk about that, Jim – I’ve been holding you accountable for your votes for years, and I’m glad to finally have a little help. So come clean about where you received your campaign funding (hint: it’s a lot of special interests.)
Harris has been a savior to Republicans around the state, with significant donations to several candidates as well as the state party – in total, including the seed money for the A Great Maryland PAC, Harris is over $300,000 in campaign contributions – and that’s good news for conservatives around the state.
Hopefully he’ll need to collect more to give to more incumbent recipients next time around.
Unfortunately, I can’t make the event with my work schedule but I was asked to at least spread the word.
Christopher Summers of the Maryland Public Policy Institute invited me to a Maryland Policy Forum on A Better Way to Restore the Chesapeake Bay, to be held Tuesday night (the 28th of October) at Washington College in Chestertown. (It would be a close trip for my friends and fans up Cecil County way.) The event is billed this way:
Maryland officials expect that it will cost over $14 billion in the next decade to meet EPA pollution mitigation targets for the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. Yet Maryland has pointedly ignored a single, enormous source of the pollutants—the massive amount of water-scoured sediment and trapped nitrogen and phosphorus behind the Susquehanna River’s Conowingo Dam. Periodic discharges from the dam, such as the one following Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, spill enormous amounts of sediment and nutrients into the Bay, dwarfing the most optimistic cleanup targets that have been set for the watershed.
What should Maryland do to reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution, and is current policy too much or too little?
In looking at the bios of the three panelists and moderator, it looks like a good mix of opinions will be had. Of course, there are those who believe the MPPI will put its thumb on the scale for the conservative side but it’s a side which isn’t often listened to in this state.
Personally I believe the cleanup behind Conowingo should take precedence over the regulations which have been adopted. Ditch enforcement of these tier maps, the seven-lot subdivision limit, and septic regulations which only serve to curtail growth in rural areas of the state like the Eastern Shore until the sediment behind that dam is cleaned up and we have a year or two of testing to see the difference. Instead of picking on agriculture, figure out ways to upgrade the real problem: failing urban sanitary sewage treatment plants.
I doubt either of the two candidates for governor will be there, but I think Larry Hogan should send a surrogate to hear what the MPPI and their panelists have to say. Obviously job creation is the key issue in this election, but a different, localized approach to cleaning up Chesapeake Bay would be a good secondary issue to discuss in the waning days of the campaign.
Today is the day that tiny percentage of Maryland registered voters who actually do this begin going to the polls for early voting. I know some of my party cohorts will be out at the Civic Center campaigning for the Republican ticket, and needless to say it’s a straight R year for me.
But there are races I’m much more passionate about than others, so let’s go through the list and I’ll tell you what I think. That IS why you come here, isn’t it? If my number 16 race doesn’t come out I won’t be all that upset, but if the top half-dozen or so go the wrong way I’ll be pissed. These are the 16 items on my specimen ballot – I live in House District 38B and Wicomico County Council District 3, which is one of only two of the five districts to have a contested race.
- Carl Anderton, Jr. for Delegate, District 38B. I am really tired of my poor representation in Annapolis from Norm Conway. He votes for every bloated budget, (almost) every conformity with Obamacare, every accommodation to Big Labor, and a number of other dreadful things as well: in 2011 he voted for the Congressional redistricting that made our state a laughingstock but in committee he helped kill provisions to allow referendums on tax increases and proof of lawful presence before collecting benefits. In 2012 he voted to saddle new homeowners with the added expense of sprinklers, but he saddled the rest of us with the rain tax, tier maps, and the key to getting around our county’s revenue cap by mandating maintenance of effort spending. Granted, once in awhile he votes the right way but why lose on three or four issues to gain one? Republicans and pro-Wicomico Democrats: don’t fall for the hype of potentially losing a committee chair – even though Norm is a fairly nice guy, if he were all that powerful we would be the richest county in the state and we are far from that. It’s definitely time for some new blood to get us back to work. Chances of success: about 50-50.
- Mike McDermott for Senate, District 38. Really, this should be 1-a but my function won’t let me do that. Jim Mathias may vote a little better than Norm Conway, but I would rather have someone who’s a thorn in the side of the current Annapolis majority – who went out of their way to lump him into a district with another sitting Delegate – than a backbencher. What better way to thumb your nose at those who believe the Eastern Shore is the state’s “shithouse” (in more ways than one) than to foil their political intentions? If I can pick up 60 points on the monoblogue Accountability Project by changing my representation, you know the answer is yes. This is another race where conservatives need to come home and not cross the aisle, because Jim’s few blind squirrel votes aren’t worth the overall pain. Chances of success: about 50-50.
- Bob Culver for County Executive. Our county has stumbled and staggered through this so-called recovery with the incumbent Rick Pollitt, a self-described bureaucrat, in charge. Don’t forget that Rick whined about the revenue cap for the first three years in office and promised a zero-based budget I haven’t seen yet. After eight years, it’s time for a change in tactics and Bob can be a fresh set of eyes to address our declining number of employed. I know Bob may rub some the wrong way but I’m willing to overlook that because, to me, re-electing Rick Pollitt is the definition of insanity for Wicomico County. Chances of success: I would say about 40-50 percent.
- M.J. Caldwell for Circuit Court Judge. To me, this is a perplexing case. Here you have an experienced attorney who knows his way around a courtroom taking on a person whose claim to fame is his last name – if it were Swartz, he’d still be at his old firm. But because people still know the Sarbanes name in this area, the newly-appointed “incumbent” got the gig. I was extremely disappointed and somewhat disgusted to see that Caldwell only won the Republican primary with 57 percent of the vote – people, do your homework! Caldwell would be a good judge. Chances of success: about 1 in 3 unless Republicans shape up.
- William Campbell for Comptroller. You’ll notice Peter Franchot has played up his fiscal watchdog tendencies in this campaign, but I think that if Larry Hogan becomes governor we need Bill to keep him grounded and make the Board of Public Works work in a conservative direction for the first time in…well, ever. Unfortunately, Bill has little money to get his message out and Franchot’s too scared to debate him. One problem with Larry Hogan taking public financing is that the Maryland GOP is spending maximum time and effort fundraising for Larry instead of helping these downballot races. Chances of success: alas, probably less than 1 percent.
- Larry Hogan for Governor. All politics is local, so I think the state race can take care of itself. But I hope that Hogan has enough coattails to bring in a dozen Delegates and half-dozen new Senators, including the two mentioned above. While I hated his primary campaign, I have to admit Hogan’s done a good job in the general election round. But will it be enough? Polls suggest it might. Chances of success: about 50-50.
- Larry Dodd for District 3 Council. The thing that bothers me about his opponent is that, for all his “aw, shucks” demeanor, he’s been exposed to a large number of anti-property rights zealots. He worked for Joan Carter Conway, the Senate’s EHEA Chair, and not only does she have a lifetime mAP rating of 4 (yes, that’s really bad) but she has passed a lot of bad legislation through her committee over the last several years – something Josh fails to mention. But I will give Josh Hastings his due: he’s campaigning hard, knocked on my door and has worked harder for the seat than Dodd has. It would be a shame to succeed a good, conservative Councilwoman in Gail Bartkovich with a liberal who may have grown up on a farm but has spent his politically formative years more readily influenced by Baltimore City and Annapolis. Chances of success: about 35 to 40 percent.
- John Cannon for at-large County Council. While his voting record has often been a disappointment, he was one of the two who got through the primary. I have more hope for him becoming a conservative stalwart, though, than I do for his fellow Republican. Chances of success: around 60 percent.
- Voting against Question 1. I’ve stated my reasons for opposition before, but most of the money is backing it and referendum items rarely fail. Chances of success: less than 10 percent.
- Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. We are really in trouble, folks. We could have had one of our good county state’s attorneys (or my personal favorite, Jim Rutledge) step up but instead we got Pritzker, who I have never met. When I see prominent conservative-leaning bloggers backing the Libertarian in the race, it can’t be much of a campaign. That’s a shame, because there’s more to the campaign than legalizing pot. And losing this seat means the gun-grabbing Brian Frosh will be our Attorney General. Chances of success: even less than Campbell’s sub-1 percent shot.
- Matt Holloway for at-large County Council. There are many holes in his voting record as well, but winning the primary makes him the odds-on favorite to not be third on November 4. So I guess I’ll have to wonder how often he’ll cave for another four years. Chances of success: over 80 percent.
- Andy Harris for Congress. No muss, no fuss. Have you heard a word about Bill Tilghman? The one thing you can say about Bill is that at least we haven’t caught him voting twice. This race is perhaps the closest thing to an automatic win for our side – when even the Daily Times has to endorse you, it’s a good sign. Chances of success: over 95 percent.
- Voting against Andrea Leahy as a Special Appeals Judge. Similar to the election involving Jimmy Sarbanes, Judge Leahy is up for election because she was appointed by Martin O’Malley in March. I looked at her profile and wasn’t impressed, but it’s rare a judge is tossed out. I would love to see who Larry Hogan would appoint, but if Leahy lost Martin O’Malley would rush another appointee through – and he or she would sit until 2016. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
- Voting against Kevin Arthur as a Special Appeals Judge. His profile is better than Leahy’s but, still, he is an O’Malley appointee. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
- Grover Cantwell for Orphan’s Court Judge. I have never met the guy, yet he wants my vote. This is a part of the ballot where those who get listed first (the Democrats) have the advantage because they’ve all been on the ballot before. Chances of success: perhaps 1 in 3.
- Voting for Question 2. I can get behind this proposal, which allows charter counties like Wicomico the option to have special elections to fill County Council seats. Having gone through the process of filling such a vacancy, I think it should be opened up despite the risk of losing a GOP seat to a Democrat. Chances of success: over 90 percent.
So this is how I think my local election will go. As for some other contested county races I’m supporting, in order of likelihood of success:
- Addie Eckardt for Senate, District 37. The hard part for her was winning the primary. Sure, there may be some diehard Colburn supporters out there but their other choice is a guy he beat by 20 points last time around. Chances of success: 95 percent.
- Mary Beth Carozza for Delegate, District 38C. Having an opponent who wears a “Ban Assault Weapons” t-shirt to an Andy Harris townhall event provides an immediate advantage in this area. But Mary Beth has been working since the summer of 2013 on this race, and that hard work is on the verge of paying off. Chances of success: 95 percent.
- Marc Kilmer for District 2 Council. When your opponent threatens to go to court for winning, you know you’re in good shape. But Marc has taken nothing for granted, works hard, and has a fairly solid Republican district. Chances of success: at least 80 percent.
- Christopher Adams for Delegate, District 37B. He wasn’t the top vote-getter in any county, but he’s run a solid campaign and the dynamics of the race give him a better path to victory than fellow Republican contender Johnny Mautz. Chances of success: a solid 75 percent.
- Johnny Mautz for Delegate, District 37B. By far the top primary vote-getter, the one drawback is that he has to finish ahead of Keasha Haythe because both hail from Talbot County and there’s a limit of one per county. If he were second to her in the overall voting, he would lose and the third-place finisher moves up. With that in mind, I give him just ever-so-slightly less favorable odds. Chances of success: a solid 74.9 percent.
My advice to every contender in the last two weeks: run like you are five points behind. See you at the polls!
Since I’ve now covered the county and District 37 races, it’s time to focus on the last political subdivision involved, District 38. The turnout for this one was disappointing because they failed to get the two Senate candidates, nor did they cover District 38C (although Democrat contender Judy Davis was in the audience.) On the other hand, District 38A received part of the billing despite the fact the district no longer covers Wicomico County.
So there were just four candidates to deal with: Delegate Charles Otto and former Crisfield mayor P.J. Purnell in District 38A and Delegate Norm Conway and Delmar, Maryland mayor Carl Anderton, Jr. in District 38B. I’ll start with the race that pits Otto, who was elected in 2010 after surviving a four-way Republican primary and rolling up 62% of the general election vote, against Purnell, who served as Crisfield’s mayor for the last eight years before not seeking re-election this year.
Their initial question concerned the wind turbine farm slated for Somerset County, but placed in jeopardy for a time due to objections from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, who was concerned about effects on their radar equipment from the spinning blades. Otto said he had committed to the developers about being neutral toward the project although he objected to the renewable energy portfolio. He believed, though, the project was sited in an “appropriate place” to alleviate health concerns, and would rather see wind turbines than solar panels that directly affect the environment.
Purnell spoke about his experience with wind turbines in Crisfield, where he secured a $4 million “green grant” to build a 750 kilowatt turbine to service the town’s sewage treatment plant. “If it doesn’t work it will be Purnell’s Folly,” he said. But he felt the electricity savings would benefit the city by allowing other items to be funded.
It led into a question on unemployment, and Purnell stated the obvious: “Unemployment is tough.” But he looked for anything he could to create jobs, including grants. “Economic development is a tough process,” said Purnell, who added that we needed to be prepared.
Otto used the aborted Walmart distribution center to point out how the state’s business climate affects job creation – on the very day Somerset County was to reopen discussions with Walmart about the site, the state passed its minimum wage law. Minimum wage and tax structure were the cause of many of our job creation problems, although the toll increase which makes it $1 per mile from the Bay Bridge to Salisbury for a truck doesn’t help either.
In terms of helping the realty industry, Otto blasted the Septic Bill he opposed as part of the “war on rural Maryland.” He vowed, “I’ll continue to defend property rights” in Annapolis.
On the other hand, Purnell believed “sustainability is the root of all our problems on the Eastern Shore.” He predicted we won’t be able to build in five to ten years.
In his closing statement, Purnell pointed out he’d cut Crisfield’s workforce, and made the case he believed smaller government was the answer. Otto talked about the state’s increasing spending and told the gathering, “I was taught to pay for it when I bought it.”
Again, this was a case where the Democrat in the race tried to convince the audience he was just as conservative as the Republican. It wasn’t so much the case in the District 38B race, which places a Delegate who has represented the area in Annapolis since 1986 (and was a Salisbury City Council member for a dozen years before that) against a mayor elected in 2011, who spent six years before that as a member of their town commission.
I noted the other day in my initial report that Anderton apologized for a mailing which depicted Conway as a masked criminal. But Carl was critical when he was asked the question about what he would do differently than Norm.
“Communication is key,” said Carl, who gave the crowd his cell phone number as a way of promoting access. He also noted that “I haven’t seen my Delegate in my town hall” during his entire tenure in Delmar government, reinforcing his belief that “we’re such an underdog in representation.”
Unlike the other participants, Norm had a different question regarding highway user revenues. Conway said that the Transportation Trust Fund had been repaid, but as for the lost highway user revenues it was his claim that the approach was the preference of MACO (the advocacy group for Maryland’s counties.) But “no one knew” the depth of the recession or the extent of the cuts needed, argued Conway.
Norm was asked then about tuition costs, noting they’d maintained a 3% level of increase while other states had done far worse. But he also bemoaned the fact that many students take much longer than four years to graduate, accumulating more debt along the way.
Anderton was asked about how to bring job opportunities here, but pointed out that Wor-Wic Community College, the site of the debate, won’t have its funding restored to previous levels until 2023. “The things that go on in Annapolis have to change,” said Carl. “We have to be fundamentally different (and) we have to do better.”
Something Carl wanted to address for the realtors was the tax differential, although he also spoke helping to create the success of the Heron Ponds development. Conway agreed the differential needed a review or discussion, but felt that eventually Sussex County, Delaware, with its extremely low assessed rates, “will have to face reality.” Norm also praised those moving into downtown Salisbury, calling it “a real plus.”
In his closing statement, Norm talked about how he had always set goals for himself. But Anderton stressed a different approach: “it’s all about teamwork.”
This was an interesting part of the forum because the two candidates answered mostly different questions, which made it difficult to compare and contrast. Obviously Carl wouldn’t have the same voting record as Norm has, but one thing which stuck out at me was that both of Norm’s questions touched on appropriations – how much money it would take to hold tuition costs at 3% increases or how best to cut to fit a budget. Some of that was out of his hands, but I would have really loved to have Norm answer how he could create jobs when things have gone steadily south during his last couple terms. There are reasons Sussex County is so appealing at the moment and advantageous assessments is just one.
As I think I said in a previous rendition, I think this forum would have been far better spread out over a couple nights. It was also disappointing we didn’t get to hear the exchanges between Jim Mathias and Mike McDermott for the District 38 Senate seat or Judy Davis and Mary Beth Carozza for District 38C – which, ironically, is the district Wor-Wic lies in. It went on for over 2 1/2 hours, but with 15 participants there was only time for three questions apiece, plus the opening and closing statements.
Overall, I don’t think anyone crippled their chances for victory so we’ll have to hang on for another couple weeks to see how it goes.