I don’t think I’ve spent this much time at the Wicomico County Fair in, well, ever. Once I get rolling, all the photos will get their own caption.
But the original reason I showed up was to see how my photos did in competition.
I got four second-place photos, which is pretty decent for an amateur like me. Three of them were taken on the same vacation.
But I wasn’t the only one looking for a ribbon, or more. Hundreds and hundreds of exhibits of all sorts filled the Carriage House.
But exhibits and judging weren’t just reserved for the Carriage House. There were an assortment of barnyard animals on display at the fair as well.
Animals who were simply being judged on their cuteness factor to the young set were part of the petting zoo.
And then you have another sort of exhibit and judging in one of my favorite sections of the event: Friday evening’s car show.
I could have added several more photos of old cars I liked, but I decided to be nice and spare you.
Friday also featured another sort of competition: the Maryland High School Rodeo. Yes, there is such a thing, and the Wicomico County Fair was the opener to its 2018-19 season.
I didn’t sit through all of the events, but there was plenty of barrel racing, roping, and even bull riding on the Friday night docket.
Adjacent to the rodeo going on was the shady main lane of the Fair.
There were also other regular staples of the WCF I ran across, too.
I thought I had a picture of this mobile exhibit from the outside as well as the Bookmobile, but I guess not. Funny thing about the Maryland Department of Agriculture mobile exhibit: there are actually two such vehicles now. We got the newer one with the better air conditioning, Montgomery County got the older one this weekend. Serves ’em right.
But they try to hit as many fairs, festivals, etc. as they can. Makes sense as agriculture is the number 1 Maryland industry. (And here I thought it was dependence on the federal government. Nope, saving politics for part 2.)
This group hopes to keep it number one.
I was happy to see these folks do better, too. Explanation in moments.
I’m going to close out part 1 by giving my kudos to the WCF for the way it was set up. They finally figured out that most of us park at the parking lot by the Little League field so the county built a small footbridge over the swale next to that lot. Most people would thus come in by the Carriage House and work their way up toward the main part of the Fair. Not only did it help the train operators out, I thought it was a better flow than parking people in the lot off Old Ocean City Road because it allowed them to close Blue Ribbon Drive and put it to use, as I’ll illustrate to lead off part 2.
I really didn’t mean to take so long between part one of this series and part two, but because the second item on the Ben Jealous for Governor issue list is health care – and there’s a claim out there that his plan will cost Maryland a staggering $24 billion a year, according to analysts at the state’s Department of Legislative Services – I was hoping to see the actual evidence before I wrote the next part. But my trips to the DLS website have been fruitless, leading me to believe that there were a couple cowboys at the DLS who chose to leak this to the Sun.
So before I say this will cost $24 billion a year, I suppose the best thing to know is how we would pay for this program called “Medicare-for-All.” Here’s how Jealous explains the key benefit for the majority of us who are under employer-sponsored plans:
This system will end premiums for participants, reducing costs to most employees and employers. It will be important to create a system that ensures covered employees also see the benefit of this change. MD-Care will explore creating safeguards to ensure that employer savings are passed down to the workers in increased wages, and guarantee that workers see real savings instead of having all of the gains captured by employers no longer paying premiums. (Emphasis mine.)
It’s worth pointing out that health insurance as a employer fringe benefit is a relatively new phenomenon, one that began when wages were frozen during World War II. Since workers (generally those belonging to unions) could not receive wage increases, the measure to circumvent this prohibition was the inclusion of health insurance – with the added bonus of employer-paid premiums being non-taxable income.
Basically what Jealous wants to do is enforce a raise to workers who currently receive these benefits, whether deserved or not. That seems to me a good way to kill jobs in the state.
And stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
Those who want to keep their existing Medicare program will be able to.
Bear in mind, of course, that Medicare is not free. Those of us who work for a living see that little category on our pay stubs – mine actually calls this “Medicare Employee” – and every couple weeks a few dozen dollars added to that total. I guess that’s the down payment on what we have to pay when we get to the age where we can presumably sign up and collect on Medicare, which isn’t really free but has a bewildering array of premiums, deductibles, and co-insurance payments. So to say Medicare-for-All is “free health care” or “single-payer” is clearly a misnomer because there are three payment sources: your pocket, the generosity of those who pay the taxes but don’t use the service, and (in the case of the federal government) a massive amount of IOUs.
Jealous then cites a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate that health care in Maryland costs $51 billion a year (at least it did in 2014) and proclaims:
This is simply unsustainable, and MD-Care offers an opportunity to finally get costs under control. Administrative savings could quickly add up to billions of dollars in Maryland and fully expanding the All-Payer model would finally allow us to bend the “cost curve” in medical spending. In addition, by ensuring the plan is designed properly to reduce costs and maximize federal dollars, we can further reduce the healthcare burden on Maryland taxpayers.
So wait a second: this is Maryland’s plan, but we’re expecting everyone else to pony up and pay more for it? Yeah, that will fly like a lead balloon.
And I’m not sure where “administrative savings” (if administration is 8% of health care cost, that’s $4 billion for Maryland) comes from when people who work for those eeeeeevil insurance companies (mainly paid for with private-sector dollars) are repurposed as government employees who are paid from the public till, to wit:
This plan and the Maryland All-Payer Model Progression Plan call for widespread use of emerging new titles in healthcare such as coordinators and community health workers to ensure that high risk populations are being treated properly (and at lower cost). This offers an opportunity to minimize the net disruption to employment by ensuring job retraining and preferences for those who previously worked at private insurance companies. Instead of thousands of workers in Maryland being paid to deny access to care, they can now be paid to provide healthcare.
In addition, there is going to be a need for administrative employees to ensure that Maryland is complying with all federal law so we can continue to draw down dollars for Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the ACA.
So much for saving on administration; in fact, given the lavish government payroll that seems to be a cost increase.
Speaking of cost increases, here’s where it gets important:
There is no question that any plan will have significant cost savings compared to current healthcare spending, while also moving most healthcare dollars away from the insurance companies and into the plan. These variables will determine the final cost of the plan and the revenue requirements. Among other revenue options the advisory panel will consider:
Income Based Premium Paid by Employers
This premium would be a deductible business expense, meaning this plan will have the same tax advantage status as employer provided healthcare. However, it is unknown how businesses will react to this, and significant input from the Maryland business community will be needed. Businesses would have predictable health insurance costs instead of double-digit increases with no end in sight.
Having some portion of the plan paid for by a sales tax would have several advantages, including capturing revenue from non-Marylanders. It would also reduce the amount of revenue needed on the payroll side, thus reducing the taxation burden on new employment. At the same time, a sales tax is regressive by nature, so any tax increase on working Marylanders would have to be measured against the net benefits received from this plan.
Non-Payroll Income Premium
A non-payroll income premium would ensure that the most financially successful in Maryland pay their fair share of taxes. The advisory panel will need to study the tax sensitivity of these higher earners to ensure that any increase doesn’t result in significant population shifts in the region to avoid any changes to the Maryland income tax system.
I can tell you exactly how business will react to the first one, Ben: they will close their doors and/or leave. Those that have to stay will be hiring fewer people, and they have the perfect incentive:
We will also look at ways to ensure that small businesses and new companies succeed under this plan. This could mean exempting small businesses and start-ups from additional taxes associated with MDCare depending on revenue or firm age. The advisory panel will work with the small business community to design an exemption that makes the most sense.
One surefire way to cut revenue to fit under the limit: close a few locations, let go a few workers, and fold the business into a newly-formed holding company.
Because of that possibility, my thinking on this is that Jealous would go with a blending of options two and three: perhaps an increase in the sales tax from 6% to 8% and a reprisal of the infamous “millionaire’s tax” that will cause capital to flow out of the state.
Assuming that the roughly $4.6 billion collected by the state in sales taxes in FY2017 is a valid figure, a sales tax increase to 8% would cost taxpayers roughly $1.1 billion a year, and $5.5 billion over five years. A millionaire’s tax would be perhaps a $500 million cost to taxpayers over 5 years.
But that won’t begin to cover this program – not when spending is $51 billion a year now, and probably $70 billion when it’s “free.” (That is if you can find a provider – only 7 of 10 providers accept new Medicare patients.)
The most truthful statement made from Ben on the subject is this one, a throwaway line on his “Path to Medicare for All“:
When the ACA was written, Democrats were overly concerned with the optics and not enough with the actual mechanics of the bill.
Yes, we had to pass it to know what was in it. Likewise, we have no idea if that $24 billion cost is anywhere close to reality but it is likely that state revenues will take a significant hit as private-sector businesses throw in the towel.
Next up in this series will be Criminal Justice, a platform that likely has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.
The other night my wife and I had an evening to ourselves – the kid stayed at a friend’s house and we really had nothing on the social calendar. With a less pessimistic forecast than the rest of the week, we decided it was a good time to make our annual pilgrimage up to Harrington for the Delaware State Fair.
I will give you a pro tip: if you’re parked where we were, wait on the tram. I think we spent the first 15-20 minutes there walking to the main gate! So once we got inside, we were visually assaulted by the midway.
Built by Beracah Homes in Greenwood, Delaware, the second ZeMod model is a charming 1,204 sf, 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom cottage style home. It features a super insulated building envelope, an all-electric heat-pump HVAC system, ENERGY STAR® rated appliances and lighting, and a rooftop solar system. Its design makes it not only affordable, but also a healthy and comfortable living environment.
In essence, the home is built to be exceptionally insulated and weathertight, with the idea being that of the solar panels providing enough energy to offset the usage by the home’s residents. If it were a real world home, it would be a two- or three-person house with just two bedrooms. (I didn’t take the grand tour to see how big they were.) But it is scalable, according to the nice person I spoke to there – and with $40,000 in incentives it ought to be.
But the biggest objection came from my better half, who couldn’t live without a gas stove. It was explained that it could be done but there’s a tradeoff in the penetrations required to run the gas line from the outside (and the venting required since it is a gas appliance.) More telling to me was the premium of about $20-30 a square foot, as it came in about $147 a square foot (the price has increased since the original flyer was created.)
But you really don’t go to a fair to see a house, do you? It’s a reminder of a rural lifestyle, so you see these critters.
My wife is much more partial to these kids.
It’s nice to see the FFA is still alive and thriving, too.
And don’t forget how much of Delaware’s economy runs on agriculture.
Those who didn’t have animals had other opportunities to shine.
Something interesting about the Fair this year: even though there was a main act playing in the grandstand, they had another band playing just outside, by the casino. Basically this band, Red Head Express, is on a weeklong gig at the fair as a free feature, 2 shows a night. They’re sort of a cross between bluegrass and country, which makes them popular around here.
Since it was well after 8:00, the exhibit hall was sort of dead. However, I did find out a piece of good news about a plot of land we’re considering: it’s in the Delaware Electric Co-Op service area. But the guy was really showing off his Chevy Bolt I decided not to take a photo of.
Instead, I saw our President and First Lady.
That got me to thinking: I wonder whatever happened to the Sarah Palin cutout our former county chair had?
Anyway, speaking of TEA Party figures, I couldn’t resist this one. Too bad Gene wasn’t around to discuss his allegiance to the TEA Party.
We opted not to go into the merchant’s building because we really didn’t want to be talked into buying sheets or buttonholed for some other useless trinket – besides, we had checked the forecast and knew that if we stayed too long we would be poured upon. Just as we got to our car after the tram ride out, it indeed began to rain.
I guess as fairs go this is the biggest one I regularly attend – the Ohio State Fair was (and is) in far-off Columbus, and the Maryland State Fair is across the bridge. Perhaps to start a new century of service the Delaware version will do a little freshening up, and maybe get really lucky and draw a nice day on a weekend when we have more time to explore.
If you want to go, they are there through Saturday.
Thanks to the much better interface of photo captioning I’ve adopted since my WordPress update awhile back, this one can literally be handled with photos, captions, and text. You get all three in one gooey, chewy, oh-so-sweet and ooo-ey mishmash of photos that will basically take you through my day – except for the tired feet.
This was the scene when I arrived about 10:45.
I Tweeted this next photo the day of, as I recall.
Inside, people were getting set for the show to begin.
Runners assigned here had a LONG way to travel.
Before I get too much farther, I could kick myself for not getting a photo of those doing the cooking. They are the heroes of the day and don’t get thanked enough for a hot, nearly thankless task for which they still willingly volunteer.
Speaking of thankless, volunteer roles…
I didn’t see Yumi at Tawes (not that I would necessarily be able to pick her out in the crowd) but I saw her husband make the rounds. More on that in a bit.
As the 11:00 hour rolled in, people were still busy getting ready for the crowds.
It was at that point I realized that even 13-year veterans can make rookie mistakes: I left my box bottom in the car. A box bottom is a key component for Tawes because it serves as your food tray and (for some) a place to festoon with campaign stickers.
So on my way out I got a shirt. First time ever.
By the time I trudged my way back in after a good half-mile round trip, I saw that food was already being served.
So I found my way to the Somerset GOP tent and crashed their party. While I was there, Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford was already making the rounds. I took a few photos but with a bright background from a tent in the shadows they didn’t work well.
After I finished eating, I spied these two guys – part of a modest contingent backing unaffiliated U.S. Senate hopeful Neal Simon. They were circulating petitions at Tawes to get Simon on the ballot.
Now this photo is nowhere near as important as a photo Neal put out Wednesday with the aforementioned Governor Hogan. And I’ll get to that in a little bit, too.
But first I ran into a guy who’s in the catbird seat – my Delegate, Carl Anderton.
He was just the first of a whole host of political and semi-political folks I got to chat with over the next 3 hours or so as I wandered around. There are some people who take “all you can eat crabs” as a challenge, but I’m to a point where I can barely make it through what I’m given in one trip to four lines, none of which are crabs.
In an indication of what was to come, Boyd Rutherford was rather popular.
Smaller groups chatted with the more local and regional politicians.
Regarding the Democrat tent: I did get to meet and say hello to Jesse Colvin, who is the Democrat opposing Andy Harris. He had his wife and baby boy with him (he was the holder) so I opted to skip the photo of Colvin. I will say he doesn’t seem to have the spunk and gift of gab that Allison Galbraith – who I met at Tawes 2017 – does, but perhaps that’s a military trait. Still, I would be interested to see debates between Harris, Colvin, and Libertarian candidate Jenica Martin. (I’m not sure if she was there – I know Andy was a little busy, as were federal counterparts Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin.)
I’m going to return to the subject of business tents later as I wrap up, but in taking the photo I saw a person I wanted to meet. In fact, in speaking to him I found out he’s visited this site a time or two.
In speaking to Neil I found out he had gotten the Hogan signature I alluded to above at the event and that he was going to make the announcement about having the sufficient number of petition signatures the next day, which was yesterday. He just told me to keep it under my hat until the time came, which wasn’t a problem since I had other things to write on and it was pretty much a fait accompli anyway.
Next up, though, is my favorite picture.
It gives me a chance to say thanks to one of my biggest fans and supporters. And speaking of such, I had the opportunity to see someone I hadn’t seen since Turning the Tides five years ago. It’s just a shame I neglected to get a picture of Cecil County Council member Jackie Gregory, a longtime friend and supporter of monoblogue. Even Delegate Kathy Szeliga saw me and gave me a greeting hug.
But when it comes to big fans and supporters of Tawes, I’m not sure anyone beats Bruce Bereano.
For those politicians whose district doesn’t include the region, this is the place to hang out and eat. I think the Crab Trap idea was inspired by Bruce’s tent since people could see the political in-crowd live it up and wanted a version for their own.
He may have pissed off various swaths of the Maryland electorate for various reasons, but the people don’t seem too upset at Governor Hogan here. Maybe a little bit of a smaller group circling him, but still significant.
Even the host city welcomed him.
I shouldn’t pick on Crisfield, since our former County Executive Rick Pollitt is their city manager. He stopped and said hello with a warm handshake.
It didn’t seem like the media was all over like before, but I saw all three local stations: WBOC channel 16 (and their associated FM radio station) and WMDT channel 47 out of Salisbury as well as WRDE channel 31 from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware – now that was a trip from one side of the peninsula to the other. I also saw channel 7, which I think is out of Washington, D.C. I know there were print and radio reporters as well, but they did their jobs in places I wasn’t, aside from WRDE who wanted to speak with Simon as I was talking to him.
I took this photo a little after 2:00.
In the last three Democrat campaigns for governor (2006, 2010, 2014) I witnessed their favored or chosen gubernatorial candidate walk into Tawes surrounded by a posse of supporters clad in campaign shirts to help rouse support. However, Anthony Brown skipped Tawes in 2014 since it was by then post-primary – his blue shirts came the year before.
Regardless, the lack of campaign savvy on the Jealous team was very apparent – few supporters and not much engagement. It was almost like Ben used the event as a photo-op but the optics weren’t nearly as good as they should be in an area that’s heavily minority and majority Democrat. Even I quickly worked my way up to say hello and express a concern I had, as I did later to Governor Hogan.
Finally, I’m glad I helped convince this guy into coming – or maybe he already made up his mind and likes to humor his supporters.
Hopefully Tony followed a little bit of my advice: I told him to not just concentrate on the circle of tents in the back but go and speak to the people in the pavilions up front. And this is where my commentary on Tawes begins.
Earlier I alluded to the business tents, and in the last few years I’ve noticed it’s been pretty much the same businesses and entities are present at Tawes, and they bring a particular group of people to the event. Needless to say, the political entities also bring their own supporters and hangers-on as well. All of them stay pretty much within an area that’s bounded by the tents and the food lines up front. Of course, with the Crab Trap and addition of food runners over the last few years, Tawes has gotten to a point where one doesn’t have to come out from under the tent to partake in the event.
On the other side, behind the AFSCME local that always camps out by the restroom building and the City of Crisfield tent, is the portion of the main pavilion where those who are there simply to eat and socialize with their friends go and sit. They have their own DJ, they’re not far from the bathrooms, and in my travels I notice it’s more of a minority gathering – it’s almost like that’s where the locals stay and they let the out-of-towners have the other side. That’s where I advised Tony to go, and it’s not a bad idea for any candidate. (Toward the end I found Mary Beth Carozza over there doing a radio spot so I presume she had been through there, too.)
In my years doing the Tawes event, one of the benefits I enjoyed about it was the opportunity to speak with people from the other side. For the ten years I sat on the Central Committee and was active in the local Republican club, I obviously saw the local Republicans once or twice a month and my GOP friends from around the state twice a year at the convention. On the other hand, if you were a Democrat and a friend of mine (or a candidate with whom I wanted to place a face with the name, such as Jesse Colvin or Ben Jealous), just about the only time I got to see you was at Tawes. And even though I haven’t been nearly as active on the GOP side of late, the same still holds true on the Democrats’ side. For the most part I have no animus with them aside from their short-sighted political views.
Unfortunately, there isn’t the mixing of people on a political level like there used to be and a similar phenomenon is beginning to take place at Tawes as groups become more insular. Surely there are people who never set foot outside the Crab Trap or Bereano tent from the time they arrived to the time they went home, and that’s sort of a shame. I have no idea on the attendance figure, but I think it may have been lower than in past years – on the other hand, there may have been people I never saw hiding in their safe spaces.
Unfortunately for a person like me, 2019 looks to be a year dull as dishwater politically. Sure, we may have some Presidential campaigns underway on the Democrat side but you don’t see a lot of them represented at Tawes and it would be a shock to see a Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, et. al. walk through those gates. It’s not a statewide office election year, and in 2020 Maryland will have no Senate race. All that leaves is Congress, and whatever Democrat opts to step up. It’s pretty thin gruel.
I don’t want to say the event is past its prime, but I suspect there are diminishing returns for a politician who isn’t statewide or represents an area outside the 37th or 38th District. To make things a little better there, we need to recall what we have in common, not what divides us.
I know, I know, you want Tawes coverage. Look for it tomorrow or Friday.
Since Ben Jealous won the Democrat Party nomination for Maryland’s top job, the progressives who have already seen his campaign as a chance to put their dreams into action on the state level are beside themselves with giddiness about the prospect of a state that borders Washington, D.C. being set up as a contrast to the relative austerity of one President Donald J. Trump.
But skittish voters may have been turned off by a Department of Legislative Services report (as reported by the Baltimore Sun) that claimed Ben’s single-payer health scheme could cost the state as much as $24 billion a year – astounding when you consider Maryland’s annual state operating budget runs about $44 billion. It would become the single largest line-item on the budget overnight and (of course) necessitate significant tax increases.
The story, however, neatly coincides with the question I’m sure I’m not alone in asking: how much is the Jealous agenda going to cost?
Well, I can’t give you an exact answer. But what I can do is study his platform, point by point, and give as good of an estimate as possible. And when you say, “Michael, all politicians promise to spend taxpayer money when they pledge to ‘invest’ in whatever item they think will get them the most votes,” I would say yes, you are correct – but Ben Jealous pledges to do it in spades.
If you go to his issues page, you will find Jealous has laid out a wide-ranging agenda of several issues:
Ending The Student Debt Crisis
Great Cities: A Vision For Maryland’s Future
Make It In Maryland: Building A More Inclusive, Thriving Economy
On many of these, Ben goes beyond the standard one-paragraph blurb and lays out fairly detailed plans – although they are often lacking in financial estimates. So today I’m going to start laying out my thoughts on what this agenda may cost taxpayers, and I’m going to begin with Education and the related subject Ending the Student Debt Crisis.
As a baseline figure, bear in mind that the most recent budget adopted by the state (for FY2019, which began at the start of this month) has the state of Maryland spending $14.72 billion between education and higher education, for a total of 33% of the budget. K-12 gets $8.099 billion and $6.621 billion goes to higher education. (The total budget, by the way, is $44.416 billion, compared to $42.142 billion just two years ago.)
In the Kirwan Commission’s preliminary report, there’s a recommendation to bring Maryland’s average teacher salary to the average of Massachusetts and New Jersey’s – two of the country’s top performing states – by the 2024-2025 school year. Ben Jealous is committed to raising teacher pay by 29% between now and the 2024-2025 school year – the exact same percent increase as was accomplished in the seven years following the Thornton Commission.
To determine the cost of this salary increase plan, we need to find the difference between the natural cost of increasing salaries under the current Thornton funding formula and a new salary plan.
In an attached chart, Jealous details the cost over the five year period from FY2020 – FY2024. Total cost to taxpayers: $1.8953 billion over five years, with FY2024 alone contributing a $658.5 million increase. This is above and beyond raises already baked into the budget totaling $2.1845 billion.
Jealous, however, says he has a way to pay for this – but it depends on Maryland voters.
Late in this year’s session, a Senate bill was passed that placed an amendment to the Maryland Constitution on this year’s ballot. The “Fix The Fund” Act mandates that gambling revenue become a supplement to educational spending rather than a component of it. The Fiscal Note for the bill notes that revenues for education are expected to increase by $1.2678 billion from FY2020 – FY 2023. Unfortunately, that money doesn’t replace what would have gone into the General Fund: as the Fiscal Note continues, “Designating the use of a portion of (Education Trust Fund) monies for supplemental funding requires general fund expenditures to increase by an equal amount.” However, this money is folded into the expenditure from above, yet Jealous admits to being short in year 5. His solution? Enacting a combined reporting tax on Maryland businesses.
On this particular point of combined reporting, Jealous references an unsuccessful bill from 2017 that would have enacted this, with the carrot to business of eliminating filing fees for a business or entity with 10 or fewer employees. That may not necessarily be in Ben’s plan, so I am going to make two assumptions here: one. that the revenue for a five year period of FY2020-24 is similar to that which would have occurred FY2018-22 as covered by that particular Fiscal Note and that the filing fee waiver would be eliminated. Given those two items (and the fact business taxes aren’t paid by businesses but by consumers) I will say this adds $150.8 million over five years – but that still leaves Jealous short, and WAY short if “Fix The Fund” doesn’t pass – however, you can bet your bottom dollar the teacher’s unions will be out in full force to pass that one come November. (The odds of the Fix The Fund Act passing are very good, though, as Maryland voters seldom turn down a referendum. But it won’t be a fix, just more tax on the poor.)
And the fun is just beginning…next up is this gem:
In the 2018 legislative session, two former educators in the General Assembly proposed legislation to guarantee all education support professionals a living wage: at least $31,500 a year in lower cost of living counties and at least $36,000 a year in higher cost of living counties. It would be phased in starting in FY2020 and fully funded from FY2024 onward.
Based on the Fiscal Note for this bill, over three years (FY2022-24) the total cost to taxpayers will be $527 million.
Another biggie comes up a page or so later:
As governor, Ben Jealous will provide the funding necessary for full-day, universal pre-kindergarten and he will pay for it through the tax revenue generated by legalizing and taxing marijuana for adult use.
In a report entitled A Comprehensive Analysis of Prekindergarten in Maryland, the authors noted that at the time (early 2016) the state spent $132.9 million to educate the 35.58% of 4-year-olds who are already enrolled. Doing the math for 100% of 4-year-olds means an annual expenditure for pre-K on a state level would be a total annual cost to taxpayers of $375.3 million, and over a five-year period the cost would edge close to $2 billion.
Yet again, it’s likely that revenues will not keep pace. Obviously laws vary from state to state, but a good fit for projecting Maryland’s success might be Colorado because of its similar population. In 2017 Colorado generated $223 million in revenue from the sale of marijuana, while Washington state (which is somewhat larger) added $314 million. It’s not likely that Maryland would be able to sustain its revenue stream to the extent needed, meaning money would need to come from the general fund.
Next up is an unknown amount of money to address this seeming disparity:
We need to reimagine what schools provide in our low-income neighborhoods by making the school building the central hub for community services – counseling, job training, meals, mentoring programs, and health clinics. As part of the new funding formula, the state should add a concentrated wealth factor that drives more funding to schools with 40% or more of their student population coming from low-income families.
To me, this is akin to the current Geographic Cost of Education Index that cost taxpayers $141.6 million this fiscal year (page 47 here). But that money is a starting point because, in order for schools to take on all these functions, there is an unknown capital improvement cost involved. I suspect when all is said and done this could easily exceed $2 billion in additional spending after five years.
Lastly on the K-12 education front, there is this idea:
Providing children with a critical mass of mental health services requires an investment in personnel like inschool social workers and psychologists, but it also requires fully incorporating these service providers into the broader academic ecosystem, and providing other key members of that ecosystem with the training they need to help our mental health service providers.
So let’s begin with this:
By providing the child with case-management, the social worker can ensure a student is connected with an in-school counselor (and) has up-to-date treatment from an inschool psychologist.
… it is important that enough counselors be hired to maintain a low student-to-counselor ratio…
Every school should have at least one on-site psychologist, who is focused fully on addressing the mental health needs of the student body.
As governor, Ben Jealous will work with key stakeholders like the MSEA to increase staffing levels for service providers like social workers and school psychologists…
Yes, because we know the MSEA teacher’s union is oh-so-careful with taxpayer dollars.
The information is a little out-of-date, so I’m extrapolating the 1.449 schools that Maryland was claimed to have a half-decade ago to 1,500 for ease of math. So let’s make some more assumptions: three new social workers, one new psychologist, and three counselors (to maintain the low ratio) are added per school – that is a total of 10,500 staff statewide. And they’re not going to come cheap: on average a school psychologist makes almost $60,000 per year, a school counselor checks in at almost $49,000 a year, and school social workers earn just over $48,000 a year. Therefore, the additional per-school staffing expenditure (just for salary, mind you, and not including benefits) would be $351,000 a year. Multiply that by 1,500 public schools in the state and the total annual cost to taxpayers is $216.2 million.
Once you’ve paid for K-12, you still have the aspect of “free” college.
As governor, Jealous will make community college free for every Marylander… The guarantee of free tuition will be extended to every Maryland high school graduate. This program will be paid for by increasing the state income tax for the top 1% of earners ($500,000+ annually) by 1%, and savings from significantly reducing Maryland’s levels of incarceration.
Now this is a little bit confusing because I thought we already had that, based on a bill passed last year. And the question is whether Ben means every dollar of the average $4,324 (see here) for tuition and fees or whether it’s an expansion of the “last-dollar” program where prospective students have to exhaust other avenues of aid first (although, in all honesty, the taxpayer pays most of it anyway.) Now multiply that by a projected 46,592 full-time students and just a high-end estimate of Ben’s scheme comes out to be $201.5 million every year. And since it’s “free” we should probably assume a total annual cost to taxpayers of $300 million because more will take advantage and (naturally) colleges will increase their tuition and fees to get in on this largess.
Yet as they say on the home shopping networks…but wait, there’s more.
As governor, Jealous will create a MD Careers program that partners with industry experts to determine growing job sectors, and incentivize education and training in these sectors by covering any education costs associated with entering the fields. Special priority will be given to service professionals like first responders, organized labor sectors like educators, and healthcare workers who can help drive down the cost of quality treatment for our population in the years ahead. The guarantee of free tuition will be extended to every Maryland high school graduate who commits to staying in Maryland for five years after they receive their degree.
This program will be paid for with a percentage of the savings generated by significant reductions to Maryland’s incarceration levels. This funding stream will stretch even further when one considers that training for in-demand sectors like construction rely on apprenticeships and technical training that are less cost intensive than traditional 4-year degrees.
As governor, Jealous will extend this guarantee to students pursuing graduate degrees at Maryland’s public institutions. This will be paid for by increasing Maryland’s cigarette tax, which is currently less than the cigarette tax charged by regional competitors such as D.C., Pennsylvania, and New York.
I love how he pointed out “organized labor sectors.” Like we need more of that.
So we come to the “savings” part. Jealous proposes to save our dollars by emptying out the jails.
Ben Jealous will reduce Maryland’s prison population by 30%. He will do so by ending returns to prison for technical violations, downgrading drug possession, expanding opportunities to earn parole, and investing in reentry programs. Doing so will create savings of up to $660 million.
Obviously the amount spent on free tuition is going to depend on the shape of the program, but more predictable is the increase in the cigarette tax. Maryland currently has a $2 per pack cigarette tax, which indeed is less than D.C. ($2.50), Pennsylvania ($2.60) and New York (tops in the nation at $4.35.) It’s even a dime less than Delaware’s and New Jersey comes in at $2.70 as well. (And then you have Virginia, second lowest in the country at 30 cents a pack.) Nor should we forget about the millionaire’s tax I cited above.
So let’s speculate that the cigarette tax of $2 a pack increases to $3, which would peg us just above the surrounding jurisdictions aside from Virginia and West Virginia. For FY2017 (the latest figures available) the cigarette tax raised $348.8 million. So a 50% increase in the tax brings a 50% increase in revenue, right?
Well, not quite. For taxes, there is almost always a lag between the rate of increase and the revenue increase. I’m thinking the difference in this case will be about 30%, although your mileage may vary. Total cost to taxpayers (particularly the poor and working class): $244.2 million a year.
On the other side of the scale is the tax on the “top 1%.” It’s harder to judge the impact based on a lack of parameters, but the “millionaire’s tax” of a decade ago reportedly brought in $120 million. I think with inflation, and the fact income taxes bring in $9 billion a year, that a 2% increase in revenue is a realistic estimate because there aren’t that many who would qualify. Total cost to taxpayers: roughly $180 million a year.
After that, there is another highly variable promise:
The guarantee of debt-free tuition will be extended to every Maryland high school graduate.
Jealous will offer this debt free path to graduation in the form of a state-financed work study program that pays students the cost of their tuition each year, including for public graduate schools. A significant part of this restructuring will also come from driving down the overhead costs associated with higher education: expensive book purchases, inflated rents, and non-essentials like luxurious gyms.
The obvious question is how many students would be eligible and how much of the tuition they will pay. Pennsylvania has a similar program where students are allowed to make $10,000 a year toward their college funding. If this is the case, for every 100 students that are accepted there’s a million dollars that has to come from somewhere, oftentimes from the college itself.
Jealous also desires the state get into the student loan refinancing business:
10 states currently offer refinancing programs for student loans. It is long past time that Maryland embrace its role as a national leader, and join these states in easing the often onerous financial burden that student loans pose for Marylanders.
Assuming the state can find the cash reserves, this is actually very inexpensive in comparison. A state study found other states run these programs for less than one million dollars a year, Total cost to taxpayers over five years: $5 million.
Lastly, Jealous wants to correct the supposed shortchanging of HBCUs in the state:
As governor, Jealous will reallocate future state-based funding streams for higher education to provide restorative funding that equals the historic underfunding of HBCUs in Maryland. Moreover, ongoing funding will be fixed to prevent this disparity in the years ahead. Jealous will also end the practice of allowing other public institutions to offer duplicative programs to those traditionally offered by HBCUs.
Under Jealous’ leadership, the state will begin to fund immediate infrastructure improvements at HBCUs using a percentage of the over $1 billion in general obligation bonds that it issues each year. Beyond improving the physical infrastructure of HBCU facilities, it will allow HBCUs to reallocate existing infrastructure spending to other programmatic investments.
It’s been claimed (by a minority member of the Maryland Senate) that HBCUs have been shortchanged by $2 billion over the years. I don’t think Jealous would try to eradicate that in four years, but over eight it would be a doable thing, simply increasing the $1 billion the state annually puts on its capital funding credit card by 25%. Over four years, this would be $1 billion in additional debt which needs to be paid eventually.
So, to total all this up: just for education at all levels, Ben is looking to ladle on at least $6.743 billion to the budget. In order to fill this gap, we will have to endure the adoption of an ill-considered amendment to the Maryland Constitution, the legalization and taxation of marijuana, increases in business taxes, cigarette taxes and income taxes for certain brackets, the emptying of our jails (with no telling how that will affect the crime rate), and squeezing people out of a legitimate business, refinancing student loans.
And that, my friends, is just for starters.
Now allow me to say that Ben seems like a nice, personable guy. I spoke to him a little bit at Tawes about a concern I had unrelated to this series, and he seemed receptive to help out. But in order to be informed, it should be known that his “free stuff” is going to come at a cost people may not be willing to pay.
It’s been awhile since I’ve given you a pictorial post and added the captions, so I thought it was time.
It may be an unfair comparison – the reboot of a longtime staple of Salisbury cultural diversions against an established old favorite – but I have to wonder just went wrong with the Downtown Salisbury Festival, which seems to me somewhat of a failure in its new time slot of early June.
I will say, however, that weather probably played some role: while I was taking these photos at the Downtown Salisbury Festival, Ocean City was getting a historic deluge of rain. Salisbury was hit by the next line of storms a couple hours later. Yet I don’t think it was all about the weather.
I’ll grant that I wasn’t there for the DSF on Friday night and the crowd may have been better. But I think in the future they’ll either need to condense the event a little bit or perhaps institute a shuttle to ferry people from stop to stop – maybe 3 or 4 stops. I didn’t think late April was a really bad time to have it, either. On the first weekend in June people are thinking about graduations or the beach.
Conversely, the weather was picture-perfect Friday night for Third Friday and people responded.
It took several years for Third Friday to find its stride, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on the Downtown Salisbury Festival. But I remember when they tried to use most of Main Street and being so spread out meant something was shortchanged. It’s become successful since they focused on the Plaza and the Division Street side of the courthouse.
So if the DSF wants to take advantage of the riverfront, maybe they need to place the exhibitors where the food court was and use one of the side streets as a food court. There was a visual effect missing on this layout – if you were at the rides or checking out art vendors you wouldn’t be aware of the food court or stage, which made the event seem small. It needs to be tied together better, and maybe having the amphitheater done will help in that regard.
I guess we will find out next year for the DSF, as well as the First Saturday and Fridays at Five events – the latter two on hiatus for this year as construction occurs at both sites. Maybe we will get better weather, too.
Of late I’ve heard a lot of talk about energy in various forms and how they will be affecting this Eastern Shore of ours. While I write mainly on political items, longtime readers know I have an interest in energy-related issues as well.
So if you read social media, you’ll find that one thing I enjoy doing is setting those who inhabit the left side of the political aisle straight on the reality of the situation – particularly when it comes to energy. I’m going to borrow something as not letting good writing go to waste and then build from that, since there are other facets I’d like to explore, too.
This was something I wrote to Congressional candidate Allison Galbraith – say what you will about her politics, she is well-engaged on social media. Galbraith recently linked a story from WMDT about a proposed offshore wind study, to which I most recently responded:
You’re making a giant leap of faith that we as mankind can slow down sea level rise. As for having houses underwater, that’s a risk one takes for having waterfront property – just like those who build along a hurricane-prone coastline.
My point is that, based on their merits as far as reliability goes, wind and solar are not ready for usage on a large scale. If one wants to invest their money in solar panels for their house or a windmill out back, great – have at it. (Personally, I don’t think these sources should be mandated, but the issue is properly a state-level issue and in our case that’s where it was determined – my beef is with Annapolis, not Washington. I don’t like ethanol subsidies either and that was a different story, dictated from on high.) But the problems come in being tied to the overall electrical grid, which is already a balancing act due to the vagaries of weather and usage.
If some smart entrepreneur wanted a good problem to study, she or he would figure out a way to level out the output gained from these systems so that solar power could be used at night and wind power on humid, still days. (Notice there are few windmills in the Deep South.) We advance technology insofar as the actual turbines and collector panels, but don’t consider that storage aspect of it as much – therein lies the benefits of fossil fuels, which are a vast storehouse of the energy we need that’s been sitting there for eons until extracted for our use. On a day like today wind would be good but there’s not much demand; meanwhile, those with solar panels are hurting because the weather is so bad.
We have been blessed with abundant resources, so why keep them in the ground?
In looking at my response, the ethanol “subsidies” are actually carveouts – the EPA mandates a certain amount to be blended into the gasoline supply each year. Be that as it may…
The electrical grid aspect was something I hadn’t really considered until recently, when I did my most recent “odds and ends” piece. Thanks to a series of posts by the Capital Research Center, I learned that one key problem with renewables is their effect on the electrical grid. Since their output isn’t as predictable as that of standard power plants, there’s often a problem with mobilizing the most efficient resources. Certainly a bright, sunny summer day is great for solar power production but that also means a natural gas plant has to be temporarily put offline, then restarted once the sun goes down. However, the next day could prove to be one which suddenly turns stormy, meaning yet another cycle of starting and stopping a fossil fuel plant. Obviously, the advantage of fossil fuels comes from the constant supply, with the X-factor only being the price paid for each megawatt-hour. Wind power presents a similar problem: you can have times when the wind is just right for a constant portion of the supply, but they are few and far between, and unpredictable. While their trade association begs to differ, the fact is that there too few breakdowns in conventional sources (not to mention a critical dependence on the carveout of a federal tax subsidy specifically for these projects) for wind to be more than a bit player – certainly not to the extent some states attempt to mandate it.
(Another great source of energy industry writing I carried for a time were the columns of Marita Noon, including this one on the wind industry. She’s since remarried and retired from the writing game. It turns out my loss was the city of Lubbock’s gain – Marita’s current avocation is something she’s long been interested in, rehabbing houses for resale.)
Essentially, Allison’s job as of late has been to be the loyal opposition to our Congressman, Andy Harris. He listened to the concerns of Ocean City regarding their tourism and repeated their case that the offshore wind project the state of Maryland has tried to site off Ocean City is close enough to mar the natural beauty of the beachfront view. While the industry and its supporters contend the windmills will be too small to clearly see, they’ve never contended the lights on the turbines would not be visible overnight. (Hint: they would be – a sea of red lights flashing on the horizon. This may be true at 26 miles as well.)
On another front in the progressive ranks, opposition has sprung up to a natural gas pipeline that would run through the Eastern Shore of Maryland from north to south. As described by the Delmarva Pipeline Company when the project was announced last year:
The project will provide these regions and their residents, who have historically been without access to natural gas and the associated benefits, with access to affordable, clean-burning, and abundant natural gas supplies to help meet the growing environmental need for cleaner fuels for power generation for industrial and commercial customers. In the future, local distribution companies will be able to provide home heating, hot water, and other domestic uses.
The proposed pipeline would tie into an existing pipeline near Rising Sun, Maryland, head east for a short distance, then run southward right along the border between Delaware and Maryland before terminating at a point in Accomack County, Virginia. At this time the only natural gas pipeline access on this part of the Eastern Shore are small areas from downtown Salisbury and the town of Berlin in Worcester County northward into Delaware along the U.S. 13 and U.S. 113 corridors, respectively. On the Mid-Shore there is a branch line that runs westward from Bridgeville, Delaware to serve Easton, Maryland. Aside from that, there’s nothing south of the I-95 corridor serving the Eastern Shore. (Delaware has the three feeder pipes that terminate in Maryland to serve Sussex County.)
While their comment about possible leakage falls a little flat because it’s a gas pipeline and not oil, their real argument is served up by a sentence from a release by Blue Wicomico, which is a slate running for the local Democratic Central Committee. “If we invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure projects like this pipeline,” they whine, “it will discourage investment in the future like renewable energy projects that will bring much-needed jobs and economic growth to the region.”
Look, if you want to invest in green energy, there’s nothing stopping you. The fact that few will do so without the government goosing the system, though, tells me that the rewards aren’t enough for the risks.
And about that job creation? As Paul Rich, the Director of Project Management for U.S. Wind, testified before the Maryland Public Service Commission:
Due to the nascent stage of development of the U.S. Offshore Wind Industry, much of the highest technological components will have to initially be imported from manufacturing facilities in Europe. Components such as turbine generators, manufactured blades, and transmission cables will be most economically sourced from existing facilities in Europe.
If you’re counting on that job creation for the Eastern Shore or for Maryland in general, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
So let’s get to work building that pipeline, which is slated for completion in late 2020. Give those who don’t have it access to another reliable energy source.
As I culled the vast number of possible items I had in my e-mail box down to a manageable few for this latest excursion into stuff I can handle in anything from a couple sentences to a couple paragraphs, I took a break – then promptly forgot I’d started this and let it go for several weeks. Sheesh. So, anyway…
The election season is here, and it’s blatantly obvious that the Maryland Republican Party feels local Senator Jim Mathias has a vulnerable hold on his position. One recent objection was the vote to both pass and overturn Governor Hogan’s veto on House Bill 1783.
If you want a cure for insomnia you could do worse than reading all 53 pages of the House bill. But what I found interesting is the vast difference between the amended House version and the Senate version that never made it past the hearing stage. The bills were intended to codify the recommendations of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission, but the House bill added two new wrinkles: eliminating the input of the Board of Public Works by upgrading the current Interagency Committee on School Construction to a commission and adding to it four new members (two appointed by the governor and two by the leaders of the General Assembly) and – more importantly for the fate of the bill – adding an appropriation to prevent it being taken to referendum. All those amendments came from the Democrat majority in the House Appropriations Committee, which meant that bill was put on greased skids and the other locked in a desk drawer.
Yet there wasn’t a Democrat who objected to this, and that’s why we have government as we do. It also proved once again that Senator Mathias is good at doing what the other side of the Bay wants – obviously since I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project since the term Mathias was first elected to serve in I know this isn’t the first time it’s happened.
But the fair question to ask is whether anyone else is listening? Results of a recent poll tended to be a little disheartening to me. According to the Maryland Public Policy Institute:
Marylanders support spending more money on school safety and career and technical education, according to a new statewide poll. But they are less enthusiastic about expanding pre-kindergarten or paying teachers more if those initiatives mean higher taxes or reductions in other services.
Broad majorities oppose paying more in income or property taxes to expand pre-K. Voters are against making cuts to roads and transportation (70% total less likely), public safety (70% total less likely), or children’s health insurance (77% total less likely) to afford expansion of pre-k education.
They should be opposing universal pre-K in general. Far from the days when kindergarten was optional and getting through high school provided a complete enough education to prosper in life, we are now working on taking children as young as 4 or even late 3 years old and providing schooling at state expense for 16 to 17 years – pre-K, K through 12, and two years of community college. This would be more palatable if public schools weren’t simply Common Core-based indoctrination centers, but as the quality of education declines quantity doesn’t make up for it.
For example, a real public school education would teach critical thinking, exhibited in these facts about offshore drilling and steps the industry is taking to make it safer. After all, logic would dictate they would want to recover as much product they invested in extracting as possible – spills benefit no one.
Interestingly enough, my friends at the Capital Research Center have also embedded a dollop of common sense into the energy argument.
This goes with the four-part series that explains the pitfalls of so-called “renewable” energy – you know, the types that are such a smashing success that the state has to mandate their use in order to maintain a climate that, frankly, we have no idea is the optimal, normal one anyway. (For example, in the last millennium or so we’ve had instances where vineyards extended north into Greenland – hence, its name – and times when New England had measurable snow into June due to the natural cause of a volcano eruption.)
Solar and wind may work on a dwelling level, but they’re not reliable enough for long-term use until storage capacity catches up. The series also does a good job of explaining the issues with the erratic production of solar and wind energy and the effect on the power grid.
On another front, the summer driving season is here and we were cautioned that prices would increase by the American Petroleum Institute back in April. Oddly enough, a passage in that API piece echoed something I wrote a few weeks later for The Patriot Post:
But while it isn’t as much of a factor on the supply side, OPEC can still be a price driver. In this case, both Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC Russia have put aside their foreign policy differences and enforced an 18-month-long production cut between themselves – a slowdown that has eliminated the supply glut (and low prices) we enjoyed over the last few years. And since those two nations are the second- and third-largest producers of crude oil (trailing only the U.S.), their coalition significantly influences the market.
Finally, I wanted to go north of the border and talk about 2020. (No, not THAT far north – I meant Delaware.)
Since Joe Biden has nothing better to do these days and needs to keep his name in the pipeline for contributions, he’s organized his own PAC called American Possibilities. (He’s also doing a book tour that comes to Wilmington June 10, but that’s not important for this story.)
A few weeks ago his American Possibilities PAC announced its first set of candidates, and so far they’re uninspiring garden-variety Democrats. Supposedly they were suggested by AP members, but we have two incumbent Senators in vulnerable seats (Tammy Baldwin and Jon Tester both represent states that went to Donald Trump), current freshman Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida (another Trump state), and challengers Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey.
As of this writing, all are still in contention; however, this comes with caveats. Baldwin and Tester are unopposed in their upcoming primaries for Senate seats, Houlahan and Kim are unopposed for nomination as well, and Murphy has token opposition. The one race that will test Biden’s “pull” is the NJ-11 race, where Sherrill is part of a five-person race on the Democratic side to replace retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a GOP moderate. All three House challengers Biden is backing are trying for GOP seats, as a matter of fact – no insurgents here. We’ll see in November if he fails.
Shifting sides on the political pendulum, here’s some good political news from our friends at the Constitution Party:
We received great news this week! The Constitution Party effort to gain ballot access in North Carolina exceeded the required number of registered voter signatures to qualify for ballot access in 2018 and 2020.
To do this they needed 11,925 valid signatures in a timeframe that stretched about five months – so far they have over 16,000 total signatures and 12,537 have been declared valid (at least until the NCGOP sues to deny them access because it will be deemed to hurt their chances – see the Ohio Libertarian Party cases for examples of this.) If that development is avoided, it will be the first time the Constitution Party has had ballot access in the state.
Honestly, I believe the two “major” parties should be made to live with the same petitioning for access standards the minor parties do. If they are that popular then it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Once the 2018-22 cycle gets underway, perhaps the same thing should be tried in Maryland.
Lastly is a housekeeping note: in updating my Election 2018 widget, I’ve decided to eliminate for the time being races that are unopposed and focus on the primary races only. So you’ll notice it’s a bit shorter.
After seven weeks of interim, now you know the truth: writing delayed is not writing denied.
The beauty of having a blog is that I don’t have to be in any hurry to post what, to others, may be old news by now.
Yes, this month’s Third Friday is a hazy weekend past and normally about this time I would be starting my wrapup of the monthly Republican Club meeting. But since I don’t play as much in the political game (and I had a previous commitment anyway) I was someplace else tonight. (Apparently I missed the annual legislative wrapup this evening, but it doesn’t matter because I’m working on the real legislative wrapup called the monoblogue Accountability Project. What do you think I spent a good part of my weekend doing?)
Digression aside, on Friday evening the family and I went downtown for a little while to see what we could see.
The parking lots were about full, but it didn’t seem like that translated into a lot of people on Main Street. It was a nice gathering, but I’ve seen wall-to-wall people down there, too.
One business that has seemed to be down there month after month is Zockoll Pottery. Now I’m a little biased because I know Brent through church, but he’s quite the artisan and even tossed a little bit of clay while he was down there. His business is slowly recovering from a fire that damaged his studio around the holidays.
As I strolled up Main Street to the top of the hill, it seemed to me the crowd was a little thinner. Granted, we arrived about 6:30 or so, thus the sun was going down and it was cooling off rapidly. Also, there’s been a bit of a change in the setup where the area that’s being closed off has increased to the first block of Market Street so the focus of Third Friday is geographically shifting a bit to the west.
The photo probably doesn’t do this justice, but this is where the bubbles were coming from. Sometimes there’s been a food truck down there but this is also where the Jaycees sell the beer. It’s an unusual setup to have such a large open container section since there are two blocks of space where people may imbibe.
The musical choice was one of the more unusual ones – normally they don’t do a straight-ahead classic pop cover band. Normally they choose something in a more alternative or acoustic vein, but these guys kept a decent crowd nearby. Wasn’t completely my thing but that’s quite all right.
Back in the day Third Friday used to be more ambitious with multiple music groups on two or three stages, but in recent years they’ve settled on the single stage of the Plaza for music and maybe some other act (like a youth dance group) on the courthouse steps. One thing that I’m going to be curious about regarding downtown development is whether Third Friday will eventually be relocated to focus the music on the amphitheater that’s under construction – alas, that location doesn’t leave a lot of space for artisans unless they are placed across the river.
The event that would make good sense based around the amphitheater is the “Fridays at Five” event (like the last one from 2017 that I attended in this North Division Street location.) That is a gathering where such a focal point would enhance the event. (The same goes for First Saturday, which I’ve always managed to miss. Half the time it’s held inside anyway.) I think there will be some events held in and around the amphitheater this summer as a dry run for the National Folk Festival.
While Third Friday’s physical location lies just outside the district, both County Council District 4 hopefuls were pressing the flesh. I saw Josh Hastings out walking around, while I got to at least introduce myself to Suzanah Cain before I left. At the time she was standing with the guy in the ultimate catbird seat, Delegate Carl Anderton. (The third in the confab was one of my favorite Democrats, Sarah Meyers – so it was a reach across the aisle.) Also making his rounds was Clerk of Courts candidate Bo McAllster, who I saw for the second time in less than a week. He had his wife and two kids in tow.
One place I didn’t stop by and say hello was the Republican Women’s booth. (Honestly, I’m not sure which of the two local groups was there. I’m sure someone reading this would tell me and break my you-know-whats for not dropping in.) But this was while I was still walking with Kim – shortly after she stopped and I kept going until I got to the band – only to turn around and see she was talking to Carl Anderton, who I had seen a couple minutes earlier and said hello to walking by. (Turnabout is fair play, I suppose.)
Anyway, we checked out the scene and departed as things were already breaking down about a half-hour before the scheduled (but informal) 8:00 close of festivities. Seeing them bail early was the second part of the foundation of my theory that the crowd was less.
A final thought: in years past this particular Third Friday date would have been a lead in for Pork in the Park. But for just the second time in over a dozen years, there was no Pork in the Park in April. (In 2014 it was held in May because it would have fallen on Easter weekend.) A few months back Wicomico County finally decided to pull the plug on that event to concentrate on the WIcomico County Fair, which is held in the same location.
You could couple that somewhat official excuse with the cyclical nature of food-related events. Even the venerable old Delmarva Chicken Festival that had dated from the 1940s ran out of time a few years ago and was – ironically – folded into the former Wicomico Farm and Home Show and rebranded as our county fair in 2015. It’s sad because Pork in the Park was one of my favorite weekends of the year until they ruined it by being greedy. That began in 2012, which was the year they alienated half their food vendors, and then a couple years later Pork in the Park doubled down by charging a hefty admission fee. Anyway, to get a “do you remember when” back when Pork in the Park was a premier event, here is a nice walk around video from 2012 (with a cameo from Jonathan Taylor of Lower Eastern Shore News – watch from the beginning and you’ll see him.) After those spectacular failures and the loss of the KCBS competition, it was never the same. Even worse, the event that succeeded it with KCBS (Pig and a Jig, down in Snow Hill) also seems to be no more.
But the demise of Pork in the Park and the former Salisbury Festival a few years apart means that two staple events of the so-called spring shoulder season are no more. The Wicomico County Fair is held in the traditional late-summer slot one would associate with a county fair, while the Salisbury Festival is being rebranded as the Downtown Salisbury Festival and they will try it in early June, when the june bugs are in OC.
With those cautionary tales in mind, we will see how Third Friday fares as the years go on. Has it reached its peak like all these other events did?
There are eight candidates on the Democrat side of the ballot hoping to be the challenger to current GOP Governor Larry Hogan. On a gorgeous, almost summer-like day on the Eastern Shore, only four of them could be bothered to come to Salisbury University to address their would-be primary electorate.
Originally that was supposed to be five of the eight, though.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker was slated to be there, but informed the event organizers 15 minutes beforehand that he had an “emergency” and could not appear. According to his Twitter feed, he had begun the day campaigning in Baltimore City but the trail grows cold afterward. Yesterday evening there were Tweets and social media posts touting his previous endorsement by Congressman Steny Hoyer (who represents a portion of his county) and a piece touting his partnership for STEM training, but no mention of the forum or an apology for missing it. A Democrat friend of mine remarked afterward that “I know quite a few people who were definitely upset and said they wouldn’t vote for him now even if they had considered him before.” Unfortunately, that left us with a group of what would be defined as “second-tier” candidates who are polling in low single digits – combined they’re not Baker’s equal polling-wise.
On top of that, State Senator Richard Madaleno was a few minutes late, missing the opening statement but being allowed to make up for it when he answered his first question. Apparently there was an accident on the Bay Bridge, which was the topic of a subsequent question.
So the order was set, and placeholders were rearranged. This photo was taken once Madaleno arrived.
The Wicomico County Democratic Central Committee co-sponsored the event with the Salisbury University College Democrats, and aside from the horribly uncomfortable chairs we were forced to sit in for two hours the event was well-conducted for the 100 or so in attendance on this beautiful afternoon. I learned that a group of liberal Democrats can sit and listen attentively, so now I expect that same behavior at the next Andy Harris town hall that I attend. Moderator Don Rush instructed the audience early on to keep their reactions to themselves, and they complied.
I debated whether I wanted to handle this by candidate or by question, and decided that keeping the candidates’ answers together for each question would present a better, more comparative format. But first I wanted to mention something that was said by WCDCC chair Mark L. Bowen. (Just to be clear, this Mark Bowen is not Mark S. Bowen, the current Democrat Clerk of the Court for Wicomico County.) Bowen assured the gathering that “our work is being done for us…all we have to do is close the deal.” He was also the one who informed us that Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former NAACP head Ben Jealous were absent due to “previous commitments.” (That would be their personally lobbying the state’s teacher’s union, which endorsed Jealous yesterday at their meeting. Perhaps endorsing Kamemetz or Baker would have been problematic for the teachers given educational scandals in their respectivecounties.)
So after an opening statement, the four remaining candidates answered questions on these topics:
New “economic engines” for the Eastern Shore
Balancing the interests of agriculture and environmentalists
Offshore wind energy development
How they would assist watermen and the Bay
Transportation priorities for our area
A new Bay Bridge
Their focus on education
Health care – a single-payer system?
But I want to begin with separate categorizations of their opening statements, and I’ll proceed in the order that they spoke. This means Alec Ross goes first and Richard Madaleno goes not at all because he was tardy.
You may recall that I spent a few minutes speaking to Alec at the Tawes event last year, when he informed me that he had a rather unique view on education for a Democrat, since he focused more on vocational education than college readiness. Obviously coming over here is something he cherishes, as he recalled childhood vacations spent in Ocean City and told the crowd his blood pressure comes down when he crosses the Bay Bridge as part of his opening statement.
His main point, though, was that “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.” And while “we are bringing new faces and new ideas to the Democratic Party,” Ross noted their voter registration numbers are trending downward.
I could have spent a couple minutes speaking to Krish Vignarajah, but I didn’t realize she was one of those waiting with me on the elevator to arrive. With her husband in tow and a young child, she could have been an interested observer. (She was also somewhat casually dressed.)
Krish came to America as a infant, emigrating from Sri Lanka with her parents. (A few years later, Sri Lanka would be embroiled in a civil war, so tensions were rising at the time.) She also painted a gloomy picture of Maryland, telling the audience that “opportunities are declining” but she would be “Larry Hogan’s worst nightmare” as a candidate. “We need to give people a reason to vote,” she exhorted.
Jim Shea used the Bay Bridge as an example of how infrastructure could help the economy. He was running to “invest in Maryland,” with a focus on three areas: education, transportation, and infrastructure.
Leading off the questioning was one about new economic engines for the Eastern Shore. All of them agreed agriculture was going to remain the primary driver, but they also wanted to add green energy to the mix in various ways.
For Vignarajah, the object wasn’t to attack “Big Chicken” but to address its environmental issues through research. She also touted the idea of tourism, both as part of an “outdoor economy” and “heritage tourism.” Shea stressed his belief that we need to bring the two sides of farmer and environmentalist together. Corporations want a good environment, too, he said, but “we need clarity on the regulations.” Jim also believed that we needed to grow our own businesses and not work as much at attracting those from other states.
Madaleno, after giving a brief introduction, talked about keeping agriculture sustainable, both environmentally and economically, but also brought up the idea of “eds and beds” – our educational institutions and tourism industry. Richard also pointed out the impact from Wallops Island and its space industry. He had one other point, but he joked that “I feel like the Secretary of Energy” because he couldn’t recall it. Later, he said Shea reminded him it was offshore wind – it was a byproduct of seeing each other so much and knowing their talking points, as Shea mentioned later: “(Madaleno) did the same thing for me at another forum.”
Perhaps Alec’s drop in blood pressure stemmed from the produce he’s purchased at an Eastern Shore roadside market. As the produce was bigger and better than ever at his last stop, Ross asked how they did it. “Precision agriculture,” the stand owner beamed. Agriculture in the state needs to continue to evolve, he added, the combination of analytics and agriculture would allow that to happen. And to help small farmers, Ross was proposing a billion-dollar investment in a “green bank” model – a model already in place in New York and Massachusetts. (In looking this up, perhaps Ross misspoke: I found programs in place in New York and Connecticut as a way to promote “clean energy.” What Ross proposes may have a slightly different focus.)
So how do you balance agriculture and the environment? Would you add restrictions to the poultry industry?
Madaleno, Shea, and Vignarajah all touted the Community Healthy Air Act, a measure Madaleno sponsored during the last General Assembly session, and one that Shea said “made sense.” (It did not get beyond the hearing stage.) Alec and Krish also brought up the Phosphorus Management Tool, with Krish calling it a “win-win.” She also proposed to “empower” farmers with a Farmers Rights Act.
Ross wanted all sides to play by the same rules as well, saying that neither side thinks they are lying when it comes to the facts.
Needless to say, all of them were supportive of wind energy development. Madaleno said they “will make a lot of sense,” believing the won’t impact the viewshed and be the basis for job growth. They can “drive the economy ahead,” added Shea; however, he was concerned that there was no way to store their energy. We need to invest in that technology, he added.
Ross and Vignarajah were just as aggressive, with Alec comparing areas that don’t “embrace the future” through wind to the coal country he grew up in and assuring us that windmills would not keep them from the beaches. Vignarajah promised 2,000 megawatts of wind power in her first term and chided Larry Hogan for not being proactive. We are exporting our dollars and importing their pollution, she said regarding the current situation.
This question also provided a couple of shout outs: Madaleno praised fellow Senator Jim Mathias: “No one fights harder for the Eastern Shore – I have some of the scars.” Alec Ross said of Salisbury mayor Jake Day. “I like the work (he) is doing as mayor.”
When it comes to watermen and the Bay, the answers were again rather similar because they focused more on the Bay, with some expressing the recovery of the oyster population as one positive development. It’s a “win-win” to support the oyster industry, said Vignarajah, but don’t forget the tributaries to the Bay like the Choptank, Potomac, and so forth. Shea warned that it’s “too soon” to harvest oysters as watermen are pleading with Governor Hogan to allow.
Madaleno, though, expressed the opinion that the Bay’s recovery was evidence that “government can do and does good things.” And while he joked that being a member of the General Assembly meant he had to become an expert in crabs, oysters, and chicken, he added that cleaning the Bay has to be a multi-state effort. Richard also pledged to give waterman “a voice at the table.”
And while Ross would do “whatever it takes” to accomplish this difficult and expensive work, he spent part of his time noting that “when you drive into Maryland, you should be entering The Resistance.” Chiding the “abhorrent” leadership at the EPA, he wanted a set-aside to sustain watermen. Shea temed a similar concept as an “investment” in the needed vocational training for the “social costs of our advancement.” On the other hand, Vignarajah expressed the “unpopular” view of crediting Larry Hogan with trying to protect Chesapeake Bay funding.
As far as transportation priorities for our rural areas are concerned, there was no real shock in their answers. Krish led off by saying “let us try to be innovative,” making the investment in our economy of extending the MARC system to Salisbury and Ocean City as “an attraction” to provide “more mobility.” Jim Shea agreed that the Eastern Shore has a lack of mass transit.
Madaleno and Ross blasted Larry Hogan’s transportation plan, with Ross calling it “a press release” and “not realistic” because it mainly focuses on DC and Baltimore. Hogan was “one of the luckiest politicians around,” said Madaleno, who noted that the Purple Line was “placed on a credit card” while the gas tax Hogan criticized was now being used for highway widening. Richard would invest in “smart mass transit,” meaning on demand.
Shea was more realistic, calling transportation “anathema” for career politicians because projects take so long. He termed the high-speed rail project backed by Hogan “pie in the sky” and would vet his plan with citizens around the state.
Most telling to me was part of Alec’s answer, where he called widening U.S. 50 “looking backward” and mass transit “looking forward.” So I wasn’t shocked by their answers to the next question, about a third Bay Bridge.
At least Jim Shea was honest enough to answer “I don’t know what the correct answer is.” (Hint: look at how close Dorchester and Calvert counties are.) His bigger issue was funding education. Madaleno was more worried about whether the current bridges survive, as the Hogan toll reductions “restrict the decision” on these bridges, which Madaleno would replace there.
Alec and Krish were even more blunt. “People need investments in them,” said Ross. High-speed connectivity and schools were a higher priority in his eyes, with another Bay span “way down the queue.” Vignarajah echoed the sentiment: “A lot of priorities are ahead in the queue” over the Bay Bridge, adding “we have a 1950s budget in many respects.” She would spend money on universal broadband, too, noting 1 in 12 Maryland residents don’t have high-speed internet access.
Since it had been hinted around at, the focus shifted to education. Education “will be the centerpiece of (a Madaleno) administration,” said Rich, and “this is why (Ross) is running for governor,” he said, but all of them were ready to give free stuff out: universal pre-K and community college were most mentioned.
Madaleno touted his membership on the Kirwan Commission, while Krish advocated for a “cradle to career” educational policy, including “hot and healthy meals.” Shea’s “bold and comprehensive” plan (which he mentioned was there in full on his website) included as well what he called “wrap-around services” and “funding solutions.”
One thing I did like about Alec was his advocacy for vocational education, rather than the “terribly elitist” idea all kids have to go to college. He promoted an online academy to assist rural students in receiving services not otherwise available to them and advocates for universal computer science education.
We also waited until nearly the end to learn about their proposals for health care, and whether it included single-payer?
Of course it does, but not everyone is as honest as Jim Shea, who, while he told the audience that “a single-payer system is something we will eventually move to,” it wasn’t practical for a single state to adopt. That push had to be at a federal level, but we could control costs locally through a collaborative approach.
Otherwise, it seemed the consensus was that Obamacare was just a start, or a “strong start” in the words of Vignarajah. For her, “health care is a basic human right” and she advocated for a public option to lead to single-payer. Madaleno insisted that Obamacare “has worked to reduce costs” and brought Maryland down to 6% uninsured. He warned the gathering to not fall for the “trumped-up theory” that the ACA has failed. The fight was against insurers and Big Pharma to cut costs. (This also gave Madaleno a chance for a second Mathias shout-out: he was a “hero” as a voice for rural health care.)
Alec called on us to “resist the evil that is coming out of Donald Trump’s Washington.” While he admitted that “we have to continue to play defense,” he gave an example of something he would do differently: because of the waiver system Maryland was benefiting from, Medicare for All wasn’t possible – but Medicaid for All as a public option was.
I was honestly surprised by the final question, which had to do with redistricting. Had there been five participants, the health care question would have likely been last.
Only the American system allows for politicians to pick their voters, said Krish, but it was a “problematic” issue that had to be addressed at a national level. Shea disagreed, saying that while gerrymandering had polarized us, it wasn’t a federal problem – but the solution wasn’t (as he called it) “unilateral disarmament” here in Maryland. It needs to be “fair and smart,” Jim added, but he warned there’s no such thing as a non-partisan group.
Madaleno admitted that the gerrymandering “got out of hand” during the O’Malley administration (but failed to mention his lack of objection at the time.) Going with the theme that “the Koch brothers have bought the Congress they wanted,” Rich wanted to reform as part of a multi-state compact.
Alec saw the issue as part of the “damage to democracy,” which has led to both far-right and far-left factions in Congress. “We need representatives to engage with everyone in the district,” he said.
It should be noted that Vignarajah used part of her answer time to express her disappointment that no question was asked on opioids. “We need action” on both the over-prescription and treatment aspects of that problem.
In conclusion, Jim Shea said Democrats needed to unite as a party. “We’re going to pull together because we are a great party and take the governor’s seat back.”
Richard Madaleno contended that the GOP of Donald Trump is “in the process of imploding.” Yet since there will be gridlock in Washington, it make the governors more important, and Maryland has one of the most powerful chief executives in the nation. “It matters who the governor of Maryland is,” he continued, and “this is the time to have serious experience in office.” That was a nod to his years in the General Assembly, but his goal was to “move the state in a progressive way.”
Alec Ross told the local Democrats that it’s “more about ‘we’ than ‘me,’ but disagreed with Madeleno on one point: the GOP is not coming apart. “We’ve got to work for it,” he said. He also promised “no one will be more anti-Trump than me,” but warned the group they “can’t just resist,” they have to have an “aspirational agenda.” It was time for new faces and new ideas to come forward., Ross concluded.
“How do we beat Larry Hogan?” asked Krish Vignarajah. “No man can beat Larry Hogan, they say. Well…?” While Hogan “fakes left and moves right,” Vignarajah pointed out that 61% of those who toppled incumbent Republicans in this cycle were women. She pledged a “fiscally responsible. socially progressive” administration.
I’ve noted above that Jim Mathias was in the building, but there were a handful of other Democrats seeking local and state office there: Michael Pullen for Congress (who sat two seats away from me and never said a word), Holly Wright for Senate District 37 (who did introduce herself to me), Delegate 38A candidate Kirkland Hall, and county-level candidates Bill McCain (County Council) and Bo McAllister, who I had spoken to at last fall’s Good Beer Festival. (You would have known that had my old cell phone not crapped out the next day, before I could write the post.)
They did their thing and I did mine, but mine is done.
In the interest of total and full disclosure, I’m not a farmer. In fact, I’m probably as far from a green thumb as they come – usually any gardening efforts of mine are so paltry that even the rabbits turn up their wrinkly noses and pass on by.
But one blessing I did enjoy was growing up in farm country, where the blue FFA jackets emblazoned with “Ohio/Evergreen” were worn just as proudly as the green-and-gold varsity jackets our school athletes wore. Most of those FFA members came by it honestly as their parents were but the latest generation of farmers in their families, and they surely had the support of a number of local businesses as well.
So to read an article like this was bad enough, but then it reminded me of a related local story from a few weeks ago. I knew the late patriarch of that farm from serving with him on our Republican Central Committee from 2006-14, finally retiring in his nineties. (Blan Harcum Sr. passed away in 2016.) Like the farms in the Michigan story, his is being squeezed by low dairy prices and mounting debt.
Dairy farming is sort of an odd pastime here. Although there is a minor resurgence here in the dairy industry thanks to a handful of local ice cream makers, only one that I’m aware of uses local cows (and they host those cows on their own farm.) Instead, most of the agricultural production locally is intended for one purpose: feeding chickens. Most area farmers had a good thing going for awhile: send their corn or soybeans to the local poultry grower and use the end result of those chickens being fed as fertilizer. It’s a rite of spring; one that I call “smells like Delaware.” But in the past decade or so local regulation has curtailed that particular usage of poultry by-products – our state pays cash money to truck poop someplace else. Farmers, though, still get the blame for what often is an urban-based problem of excess nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay.
But in a nation where a significant percentage of the corn crop is devoted to fueling our cars and not feeding our (rapidly expanding) waistlines, there are some good ideas that get past the inefficient, one-size-fits-all solutions the current market encourages with subsidies and government cheese. People often complain about the farm price supports, but I suppose that’s what keeps the price of groceries down. On the other hand, though, we make it difficult for those who want to try a different way to succeed – just try buying unpasteurized whole milk, for example.
A few weeks ago I heard another idea: since local brewers often have a hard time securing the varieties of hops they desire, would that be something that could be accomplished locally? The question is a good one, but most domestic hop growing is concentrated in the Pacific Northwest. Historically, I found it occurred in states like New York and Massachusetts and that leads me to believe that a cooler climate is desirable. (If you look at it from a state standpoint, though, it may work on the other side of Maryland.) Then again, people may think of a place like California to grow grapes for wine but we have shown it can be done locally.
The question should become one of how to allow the most market flexibility, while encouraging innovation. Farmer’s markets are nice, but that’s still rather inefficient – just like when we get some extra zucchini from our friend, too often what we get goes to waste. I’m not sure the system we have is the system we need, and that lament made me stop and ponder enough to write this.
If it’s a date on the calendar, it must be a day when someone twists the truth about their political opponents. But this one hits us where we live.
Ben Jealous is one of several Democrats seeking to oppose Larry Hogan this fall, and as his latest salvo he’s accusing Hogan of pay-for-play. Pointing out a recent Wall Street Journal story about how corporate entities are using the respective governors’ associations (both Democrat and Republican) as a means to donate additional funding beyond candidate limits, Jealous claims that “Poultry industry gives $250,000 to help Hogan campaign…Gov. Hogan slashes chicken manure regulation, putting more chicken (stuff) in the Chesapeake.”
The WSJ story is now behind a paywall, but fortunately I have access to the pertinent part for my purpose:
In October 2014, the Republican Governors Association needed help in Maryland, where the gubernatorial race was tight. So it called Mountaire Corp., one of America’s largest suppliers of chicken products.
Companies can’t donate large sums to candidates in many states, including Maryland. But they can give unlimited sums to governors associations, which sometimes use the donations to support a company’s favored politician without any indication in the public record of the original source.
According to a then-RGA official, the RGA needed $500,000 for an ad campaign to help Republican Larry Hogan. Mountaire was facing tough new environmental regulations in Maryland, where it raises and processes millions of chickens every year. Mr. Hogan had criticized the regulations.
Mountaire sent $250,000 to the RGA on Oct. 31, according to filings from the Internal Revenue Service. It didn’t give its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association, a penny that year.
Even the Washington Postnoted that the Hogan regulations which were placed as a substitute – something Jealous obviously didn’t mention – were fine with the environmentalists:
Hogan won the support of environmentalists and Democratic legislators when he negotiated a revamped set of regulations during his first months in office. The plan phased in stricter restrictions over a number of years and allowed extensions for some farmers if major problems arise.
So Jealous is sort of hiding the truth, although I expect that out of a politician.
That’s not to say I was enamored with Hogan’s retreat on the issue, which was something I originally was happy to see him address so quickly. However, it also allowed the O’Malley regulations that were on the verge of passing the General Assembly to be pulled, and that was a good thing. But when people try to stir up sh*t by twisting the truth and distorting the record because they have nothing good to run on besides rewarmed old socialist bromides that would bankrupt the state and drive the producers away, I figure it’s time to speak out.
And here’s my question for Ben Jealous: are you going to refuse DGA money or assistance if you get the nomination? Something tells me he’ll be lined right up to receive that manna from heaven if he gets the nomination, so don’t try to sell us your story. You must want to be completely shut out on the Eastern Shore.