Shifting out of PARCC

As I noted yesterday, there was an item brought to my attention by the Worcester County TEA Party. Fortunately, their version is slightly inaccurate in a good way.

According to their communication, Governor Hogan only had until June 1 to act. That date is problematic because he will be in the opening stages of a 12-day trip to Asia to drum up business for Maryland. I’m definitely not crazy about this trip – considering many on our side chastised Martin O’Malley for doing the same thing – but it is what it is, and that’s really not the subject of the post.

Let me refer to the actual authors to set things straight. This is from the Stop PARCC in Maryland group:

In June 2010, Governor Martin O’Malley and former State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick signed a Memorandum of Understanding that committed Maryland to the various guidelines, by-laws, and responsibilities of membership in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium.  (The complete Memorandum of Understanding can be found by clicking here.)

Section VII, Subsection B of the Memorandum of Understanding states:

“In the event that the governor or chief state school officer is replaced in a Consortium state, the successor in that office shall affirm in writing to the Governing Board Chair the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by that official’s predecessor within five (5) months of taking office.”

On January 21, 2015, Governor Larry Hogan was inaugurated and took office as Maryland’s 62nd Governor. According to the Memorandum of Understanding, Governor Hogan has until June 21, 2015 to recommit Maryland to the PARCC consortium.

We believe that the “shall affirm” provision, in this case, is directory (non-binding) and not mandatory due to the nature of the agreement as well as legal precedent.

We believe that the Governor has the authority to nullify Maryland’s agreement with the PARCC consortium simply by declining to reaffirm the state’s commitment within this five month window.

We believe that Governor Hogan is in a unique position to reclaim, remodel, and rediscover Maryland education.

In looking through the Stop PARCC website, I also found a letter from Delegate David Vogt in which he implores Hogan to withdraw, citing Florida as one example of a state which has done so. In fact, there are over a dozen states (including neighboring Virginia and Pennsylvania) which have already withdrawn from PARCC or a similar testing regimen called SBAC or joined neither in the first place – Virginia is one of four that never adopted either idea.

The objection to each of these is simple: they were adopted as a one-size-fits-all scheme in which hundreds of millions of federal dollars were shoveled to states to bribe them into compliance. The concept of local control is being usurped more and more by these standards; meanwhile, we are finding more and more that Johnny not only can’t read, but he has trouble with math and knows little about basic science, history, and geography – however, he is programmed to regurgitate whatever topical talking points are popular with the teachers’ unions.

Maryland is supposed to be one of the best states for education – so why are we lowering ourselves to “average” standards? We can be a leader by encouraging innovation and letting local districts work to educate students in the basics, with the emphasis on teaching in time-tested methods proven successful rather than catering to a testing regimen that takes up valuable classroom time.

“Be Prepared” – it’s a motto to live by

May 23, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Education · 2 Comments 

I bring you this not necessarily as an event to attend – although if you are in the Smyrna area and/or interested in the 9-12 Delaware Patriots it’s probably well worth your while – but as something to keep in mind for future reference. In this region there’s someone who knows about such survival techniques as these.

You can dismiss this as the paranoia of the far right – those dismissed as “preppers” – but many of these skills may be useful if (or perhaps when) we run into a situation where food, water, and electricity are in short supply or unavailable for weeks. Those who were directly affected by Superstorm Sandy had a taste of this life, but if the dire predictions of an EMP-induced power failure are correct we could be in such a situation for months at a time. (At that point, however, the prospects of canning and sustainable farming may be much less important than the marksmanship aspect of the course.)

It seems to me that this sort of course could be useful in a location closer to home – perhaps as an event for the Worcester County TEA Party. (Something they sent to me will be the subject of a post tomorrow.) Most of those on the other side of the political aisle will be instead waiting for the white knights of FEMA to roll in and save the day, but the government can only do so much for you – it’s what they can do to you that worries many on the conservative side of the spectrum.

Put another way, many of these skills were second nature to our great-grandparents, but having the ease and comfort of a modern society made them irrelevant for the modern world. When dinner is as easy as going online and using your debit card to have something delivered to your front door, the usefulness of fire starting without matches, canning, and hydroponics can be questioned. Take that ease and comfort away, though, and the tune changes rapidly.

America has been blessed for a long time, in no small measure thanks to the sacrifices of those we honor this weekend in general and Monday in particular. But a little rugged individualism never hurt anyone and it would be interesting to bring such an event to our part of the peninsula.

Shorebird of the Week – May 21, 2015

May 21, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

Let’s face it – if a minor league player puts up a slash line of .196/12/67/.635 OPS, comes from a relatively small and unheralded baseball program, and wasn’t drafted until the 29th round, the chances of extended employment generally are bleak. Yet all three describe Conor Bierfeldt, and the Orioles’ faith in him after his struggles with Delmarva last year has been rewarded thus far with an improved average and the South Atlantic League RBI lead for Conor, who leads his now-injured teammate Alex Murphy, 36 to 28. No one else has more than 26 knocked in.

It’s not that Bierfeldt can’t drive in runs – the 67 he drove in last season led the Shorebirds and he was among the NYPL leaders in both home runs and RBI when he played with Aberdeen in 2013 – but the average had to be a concern, particularly when he hit .264 with the Ironbirds. While “on pace to” is always a dangerous assumption, so far Conor is working toward 15 or more home runs and well over 100 RBI over a full season. In 208 pro games Conor has 29 home runs (and plays home games in a notoriously tough park for home runs, as just 5 of his 17 Shorebird home runs have come at home), so it’s obvious the longball potential is there.

So it looks like Bierfeldt is making the adjustments needed to maximize what Buck Showalter likes to call the “contact to damage ratio.” A team can live with a .236 batting average if those hits drive in runs – as an example, I snapped the photo above after his only hit of yesterday’s game, a 2-run triple. The 1-for-4 performance only fractionally affected his average, but the 2 knocked in allowed him to pad his league lead and opened the scoring for the day, staking Delmarva to an early 2-0 lead (although they eventually lost 6-5.)

If you look ahead for Bierfeldt, there’s a reasonable chance he may not be here the full season to see if he can secure that RBI title. Making the adjustments to increase his average is the key to moving up, and there are a couple weaker links in Frederick’s outfield which could be replaced. We’ll see if Conor rewards the Orioles’ patience with him as the season develops.

A ‘loophole’ is only bad if the government thinks it’s being stiffed

For what is being described as “financial stakes (that) are small, (yielding) just $3 million to $4 million annually.” the Washington Post sure has its collective panties in a wad over the prospect Larry Hogan may veto the “travel tax.”

When I did my last look at the idea, I didn’t really know how much the difference was to the state. Now that I know it’s only a rounding error in a $40 billion budget. the prospect of Democrats (and, sadly, a handful of Republicans) trying to fill in this supposed budget hole looks to me like a “gotcha” moment set up by General Assembly Democrats who will turn around and bash Hogan for enacting the “travel tax” in four years – after all, if they can perpetrate the fiction that school funding was cut this year (never mind the increase of over $100 million) they can make up anything to tell unsuspecting voters that the sky is falling.

But it’s really funny to me that the Post considers this a “travel agent loophole” and “undeserved windfall” when it’s actually a legal transaction. Even the Post admits it:

Rather than collect sales taxes from the agencies based on the actual prices they charge customers for hotel rooms, most states have accepted a reduced payment based on bargain room prices the agencies manage to negotiate with hotels.

That’s as it should be, so it sounds to me like General Assembly Democrats have some sour grapes. The transaction in question is at a reduced rate – why should the state collect the sales tax on the full rack rate if the place of lodging offers the rooms first to a reseller at a lower price? There is no gun being placed at the proverbial head of the hotel or motel to sell the rooms to an online travel agency; they can go it alone and try to market themselves without a middleman. (Hence, loyalty programs and other perks provided by hotels who prefer to keep bookings in-house.)

But it’s obvious that many hotel chains prefer the assurance of knowing they would get something – a “something” that is about 60 to 70 percent of full rate – for a room which will be paid for many times over before the paint dries on the renovation or new construction based on future reservations already on the books. Chances are your room rate is really paying for the employees who check you in and take care of the rooms moreso than the bricks, mortar, and furnishings in the facility, and that factor can be adjusted easily by management. (To use a local and somewhat extreme example, just drive through Ocean City in January and note how many hotels and motels shut down completely for the winter. No one is there to pay for the bricks and mortar, so no employees save a caretaker and maintenance are needed.) So even getting a reduced rate from a travel agency which reserves the rooms just in case isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a cause for complaint by a state which hasn’t completely given up the attitude that “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine, too.”

Conversely, to use another traveler analogy, you won’t hear the Post (or any of their liberal allies) tut-tutting if gasoline prices go up and the state collects more sales tax as a result – no one there would consider that an “undeserved windfall” for the state. I’ll explain.

Should the per-gallon tab for gasoline go up another 50 cents (as it has over the course of the last few months, from about $2 locally to north of $2.50) the state will make up the $4 million “lost” by vetoing the “travel tax” in no time. A 50-cent per gallon increase, as we have already had, nets yet an extra half-penny to the state per gallon come July as an additional 1% gasoline sales tax increase takes effect then. Just based on that 50-cent gas price increase alone coupled with the 1% increase (to 3%) – hence, the half-penny – and assuming the state consumes 7 million gallons per day (probably still in the ballpark despite these old statistics), they will make an “extra” $4 million from what they could have anticipated receiving when 2015 dawned in less than two weeks.

Yet the Post will not throw a pity party for motorists – I guarantee it. Ignore their whining and leave the hotel room rate system be.

The perils of social media

I’ve been sitting on this one for about a week, as I’ve had a busy last few days and have been following some other items that placed themselves on the front burner. But way back on the stove was an e-mail I received a week ago that I found interesting enough to reply to.

It was an e-mail from a gentleman who is trying to resurrect a social media site for conservatives. In this case he was looking for a link to his site from mine. (I guess he’s found out I run a relatively conservative political shop over here in the hinterlands.) In return he would build a fan page for me on his site, which is fine with me as far as that goes. In my case, I just read the e-mail and it piqued my curiosity – what happened to the original site?

So I asked this guy, DJ Cohon. Here’s what he said:

We had the site from 2008 to 2011. In the past we had a little over 15,000 members. At the time it was costing us too much money. Then facebook had shut down our fan page which was a major blow. The main reason however was the site was getting completely taken over by people against the Tea Party movement. I was spending too much time deleting blogs that were anti-american to say the least. The final straw was a major ddos attack.

This time we are much more prepared with spam checks and filters in place before the launch. The conservatives of the country need a place to call their own. I read everyday online how FB is removing more and more pages that are right leaning. They are once again trying to shut down the voices of the people. Another fan page for Allen West just had their page taken down because they had a link to a site that showed a picture of Mohammad. They had over 300,000 fans. GoFundMe has also recently taken a stand against right leaning causes. They are doing this in preparation for the upcoming election. I was thinking about bringing the site back after seeing what has been going on. And after receiving many messages through twitter from followers asking to put the site back up I decided it was time.

To each his or her own – if I had 15,000 readers a week I would be floored. So I checked out the site (teapartytown.us) and right now it has is a video, a space to gather e-mail addresses, and a fairly broad range of submenu items which are hit-or-miss – but it looks like a quality, well-done site. There’s already a handful of fan pages, mainly for 2016 presidential candidates but a couple bloggers there, too. It’s on track for a July 4 relaunch.

I realize that the next couple paragraphs are going to assume that Cohon’s story is true. I have no real reason to believe he’s not telling the truth and he’s not going to gain much by lying to me. But if what he said about the demise of the original site is correct, what does that say about the tolerance of the Left to opposing views? It’s anecdotal evidence to be sure, and there are people out there who will believe anything that fits into a particular worldview and narrative, but overall Facebook and other social media sites seemingly only put up with conservatives because they have to at best and are openly hostile at worst. Say something there to defend the right to life or traditional marriage and you run the risk of someone swinging the ban hammer.

But in the back of my mind there’s just something which gnaws at me about the label “TEA Party.” I don’t shun the label myself, but there is a connotation to it that is negative to some as well. As long as Cohon doesn’t envision massive commercial success, though, he should do just fine in the niche of several million Americans who tend to be conservative to libertarian in their outlook. 15,000 people is a nice number, but in the universe of Facebook, Twitter, and so forth it’s like a tiny asteroid. I’ve been to rallies where 15,000 was just the population of the restroom lines.

Maybe the thought occurs to me because, while there may be a need for a group like TEA Party Town, we as a movement can’t be a community insulated from the outside world. To paraphrase an old quote: we may not be interested in war, but war is interested in us. In the minds of many who subscribe to the philosophy of the TEA Party, if government and the world left us alone we would be satisfied with life – but neither is going to happen soon. So we have to deal with the world as is, and that includes the traditional social media.

At my church the sign over the front door tells us we are entering the mission field. It’s worth having a place to preach to the choir and speak among friends – in fact, I encourage the fellowship – but we can’t abandon the rest of the world when doing so.

The next big thing in Salisbury

Rumor has it that he’s going out the door by not standing for re-election as mayor, but if this is so Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton is declaring war on private property as his swan song.

On Monday, according to a press release from his office, Ireton will set the wheels in motion to eliminate the non-conforming “4 to 3″ or “4 to 4″ properties in the city, with the stated goal that all housing units in the city will either have no more than two non-related occupants or be single-family housing. Approximately 400 households in the city would be affected.

Ireton is also looking to hire a Community Development Specialist, with the stated goal for this new position being “someone who can identify funding sources, and coordinate with the various agencies involved to shepherd properties through the tax sale process.” That last part is interesting because it brings me to my main point: it looks to me like the city wants to become a much larger landowner. To wit:

According to Salisbury’s Vacant Building Registry, there are 187 vacant and/or abandoned houses within City limits. The effect of these properties on their surrounding communities is demonstrably negative, causing losses in neighborhood property values, increases in crime and vagrancy, and public health concerns. The proposed budget amendment would set aside $45,000 for a fund which the City would use expressly to purchase vacant and abandoned homes at tax sale. Starting in FY2016, an additional $500,000 in bonded debt would be earmarked for acquisition, rehabilitation, repurposing, demolition, and legal fees. Homes bought by the City would be determined to be either eligible for donation to Habitat for Humanity or Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Service, or unfit for rehabilitation and demolished.

Imagine if you will an entrepreneur suddenly deciding to go out a purchase a whole bunch of houses at a tax sale, and the hoops this owner would have to jump through to secure all the permits, inspections, and other hassles a prospective investor would endure because the wheels of city government move so slowly. It’s a climate that discourages investment, so oftentimes properties sit vacant or abandoned. Factor in the difficult economic times of the last several years and there’s no question that too many people believe investing in Salisbury would be a losing cause.

So instead of addressing the situation of why investment is such a risk, the city will go into the business of home ownership. Not only that, they plan on running up plenty of debt to get themselves into a position to decide whether to renovate or tear down these dwellings.

It seems to me the better use of tax dollars would be to take care of what they do own. For example, I live across from a city park that is essentially an empty, semi-wooded lot with one lonely basketball hoop in the middle of it. For a few thousand dollars they could perhaps install a walking path, nice flower beds, and perhaps a couple trash receptacles. It’s not a large space, but it is a focal point of this little neighborhood.

If you believe the rumors that Jim is going to try and trade places with Jake Day, this isn’t the way to do it. Six years ago, we were promised that “help is on the way” but this isn’t going to be much help in making Salisbury an attractive place in which to invest. Why take a chance on buying a house when your next door neighbor could be a property owned by the city?

Shorebird of the Week – May 14, 2015

May 14, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

Bennett Parry

I can’t believe I’m picking Bennett Parry as my Shorebird of the Week – again.

You see, at the tail end of the 2013 season when I originally tabbed Bennett, he was in the midst of some great starting pitching. Here we are in May of 2015 and Parry is doing the same thing for Delmarva, shutting out Asheville for six innings on two hits last Thursday before Tuesday’s almost as stellar losing effort against Augusta, where two consecutive doubles did him in for a 1-0 tough luck loss. Parry allowed just three hits in five innings in that start, and has allowed only 23 in 31 2/3 innings pitched so far this season. He’s only given out eight walks against 25 strikeouts, leaving himself a sub-1 WHIP for the season.

So why hasn’t my 2013 forecast that Parry was “a contender for Frederick’s starting rotation (in 2014)” come true? Beats me. If you look at Parry’s Delmarva body of work over those parts of the last three seasons he’s been here, you really can’t argue that with an ERA under 3, strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 2.5-to-1 (with about a strikeout per inning), and overall WHIP of 1.22 – mainly as a starter, by the way, so he’s facing batters multiple times per game – he doesn’t deserve a shot at the next level. Yet in five pro seasons Bennett has never gotten past Delmarva.

I’ve seen Bennett pitch a few times over the last three seasons, including a couple starts this year. One thing I notice is that he’s the kind of pitcher you watch for awhile and realize, hey, he’s in the fifth inning and throwing a shutout (or at worst keeping the team in the game.) It’s not flashy, but he does get his outs and they add up to innings and suddenly you’re applauding another solid six-inning effort.

I will concede to my above point that Bennett is a little older than the league now (he turns 24 in August) and was drafted in the 40th round in 2011. (Under current draft rules, that would be the final round.) When you’re 1,205th on the totem pole, nothing comes easy and apparently it hasn’t for Bennett, either. But here’s hoping that, for the second half of the season, Parry finally gets to try his luck at the next level and see if he can compete there.

Sneaking laws into the books

Important update: Per the Maryland General Assembly webpage, the date of presentment was actually fixed as May 3. This means the legislative limbo can run as late as June 2.)

On Tuesday Governor Larry Hogan risked carpal tunnel syndrome by signing hundreds of bills into law. The extraordinarily high output was made necessary by two factors: the events in Baltimore that scuttled a planned bill signing back on April 28, and the desire to enact these laws within the period mandated by the state’s constitution. As a refresher, Article II, Section 17 (c) of the Maryland Constitution states:

Any Bill presented to the Governor within six days (Sundays excepted), prior to adjournment of any session of the General Assembly, or after such adjournment, shall become law without the Governor’s signature unless it is vetoed by the Governor within 30 days after its presentment. (Emphasis mine.)

There are a handful of bills which may make it into the books this way. Since the General Assembly session ended at the stroke of midnight April 14. 30 days hence would be tomorrow, May 14. (Update: presentment doesn’t happen with adjournment, as I have found.) Some of the bills in limbo happen to be those which are part of the monoblogue Accountability Project, so you can bet there are some calculations going on about whether a veto can be sustained.

Many of these bills Hogan has held off on signing establish or extend fees and taxes, with a few being issues local to Calvert, Charles, and Howard counties. Two of them extend or increase fees in state courts; in another case I wrote about the “travel tax” of Senate Bill 190 a few weeks ago. Senate Bill 183 would mandate the adoption of the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which would be a budget-buster. He’s also passed on extending the film production activity tax credit that the producers of “House of Cards” wanted.

Business interests, though, should be happy that Hogan hasn’t signed the de facto two-year fracking ban or the extension of flexible leave.

On the social issue end of the spectrum, we do not yet know the fate of bills which would decriminalize marijuana, allow for same-sex couples to have their IVF procedures covered under insurance, let those who have undergone the treatment to revise their gender to change their birth certificates to reflect this, or allow felons who are out of prison but still on probation or parole to vote.

These are less than 5% of the bills which were passed. Many others have already been vetoed as duplicative, but those above are the ones most likely to get an attempt at overriding the veto – or they can try, try again in the next term knowing that the votes for passage were there the last time. Some bills may be improved with a few minor changes that can be worked out while others should just be put out of our misery.

I’m hoping that Governor Hogan sends a strong message by vetoing the following bills I advised voting against:

If he wishes to let the decriminalization of marijuana become law without his signature, that’s quite all right.

This all goes to show that my monoblogue Accountability Project should be a hot-ticket item when it comes out. next week. The good news is that it’s free and available for the taking once I upload it Monday. (See the update above.)

Upping the ante

At our Central Committee meeting last night we had the pleasure of hearing from Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver. One thing we touched upon in the meeting was the aspect of public hearings for gauging public support of an elected school board in Wicomico County, at the behest of Senator Jim Mathias. We learned that none of these sessions had been planned yet, so I’m going to throw out the first ideas on this.

I don’t think anyone would say that there can be too few public hearings but I think that there can be too many. Sooner or later people would lose interest so I think the optimum number would be five.

To me, five is the fairest number because we could base one in each County Council district – important because the proposal would use those same boundaries for school board districts. As far as timing, I think August is the best month although September is acceptable as well. This has more to do with the availability of facilities than anything else, because in most cases schools would be the ideal location for these public hearings. Specifically, I think the hearings should be sited in the following facilities, all of which lie within that Council district.

  • District 1: West Salisbury Elementary School
  • District 2: Mardela Middle’High School
  • District 3: Wicomico Youth and Civic Center
  • District 4: Bennett High School
  • District 5: Pittsville Elementary/Middle School

These locations are somewhat spread through the county, although by necessity most are in the Salisbury area.

Obviously elected officials may not be able to make each of these hearings, and the idea is to hear from as many voices as possible. But if the respective County Council members can act as hosts and facilitators, the process should be satisfactory to all involved.

Then we can get to the business of passing this bill in next year’s session. The people’s voice delayed should not be the people’s voice denied.

Secession over energy

You might recall that an ongoing, back-burner thought we on the Eastern Shore have had is the idea of seceding from the state of Maryland – a state which otherwise belittles us, doesn’t share our concern about the agricultural community, and tries to lord it over us because we only have a small percentage of the population. With a Republican governor that sentiment has diminished somewhat but it’s still active among a few.

The southern tier of counties in the state of New York have a similar beef. Their state is controlled by the denizens of the Big Apple, which overshadows both the urban enclaves of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany and the rural areas upstate. Those who represent the urban areas have prevailed on the state government to ban fracking in the state, which means areas within the Marcellus Shale formation can’t tap into that valuable resource, while just a few miles away Pennsylvania towns and cities are thriving. This story by Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times makes it plain that residents in that area are frustrated, just as those who live in the western end of Maryland have been pleading for the state to lift its de facto ban on the practice. Instead, the Maryland General Assembly put yet another two-year delay on the books.

In both cases, the problem lies in the small minority of citizens who are blessed to live in an energy-rich portion of a state being forced by a majority who thinks they know better to suffer, watching those who live just a few miles away prosper.

Also in both cases, the chances of secession vary between slim and none, with slim vacating town to pursue a fracking job in an adjacent state.

Of course, this is the small drawback to having 50 different state governments: it allows for some to fail in their economic efforts. Both New York and Maryland have an economic engine which depends on the growing alliance and partnership between Wall Street and the federal government, with thousands of financial sector workers in New York City and thousands of federal employees in Maryland. In their worldview, we can secure all our energy needs from renewable sources and oil and natural gas are dirty, nasty fossil fuels. Problem is we still use an awful lot of those fossil fuels because renewables are extremely expensive or highly subsidized.

Perhaps what needs to secede is the crazy idea that fracking is something to be avoided at all costs from the laws of the several states. Until then, those poor people in New York and western Maryland will continue to see prosperity from afar.

The final hurdle

This is sort of a programming note for those who are interested.

Over the last week on social media I was detailing some of my findings as I went through the votes for the monoblogue Accountability Project. There was a Delegate who was racking up an impressive record of consecutive correct votes; alas, his streak stopped at 15. Anyway, I have completed the tallies and over the next few days will write up the “awards” segment.

However, one thing I cover in my summary is the disposition of bills and that depends on Governor Hogan. On Tuesday he will sign the last batch of bills he plans on making into law and hopefully will present veto statements for others which won’t. You may recall he was supposed to sign a group of them on April 28 but the Baltimore riots forced a postponement. It means come Tuesday Larry might have carpal tunnel from signing so many bills because he’s doubling up the batch. This means I should be ready for release on May 18, since I like to put things like that up to begin a week.

Speaking of veto statements, this also allows me to bring up the idea that MDPetitions.com (the brainchild of Delegate Neil Parrott) is urging people in a last-ditch effort to veto three bills. As it turned out, they were all votes in the monoblogue Accountability Project and for all three the correct vote was against passage – so I join that call to veto the following bills:

  • SB 416/ HB 838 – Insurance Mandate for same-sex wedded couples to get In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments
  • SB 743/ HB 862 – Modified Birth Certificates for Sex Changes, No Surgical Change Necessary
  • SB 340/ HB 980 – Convicted Felons Voting without Completing Their Sentences

I go into the reasons as part of the mAP, although on the IVF and birth certificate issues Cathy Keim and I have already explained our opposition.

As regards my writing partner Cathy, she is on a little hiatus for family time. So if you miss her pieces – and I’ve noticed she’s made quite a few fans over the short time she’s been associated with this site – don’t fret because she should be back in the saddle over the next couple weeks.

Once I get through that I have a couple more pet projects. And you thought I’d take it easy on the off year.

Taking less of a toll

It wasn’t completely unexpected. but just in time for the height of tourist season travelers around the state will retain a little extra in their pockets when they cross one of Maryland’s toll roads or bridges, including the Bay Bridge. Yesterday Governor Hogan announced a toll reduction he claimed would save Marylanders $270 million over the next five years. For those coming to the Eastern Shore, it will save them $2 on the trip – not much, but the symbolism is strong.

Commuters, though, will get more of a break as their tolls drop from $2.10 to $1.40 per trip. Factor in the elimination of the EZPass service charge – which cost Maryland drivers $1.50 a month and probably drove some of that business to other states which don’t charge a service fee – and you’re closing in on a $30 per month break. That’s the same as getting a 15-cent an hour raise.

Of course the Maryland Democratic Party found fault with this:

Today, Larry Hogan announced that tolls at the Bay Bridge would go down.

Meanwhile, the cost of in-state tuition at State Universities went up 7%.

Despite his campaign promises, Marylanders are paying more under Larry Hogan.

Since I don’t go to an in-state university but occasionally use the Bay Bridge, this is yet another desperate attempt at spin by Democrats. It’s also worth pointing out that July 1 will also see a 2.5 cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax – an increase Democrats failed to stop when they had the chance this term. This will decrease the benefit for commuters who use the Bay Bridge and other toll facilities and take more from the pockets of the rest of us, to the tune of a dollar or two per month.

The complaint I’m waiting for from the mouths of Democrats is the one where they will begin to complain about the prospect of neglecting maintenance on these toll roads and spans. But Hogan’s Secretary of Transportation was confident the money will be there:

“I have thoroughly reviewed the toll-reduction plan, and I’m confident the MDTA will continue to maintain its sound financial footing and commitment to safety and quality services,” said MDTA Chairman and Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. “A lot of hard work went into the development of this proposal, and I’d like to thank MDTA board members for their careful analysis and approval of this toll-reduction plan.”

Another gripe sure to come from our tax-and-spend friends on the left is that the O’Malley fare increases for mass transit weren’t cut as well – I can see the carping by representatives in areas dependent on mass transit. That, however, is a money pit as farebox revenue comes nowhere close to meeting the expenses of those services.

This all leaves one other transportation shoe to drop, and advocates for the Purple Line are pressing for Hogan to keep the rail line going. However, if Hogan pulls the plug on that and the Red Line in Baltimore most of the justification for the O’Malley gas tax and farebox increases is gone, or the funding could be used for more important projects like some I’ve detailed before, such as completing the intended route of I-97 with Virginia’s help or improving the U.S. 13 corridor through Delaware with their assistance.

So I consider this news to be a pleasant surprise in a situation where input from the General Assembly majority was not needed. When the chips are down, though, it seems the Republicans are the only ones we can count on to truly help the working family.

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