The noisy, tiny minority wins again

It’s concession time in Annapolis: for another year, the will of Wicomico County voters will be thwarted by a group refusing to accept that the answer to the elected school board question should be decided by the voters, not a small group who’s worried that their power base may be threatened.

Today I received a press release from my Delegate, Carl Anderton, admitting the bill is defeated for the session. In it, Anderton noted that:

This delay affords us the opportunity to have an inclusive year-long dialogue about the issue. It will give everyone more time to weigh in and reassure anyone with concerns that next year’s bill is reflective of community input.

Yet if the “dialogue” is in the tone and tenor of the testimony offered by Jim Ireton, there’s no use in conducting the discussion. In fact, he said at the hearing, “I think the discussion should end now.” After all, according to Jim, an elected school board would “debilitate our public schools.”

And if there are public hearing with a number of proponents speaking, I’m sure Ireton would echo his charge about a “sparsely attended public hearing” attended by only proponents. It’s the “small band of supporters” who also gerrymandered the county, placed us under a “crippling revenue cap” and “refuses to be responsible.” These are all quotes from his testimony before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. (He comes on at the 4:00 mark.)

Here is the dirty little secret Carl will eventually learn – there is no amount of dialogue which will satisfy them. For whatever reason, the appointed status quo satisfies their desire to have a malleable board that has generally been selected with the approval of the teachers’ union. Since the Democrats have occupied the governor’s office for much of the last forty years, the appointments were made with that interest group in mind. The only accountability was to the sponsors who backed them, and as long as a couple of those “yes-men” were from a minority group, all was peachy keen in their world.

To them, an elected school board is scary because accountability may be introduced. Again, consider what Ireton thought about the voters of the county which chose to install a revenue cap and would prefer an elected school board.

They are scared. But we’ll give them the public hearings, and for that I better damn well see Jim Mathias as a co-sponsor. I honestly think his not sponsoring the bill is what prevented it from going forward.

As the old Brooklyn Dodgers fans used to say, “wait ’til next year.” No more excuses.

Ted Cruz: a palette of bold colors

By Cathy Keim

I finally had the time today to watch the entire Ted Cruz speech at Liberty University on March 23, 2015, where he announced that he is running for president. It seems certain that he has locked up the conservative right position. I don’t see that he left room for anybody to get past him, nor am I sure that there is anybody who would try. He is going to run a campaign that many conservatives have been calling for: A conservative running unapologetically as a conservative.

His campaign, if he continues on this course – and I see no reason he would budge since he has been saying the same thing since he arrived in Washington – will put to the test the notion that a true conservative can win the presidency. John McCain and Mitt Romney never even tried to run as all out conservatives.

Sarah Palin was the closest to an all out conservative in those two cycles and she was hampered by being the vice presidential candidate, so she had to march to John McCain’s orders. Many folks believe that he would have lost by an even greater margin if he had not had her on the ticket.

Since Mitt Romney chose a moderate GOP insider, Paul Ryan, as his vice president and got even fewer votes than John McCain, there may be reason to believe that theory.

We can expect that all the dirt that was thrown at Sarah Palin will be turned onto Ted Cruz. One twist is that the liberal media and politicians will not be able to use his alma mater since Ted Cruz has the credentials from Princeton and Harvard Law to stand up to any of the jabs. He also has the debating skills and the spine to resist the onslaught.

He will have the same fight that Palin has had that is even worse than being attacked by the opposing party – the GOP will viciously savage him. The mainstream GOP has already shown their disdain for Senator Cruz as they have not backed him in any of his efforts to fight for the Constitution, against Obamacare, and against executive overreach.

In an article for the Boston Herald, Jennifer C. Braceras points out that Ted Cruz is the mirror image of Obama, standing for exactly opposite positions, but with eerily similar backgrounds. She even addresses the birther problem:

Indeed, similarities extend even to bizarre “birther” claims that neither men are “natural born citizens” qualified to be president.

Cruz — whose father fled Castro’s Cuba — was born in Canada. Obama was born in Hawaii, although some on the right question whether he was actually born in Kenya (his father’s birthplace). The question of birthplace is, of course, irrelevant — both men were born to American mothers, thereby granting them U.S. citizenship at birth and making them “natural born citizens” for purposes of the Constitution.

While she does not see the birther issue as a problem, she does postulate that the electorate will not stand for another brilliant Harvard law grad after eight years of our current one.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Ted Cruz. I supported his 2012 run for Senate because I remember him from law school as a brilliant, intellectually curious, and hard-working conservative whose political views closely tracked my own.

So somebody who says they like his views and finds him brilliant concludes by saying that he doesn’t have a chance because of the Harvard arrogance tag. With friends like this, you don’t need enemies.

The mirror image comparison to President Obama is interesting, but fails to address a key difference. President Obama does not like America and Senator Ted Cruz does. What a sea change that simple distinction makes.

Furthermore, I have observed that people of principle who work hard in their field of endeavor because of their firmly held principles, are frequently savaged by their peers because they recognize that this individual is different than they are. The principled approach to life encourages accusations of arrogance because of the assurance with which principled people conduct their lives. Once their mind is made up on the course of action, they will pursue their goal even if it is not popular. This can seem like arrogance to people who cannot understand what they are seeing since they run their lives not on principle, but on public approbation.

Jeb Bush is gearing up for a run and he has already made clear that he will not be courting the conservative branch of the GOP. He is for amnesty, Common Core, and his energy policies are wrong. The biggest hurdle may be the burden of bearing the Bush name. Many citizens are not interested in a family dynasty ruling over them.

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, has been making a lot of news with the possibility of running. He has been an effective governor in a blue state and has taken on the unions and won. He is certainly a candidate to watch. As a counterpoint to Ted Cruz’s Ivy League background, Walker attended Marquette University, but never graduated. Some people will see that as a negative, but just as many may see it as a plus after observing what so many Ivy League alumni serving as politicians, media people, and government leaders have done to our country.

Ben Carson is contemplating a run, but after the gay mafia firestorm he caused by offering an opinion on whether one is born gay, many wrote him off.

There are many others considering a run. Time will tell how many actually jump in the ring.

It would behoove the conservatives to make their decision as quickly as possible, throw their weight behind one candidate, and once the decision is made to stand firm. The onslaught from both the Democrats and the GOP insiders will be brutal. Nothing is to be gained by attacking the conservative candidate for every perceived misstep. Instead, once the choice is made, the conservatives need to close ranks and fight hard for the battle will be vicious. Every conservative candidate will be questioned over and over about gay and transgender issues, abortion, evolution, climate change, and religious freedom. They need to have their principles inform their position and then stand. Do not walk anything back once they say it and the conservative base needs to have their back.

This can all be done with a smile. It may be war, but engage in the battle with a smile because we are in to win. Our determination is based on the premise that we believe in what we are fighting for: no less than the soul of America.

Hoping to win a GOP Cruz in 2016

Ted Cruz 2016As most who do not inhabit the space under a rock now know, Texas Senator Ted Cruz formally announced his candidacy for President on Monday. While he Tweeted the news just after midnight, the formal announcement came in an address at Liberty University later that day.

Perhaps the best part about the announcement, though, is the absolute conniption fit those on the Left had at the news. First I heard from the so-called “factivists” at the Democratic National Committee:

President Ted Cruz.

If you’re like us, Michael, just reading that phrase probably sent shivers down your spine or produced a pretty serious roll of the eyes.

But as of this moment, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is officially running for president, and if we don’t do everything in our power to stop him, the possibility of President Ted Cruz could become a reality.

So here are three things everyone needs to know about wannabe President Ted Cruz:

  • He led the GOP’s government shutdown, costing the economy a staggering $24 billion, as part of a personal crusade to take away quality health care from millions of Americans and give control back to the insurance companies.
  • He has obstructed everything from raising the minimum wage to paycheck fairness to immigration reform.
  • He would give corporations and the richest Americans huge tax breaks, at the expense of working Americans.

Interesting how these “factivists” don’t know the real facts. And by the way, I don’t have too much of a problem with a President Ted Cruz. My eye roll is at your abject ignorance.

The government “shutdown” of 2013 (which was really a slowdown because essential employees still had to work) only “cost” $24 billion according to an estimate by Standard & Poor’s. Supposedly it was the amount taken out of the economy. But some believe that was a dubious estimate because it didn’t account for shifts in productivity. It was a gamble, where the payoff could have been a savings of $1.4 trillion over 10 years by the repeal of the ill-advised Affordable Care Act.

As for the second portion of that statement, the real question is whether we were in better shape when an insurance company “controlled” your health care or whether some far-off bureaucrat controls it. The real goal is patient control and I suspect Cruz would work us back in that direction more quickly, vowing in his address to Liberty University to make “health insurance personal and portable and affordable.” That’s just SO scary.

Secondly, it seems to me the people of Texas sent Cruz to the Senate for the very reason of obstructing the list of items these political “hacktivists” would like to foist upon us. Raising the minimum wage is a proven job-killer, the Obama administration needs to look in the mirror when complaining about “paycheck fairness” and immigration reform needs to begin with securing the borders.

And of course, whenever someone talks about simplifying the income tax system it’s always portrayed by Democrats as tax cuts for the rich. Why shouldn’t our tax form be only a page or two?

Of course, then the other liberal outlets delivered their usual amount of snark, calling his speech a revival of obsolete evangelism, reminiscent of televangelists, or sniffing that students were forced to attend. All that obscures the real point: Cruz laid out a very conservative agenda on a number of issues, and it will take a strong dose of common sense to undo the damage of the last six years.

I don’t think it’s coincidental that I have written this piece and found that my colleague Cathy Keim had her own thoughts. This quick take is tonight’s dose of Cruz, and tomorrow morning you’ll get to see what she has to say. It will be worth the wait, I promise.

WCRC meeting – March 2015

Those members who attended last night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting got a somewhat different perspective on the Annapolis political arena. Instead of hearing from one of our representatives – who were sort of busy at the moment, seeing that Monday nights are session nights in our state’s capital – we instead gained the perspective of Pat Schrawder, the district representative for Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who brought “mostly good news from Annapolis.”

She explained that not all members of the General Assembly have a district representative, but given Mary Beth’s “frenetic” schedule as a member of the Appropriations Committee, she thought it was prudent to have someone back home. (Appropriations meets five days a week, according to Pat.) As it turned out, though, the Eastern Shore delegation “is running very well” in Schrawder’s opinion, in part because those on it represent all the key committees, and they have met with “most of” the large groups.

The good news was that the “chicken tax” and a “farmer’s bill of rights” had both been killed, and a “full-court press” was being placed on the Pinsky bill to instill the PMT regulations. (This may be a moot point, as Pinsky placed a hold on his regulations pending acceptance of a deal between stakeholders which would put a revised version in place.) Schrawder pointed out regulations are more flexible than legislation, which was an advantage for the agricultural community.

Pat also relayed that the Hogan budget, which was in balance as submitted, was still a better deal than the O’Malley budgets as most of the structural deficit had been eliminated.

And while Delegate Carozza was “working as hard, if not harder, than anyone else up there,” Pat added that Mary Beth was still interested in hearing from her constituents, and happy to receive the correspondence. Moreover, one goal they had was to have as strong a link to Wicomico County as they had to Worcester County.

Schrawder also announced that a legislative scholarship was available to a student in her district, with the application deadline coming up on April 15.

Turning to Central Committee news, we learned that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be put on hold until this fall as the preferred speaker, some governor named Larry Hogan, wasn’t going to be doing speaking engagements until then. We may need to change the venue because of this. Mark McIver also noted the upcoming state convention in Ocean City, encouraging those at the meeting to attend and see how a convention is run.

I also reminded the group that we had sent the names of prospective Wicomico County Board of Education applicants to the state.

Speaking on behalf of County Council, John Cannon noted that the “Evo bill” had passed the House of Delegates and Senate, although there was a minor difference between the two versions to work out. County Council was also watching the PMT regulations, the original version of which they opposed. Also, they had finished the Capital Improvement Plan and were now working on portions of the budget.

Cannon also commented that MACO (the Maryland Association of Counties) was “staying relatively conservative” with its actions this session.

John also explained some of the process behind the elected school board bill, conceding that “we rushed it through” but noting that the hybrid option was placed to appease the cries for “diversity” and to avoid the prospect of turning over the entire board in one election and eliminating all the institutional knowledge.

However, he believed the struggle to get this through the General Assembly would be “an uphill battle” because opponents wanted more public hearings. I made the case that the bill had the deck stacked against it early on when it received a late hearing date. If there needs to be a re-introduction next year it should be pre-filed as there was no one to do so this session.

At this point, the new officers were sworn in. Incoming president Shawn Jester said that “this club did more to make Wicomico County a Republican county” than anyone else and hoped the good work could continue.

That good work will be celebrated next on April 27, with a speaker to be announced.

Landlines, anyone?

By Cathy Keim

Two or three weeks ago I was asked on a phone survey if I thought that landlines were still important or if I would prefer to allow the telecommunications companies to invest in newer technology rather than continuing with outdated landline maintenance. The question seemed deliberately skewed so I assumed that the phone company was behind the survey – but I did not get a clear answer when I asked.

I had two more phone calls about phone service that culminated today in a paid phone caller requesting that I call Senator Mathias and tell him that I wanted SB577 passed. I was not prepared to call Senator Mathias with so little information, so I decided to look the bill up and see what it was about. SB577 is the Public Utilities – Telecommunications Law – Modernization sponsored by Senator Catherine Pugh of Baltimore City and cross-filed with HB1166 sponsored by Delegate Dereck Davis of Prince George’s County. The summary states:

Providing that a telephone company is not required to file with the Public Service Commission a specified tariff schedule except under specified circumstances; limiting the type of services in which a telephone company may not establish a new rate under specified circumstances; allowing a telephone company to discontinue or abandon a specified service under specified circumstances; providing that a specified prior authorization is not required for specified transactions; etc.

Since the summary didn’t reveal much, I then called Senator Pugh’s office and spoke with a very friendly staffer. She said that the purpose of the bill was threefold.

  1. Currently telecommunication companies cannot discontinue a service or change their rates unless they ask the Public Service Commission (PSC) each time they wish to make a change. They pay a tariff to the PSC for this service. The new bill would remove this requirement.
  2. Change the franchising rules so that the current provisions do not apply to any transaction between a telephone company and another entity (that is not a gas company or an electric company) if a common parent entity directly or indirectly controls more than 50% of both the telephone company and the other entity.
  3. Change the securities rules so that the current provisions do not apply to any transaction between a telephone company and another entity (that is not a gas company or an electric company) if a common parent entity directly or indirectly controls more than 50% of both the telephone company and the other entity.

Since her boss, Senator Pugh, is sponsoring the bill, she had a very positive opinion of the legislation.

Next I called Senator Mathias’ office and spoke with his very pleasant staffer. She said that they had been getting several phone calls asking the senator to support SB 577, but that the callers did not seem to know anything about the bill. I suppose that they had received the same phone solicitation that I had received.

She had a much less positive view of the bill. She said that the bill would allow the telecommunications companies to abandon services, limit services, and establish new rates without authorization from the PSC. She indicated that the bill was still in committee, but if it made it to the floor, she doubted that Senator Mathias would support it in its current form.

For a more detailed comparison of the current law vs. the proposed law you can go to the Fiscal and Policy Note.

This statement in the Technology section made me wonder if this referred to the dropping of copper landlines in favor of the fiber optic system.

PSC or any other State unit or a unit of local government may not restrict, through an order, a regulation, a rule, a resolution, or an ordinance or in any other manner, a telephone company’s choices to use any otherwise lawful technology or facility to provide its services. A telephone company may satisfy its statutory and regulatory obligations through the use of any lawful technology or facility of its choosing.

Articles like “How Verizon lets its copper network decay to force phone customers onto fiber. Fiber is fast, but copper is reliable – even during multi-week power outages” paint an unflattering portrait of an evil corporation that is up to no good.

The lengthy article accuses Verizon of preferring the fiber optic system because it is cheaper to maintain, but it cannot be used without electricity so it is worthless in a power outage of a week or two like those that happen due to hurricanes. The cell phones are also worthless if the cell towers are down or out of power.

This brings us back to the argument for government regulation of utilities because we are dependent upon the utilities for society to function. Our dependency on electricity, gas, and communication systems is increasing each year. Most people no longer have the ability to survive for long without electricity. We no longer have backup systems like a fireplace for heat or if we do, the large woodpile to get us through a major power outage. Without electricity you cannot pump gas at the gas station. Food doesn’t get delivered to the stores. Without electricity your phone doesn’t work unless you have an old fashioned landline.

Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group. posted a letter to the Senate Finance Committee that concluded:

Maryland’s communications networks allow its citizens to conduct business, contact loved ones, and call for help in emergency situations. These services are too vital to the economic and social health of the state to prohibit the Maryland Public Service Commission from acting to protect consumers, especially in the face of impending technological and political changes. As Maryland legislators continue to deliberate on the future of its networks, Public Interest Advocates urge the Senate Finance Committee to ensure Maryland’s communications networks serve five core values: service to all, consumer protection, network reliability, competition and interconnection, and public safety. These values have served our phone network well for decades and have created one of the most successful communications platforms in the world. Maryland must continue to defend these values and resist ill-advised deregulatory pressures to ensure that the phone network continues to be a network that Maryland residents can rely on.

From what I can tell about SB577, I would say that it is poorly written and its passage would result in a lot of confusion. I am for limited government and concerned with the excess of government regulations that make it difficult for companies to innovate. However, the potential impact on our citizenry for their defense and public safety makes me place this discussion in the “needs to be under the government oversight” category for now, particularly since this is being discussed at the state level, which is exactly where this discussion belongs.

Competitive advantage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state budget shell game

By Cathy Keim

Governor Hogan was elected because voters had had enough of the O’Malley spending spree. Before Hogan was sworn in, the budget shortfall of $1.2 billion over the next eighteen months was already public knowledge. Everybody knew that cuts were coming; only the particulars were uncertain.

Because Maryland has a strong executive branch, the General Assembly can only cut the budget or move money around. It cannot increase spending. The House is squandering many hours debating how to find the money to undo cuts that Hogan made, particularly to schools and the state employees’ COLAs.

Last July, Martin O’Malley gave the state employees a cost of living increase of 2% despite knowing that the budget was not in good shape. I would like to point out that employees in the private sector are not seeing cost of living increases. Why the state employees deserve a taxpayer-funded pay increase when the taxpayers are not getting their salaries increased is hard to justify. Governor Hogan rescinded that increase in his budget because the state did not have the funds to support it.

He also declined to fund the schools to the level they desired. Yet his budget gave a 1.3% increase to education over last year’s budget, so it is hard to make the case that he cut the budget drastically. One might have expected a 0% increase when we are facing a $1.2 billion deficit in the upcoming months. That sort of deficit on a smaller scale is what causes taxpayers to choose ground beef over steak. But then we have to actually balance our checkbooks rather than use creative accounting to get the job done.

Let’s take a moment for some background information. Despite our budget shortfall, Moody’s just gave Maryland an AAA rating once again.

Why is this AAA Bond rating so important? “Retention of the AAA ratings affirms the strength and stability of Maryland bonds during difficult and volatile times,” said state Treasurer Nancy Kopp. “This achievement allows us to continue to invest in our communities’ schools, libraries, and hospitals while saving taxpayers millions of dollars thanks to the lower interest rates that follow from these ratings.” (Emphasis mine.)

Maryland is one of only 10 states that has the AAA bond rating from all three firms that assign ratings, Moody’s Investors, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings. Moody’s included the following warning when assigning the AAA rating:

WHAT COULD MAKE THE RATING GO DOWN

  • Economic and financial deterioration that results in deficits and continued draw downs of reserves without a plan for near-term replenishment
  • Failure to adhere to the state’s tradition of conservative fiscal management, including failure to take actions to reverse its negative fund balance
  • A state economy that does not rebound in tandem with the rest of the country
  • Failure to adhere to plans to address low pension funded ratios (emphasis mine)
  • Downgrade of the US government

Why does Maryland have low pension funded ratios? Because all that pension money just waiting there for the retired employees is too tempting for the politicians. They have dipped into the fund before. In 2011 as a corrective measure, Martin O’Malley reached an agreement with state employees that if they would increase their contributions to the retirement fund from 2% to 7%, then the state would put in $300 million annually to fund the pensions at an 80% level by 2023. That would still leave the pension fund $20 billion short, but that would be an improvement. The state employees have been putting in their extra 5%, but the state has not been putting in the entire $300 million. They find other ways to spend that money.

Now we are finished with the history and back to the present. The House debated for hours yesterday whether to fund the pension plan with the full $300 million or to take a portion of the money to continue the 2% increase in state employee’s wages and increase school funding. As I write, it is uncertain how the issue will be determined and whatever the House decides will still have to be reconciled with what the Senate produces.

Politicians seem to prefer to pay their supporters now and to let the future take care of itself since they will probably not still be in office when that bill comes due. It is a pleasing shell game. The politicians appropriate raises and perks for their constituents who then pay union dues, and then the unions donate money to the politicians –  lather, rinse, repeat.

According to the Washington Post, those public servants/union members might want to take note that:

In an effort to block relatively modest budget cuts proposed by Mr. Hogan, mainly to schools and public employees’ wages, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis are pushing a plan to revamp the formula for scheduled contributions. According to Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of the few prominent Democrats who opposes the scheme, it would shift $2 billion into the general budget over the next decade, then cost the state $4.5 billion in the following dozen years — meaning Maryland would face a net $2.5 billion in additional costs over time in order to keep its pension promises.

Additionally, even if the state did put all the funds into the pension plan that they promised, the pension fund would still be underfunded by $20 billion in 2023. Since over 382,000 current and former employees are covered in this plan, it would seem to be a rather important item for the state to fully fund the pension program.

So our esteemed politicians in Annapolis are willing to risk our credit rating which could lead to increased interest payments when borrowing funds, underfund the pension program that thousands depend on, and incur $2.5 billion in additional costs to finally keep its pension promises, just so that they can override Governor Hogan’s budget.

While that may be a winning hand for the politicians, their constituents that get the 2% cost of living increase, and the unions, it is not a winner for the taxpayers.

An open letter to opponents of an elected Board of Education for Wicomico County

It was enlightening to see the main points you brought up in testimony regarding our county’s expressed desire to convert from a fully-appointed Board of Education to a “hybrid” elected and appointed body. In reading the summary presented by Phil Davis in the Daily Times, I seized upon several arguments made against the concept and I’d like to address them here.

The first was the financial argument presented by Senator Montgomery in her line of questioning. Indeed, the county receives a large amount of money from the state for its Board of Education, in part because it’s one of those eight counties (plus Baltimore City) which has “less than 80 percent of the statewide average wealth per pupil” and also has a disproportionate share of those students who must learn English as a second language. Senator Eckardt brought up the difficult economic times the region has seen over the last several years, but that’s not necessarily the correct argument to counter this point.

Rather, one must examine the root of all government money: the taxpayer. Perhaps Senator Montgomery, being from a county chock full of those who work for the federal government, is assuming that everyone has the means and willingness to give government whatever it wants. Instead, we as concerned Wicomico County residents come from that seemingly quaint and disappearing class of people who actually demand accountability for the taxpayer dollars we provide. While the financial books may show that the majority of our school funding comes from the state, it’s worth making the point that we taxpayers are the ones providing the money. Because all state money comes from the labor and toil provided by those who pay taxes at some level, including to the federal government, it follows that we want to keep a relatively close eye on it.

As for the question of community input, it’s worth reminding Mayor Ireton, Mrs. Ashanti, and other opponents that this is not the first time the subject of an elected Board of Education has come up. It’s been a topic of discussion for decades, and the previous edition of County Council resolved to ask Annapolis for a simple straw ballot to determine interest in further legislation only to be thwarted by opponents who charged that the system as proposed did not properly address the concerns of the minority community. To me, that’s a tacit admission that the community interest was there but as proposed an elected Board of Education did not meet with the political desires of the opponents, who generally subscribed to the philosophy of the party holding the governor’s office at the time.

And elections do matter. While the main issues of last fall’s election were the sentiment that the state and local economy was not improving at a satisfactory pace, and that government overall was not being careful with the increasing amount of money they were taking out of our pockets, there was an underlying sentiment that our educational system also needed improvement and accountability. Thus, two key opponents of an elected Board of Education were voted out of office and two proponents were voted in.

Yet the new county government listened to one key demand of the opponents and compromised. Personally, I was not happy that the fully-elected Board of Education was replaced by a version with two appointed members and five elected – our version of a “hybrid” model counties who have recently shifted from a fully appointed board have used – but I understand the politics behind the move, and that time was of the essence to bring the proposal before the current session of the General Assembly. Yet my suspicion is that the opponents know what the public input will be, and that’s a resounding approval of this proposal when placed before the voters.

Next is the interesting point brought up by Mr. Johnson of the WCEA regarding the County Executive’s influence on the board and the school’s budget. It’s interesting because he’s fretting over two members of a seven-member board, members who will have no greater voting power than any other member. If the two members appointed by the County Executive disagree with the position of the other five elected members, their opposition will simply amount to the losing end of a 5-2 vote if they can’t convince the other members to adopt their viewpoint.

But I want to conclude with the sentiment expressed by Mayor Ireton and Mrs. Ashanti that, “it was a select few who made the call for an elected school board.” My argument is that it’s a select few who participate in the process now.

For eight years I was a voting member of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee. As such, one of our tasks was to assist in the appointment of the three Republican members of the Board of Education (at the time; with the election of Governor Hogan the GOP ranks were allowed to expand to four.) Presumably the Democratic Central Committee does the same with their appointees, although I confess that I have a lack of knowledge about their process as I can speak to ours.

Yet despite our vetting of candidates, more often than not the appointee would be determined by the input of others who had interests that were more political in nature. The final say actually comes down to one person: the state’s Secretary of Appointments, who in turn is appointed by the governor. In the case of the most recent previous governor, he was elected despite our county’s support for his opponent. Where was our public input then?

Over the last two weeks, the Republican Central Committee dutifully interviewed prospective members and submitted names to the Secretary of Appointments to fill two vacancies on the Wicomico County Board of Education. We submitted the names of all those who interviewed, expressing only our order of preference, in a process agreed on by the Central Committee.

But because some members of the body aspired to be on the Board of Education and another was absent from the final meeting, it was a bare quorum of five members who decided the order of preference. Five people submitted names to one person to make this decision, and yet this is considered superior to a process where thousands of people would be able to decide those they would like to place in charge of millions of taxpayer dollars?

In November, we elected a County Council and County Executive who will be charged with an annual operating budget of roughly $130 million. Yet the appointed Board of Education is submitting an overall budget for FY2016 in excess of $190 million, of which they are asking the county for $39 million. Once again, let me reiterate that a small group of perhaps fewer than two dozen people at the local and state level had input on who was chosen to oversee that Board of Education budget, a budget nearly 50 percent larger than the county’s operating budget as a whole.

When it comes to maximizing accountability and local control, the verdict is simple: an elected school board – even in this “hybrid” form – is the proper way to proceed. Opponents who wish to maintain the status quo are hiding behind a series of smokescreens to obscure their real issue: the loss of their political influence over who gets to operate Wicomico County’s school system.

Obama: we need mandatory voting. The state of Oregon is on its way.

March 18, 2015 · Posted in National politics, Politics · Comment 

I ran across part of this story in the Washington Times today, a piece where Barack Obama suggested that America adopt mandatory voting like Australia and a handful of other counties have adopted. In a somewhat strange coincidence, Paula Bolyard at PJ Media reported yesterday that 300,000 Oregonians were summarily added to the voter rolls. There, residents who are not registered to vote but have interacted with their motor vehicle division will receive a ballot in their mail before the election, a move the state estimates will add up to 300,000 voters to the rolls.

Listen, I think everyone who is legally entitled to vote should do so – but we also should have a choice in the matter. People skip voting for many reasons: unfamiliarity or dissatisfaction with those running, the feeling that their vote doesn’t matter, desire to avoid jury duty by not being registered, or a lack of time to do so seem to be the primary ones.

Obama’s main reason for wanting compulsory voting stems from his dislike of the Citizens United decision, saying “it would counteract (campaign) money more than anything.” Of course, the reason campaign money is being spent is to influence the voters and it’s quite likely those who would be dragged into voting because it’s the law would be the most susceptible to 30-second negative advertisements paid for by those very same PACs and SuperPACs Obama decries. In reality, the money would be more effective because the cost per vote would decrease.

More worrisome, though, is the Oregon initiative. The state already has mail-in balloting, but there are few safeguards against illegal voting practices when ballots are sent out in such a manner. This is how the state describes the process:

Oregon has the most convenient voting system in the country. Since adopting vote by mail, Oregon consistently ranks as one of the national leaders in voter turnout.

Registered voters receive a ballot two to three weeks before an election, giving them ample time to research issues or candidates.

Voters also receive an official ballot to complete and insert into the security envelope which is placed in the ballot return envelope and signed by the voter. The ballot return envelope can be stamped and mailed or simply dropped off at any official drop box across the state. If a voter casts his or her ballot after the Wednesday before an election, the ballot should be left at a drop box site to ensure it’s counted.

Now consider that they would send an extra 300,000 ballots to unregistered voters. Do you think they will check the signatures against the drivers’ license records? (That’s assuming they have a driver’s license.)

In essence, the state has full absentee balloting and that’s fine. But it’s the inclusion of those who preferred not to be in the system – or didn’t belong there based on non-citizenship, felony conviction, or other factors such as a different voter receiving the ballot at an incorrect address – that is troubling. Extend those issues out across the country with the mandatory voting Barack Obama desires and there’s abundant potential for fraud.

I simply find the timing on some of these ideas interesting, given that voter turnout was the lowest since World War II in the 2014 election and Democrats were blown out in most of the country. And while Oregon was one area Democrats did manage to hold serve, their Democratic governor recently resigned due to a criminal probe. Unlike most other states, John Kitzhaber was not succeeded by a lieutenant governor but by his secretary of state, Kate Brown. Brown is interesting in that she ran the electoral process in Oregon before becoming governor and was one of those backed by the Secretary of State Project led by far-left billionaire George Soros.

Apparently what goes around comes around, and Oregon will be a place to watch in 2016.

O’Malley PMT regs pass legislative hurdle

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

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

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

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

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

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

The law of unintended consequences strikes again

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

Delegate Christopher Adams shared the bad news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Maryland join a Convention of States or an Article V Convention?

By Cathy Keim

The push for an Article V Convention is growing nationwide, and it is coming from both sides of the political spectrum. The citizens are aware that they are not being heard and they are looking for ways to correct this.

An Article V Convention or Convention of the States is one of two ways to amend the Constitution of the United States. In case you’ve forgotten, here is Article V:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, (emphasis added) or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate

All previous amendments have been through Congress. However, the Convention of States method has been utilized to put pressure on Congress to act. For example, the states wanted to have direct election of their senators but Congress would not oblige – so the states began the process of calling for a convention of states. Once they got within one state of achieving the two thirds needed, Congress acted rather than losing its prerogative. (This led to the Seventeenth Amendment.)

Maryland has legislation under consideration now which states:

Applying to the U.S. Congress for an amendments convention called under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that affirms every citizen’s freedom to vote and restores free and fair elections in America.

This bill is filed as HJ2 by Delegate Sheila Hixson and is cross-filed with SJ2 by Senator Paul Pinsky. It was introduced last session also, but did not come to the floor for a vote. (Editor’s note: The Senate version from 2014, however, passed committee 9-2 with all three Republicans on the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee voting yes.)

Reading the bill summary left me perplexed. Who thinks we need an amendment to restore free and fair elections? My mind thought of voter fraud, but who would want to amend the Constitution to fix that issue? After some phone calls to Delegate Hixson and Senator Pinsky’s offices, though, the confusion was cleared up.

This bill is the result of the work of Get Money Out of Maryland (GMOM) and its allies. They claim to be bipartisan, but the groups in the allies list lean distinctly progressive.

The bills have a total of sixty-nine sponsors of which two are Republicans, so I suppose that makes it bipartisan.

GMOM states:

The Citizens United v FEC decision by the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for unlimited campaign expenditures in elections, which corporations and the extremely wealthy have used with devastating impact in the last few elections. This misguided decision reversed decades of campaign finance regulation at the state and federal level, turning our public elections into private auctions. With regard to voting rights, Supreme Court justices in the Bush v Gore decision declared that there is no individual right to vote in the Constitution and in its aftermath, there has been a concerted attack upon the right to vote across the country. These legal travesties require remedy if we are going to preserve representative democracy and create a more perfect union. (Emphasis in original.)

According to Senator Pinsky’s spokesman, the principal point of this amendment is that there is too much money in politics since the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates. GMOM wants the Citizens United ruling reversed so the only option is to exert pressure on Congress via an Article V Convention to amend the Constitution. Their expectation is that Congress will act if the states approach the two-thirds approval level as happened with the direct election of senators.

GMOM states that Vermont, California, Illinois, and New Jersey have already passed the “Democracy” amendment and several other states, such as Maryland, are considering the bill now.

Working from the opposite side of the political spectrum is the group Citizens for Self-Governance which states:

Citizens concerned for the future of their country, under a federal government that’s increasingly bloated, corrupt, reckless and invasive, have a constitutional option. We can call a Convention of States to return the country to its original vision of a limited federal government that is of, by and for the people.

They also add:

Rather than calling a convention for a specific amendment, Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG) has launched the Convention of the States Project to urge state legislatures to properly use Article V to call a convention for a particular subject—reducing the power of Washington, D.C. It is important to note that a convention for an individual amendment (e.g. a Balanced Budget Amendment) would be limited to that single idea. Requiring a balanced budget is a great idea that CSG fully supports. Congress, however, could comply with a Balanced Budget Amendment by simply raising taxes. We need spending restraints as well. We need restraints on taxation. We need prohibitions against improper federal regulation. We need to stop unfunded mandates.

Both sides of the debate assure their followers that the Article V Convention cannot spiral out of control and rewrite the entire Constitution once they convene. Their main defense against this is that any amendment that comes out of the convention still has to be approved by three quarters of the states, thus giving ample room for rogue amendments to be stopped.

You may want to keep an eye on how Maryland’s effort plays out this legislative session – although from the progressive side, it still illustrates the discontent that is growing as citizens realize that their overlords in DC are not listening to them. It is striking (and terrifying) that the progressives feel that President Obama is not doing enough to reach their goals, while the conservatives feel attacked and denigrated by their weak and ineffective leadership under Speaker Boehner and Senate Leader McConnell.

Perhaps the only people happy with the current system are the politicians that are in power and the wealthy elites and crony capitalists that consort with and fund their campaigns. Outside that narrow group, there is a battle brewing.

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