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.

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.

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.

Local Democrats make big claims to receive handouts

Fresh off a shellacking where their statewide standard-bearer had his doors blown off locally by 30 points and only two of their eleven state race contenders won - one by just 30 votes locally and the other in an ostensibly non-partisan race – the Wicomico County Democratic Party finds itself in somewhat desperate financial straits. So in order to raise a little money, the party is making some claims which have to be seen to be believed – and I’m going to show you.

Let’s go through this a little bit at a time, shall we?

Maryland voters decided to “Change Maryland” last November, with the election of Larry Hogan as Governor. However, with only a month in office, Hogan is already proving himself to be just another Tea party Republican.

Perhaps the idea was to indeed elect a TEA Party Republican, rather than four more years of the O’Malley/Brown debacle? We certainly were due for a change.

And as far as the TEA Party goes, it’s worth recalling that TEA is actually an acronym that stands for “Taxed Enough Already.” We heard for three-plus years about all the tax increases put in place by the O’Malley/Brown administration so people naturally decided enough was enough.

But they continue:

Here are just a few of his first actions:

  • Slashing education funding – $1.9 Million from Wicomico County alone
  • Recklessly raiding over $2.5 Billion from our Transportation funding
  • Eliminating programs that help to keep the Bay clean

Apparently I’m supposed to take their word about these so-called cuts, since there’s no context or backup information provided.

I will not profess to be an expert on the state budget; however, I did look under public education and on all three line items I found for Wicomico County:

  • “compensatory education funds to local school systems based on Free and Reduced Priced Meal Eligibility counts” goes from $37,322,878 actual in 2014 to $38,615,082 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $1,292,204.
  • “additional support for students with limited English proficiency” goes from $3,092,879 actual in 2014 to $3,407,287 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $314,408.
  • the automatic supplement to counties “which have less than 80 percent of the statewide average wealth per pupil” goes from $3,670,117 actual in 2014 to $4,579,323 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $909,206.

By my count that’s an increase of $2,515,818. It appears the Hogan administration is well taking care of those things it needs to, prioritizing at a time when the state had to address a $750 million structural deficit.

I still haven’t figured out where the $2.5 billion “raid” to transportation funding is – the repeal of the automatic gas tax increase would save consumers nearly $1.56 billion over the next five fiscal years. We know Democrats own tax increases, so perhaps they bemoan that “lost” revenue to the state.

As for the elimination of programs for the Bay, I’d like to know precisely what they are referring to. They’re getting the PMT regulations so they should be happy.

Anyway, let’s continue.

And the story is the same in Wicomico County where Larry Hogan’s Tea Party partner, Bob Culver, is becoming the anti-education County Executive by refusing to fund a new building to replace the clearly antiquated West Salisbury Elementary School and scraping (sic) completion of the Bennett High School athletic complex.

Obviously the WCDCC has little concept of debt service. It would be one thing if the county could reach into its pocket and fish out $40 million for a new elementary school but the idea of pulling out the county’s credit card to put yet another multi-million dollar expenditure on it doesn’t appeal to the new County Executive. Just like they did in electing Larry Hogan, county voters wanted a change in direction from the former administration.

Instead, the county will improve the school in the areas where the need is greatest, with the list compiled through a consultation with experts and school officials. It may not be the “new” West Salisbury Elementary, but it will be an improved one. Perhaps that approach would have saved the county a lot of money with the former Bennett High School.

As for the Bennett Middle situation, completion of the athletic fields would not be “scrapped” (as the letter should have said) but simply placed in a different area of the site. The former Bennett Middle would be repurposed for office space, allowing the opportunity for the county to consolidate some of its operations. The change still needs the approval of County Council.

Picking back up, with the sad trumpet appeal for funding:

This isn’t the change I voted for in November, and I know you didn’t vote for this, either. We need your help to fight back. We cannot elect more Democrats in 2018 without your support over the next four years. Every dollar you donate to the Wicomico Democratic Central Committee goes to funding our efforts to recruit and help good local candidates.

Most importantly, your donation goes to helping us communicate our party’s values to the voters… personal responsibility, educating all of our children, cleaning up the Bay, protecting our agricultural community, equality for ALL, supporting local businesses, and protecting the Middle Class… and we need your support!

Actually, I did vote for some of this change. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change enough members of the General Assembly to make the total difference that’s needed – although my personal representation in the House of Delegates got a whole lot better.

But if the WCDCC wants to elect more Democrats in 2018, those Democrats can’t be in the tax-and-spend, socially liberal mode. Not in this county.

And after reading that Democrat screed, I realized it’s really conservatives who advocate for all those things the Democrats claim to stand for. That’s not to say a Democrat can’t be conservative but they are fewer and further between, even in this area.

So how would I, as a conservative, respond to their letter? I’ll go through what they claim to represent.

We believe that personal responsibility begins with keeping more of the money you earn by taking advantage of the opportunities a capitalist system creates.

We believe that money should follow the child so you can choose the best educational opportunity for your children, whether in public or private school or through a homeschooling regimen.

We believe in cleaning up the Bay through a balanced approach, beginning by addressing a proven detriment in Conowingo Dam and not punishing farmers who have been trying their best to address the issue.

We believe in protecting the agricultural community by allowing farmers the option to do as they wish with their land, not arbitrarily shutting off development options to them.

We believe in equality for all, not discriminating for or against anyone. But we also know our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values which have stood the test of time.

We support local businesses by allowing them more freedom to do what’s productive and less time to have to deal with governmental edict and regulation. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we want to encourage them to grow and prosper for the community’s sake, not as a cash cow.

We want to protect and grow the middle class – not at the expense of the upper classes, but by allowing the conditions where those on lower rungs of the economic ladder can climb their way up through hard work and ingenuity.

The jury is still out on this, but I think all the Democrats have is rhetoric. We will have to keep an eye on the GOP to make sure they deliver the results their philosophy should yield.

So if you are a local Democrat who received this letter, there’s only one thing to do: go to the Board of Elections and request the change of registration form to become a Republican. It may be your best chance to influence election results in the future.

The Salisbury incumbent protection plan?

I was reading in the Salisbury Independent last night and came across an item that piqued my interest. As some of you may know, the city of Salisbury has revamped its electoral system over the last few years.

Step one was moving its elections from the spring to the fall as well as synchronizing the terms of all elected officials to finish at the same time – those who were elected in the spring of 2013 only won terms of slightly over 2 1/2 years.

Last year the new leadership in City Council scrapped the old two-district system where one member was elected from a majority-minority district (District 1] while the other four came from District 2 and redrew it into five separate Council districts, with two having significant minority populations. Going to five single-member districts allowed the city of Salisbury to more closely reflect a minority population of about 2/5.

All that I could live with; in fact, I had encouraged the five-district idea for many years (even asking the opinion of candidates on the subject at a 2011 NAACP forum.) And while you run the risk of a complete turnover in government by having all seats elected at once, this reflects the system we live with in Wicomico County and in Maryland as a whole. So far we’ve not turned over anything close to the whole General Assembly and have managed to keep at least a couple incumbents on County Council.

However, aside from the likelihood of multiple incumbent participants being in the same district this cycle, the blurb I read leads me to think there will be an incumbent protection program in place this fall.

City Council, led by its President Jake Day, is floating a proposal to do away with the city’s primary election and simply place all comers on the November ballot. On the surface it makes sense given that the 2013 primary only eliminated one contender out of eight who ran for office. (Ironically, that one person was later appointed to City Council.) Certainly it’s a taxpayer-friendly proposal as well since only one election would be necessary.

But imagine, if you will, a situation where four or five are on the ballot with a somewhat unpopular incumbent. Each of those challengers will take a share of the vote, and knowing how some voters may go with the name they know it means an incumbent may win re-election with just 20 or 25 percent of the vote. At least with a primary culling the field down to two (at least in most cases, barring a tie for second as we had in 2013) we’re assured the victor has a majority of the vote. It can give voters the opportunity to amass support behind a single challenger.

Even so, there is opportunity in adversity given that City Council is expected to put this proposal into place. But it would take a meeting of the minds between all the conservative groups in town who may want to back a particular horse in a city race.

Since I happen to live in the same district as my friend Muir Boda, I’ll use him as an example. Let’s say I had a scintilla of desire to run for City Council (which I don’t) and that Muir also got in the race, along with a liberal incumbent who wasn’t doing his job. Seeing that Muir and I are both in a conservative mindset, it’s likely we would split the vote against the incumbent and allow him to win because there’s no primary to eliminate one of us and unite the opposition.

This idea goes a little bit against the grain for me, but there may be merit in having the proverbial (or literal, depending on who’s involved) smoke-filled room to decide which prospective candidate to back. Even though it’s a non-partisan race, it may be a good idea for the GOP to endorse a candidate beforehand. With the last election yielding a 5-0 Democrat majority on City Council as well as a Democrat mayor, it’s obvious our procedures heretofore weren’t very good.

Day contends that the new districts will produce a smaller number of candidates for each district, and he may be right. But if the residents of Salisbury want to take the city in a more conservative direction, we don’t want to split the vote by having several conservatives canceling each other out.

Democrats ignore voters, keep rain tax in place

According to published reports, Annapolis Democrats ignored the will of the voters and opted to maintain the state’s dreaded “rain tax.” More formally, the House Environment and Transportation Committee rejected HB481 by a 14-7 vote – all 14 Democrats on the committee voted to kill the bill, while all seven Republicans voted to send the bill to the floor.

Because it was a party line vote, it’s easy to note who voted for and against:

In favor of maintaining the rain tax were Delegates Barve, Beidle, Carr, Fraser-Hidalgo, Frush, Gilchrist, Healey, Holmes, Knotts, Lafferty, Lam, McCray, Shane Robinson, and Stein. Twelve of the fourteen represent some part of Baltimore, Montgomery, or Prince George’s counties, with one from Baltimore City and one from Anne Arundel County. Basically they represent the I-95 corridor.

Voting properly to kill it off were Delegates Anderton, Cassilly, Flanagan, Jacobs, O’Donnell, Otto, and Szeliga. Three of these represent the Eastern Shore, two have districts in Harford County, one comes from Howard County, and the other from southern Maryland. (Anderton and Otto represent portions of the Lower Shore.)

Governor Hogan is quoted in the WBAL story by Robert Lang as stating:

No issue resonates as strongly and no tax is as universally detested as the rain tax. Passing a law that forces only a handful of counties to raise taxes on their citizens – against their will – is wrong, unfair, and it needs to end.

Marylanders have spoken loudly and clearly on this issue. The overwhelming majority of voters across the state are strongly opposed to it, and some counties have already taken steps to repeal this burdensome tax. Considering the surge of opposition to the current law, I am confident that the General Assembly will still move forward with a repeal of the Rain Tax.

Apparently there is another measure in the General Assembly which will weaken the rain tax but not suspend it entirely. But this is a blow to a relatively robust Hogan agenda, and shows once again the entitlement mentality Democrats in the General Assembly have as none of them broke ranks to vote in favor of repeal. This despite the fact all fourteen Democrats represent counties which are forced to pay it.

On the other hand, just three of the seven Republicans represent “rain tax” counties, although two communities which have adopted a similar tax, Salisbury and Berlin, lie within the districts of Delegates Anderton and Otto, respectively.

While the Change Maryland group vows “the fight is not over,” it’s fairly likely that no bill repealing the rain tax will be passed this year. And now that we got yet another reminder of how bipartisanship works in Annapolis – it’s a one-way street because only Republicans are expected to be bipartisan, such as on the so-called “death with dignity” bill – perhaps it’s time for Republicans to consider Maryland’s answer to the “nuclear option” and begin to petition administration bills to the House floor.

You see, it’s only political junkies like me who pay much attention to committee votes, and chances are that most people have no idea which committees their particular member of the General Assembly sit on. In most cases, Democrats who control committees determine which bills will get votes and which ones will stay in their desk drawer after a hearing. The more damaging a bill could be to their special interests or to vulnerable members, the greater chance a bill never sees the light of day. Yes, fourteen Democrats had to take a hit on this one but being a Democrat on the Environment and Transportation Committee probably means approval from Radical Green groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation or League of Conservation Voters so they are probably safe from voter wrath in three years.

But if Republicans band together and use their power to petition bills to the floor, things get a little more uncomfortable for the Democrats because they can’t as easily control the process. Seeing this key piece of Hogan’s agenda being defeated, along with the bush-league antics surrounding the Democrats’ reaction to the State of the State address, tells me that it’s time to embarrass the other side into action. Don’t let Democrats get away with painting Larry Hogan as a do-nothing governor without putting them on the spot and making them go on the record.

Stacking the deck by rule?

March 4, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

If you’re not aware of this, the saga of appointing new legislative members in Carroll County came to an inglorious end when the state Court of Appeals ruled it was within the Carroll County Republican Central Committee’s right to send multiple names to Governor Hogan for the selection of a new member of the legislature. Personally I think it should remain as one name, but apparently Larry likes having choices.

But you may not be aware – in fact, I wasn’t either until it was alluded to at Monday night’s Central Committee meeting – that the next state party convention, to be held next month in Ocean City, will feature a push to have counties adopt a standardized policy on filling legislative vacancies.

Indeed, there is logic and sense behind this as a whole. However, if it’s up to each county to make this official I would recommend the Central Committee in Wicomico County adopt this with at least one change. In Section 13, where it reads:

The Chair shall submit one name, however, at the request of the Governor, may submit more than one name.

I would ask the sentence be amended thus:

The Chair shall submit one name.

Here’s the reasoning why we should stay with a one-name approach (and why the Court of Appeals got it wrong.)

It has long been the practice that Central Committees in each county submitted just one name - problems only tended to occur with multi-county districts where more than one name was sent because counties preferred different candidates. (Senate District 36 is a recent example.)

That District 36 situation illustrates the problem with a multiple-name approach. If my memory serves me correctly, two counties selected eventual winner (and then-Delegate) Steve Hershey while the two other ones tabbed former Delegate Michael Smigiel. The choice was eventually made by Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. (Note each of the four counties sent up one name.)

Someday there will be a Democratic governor again who will preside over the selection for filling a vacancy in a conservative Republican district. Based on the language in this prospective amendment, what is to stop this governor from informing the Central Committee that he or she wants ten names rather than just three? Or instead of making a formal selection, the governor simply requested the forwarding of the name of everyone who applied, regardless of merit?

There are not a lot of representative functions for which the local Central Committee is charged – mainly their job is to represent the county at the state conventions. But it does serve at times as the electorate in those situations where it’s not practical to have an election – in recent meetings, the committee I serve with has selected applicants for the Board of Elections and interviewed for vacancies in our Board of Education. In the recent past, our local Central Committees have worked to select members of the General Assembly who died in office - Republicans for Page Elmore in 2010 and Democrats for Bennett Bozman in 2006.

Because Maryland doesn’t have the provision for special elections, we have to take that task seriously as voters won’t be able to correct us for many months or even three-plus years. It’s interesting that Kathy Fuller, who was one of the plaintiffs in the Carroll County case (supporting the submission of just one name) has the idea of prohibiting the selection of a member of the General Assembly for an administration position. With one exception, that’s the root cause of all this commotion.

But I digress. While there are many times we would be satisfied with any of a number of candidates, there is generally one who stands above the others in our estimation; however, there’s no guarantee the Appointments Secretary will feel the same since it’s likely he or she won’t do an in-depth interview.

One name has worked well in the past, and it’s a shame Larry Hogan mucked up the system because he didn’t like the Central Committee’s original choice. That’s what it boils down to. A more stout Central Committee would have stuck with their first choice, so I think we need the rules that will stiffen their collective spines.

Maryland’s top prize

I have to admit I was shocked as anyone else to hear Barbara Mikulski was not seeking re-election. Although I figured she was closer to the end of her tenure than the beginning, I would have thought she would privately anoint a successor. In that respect it would have been a good landing spot for Martin O’Malley if Anthony Brown won the governorship, giving O’Malley a leg up on the 2016 Senate race once it became clear his Presidential bid was going nowhere fast. Sadly for the former governor, Larry Hogan won.

But among the blizzard of reaction from mainstream state news outlets and other political commentators, there are several things to keep in mind. First of all, this opening in a statewide race would favor those with plenty of money and a team in place. It doesn’t have to be a person who has run statewide, and because this election allows members of the Maryland General Assembly to “run from cover” because their seats aren’t involved in the election, it’s very possible a few may take a shot.

Secondly – and perhaps more importantly from a “bench” standpoint – if you assume that at least three or four sitting Congressmen decide to make a run for the seat, the same rules apply. Consider, if you will, an Andy Harris run on the Republican side – how many local elected officials would be interested in that seat as it suddenly opens? You could imagine Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio taking a shot, along with politicians from the other side of the Bay in Harris’s district. Multiply that by three or four Congressional districts and the prospect for several changes in the General Assembly for the second half of Larry Hogan’s term is significantly higher.

Yet in any of these cases, the decisions will have to be made early, probably no later than June. And that’s not just for the Senate seat, but those who may see themselves on the lower rung of the ladder in the House. Once those dominoes begin to fall, there’s no telling how far the stack could reach because it will all depend on who wins the respective primaries.

But just as the 2014 election proved to create a tremendous shakeup in the House of Delegates, the 2016 election may be cataclysmic for the state’s Congressional delegation. Even if just three or four run for office, the effect would be huge given that no more than two seats of the ten have changed hands in any recent election. The effect may be similar to 1986, when Mikulski first won office and several other Congressional seats picked up new faces (however, that was also a state election year, unlike 2016.)

So rather than try and predict the parlor game of who will run, the point of this piece is to remind people of the importance of a strong political bench. You have one seat that is a six-year term with no term limits and (quite honestly) not a lot of responsibility when you compare it to the governor’s chair. The last time this opportunity came up was 2006, but that was a year when state office holders had to weigh the odds of emerging from a crowded field against the certainty of re-election – not so a decade later.

The question isn’t so much who, but how many. It wouldn’t surprise me if the 2006 total of 28 aspirants isn’t surpassed in 2016. Most of them will be no-names or perennial candidates with no shot, but there will be some turnover in our Congressional delegation because of this sudden opening.

MCAC and CBF to Hogan: drop dead

As I suspected, the slight bend toward agricultural interests that Governor Hogan made with the revised Phosphorus Management Tool regulations – now re-dubbed the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative – was met with hostility from the environmental community. On Friday the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and Chesapeake Bay Foundation released this joint statement:

We commend the Hogan Administration for taking the problem of phosphorus pollution seriously and are pleased that the Administration embraces the scientific evidence showing we must implement the Phosphorus Management Tool to better manage manure on oversaturated farm fields.

The environmental community was not involved in the drafting of Governor Hogan’s proposed regulations that were released on Tuesday, and we have gone over them carefully since. Unfortunately, the regulations do not provide the adequate protection or assurance we need, and as such, we must oppose them. Our concerns are detailed in the attached analysis.

The regulations include a significant loophole, referred to by the agricultural industry as a “safety net,” that makes it unclear if they would ever result in full implementation of this much-needed tool. We adamantly oppose this lack of a clear, enforceable end date for putting the Phosphorus Management Tool into place.

It is also unclear whether the proposed ban on phosphorus on fields with FIV over 500 would actually reduce the amount of manure being applied to farm fields or protect Maryland water quality. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has been unable to clarify this.

Additionally, the regulations add one more year of delay, and they include troublesome secrecy provisions.

We continue to whole-heartedly support legislation sponsored by Senator Pinsky and Delegate Lafferty (SB 257 / HB 381) to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool with a six-year phase-in. Given the difficulties we’ve had with the regulatory process over the past three years, we prefer having a strong statute in place.

Their statement is an expanded version of a statement I posted on Wednesday from the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. The MCAC is an interesting group in that none of the 21 groups involved has a thing to do with farming; instead many of these are “riverkeeper” groups from around the state. These groups blame farmers for a disproportionate share of the problems with Chesapeake Bay, imagining they are just wantonly dumping manure into streams and creeks.

While the groups have done a comparison sheet (or “detailed analysis”) between the O’Malley and Hogan proposals, their chief complaint can be summed up in this paragraph:

The Hogan PMT provisions for an “evaluation” for assessing manure markets and transportation programs, available land acreage, etc., allow for this “evaluation” to stall movement of PMT implementation for a year while MDA conducts a re-evaluation. The result is the possibility of an endless year by year postponement and re-evaluation possibility. (Emphasis in original.)

The way I read this is that, whether the infrastructure is in place or not - and, to be honest, I’m dubious of whether it can be in place – the CBF wants to move ahead on the PMT issue. Even the large-scale concession of immediately stopping the application of manure to certain fields, which is a provision allegedly affecting 1 of every 5 farmers on the Lower Shore, isn’t satisfying to the environmental coalition. They demand the data on how this would affect farmers, but pooh-pooh the need for data on how these regulations might affect the rural Maryland economy through the actual on-site studies sought by the Hogan administration.

In short, the contempt for the agricultural community by these groups is palpable.

So Larry Hogan tried to walk the middle ground. In backing off his original dead-set opposition to the PMT as “mandating how (farmers) use their property” to implementing a slightly less onerous version he still alienated the environmental community as well as discouraging some of the farmers who will be most adversely affected.

This whole episode will hopefully be a lesson to the new administration: you won’t get the friendship or the votes of those who would just as soon see the Eastern Shore collapse economically thanks to the demise of the agricultural industry regardless of what you do. So stick to those issues you ran on: improving Maryland’s economy and lowering the tax and regulatory burden on its citizens. Remember, no amount of regulation is enough for liberals, so why cater to them in the first place?

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