A trio of events

Before I step aside for a few days, there are some things I’ve been meaning to push. I’ll do these in chronological order of occurrence.

I had wondered when the First District challenger would have an event in Salisbury, but he has the uncharacteristic bad luck of picking the weekend I’m away (this Saturday) to do a combination townhall and fundraiser at two popular downtown venues. So I will just pass this on without additional comment, except for noting that the Roadie Joe’s event is $40 (or $30 if you’re wearing camo or hunter orange.)

Another would-be challenger is bringing one of the last stops on his three-day announcement tour to Salisbury University next Wednesday. SU is the penultimate stop on the tour for U.S. Senate candidate Dave Wallace, who will stop at Holloway Hall next Wednesday, February 10th, around 4 p.m. (His day will wrap up in Easton before returning the vehicle to the Western Shore.)

As his campaign’s advance person pointed out:

If you have owned or operated a business on the Eastern Shore, you know how hard it has been to work with all the new laws, regulations, fees and taxes. When did Senator Barbara Mikulski, our Democrat US Senator for 30 years, decide to work with Safran Labinal, one of Wicomico County’s largest companies, with more than 650 workers?  When they announced they were moving to Denton, Texas – a bit too late, don’t you think?  Have you wondered why Perdue AgriBusiness is planning to build their corporate offices in Delmar, DE? Could it be that Delaware is more business friendly?

Wallace will be the second candidate to announce in Salisbury, as Kathy Szeliga made a swing through town in November.

Finally, I took advantage of a rare weekday off to attend yesterday’s Republican Women of Wicomico monthly meeting. (Yes, there were three guys there, including speaker Muir Boda.) But they wanted me to pass along word of their Paint Night fundraiser on Thursday, February 11 at Brew River. It goes from 6 to 8 p.m. and the cost is $40. Men are invited and encouraged to both attend the fundraiser and be associate members of the group, said RWOW president Julie Brewington. (Associate membership is only $15, if I recall correctly, and they run a pretty good meeting.)

This should fill the political calendar pretty well.

So long to MOM and Huck

The lack of results in the Iowa caucuses have seen two candidates for President exit the race.

On the Democratic side, the rest of America found out what Marylanders already knew: in a race of any significance without Bob Ehrlich to beat up on, Martin O’Malley is a terrible candidate. Now the audition for being a running mate begins for O’Malley, who never had traction in the polls – the question is just who does he audition to?

So the good people of Iowa did the job Marylanders wouldn’t do and eliminated O’Malley from contention, just in time for him to strap the guitar back on for “O’Malley’s March” or whatever he calls that band.

Oddly enough, maybe bass player Mike Huckabee can call MOM up for a jam session since he no longer has a race to run either. While Huckabee had a great campaign in 2008, his “sell by” date obviously passed and the religious Right decided Ted Cruz and Ben Carson were more their style.

I said a few days ago that the bottom five in Iowa as polled were Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Huckabee, and John Kasich. The polls pegged them as the also-rans correctly, but I didn’t count Jim Gilmore, who “won” bigtime by getting 12 votes in a state he didn’t campaign in. As of the time I’m writing this, Rick Santorum is staying in by placing his hopes on South Carolina while Fiorina will doggedly continue in New Hampshire – a state where Christie and Kasich are expected to do far better than they did in Iowa.

So we will re-convene in New Hampshire next Tuesday and see how the field reacts. The question is whether Cruz or Marco Rubio can dent Donald Trump’s lead there now that we know The Donald is no longer invincible.

Helpful aid to democracy, or invitation to fraud?

I was alerted to a bill that was pre-filed regarding automatic voter registration for Marylanders, only to find that there are actually three up for consideration this year.

SB11, introduced by Senator Roger Manno of Montgomery County, and SB19, introduced by Senator Victor Ramirez of Prince George’s County, were both requested for pre-filing over the summer. While neither has been withdrawn, it appears that the two have joined forces with SB350 and gained 18 other co-sponsors from the liberal Democratic wing of the Maryland Senate.

Currently someone who wishes to register to vote has a number of options: most can do so online, although there is the route of doing so at the state MVA. However, this is an opt-in system and apparently it’s not good enough for those backing this bill as they want it to become an “opt-out” system where would-be voters would have 21 days to notify the state board that they do not want to be registered. Obviously these Democrats are counting on people to ignore the notice and be added to the voter rolls.

Those who favor “good government” and honest elections have their concerns about “opt-out” registration, but even more troubling is a proposal in Montgomery County to allow non-citizens and 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections. As it was passed by the county’s delegation, this proposed amendment to the Maryland Constitution will soon be introduced as legislation. The Maryland Voter Alliance has urged concerned citizens to help defeat this measure, stating that:

MC 25-16 must not be allowed to pass, as it will continue to muddy the rolls and flood the already-plagued system with additional ineligible individuals, particularly non-citizens and underage voters, which both are violations of state and federal law.

Of course, the proponents will protest that it’s only for local school board elections, but this is the camel’s nose under the tent for expanding the practice. Just imagine the uproar if we in the city of Salisbury passed a voter ID bill for city elections – you can bet your bottom dollar it would be taken to court by someone like the ACLU and groups from all over the country would become involved in our local issue. (Not that such a common-sense bill would pass our City Council or be supported by our mayor.)

Voting is a right, and I would love it if 100% of the population took the time to become informed on the issues and candidates and took the elections seriously. (If they did, I contend there wouldn’t be anyone left of center elected in the country.) But millions who are registered choose not to participate, and millions more have their reasons for not registering. If we get universal registration, what’s to stop the party in power from allocating the ballots of some of these voters who may not even be aware they are registered, casting votes in their name because they - and only they – know what’s good for them?

Yet if that doesn’t arrest the long-term decline in overall participation – a percentage that would only get worse with universal registration – the next step will be compulsory voting, with legal penalties for not participating. In other words, welcome to North Korea. I wonder who would win then? It sure wouldn’t be the supporters of limited government.

I suspect that these two pieces of legislation will be approved by the General Assembly, and it will be incumbent upon Governor Hogan to veto them. We have heard the discussion about this year being the session that lays the groundwork for the Democrats’ strategy to get “their” governor’s seat back in 2018, and one of these tactics was to make Hogan veto bills that Democrats can demagogue with certain voters. This would be one of them; however, he should still veto these bills.

A lack of interest?

There are still a few days to the primary, but I’m using the occasion of Greg Holmes’s entry to the Republican U.S. Senate race and check how the field is shaping up. (And if you say “who?” you’re not alone – Holmes was one of the also-rans in 2014′s Fourth Congressional District primary.)

Having done this political thing for a few years, I know that there are usually 10 or so Republicans who run for U.S. Senate in any given cycle. My first election here was 2006, the year Michael Steele was the overwhelming choice of the state party (and accordingly won 87 percent of the vote.) Despite that, there were 10 people on the GOP primary ballot, nine of whom split the other 13 percent of the vote. (With an open seat, that was a scrum on the Democratic side – they had 18 running.)

As of this writing, though, we are only at eight running on the GOP side and Holmes would be nine – so we should be in the ballpark for an average election. On the other hand, the open seat on the Democratic side isn’t bringing out nearly as many – just nine have signed up for the Democrats, with at least four being the perennial candidates who rarely get more than 1% of the vote.

Of those nine Republicans, most have some sort of electoral history: Holmes and John Graziani both ran for the same Congressional seat in 2014, while Dave Wallace was the Republican nominee against Democrat Chris Van Hollen that same year. Richard Douglas was a Senate candidate in 2012 and Richard Shawver was in 2006, but Kathy Szeliga is the only one who’s won a legislative position as a Delegate in the Maryland General Assembly. It appears Chrys Kefalas, Lynn Richardson, and Anthony Seda are first-time candidates.

So while Szeliga probably has the greatest name recognition, followed by Douglas, it is a relatively wide open race. If someone were to do favorability numbers on the GOP side right now, I doubt any one of the candidates would be over 20% favorable, with the vast majority saying “never heard of them.” I myself didn’t know many of these people were in the race until I looked tonight.

Meanwhile, in looking at our First District, it’s still a four-person race on the GOP side where incumbent Andy Harris is joined by 2014 challenger Jonathan Goff, first-time candidate Sean Jackson, and former Delegate Mike Smigiel. Jim Ireton hasn’t filed yet, so Joe Werner (who ran for the seat in 2008) is the only candidate so far on the Democratic side.

I think there will be between one and three more in each of the aforementioned races by the time Wednesday’s filing deadline expires. But I am sort of surprised that we’re not seeing as many candidates up and down the ballot this year.

Ireton makes a splash

 

Photo credit: Ireton for Congress via Twitter

A comparatively modest gathering stood by Salisbury City Councilman (and former mayor) Jim Ireton as he embarked on his quest to unseat current Congressman Andy Harris in Maryland’s First Congressional District. And his opening salvo naturally was critical of the incumbent:

I’m here (in Crisfield) today because the 1st District needs a Congressman who won’t just say no and vote no. In just 6 years in Washington, Andy Harris has done nothing for the people of the 1st District.

Crisfield, the southernmost city in Maryland, was chosen by Ireton because it was hit hard in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, with Ireton contending it has not recovered. Jim chastised the incumbent because “he voted against $9.7 billion in hurricane relief.”

So I did a little research. It turns out the $9.7 billion bill Harris voted against was a measure to extend the borrowing authority for FEMA. Harris later voted against the overall supplemental appropriations bill but supported a substitute which would have offset $17 billion in approved aid by making other cuts (making it budget-neutral.) He ended up voting for a different appropriations bill that improved the original but did not clear the Senate. You may recall many were concerned about the budgetary impact in that era of sequestration.

Ireton went on about how Harris doesn’t support farmers and voted multiple times to repeal Obamacare before stepping boldly into Jim Crow territory.

He wants to return us to the days of insurance companies legally discriminating against Americans. Just like landlords in the 1950s could tell a black family no, and do so legally, Andy Harris wants to give insurance companies the legal right to say no to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

I think Jim forgets that insurance companies are like any other business as they need to be profitable to survive. Then again, that can be expected of a mayor who enacted the “rain tax” in Salisbury and decided landlords shouldn’t charge what he considered excessive rent.

And in the department of “it takes two to tango”:

From here on, it’s going to get ugly – Andy Harris will make sure of that. He will attack me as a person, and attack the issues you care about. He will issue dire warnings about taxes, even though I have a record of cutting fees as the mayor of Salisbury. He will issue dire warnings about crime, even though Salisbury’s Part I Violent Crimes dropped every year I was in office, and dropped almost 50% over my 6 years as mayor. He will try and scare farmers, even though the Wicomico River is now healthier than it’s been in decades due to the work of the city while I was in office.  And I can only imagine what he will make up to say about me personally. (Emphasis mine.)

I noted back in October when the rent stabilization program was bounced out of City Council that Ireton is in a catbird seat of sorts. During the next 9 1/2 months, assuming he wins the primary – and he is the prohibitive favorite given the field – Ireton can take credit for all of the city’s successes by saying that he initiated them as mayor, yet any failures will see Jake Day thrust in front of the nearest Shore Transit vehicle. I figured that Jim was simply using the office to cool his heels for a later political run, but my error was in assuming that he’d have the decency to at least wait until the results became official before jumping into his next campaign, not spill the beans on election night. (Had he upset just 33 of his prospective voters enough to make them change their minds. he would have had a lot more time to run.)

Harris now has a challenge from both the Democrat and Republican sides, with both being uncommonly well-known entities. It’s the first time he’s had elected officials against him since he took office in 2011. And it already is ugly with push polls and charges of not doing his job, so we’re already on the glide path to a nasty campaign.

A tale of due diligence (with a lack of cooperation)

By Cathy Keim and Michael Swartz

I have never met Ann Miller in person, but I have exchanged emails with her and I have read her columns in the Baltimore County Republican Examiner. She has always been cordial when I have requested information from her about educational issues.

Ann is a parent who has given a huge amount of time and effort to fighting Common Core and PARCC. Even with that being known, Governor Hogan appointed her to the Baltimore County Board of Education and she was sworn in last month for a three-year term. Before she could even be sworn in, there were complaints that she was too narrow minded to be on the school board and appeals to Governor Hogan to reconsider Miller’s appointment. While Miller has one child remaining in public schools, she also has one in a private school and homeschools a third.

It is to Governor Hogan’s credit that he did not rescind his appointment under pressure. Anyone who is a fan of board members actually doing due diligence in fulfilling their duties will be impressed with Ann. Although she did not become an official member until this past December, she has been requesting information about the budget and the inner workings of the Baltimore County schools for months since her appointment. (Miller was appointed several months before her term actually began.)

A key issue she faces right away is that Dr. Dallas Dance, the superintendent of the Baltimore County Public Schools, is up for a four-year contract renewal. Miller wanted to review his term carefully before agreeing Dance should serve for another four years, so she compiled a list of performance-related items for her review and requested them from the Baltimore County Public Schools. And her wait began.

Since BCPS has not responded to her requests for information, she has now asked for the information under the Maryland Public Information Act. Here is the link to see her letter and what information she is requesting. The Sun has also placed its spin on it, noting that Miller would not agree to an interview unless they published her full letter – the Sun refused.

This battle is of interest to every taxpayer and parent in Maryland. Should the school system be accountable to its board and its taxpayers by allowing oversight of the huge sums of money that are spent annually? Where is the transparency that our politicians speak of so glowingly? More importantly: why is a board member, who is appointed to a position of public trust and accountability, having to file a Maryland Public Information Act request to gain access to the budget and information pertaining to the superintendent’s performance?

Would that more of our school board members would rock the boat and demand information rather than just renewing contracts and letting the machine roll along.

You will want to keep an eye on Ann Miller and the BCPS because I suspect that we will be seeing more articles in the Baltimore Sun about her. She is angering all the right people.

Michael’s observations: I have met Ann Miller years ago, and besides our common background as Examiners, I have come to realize she is very passionate about her children and their education. It seems to me that many of these same sort of complaints were levied when John Palmer, who is a stickler for fiscal accountability, was appointed to Wicomico County’s Board of Education. Ironically, our county finds itself in a similar position except we will be appointing a new superintendent as Dr. John Fredericksen is stepping down.

It may look like an exhaustive list that Miller is requesting; however, the district has been aware of it for several months so there really is no excuse. What are they trying to hide?

WCRC meeting – January 2016

If not for Jonas, this post probably would have had at least one photo of our former Republican governor Bob Ehrlich. But since our friend Jonas left him stuck across the bridge, in lieu of the book signing fundraiser we instead had a hastily arranged meeting to go over a handful of announcements, with the first one being prospective dates for rescheduling the event are March 7 or 14. Of course, that’s subject to change and as I brought up the former date would conflict with our Central Committee meeting. Jackie Wellfonder added that the event was nearly sold out, but there were still a few spots available.

(Historically there seems to be an issue with wintertime events featuring Bob Ehrlich here in Wicomico County.)

But anyway, the meeting announcement caught me by surprise since I hadn’t even gone through and compiled the minutes from the last one. Nor did we have a copy of the Treasurer’s Report, but interim treasurer Muir Boda had the excuse of having a meeting prior to this one. We were informed, though, that there were some changes to our accounts made necessary by the abrupt resignation of our previous treasurer and integration with the WCRC Paypal account.

Julie Brewington and I tag-teamed on the Central Committee report, which didn’t feature a whole lot. As a body we had done our post-mortem on the Lincoln Day Dinner and discussed having another “retreat” as we did last year.

Jackie Wellfonder informed us that the Governor’s Ball would be February 18. That brought up another question regarding how successful a couple local events turned out to be, with Jackie and Julie replying that Mary Beth Carozza’s fundraising event was “hugely successful.” Shawn Jester added that Andy Harris’s Fruitland town hall meeting was well-attended, without the drama of the subsequent Bel Air townhall.

Julie Brewington then noted the Republican Women of Wicomico group was growing, and its next meeting would be February 3 at Brew River. Muir Boda is the slated speaker for the 11:30 lunch meeting, with Mitzi Perdue set for the March meeting. She was “very optimistic” about the direction the group was taking. Julie also took a moment to announce she was the Ted Cruz campaign coordinator locally.

Marc Kilmer gave us an impromptu update on County Council, with the biggest issues right now being the capital budget and proposed mega-chicken house. The bulk of the capital budget borrowing would be going toward updating and upgrading the county’s radio communication system, to the tune of $11 million. As for the chicken house, which would be the largest in the county, Kilmer explained that the county really had no say on its construction and operation beyond the planning and zoning aspect – it would be an agricultural use in an area zoned for agriculture. Most of the scrutiny of its operation would come from the state, Kilmer added.

Kilmer also expressed his concern with negotiations with the county’s law enforcement officers regarding a proposed pension program, noting other counties have had issues with the costs.

There were a couple legislative updates given. I updated the progress of the school board bill (SB145), which has a hearing on Wednesday, while we also were alerted to the possibility the sprinkler bill (HB19) wouldn’t make it out of committee. (I checked on the latter, and found its scheduled hearing has been cancelled.)

In more mundane club news, we’ll have to look for a new Crab Feast chair and we discussed some planning items for the coming year.

Things to add to the calendar: The RWOW group is doing a paint night at Brew River on February 11 from 6 to 8, said Julie, while Jackie added that Bob Ehrlich is scheduled for another book signing event at SU, but there you don’t have to buy the book to attend (at a reduced cost.) She suggested we could support their February 15 event without buying the book then doing the WCRC fundraiser to get a copy.

Next month’s meeting will be a double dip: Walter Olson of the Cato Institute will discuss Maryland’s gerrymandering, while Anthony Gutierrez of the Wicomico Board of Elections will demonstrate the new voting machines. That meeting will be February 22. Sounds like a good one!

Odds and ends number 79

With the winds of Jonas howling around us last night, I decided it was a good night to clean out the old e-mail box. One result of that is the Liberty Features widget I placed in my sidebar. They have a lot of good content I use for these “odds and ends” posts as well as other content – that and once upon a time I was a writer for them. You just never know when doors may open back up.

On Tuesday last I alerted readers to the Maryland Senate bill that would allow Wicomico County to determine whether or not they want an elected school board. It’s doubtful they picked up on the coincidence that their hearing will occur in the midst of National School Choice Week. But we deserve a choice, so there’s just something appropriate about this – it may even occur during the #schoolchoice Tweetup occurring Wednesday afternoon.

Teachers may be gaining a choice in how they wish to be represented thanks to an upcoming Supreme Court case. Here’s hoping the side of right prevails and teachers are freed from paying excessive union dues to support political causes they don’t agree with.

And since a lot of my cohorts in the region are using their heat, it’s a good time to talk a little about all the energy news that’s been piling up. For example, energy writer Marita Noon recently detailed the Obama administration’s War on Coal. She quotes one Pennsylvania United Mine Workers officer who says, “Obama’s actions have alienated those who work in the industry from Democrats in general.” I think someday there may be thousands of workers in the green energy field, but for now the people who work in the coal mines are looking desperately for jobs.

On the other hand, if the government showers you with favored status, you have a golden ticket. Noon also wrote about the subsidies and rent-seeking that green energy company Solar City is in danger of losing in several states.

Our fracking boom has gone bust, though, since oil has approached $25 a barrel. Some of those furloughed employees could be rehired to pump oil for export, but this game of chicken between OPEC and American producers shows no sign of ending soon.

Those would-be workers could also be good candidates for rebuilding American manufacturing – if any jobs were to be had, that is. Over at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, Scott Paul notes:

I know I don’t have to tell you how important manufacturing is. More than 12 million Americans are directly employed in manufacturing, and many more are employed indirectly.

These good-paying manufacturing jobs are key to a healthy middle class. It’s no coincidence that the middle class is shrinking at the same time manufacturing is struggling.

Manufacturing certainly faced a tough 2015. There were only 30,000 new jobs created nationwide. We still only have gained back 40 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

They ponder what the 2016 Presidential candidates will do and invite you to ask for yourself (through their form letter, of course.) The valid question is:

What will you do differently? How do you plan to help spur manufacturing job growth and grow the middle class?

Perhaps Larry Hogan’s plan is one answer, although federal intervention may be needed to bring jobs back from overseas. Maryland, though, could create the conditions for growing new companies.

Finally, I wanted to give a shout out to a long-distance supporter of mine over the last several years, one who has decided to make the leap and run for public office. Jackie Gregory threw her hat into the ring for Cecil County Council back in November, running as a Republican in the county’s District 5. That district covers the central part of the county, from the town of North East south along the Elk Neck peninsula.

If you are in the area, she’s having a breakfast next weekend in North East so I would encourage you to drop by and give her some support. Cecil County has been an interesting subject to me for several years, with Gregory’s Cecil County Patriots group being an advocate for change.

So my 79th edition of odds and ends comes to a close as my heater kicks on again. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for summer. By the way, I also finally finished my updates to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame so the page is back up. I’m not sure it’s odd, but it is the end.

My first vote

Surely you follow my site and know that each year, once the General Assembly session is over, I compile the monoblogue Accountability Project. Last year I believe I mentioned that some of the bills that I tracked were vetoed by Larry Hogan but would likely be revisited by this year’s group – sure enough, the “travel tax” was passed for a second time despite the efforts of every Republican who stood behind his or her governor. Even Senator Addie Eckardt, who co-sponsored the original bill, voted to sustain the veto.

That was one of the two bills I used for last year’s mAP. The other bill, which allows felons to vote before completing their sentences (as parole and probation are part of the sentence) has not received a veto vote yet. According to the Maryland House Republican Caucus, the reason why is that Mike Miller is one vote short and waiting for an appointee to replace former Senator Karen Montgomery, who resigned effective January 1. Given the fact Democrats hold a 32-14 edge and will get the 33rd vote when Montgomery is replaced, it appears four Democrats are feeling the pressure to stand with the governor. (If I were to guess I would say three of those four are John Astle, Jim Brochin, and Jim Mathias. They tend to be the most willing to cross the aisle in the Senate and represent conservative districts.)

Assuming the Senate gets that vote – and it won’t happen if Miller can’t rustle up the votes – that will be 2 of my 25 votes. I’m debating whether to eliminate one committee vote and one floor vote or two floor votes to accommodate these veto votes – it may depend on what else shakes out.

The felon voting override was particularly galling because it made it by one vote, and the one member of the Eastern Shore delegation who voted to override should have known better. Perhaps a “soft on crime” label will come in handy in four years because Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes won’t have an incumbent to protect her next time. It was an office that should never have received the free ride she got in 2014.

Next week’s assignment will be to get testimony in favor of our elected school board bill. Those of us who do honest work for a living can’t drop everything and go to Annapolis, but I will make it a point to write up my own statement of support. The hope is that the bill emerges unmolested and we get to decide how we want our school board to be come November.

The 67 percent solution

At 12:01 on Tuesday morning, the Maryland Democratic Party probably had a collective conniption when they found out how much damage they would have to do to Larry Hogan over the next three years in order to get “their” governor’s chair back.

That was the moment that the latest Gonzales Research Maryland Poll came off its embargo and revealed two key points that probably keep whoever is in charge of that party awake at night. In a state which features voter registration numbers 2-to-1 in their favor, even a plurality of Democrats think Republican Larry Hogan is doing a good job. (If five more Democrats had stated in the affirmative there would have a majority – as it was, 48% is a good number.) Meanwhile, 52% of those same Democrats think the state is heading in the right direction.

Overall, a whopping 67 percent of respondents approved either somewhat or strongly the job Larry Hogan is doing as governor, with a paltry 19 percent disapproving. While the margin is only 48-31 as far as Democrats are concerned, it’s that same coalition that propelled him to the governorship.

Yet the Democrats have played with fire a little bit by overriding several of Governor Hogan’s vetoes. It seems to be their priority to make life more difficult (and taxing) for travel agents and allowing felons to vote prior to completing their sentences. The ball will now be in Hogan’s court for his legislative agenda, which didn’t really fare all that well last year.

It’s obvious people like the job Larry is doing, so maybe he needs to get a little more of a bully pulpit. Imagine what his approval could reach if he got a little more Reaganesque with his tax cut proposals. Let’s make Mike and Mike (Busch and Miller) look like the obstructionists they are. I don’t want to predict we can bury the Democrats face down come 2018, but they do deserve a few shovelfuls of dirt for the damage they did to the state over the term of the guy who gets a pathetic 4.5% of the Maryland Democratic presidential primary vote.

The next step in the process

The half-decade or more process of securing a Board of Education in Wicomico County that’s directly elected by the people entered a new chapter late last week with the introduction of the appropriate legislation in the Maryland General Assembly. Senate Bill 145, with Senator Jim Mathias as lead sponsor and Addie Eckardt as co-sponsor, provides for the makeup of the board as well as a three-way referendum to be placed on this November’s ballot. It’s a relatively complex 16-page bill, subdivided into several sections because the sections which would actually become law are dependent on the results of the referendum.

To make a long story short, voters would face three choices in November, from which they can only select one:

  • FOR a Board of Education with seven members appointed by the Governor;
  • FOR a Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members elected at-large;
  • FOR a Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members appointed by County Council.

The method with the most votes wins, regardless of whether it is a majority or plurality.

SB145 was assigned to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHEA) Committee and given a relatively quick hearing date of Wednesday, January 27. The EHEA committee has 10 members and is led by Chair Senator Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City and Vice-Chair Paul Pinsky of Prince George’s County. Other Democratic members are Cheryl Kagan of Montgomery County, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam of Baltimore County, Jim Rosapepe of Prince George’s County, and Ronald Young of Frederick County, while Republicans Gail Bates of Howard County, Johnny Ray Salling of Baltimore County, Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County, and Steve Waugh of Calvert County also sit on the committee.

At the present time it’s the smallest committee with just 10 members (and a slim 6-4 Democratic advantage) because there’s one vacancy in the Senate. At some point it’s presumed that a Montgomery County Democrat will join the committee to be its eleventh member, but the bill will likely have its hearing and committee vote by then. (Former District 14 Senator Karen Montgomery resigned as of January 1.)

An interesting note regarding the makeup of the committee is that Conway and Simonaire represent counties with appointed boards, while Pinsky, Nathan-Pulliam, Rosapepe, and Salling represent counties with hybrid boards. Moreover, none of these committee members represent the Eastern Shore. It’s worth noting as well that Conway was the chair of EHEA when Caroline County got its hybrid board. It was Senator Conway, who represents a district several counties and a completely different way of life away, that deemed that Caroline County didn’t have sufficient minority representation with a fully-elected board, so if the initial all-elected option is scrubbed for Wicomico it’s likely her doing. (This despite the fact we have one majority-minority County Council district and two others with significant minority populations, out of five.)

So the goal is to make sure this bill gets through without being tampered with, but that will be difficult since we don’t have a local representative on the board. And remember: last year when we had a bill for a hybrid board, their excuse for stopping it was that only one of the two Senators were supporting it. Now both are sponsors, and thanks to the public hearings we know that a lot of support was there for the all-elected option as one of three choices. Anything less is a disservice to the people of Wicomico County.

The magic potion?

One little piece of Larry Hogan’s FY2017 budget proposal caught my eye, but I want to begin with a little reaction to the State of the Union show from my favorite manufacturing advocacy group, the Alliance for American Manufacturing and its president Scott Paul:

President Obama cited economic progress in his State of the Union address, and he also noted the need to address income inequality. If he wants to address this, he need look no further than manufacturing, which had its worst year in 2015 since the Great Recession.

While the president was right to highlight economic progress, he missed an opportunity to address some of the core concerns that are holding back manufacturing. Yes, manufacturing has added nearly 900,000 jobs over the past six years, but that represents less than 40 percent of the factory jobs lost over the recession. Only 30,000 jobs were created in 2015.

Keep that in mind as you read on, particularly the income inequality part. So I noticed a particular piece of news today, and after a bit of searching I found that Baltimore Sun writer Erin Cox included this in a story on Hogan’s tax plan:

Hogan also proposed granting a 10-year corporate tax income break for manufacturing companies new to the state who open in Western Maryland, Baltimore and the lower Eastern Shore, areas where unemployment is dramatically higher than the rest of the state.

“We’ve lost 28 percent our manufacturing base because other states were stealing our manufacturers,” Hogan said. “It was like spearing a fish in a barrel. It was too easy. We’re trying to bring back the manufacturing base because there are a lot of hard-working people in the heartland of Maryland who want to work.”

Hogan’s manufacturing tax amnesty would extend to employees of those businesses. Workers earning less than $65,000 a year would be exempt from state income taxes for a decade.

So let’s say XYZ Widgets opens a manufacturing plant in Salisbury. Not only would they get a tax break from the state of Maryland for a decade, so would the workers who make less than about $30 an hour be exempt from paying Maryland state income tax. (This would probably come as a refund once the taxpayer files his or her return.) I will cheerfully admit this goes against my grain of not supporting targeted tax cuts – particularly since it’s micro-targeted to maybe a few thousand taxpayers at most over the ten-year period – but it is an idea for the hopper that could be successful.

In fact, it extends a practice of states and municipalities granting a tax abatement to chosen entities to convince them to set up shop there. We have enough of a knowledge base now to see how these programs work for large-scale employers such as automotive assembly plants – here is one example from South Carolina, where BMW set up shop over two decades ago.

The other fly in the ointment, though, is determining what happens when the decade is up. Surely it’s the hope of Hogan and his economic development team that these companies would stay, but if not it’s the problem of his successor. My suspicion is that this program will maintain the exemption for the workers, because let’s say you’ve put your ten years in at XYZ Widgets and have become accustomed to that big state refund check. When those sands run out there will be a lot of upset taxpayers who just saw their state tax bite increase by up to $3,000 depending on income and deductions.

There’s also the question of timing. If we are to assume that the 10-year clock begins to tick for a company when they set up shop, we may see a cottage industry of new employers taking advantage of workers who are on the eighth or ninth year of their term of employment and hiring them on. Not only does the new employer poach skilled labor from the older competitors, the older companies won’t have the incentive of being able to work tax-free anymore. Conversely, a blanket starting date means that the program will work well for years 1 through 5, then begin to peter out unless extended.

And then there’s the job creation aspect that Scott Paul and AAM touch on above. Oftentimes with the use of tax incentives a manufacturing job isn’t so much created as it is transferred from somewhere else, and this particular proposal is specific to companies new to the state. So we may see a zero-sum game being played, particularly in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore as companies simply move a few miles from Delaware, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia to take advantage with many of the same workers staying on. Locally, we will see this in reverse as Perdue moves some of its operations in the next few years just across the state line to Delaware – it makes Delaware’s bottom line look a little better and takes a little bit from Maryland, but the workers are just driving a different distance and will stay in this area. (Those who live in Maryland and work in Delaware, though, will have the joy of filling out two state tax returns.)

Overall, this is an interesting idea but there are a number of ways I’ve already found to play devil’s advocate with it. Lord knows ours is a region of the state which could use an economic shot in the arm, though. I still think the complete elimination of the corporate tax (which is also discussed briefly in the South Carolina study I referred to earlier) is the better play as a job creator overall.

And lastly, I’m sure Democrats will be whipping up their base in the Capital region by pointing out they’re not included in this deal. I guarantee that if this program works for the areas with high unemployment there will be a bill within the first year or two adding the rest of the state to the mix (in the interest of fairness, of course.)

Since it’s not clear what the vehicle for attempting to bring about this change will be, I can’t track this proposal to see just what progress it makes. Perhaps it will create a split in the majority party since Baltimore City will be a beneficiary and they’ll back the Republicans who follow the governor to see this through with a narrow victory.

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