Hearing from the other side

I have a little help in the “Fair Share” battle.

In my recent post, “The battle is joined” I noted that one of the things on my “to do” list was to call both of my state delegates, Bennett Bozman and Norman Conway. Last Friday, I did so. While I still haven’t heard from Delegate Bozman or his office, I heard quickly from Delegate Conway. He was very polite and listened to the points and arguments I made to help convince him to vote in the right manner.

There were some points that Delegate Conway brought up that I found interesting. Chief among them is that he’s the head of the Appropriations Committee, so I suppose if anyone knows about the state’s budget he would be the guy to know. He told me that the state is facing what he termed a $160 million structural deficit. I looked this up on Maryland’s website and the Spending Affordability Committee report from 2005 does show structural deficits in “out” years (FY 2007 on.) (Note: this is a 105 page .pdf file.) That report shows FY 2007 as a $300 million deficit.

However, since the report came out there has been news of a $600 million surplus from this year’s budget. So I’m a little bit confused about whether these numbers the SAC came up with aren’t too pessimistic. Possibly the $160 million Conway spoke of includes an adjustment for this, but it’s hard to say.

Delegate Conway also cited Wal-Mart’s profitability from last year, noting that floor testimony stated the company made $10 billion and cost the state of Maryland $250 million in Medicare expenses because of gaps in Wal-Mart’s health insurance.

Let’s look at this in two different ways. Assume that both numbers Conway cited are correct. Maryland is almost a perfect “average” state in population, our roughly 5.5 million people is right around 1/50 of the nation’s total. So if every state decided to tax Wal-Mart in a similar way that Fair Share would, suddenly the $10 billion profit is a $2.5 billion loss. Then Wal-Mart would have to lay off workers and close stores, thus putting these people right back on the public dole.

Plus, I saw a report the other day that is cited on the “My feedback” page as I responded to a post on Duvafiles. That report showed that the typical low-wage employee is a $898 drain on the state’s Medicare system. That means it’s not just Wal-Mart – it’s K-Mart, Target, McDonald’s, Burger King, Best Buy – all those employers put a little drain on the system.

I will say one thing about Del. Conway – he did sound surprised about the union-sponsored radio commercials citing his stand on the issue, claiming he didn’t know about them until he heard one himself. And I’ll believe him. I did tell him that he is pursuing a solution in the correct arena, since Medicare truly should be a state issue rather than a federal one.

He does have a good, principled stand – I just happen to think it’s the wrong stand.

But the pro-Wal-Mart side has finally gotten some of their message out. I found this link right on the Sun’s website. Also, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce weighed in with an opinion that “Fair Share” violates portions of the federal ERISA Act.

So it’s going to be an interesting week to come.

Now, since I’m on the subject of health care, I have a bone to pick with the health care industry.

Why is it that I get a bill for $131 from my doctor, but when the health insurer pays the doctor, they give the doctor’s office $77? I understand that the doctor’s office has a good deal of overhead, but is it possible that having to deal with all the red tape creates the majority of it?

My doctor’s office has at least one person who handles solely billings and another person who handles referrals. They have nothing to do with patient care, but the doctor has to pay them and lease that little extra bit of space for them. There’s really something wrong with the health care industry.

And I can tell you right now, just based on experience and observation, that the WORST thing we can do is make it solely a government-run program like “HillaryCare” promised to be. I think something on the order of Medical Savings Accounts would be a good idea. I wouldn’t have to worry about having a chiropractor who is out-of-network. MSA’s also discourage needless trips to the emergency room, at least as I see it.

The more things in the health-care sphere that are directly controlled by the patient, the better the system works. And the less red tape there is (along with a serious tort reform measure to help curb the cost of liability insurance), the easier it is for a doctor to actually practice medicine rather than play defense.

Odds and year ends

It’s all about the Benjamins for the Democrats and their cronies in Maryland.

I’ll start with the lighter stuff as we pass Christmas and begin the last lap of “the holidays.” Of course, TV will still have all the Christmas-theme commercials through New Year’s Day.

News item: Leading this season’s greetings (Baltimore Sun, December 20, 2005)

The slug line says a lot: Without using public funds, Ehrlich sends the most holiday cards among U.S. governors. While I wasn’t on the card list myself, it is amazing that Governor Ehrlich sends out 40,000 cards. My simple math tells me that 8 of every 1,000 Maryland residents gets a card from the governor. May not seem like much but honestly, how many of you know the governor of your state that well?

Best thing is that unlike previous administrations (according to the Sun article), these cards are paid for through private donations and not out of the public till. What the Sun doesn’t tell you (but I will) is that the last four administrations in Maryland were all Democrats. But I’m sure the Democrats complain about somebody buying influence by paying for the Governor’s Christmas cards and placing a little bit lighter burden on the taxpayers.

News item: Spend surplus on new schools, advocates say (Baltimore Sun, December 23, 2005)

Speaking of a burden on the taxpayers, here is this story as I see it. Instead of lessening the property tax burden on those who have chosen to invest in the state, the Democrats want to spend even more money on building schools. Their lackeys at Progressive Maryland claim that 35% of the people surveyed want to build new schools, while only 20% or so want a tax cut. What I’d like to know (and I haven’t been able to locate the survey online to answer this) is whether this question was asked after they were asked if they agreed with the statement, “Maryland’s schools are overcrowded, many are dilapidated, and too many students are forced to learn in temporary trailer classrooms. We should use most of the surplus to build and repair schools.” Obviously that’s a leading question, so you get 75% of the people saying yes.

The order of questioning is important, particularly if they asked this one after the school one: “(Do you agree with the statement) Tax-and-spend liberal Democrats in Annapolis have been overspending for years. Now that there is finally a budget surplus, lawmakers should give taxpayers long overdue tax relief.” People aren’t going to want to appear greedy after saying they were in favor of building more schools (because it’s for the children, you know.) So that only had a 55% agreement. (56% if you count me.)

There is at least a $600 million surplus. If the Sun figures are correct, Ehrlich could completely erase this year’s state portion of the property tax burden on everyone (13.2 cents per $100 of assessed value) and still have some money left over. That would put $528 million back into the hands of property owners and still leave a small surplus. Obviously the Democrats would rail about “tax cuts for the rich.” But money would return to the state with additional sales tax revenue and just maybe a few thousand new jobs created.

I don’t want to come off as saying that new schools are unnecessary after a period of time. But, honestly, is a Taj Mahal-like school building really more conducive to learning than a good teacher? All a primary school for 300 kids in 6 grades really needs are 12-14 classrooms (which includes 2 for special ed), a gym, a media center, rooms for a science lab, art, and music, office space for a few staff, and a cafeteria. That and be well-designed for expansion. I honestly believe that no primary school should be larger than about 450 kids.

The other thing I’d like to know is whether any new school construction would have a provision to save taxpayers money by waiving the (so-called) “prevailing wage” requirements. Ohio did this with their school building program.

And of course, every other advocacy group wants a cut of this rapidly-shrinking surplus. A group called Advocates for Children and Youth wanted $400 million for schools PLUS $375 million for other social programs.

But you can’t pay big money for schools without getting the teachers’ union seeking a piece of the pie, to wit:

News item: Support builds for better pensions (an AP story in the Daily Times, December 26, 2005)

The teachers’ union wants another $480 million a year for their pensions, although they would generously share about 1/3 of that for other state employees. They whine about the measly pensions that Maryland teachers get, and in raw numbers they are right: it’s about half of Pennsylvania’s average and roughly 50% less than the averages in Delaware and Virginia. An average Free State teacher’s pension is only 36% of their salary, which is tied for the bottom with Hawaii’s average.

But, and this is a big but, Maryland teachers contribute just 2% of their pay toward their pensions. (Hawaii contributes none, but it’s a far smaller state.) While the teachers are willing to kick in another 3% of their pay, they also want to change the multiplier rate to a retroactive 2 percent – an increase of almost half over the current 1.4%.

I actually participated in Ohio’s system for a very short time, back in 1991 when I taught one section of AutoCAD for one semester at Owens College (about 12 hours a week.) It seems to me that I had a lot more than 2% taken out, even then. I recall my rebate being over $100 when I dropped out of the system shortly after leaving Owens, but my salary there was a low four figures.

I’d be curious to know what TB thinks about this one.

News item: Democrats target Ehrlich vetoes (Baltimore Sun, December 11, 2005)

In a nutshell, here is the Democrats’ idiocy Governor Ehrlich properly vetoed:

1. The “Fair Share Health Care” bill, aka the Wal-Mart bill. Bad legislation to target one successful (and non-union) business. The proponents speak of “fairness” but forget that it works both ways.

2. A bill allowing voters to cast their ballots up to a week before Election Day. Can you say electoral fraud? Sure you can. I don’t buy the higher turnout argument because now it’s fairly easy to get an absentee ballot. If I can make time to vote because it’s that important to me, others can sacrifice as well.

3. Increasing the state minimum wage $1 to $6.15 per hour. So, when the inevitable uptick in the unemployment rate comes of this, I’ll bet the Democrats blame Gov. Ehrlich for messing up the economy instead of their support of this artificial wage increase that squeezes business.

4. A juvenile justice bill that simply seems to create more red tape and regulation.

5. A bill that allows same-sex partners to make medical decisions for each other. Just another step toward legalizing gay marriage. But the Ehrlich administration claims they’re seeking a compromise, which means that he only gives away 3/4 of the store instead of 100%. Much like most other liberal programs, get the camel’s nose in the tent and pretty soon you have a humped roommate.

It’s going to be very interesting in Annapolis about two weeks hence. That’s going to really kick off the 2006 campaign. Ironically, Governor Ehrlich will be at a fundraising disadvantage for the 90 days of the legislative session as he cannot raise money during that period, while his Democrat opponents can. But he does have the advantage of a late primary (Maryland’s primary is in mid-September) so both Martin O’Malley and Doug Duncan can beat each other up all summer – unless the powers that be in the Democrat party convince one to drop out, or the Democrats game the election cycle and move the primary back to June.

But the Democrats would NEVER change the rules in the middle of the game, would they?

Hat tip accepted

Bill at Duvafiles didn’t link to me but the comment would.

The Empire writes back

Been sitting on this letter for a week or so as other items I see in and out of the news took precedence. But a week ago Saturday I got my reply to my letter to Congressman Gilchrest. I was shocked that it wasn’t a form letter, to be honest. It did look like he took the time to read it and understand my arguments to some extent.

So, to place it in context, I’ll put my letter in first. I’m surprised I didn’t put in on ttrwc, but I would have wanted to reshow it anyway with the changeover.

November 10, 2005

To: Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest

Re: HR 4241, Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 – provision for ANWR drilling

Congressman Gilchrest:

I was disappointed to read that you were one of 25 “moderate” Republicans who have threatened to hold up a bill that would begin a much-needed process of cutting federal spending because of its provision to begin drilling for oil in a small portion of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

It is only a short-sighted few who are opposed to beginning the process of oil exploration and recovery in this area. Meanwhile, a broad coalition of native Alaskans, energy experts, union workers, and a large swath of the general public frustrated with the rising cost of gasoline support taking advantage of a domestic oil supply. While the stocks of oil in ANWR certainly won’t be enough to fulfill all of our energy needs, it can serve as a bridge to a time when we will find alternative sources of energy. Your support of HR 6 earlier this year, while unpopular with a vocal minority of constituents, was a step in this direction.

However, the reality is, even with measures you’ve supported (such as raising the fuel economy standards for automakers) America finds itself in the dangerous position of having foreign oil producers supply a growing portion of the market. While Canada is a steady friend, the rest of our top 5 suppliers (Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia) contain anywhere from an unofficial to state-sponsored disdain of American policies and values.

Personally, I would like to see more done in the way of extracting oil from shale domestically and using more nuclear power to generate our electricity rather than a growing dependence on natural gas. For the foreseeable future, though, we are in a position where oil is the lifeblood of our economy. Thus, I urge that you rethink your opposition to ANWR drilling as part of a balanced and forward-looking total energy policy.

Additionally, I hope I can count on you to support the aim of the overall bill, which is to cut federal spending to reallocate those resources to victims of this year’s hurricanes. It is a prudent thing to cut the unnecessary to fund the priorities – hopefully it will also spur a look at where our priorities are set.

Sincerely,

Michael Swartz
Salisbury

And he wrote back:

December 6, 2005

Dear Mr. Swartz:

Thank you for your interest in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, HR 4241. This bill is commonly referred to as the “budget reconciliation” bill and was passed on the House floor on November 18, 2005.

I opposed the inclusion of language in HR 4241 authorizing oil and gas development in ANWR, in part, because ANWR is the largest area of unspoiled wilderness in the US. Among other wildlife species, it is home to the Porcupine caribou herd, and provides critical calving habitat for them. Exact oil reserves available on the refuge are unknown, but the median expectation projected by the US Geological Survey is about 10.3 billion barrels of oil. While this would imcrease US domestic production of oil, market analysts predict it could have only a minute impact on US energy prices.

This is because the US is the largest consumer of petroleum products in the world, using fully a quarter of annual globa supplies. Yet, we own only about 3 percent of total global oil reserves. In addition, many market analysts and geophysicists tell me the US either has or will soon peak in its available supply for oil production – meaning that supplies on the downside of that peak will never be able to meet emergency needs for oil in the future. The US currently imports 60% of its oil, and our demand for oil is projected to increase over 30% in 2025, especially in the transportation sector. Therefore, it seems unlikely that domestic oil production can meet even a small fraction of US oil demand in 7-12 years – when ANWR supplies may be available should development begin now. Our thirst for oil and the very small portion we own will continue to sustain significant oil imports and volatile prices until we can meaningfully replace it with renewable and alternative energy sources.

We will likely never again find a product so diverse and flexible – for energy and many other uses – than petroleum. The US must seriously invest in development and delivery of affordable, reliable energy from more diverse sources and must reserve its small supply of oil for the many other applications for which it is now or may be used – including roads, plastics, chemicals, and other products. I will continue to do all I can toward progressive energy policy that supports a wide range of alternative energy sources.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Sincerely,

Wayne T. Gilchrest
Member of Congress

Now, I did a little research on oil awhile back for a ttrwc post. By the time ANWR comes online, we’ll probably be consuming about 23 million barrels a day.

If you assume that ANWR does have the 10.3 billion barrels Rep. Gilchrest cited, that works out to 447 days’ worth of oil. I think this is the figure the anti-ANWR people cite. There are two problems with this assumption though. Number one is that it’s not a given that ANWR would be our sole source of oil. If I go under the assumption that the ANWR reserves per day would be depleted at the rate we import from our largest current foreign supplier (Canada’s 1.616 million barrels per day) then the figures grow to 6,374 days (or about 17 1/2 years.)

The second faulty assumption is that there’s only 10.3 billion barrels of oil in ANWR. We have no way of knowing this without further exploration. The current “best guess” ranges up to 16 billion barrels of oil that’s recoverable under current technology. There’s certainly nothing to indicate that the ANWR oil can’t be double or even triple this best guess – at best case it could last 40 years.

One other issue I have with Rep. Gilchrest’s logic regards the pristine environment, calving habitat, etc. When exploration is only going to take a small fraction of ANWR’s total area (the reserve occupies basically the entire northeast quadrant of Alaska) I think the caribou can find many a place to have little caribou. To hear environmentalists talk, oil drilling in ANWR would place derricks as far as the eye can see, and that’s simply untrue. For those of you familiar with Maryland, think of something that takes up the area of 2 of the 23 counties and imagine how small of an area that really is compared to the state as a whole. That’s at the high end of estimates for the oil industry impacted area.

As I stated in my letter to Rep. Gilchrest, we do need to explore other avenues of filling our energy needs. I’ve cited a couple that, while they’re not strictly renewable, they are certainly plentiful or very efficient given the amount of material used. There’s merit to continuing research into hydropower, wind, and solar energy, but I believe that research into those avenues are best conducted by private entities. The X Prize is one example – the incentive of $10 million to develop a renewable space vehicle was a very good one, and one that is evolving into other areas.

Once again, capitalism at work – it’s a beautiful thing! So let’s get to work in ANWR and continue to fuel the engine until we can use our ingenuity to figure out a better way.

Late edit: Here’s a photo of the ANWR area.

Isn’t that majestic scenery beautiful? Look at all the caribou!

The battle is joined

Looks like it’s time for the fight to begin. January 11th is just around the corner, and that’s the start date to our 90 days of lunacy known as the General Assembly session. At or near the top of the list is going to be the vote on overriding Governor Ehrlich’s veto of the so-called “Fair Share” bill.

I was reminded of this yesterday listening to the radio. I was working out and minding my own business when I heard a commercial. (Hopefully the link works, it’s the actual .mp3 file.) And it just so happens that Delegates Bozman and Conway are MY delegates.

So I laughed to myself and said, “well well well…looks like it’s time to take the fight to them.” Step number one is right here, I dashed off a letter to the Daily Times. As always, we’ll see if they have the balls to print it.

Yesterday I was listening to the radio and a commercial came on asking me to thank Delegates Bozman and Conway for their support for “fairness” – that concept being determined by their support of a particular piece of legislation.

After listening to that, I said to myself, “ok, the battle is joined now. It’s going to be the special interests and the money that they all but coerce out of their workers to put ads on the radio, against me and my words that I type on my computer and hope to have placed in the paper.” Luckily, I know that common sense and right are on my side.

Here’s why. When they speak of “fairness,” they forget to tell you that this bill is written against one particular multibillion dollar entity. Just one. It would be as if the rest of Maryland decided to levy a tax against the citizens of Salisbury for a real or perceived advantage they have over the remainder of the state.

In fact, their commercial never cites the entity by name, nor does it reveal the true source of the funds behind buying its time on the radio, simply billing itself as “Maryland for Health Care.”

Well, I live in Maryland and I’m for health care too (is there anyone who’s not?) But I’m not for using the power of the legislature for gaining an unfair advantage at the expense of a successful company. As a resident of their district, not some far-off national concern coming into Delmarva with slickly packaged radio ads, I strongly encourage Delegates Bozman and Conway to reconsider their previous stance and uphold Governor Ehrlich’s veto of “Fair Share.”

And I wonder what I’ll be doing this Friday afternoon when I get off work. Think I have a phone call or two to make. That’s step two.

Oh, as if it wouldn’t be patently obvious, “Maryland for Health Care” is a front organization for the Service Employees International Union. I suppose the SEIU decided that the United Food and Commercial Workers had put enough money into lobbyists and political contributions to the Democrats in Annapolis so it was their turn.

It’ll be a story to follow as the time gets closer. We’ll see if Maryland really wants to punish achievers, wipe out Somerset County’s bid for 800-1000 jobs, and show that special interests run the state. Considering which party has a stranglehold on the General Assembly, it’s pretty obvious what the answer will be. Even so, I’m not going to just sit idly by without making my feelings known. It’s time to fight.