Time to indulge our ‘Made in the U.S.A. consumerism

This is the sixth annual edition put out by the folks at the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

This is always a good post for Black Friday.

It’s been several years now since I scratched an itch to promote our American manufacturing by joining a (sadly ill-fated) venture called American Certified. One thing that short foray gave me, though, was a place on the mailing list of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a union-backed promoter of (you guessed it) American manufacturing. Its president Scott Paul is perhaps among those I’ve most quoted on this site, and arguably first among non-Maryland non-politicians.

The AAM has, over the last several years, created what they call their “Made in America Gift Guide.” It actually worked well hand-in-hand with an effort by the Patriot Voices group (the people who keep two-time Presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in the news on occasion) called the Made in the U.S.A. Christmas Challenge, but that challenge has seemed to go by the wayside, leaving AAM as the sole purveyor and promoter of American-made Christmas gifts.

This is year 6 for AAM and they picked at least one item from each state – 83 overall by my count. I thought Delaware’s selected entry this year was a little bit off the wall, but then again RAPA ships its scrapple around the country during holiday time (November to February.) It may not be the gift for everyone on your list, but I’m sure there are some who now live in other regions of the country who wouldn’t mind a taste of home.

But in a neat piece of irony (and no pun intended) the selected Maryland gift comes from an Eastern Shore company called Butter Pat Industries. Their claim to fame? Hand-crafted cast iron skillets, which have drawn the attention and raves from cooking aficionados. (That’s why I’ve never heard of them, since I burn water.)

Since I quote him so often, here’s what AAM’s Scott Paul had to say:

Everything on this year’s list is new, and many of the ideas came from readers like you.

We think there’s something for everyone on your gift list. Our team made sure to include a mix of items at a variety of price points.

If everyone in the United States spent $64 of their holiday budget on American-made products, it would support 200,000 new factory jobs! But we know it can be hard to find Made in America goods in big box stores or at the local mall.

By putting together this list, we hope to shine a spotlight on some great companies who support local jobs and their communities — and make it easier for folks like you to find great American-made gifts during the busy holiday season.

Scott Paul, Alliance for American Manufacturing press release, November 26, 2019.

Of course, they also strive to not repeat gifts from year to year so Delaware’s list has varied nicely over the years: baby accessories, unglazed cookware, handcrafted gifts and furnishings, Jell-O mix (!), and – of course – Dogfish Head ales. (Too bad they didn’t give the late lamented 16 Mile brewery the same love.) The Eastern Shore has also been represented in Maryland’s selection on a couple previous occasions, including Paul Reed Smith guitars.

So if one of your Christmas goals is to shop local, this guide is a pretty good place to begin. And the job you save may be that of someone you know.

Losing the middle class

Most of my readers know that, after months of speculation as to his fate, former Delaware Senator and Vice-President Joe Biden entered the 2020 tournament for the Democratic presidential nomination a couple weeks back.

I had the opportunity to find this out a little in advance as I’ve been on his American Possibilities e-mail list for awhile. Of course, that’s morphed into the Biden 2020 mailing list so now I get regular missives from him on a variety of topics. Most of them I ignore, but this one begged for a counterpoint. I’ll pick it up after the formalities and omit the appeals for money as I go point-by-point. He’ll be in italics and I’ll be in regular font since it works better than a blockquote.

Michael, this country wasn’t built by bankers, CEOs, or hedge fund managers. This country was built by the American middle class.

It’s nice that you know my name, Joe, and in many respects you are correct. But most “bankers, CEOs, or hedge fund managers” were once members of the middle class – they just used hard work, talent, and aptitude to rise above the rabble that may not have had those same priorities, abilities, or desire to succeed. And the country needs ditch-diggers, too: there’s no shame in hard work. America was built by this team effort.

But today, the middle class is under attack, and too many families are being left out. They are working longer hours for less pay.

That’s why I’m calling for a $15 minimum wage — so we can build an economy where everyone has a chance to get ahead. (Emphasis in original.)

An hour is really still 60 minutes, but I get the point. But it seemed to me that median wages were increasing faster than inflation was since your successor took office, and government figures bear me out. They also prove that the Trump administration is succeeding much better than your old boss in addressing the situation.

I’ll grant the numbers come in at the tail end of the Great Recession (on the cited chart they begin in 2010) but in constant dollars the time period from 2010-2016 saw a net increase of just $5 a week during that six-year period. Moreover, while women’s earnings increased $10, men’s earnings actually declined $2 a week in constant dollars (based on 1982-84.)

Conversely, under Trump men have increased by a full $10 in nine quarters and women are up $2. Overall, the numbers are up $6 despite a hiccup at the end of 2017 that saw a sharp decrease in all categories. In 2018-19 men are up $11 a week, women $4 a week, and overall we have gained $10 a week. (Remember, that’s in 1980’s-vintage constant dollars. In actual 2018-19 terms the numbers since the end of 2017 are $51 a week for men, $29 for women, and $44 overall. A full $20 of that overall figure came upon the enactment of the Trump tax cuts between 2017Q4 and 2018Q1.)

Given that the average wage is now $23.31 an hour (and has risen about $1.50 since Trump came into office): I think the middle class is doing pretty well in this economy. But let’s soldier on:

And Michael, I’m asking you to stand with me on this, Sign your name to call for an increase of the national minimum wage to $15:

No, you’re standing by yourself on this one, Joe. Aren’t I already on your mailing list anyway? (By the way, that was originally a link to the money page.)

The middle class isn’t a number — it’s a set of values. Owning your own home. Sending your kids to college. Taking care of your geriatric parents.

The cost of all of these things is rising. And wages? Those aren’t.

We need to fix that. (Emphasis in original.)

Didn’t I just prove that wages were rising? Surely not everyone has an equal bump in pay, but as a whole they are.

And let’s talk about these milestones, shall we? One huge issue for the Millennials is the student loan debt they carry thanks to a society (aided by government regulatory policies at all levels) which requires a college degree for most of the desirable jobs. But not every degree is created equal; hence you get the proverbial womyn’s history majors working part-time as a barista at Starbucks while many engineering majors make serious coin. (Moreover, a large percentage of STEM majors are foreign students – look at a list of graduates from any engineering program and you won’t see a lot of common American names.)

And why is college so expensive in the first place? Conveniently, this chart happens to go back to my senior year of college and is in constant 2015-16 dollars – so you can see how the cost has grown so much faster than inflation. It’s been almost twenty years since I set foot on the campus of my alma mater but even in that fifteen years between graduation and my last visit there was a LOT of building on that campus – mainly in the category of student amenities such as a recreation center and complete renovation of the student center. Yeah, there were a couple new academic buildings (and they were gutting and expanding the architecture department building at the time) as well but that’s not what really attracts the kids.

Add to that the multitude (as in growing at a rate twice as fast as student enrollment) of new administrators – who surely receive an upper-middle-class salary and benefit package – and you have the beginning of a rampant increase in costs.

But the kicker was finalized by your old boss. Once the government shifted from guaranteeing loans – a practice for which the modern incarnation began in the early 1990s as a pilot program under Bush 41 – to becoming the sole provider in 2010 as a codicil to the Obamacare act, schools had no incentive to keep costs in line – why not dip your greedy mitts into that sweet manna of taxpayer dollars and keep everyone working on campus fat and happy? They had their money, so who cared if the government didn’t get theirs? That was on the student!

So the graduates (if they finished at all) have no money for a house, which is why many millions still live at home. And since their Boomer parents seldom put enough away (perhaps because they’re still supporting Johnny and Sally) for retirement and old age – believing Social Security and Medicare would somehow be enough to cushion their lavish lifestyles – those Boomers and their kids got a rude awakening when it was time for long-term care: Medicare doesn’t cover it and Medicaid will help itself to your estate for reimbursement.

Maybe it’s time to reconsider how much the government has already “fixed” for the middle class here? And don’t worry, I didn’t forget about ol’ “Creepy Joe.” Here he is again:

We need to restore the basic bargain for Americans so that if you work hard, you are able to share in the prosperity your work helped create.

To do this, we need to start with paying fair wages from the beginning.

Joe, did you forget that the true minimum wage is zero? Chances are, if you work hard and learn the skills needed to succeed in the workplace, you won’t be a minimum-wage worker for long. Yes, you may have to relocate or do tasks you might think are “beneath” you, but there are still paths to success in America – even in states where the minimum wage is set to the federal minimum.

Honestly, if we wanted “fair” wages we would have no minimum wage. That would be the ultimate in fairness as you are paid what you are worth to the employer. Don’t forget: employers aren’t there to give you a job, they are working to make a profit for themselves. If that doesn’t suit you, there are many opportunities to be your own boss – be cautioned, though, that there’s a much smaller safety net underneath you. But you would definitely “share in the prosperity your work helped create.”

I’m asking you to speak up, with me, and call for a raise of the national minimum wage, as the first step of many to have the back of American workers.

I told you no once, Joe. Get the government off the back of American workers.

This is just the first step. I look forward to sharing more about my plan for America in the future. Stay tuned.

Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. When your plan consists of rightsizing government to conform to the Constitution – that would be a good first step. Until then, you’re just a guy who’s lived on the taxpayer dime for way too long.

You know, Joe, I was only six years old when you were first elected, and in that interim time I’ve worked in the private sector for thirty years or so. (For about fifteen of those I was paying off student loans – and that was only for about $10,000, plus scads of interest.) You made it all the way to vice-president, and I’ll give you props for dealing with the tragedies in your life. But arguably you have less in common with a working man than Donald Trump does, even though you talk a good game and he’s a billionaire or whatever. Trump took risks and had spectacular failures but he’s signed the front of checks for thousands of employees, too.

And comparing his economic record to that of your former boss – well, I don’t think there are too many who want to go back to that malaise. I know I don’t.

I don’t know what your domestic situation is, but I would be curious: what do you pay your hired help? Hopefully it was more than your charity giving once was.

Anyway, it was nice talking to you, Joe. Good luck in the debates – you’ll need it.

A better minor-league town

This definitely goes in a unique “stack of stuff” but to me it’s also a springboard to a relevant point. Plus it’s a dead week between Christmas and New Year’s so it’s not a political week.

If you go back to post number 2 – number one being the “soft opening” URL placeholder – in this long-running saga of my political thoughts and life in general, you will find it’s related to my hometown baseball team. So it is with this post, as Toledo was named the nation’s top minor league town.

The hometown rag had a good time with this, but if you read the piece you’ll see why Toledo was selected. And it’s worth mentioning something the writer of the original assessment said in the Blade story:

“They took a big risk coming back to downtown when they did, and deserve a lot of credit for the excitement in downtown revitalization,” said Birdwell-Branson, who recently moved to Toledo. “Essentially, it came down to this: Toledo is not Toledo without its Mud Hens or its Walleye.”

“Toledo ranked No. 1 among minor league sports towns”, Mark Monroe, Toledo Blade, December 12, 2018.

Just for context’s sake, Toledo, with its metro area of about 600,000 hardy folk, has two major professional sports teams. Most not under a rock have heard of the Mud Hens baseball team, in large part thanks to a guy best known as Max Klinger, the dress-wearing corporal in the TV series M*A*S*H. (Far fewer know him as Jamie Farr and only real trivia buffs – or Toledo natives – know him as Jameel Farrah, but that’s his real name.) While 507,965 made it out this season, it was a down year for attendance: the Mud Hens’ worst since moving to Fifth Third Field in 2002 and despite winning their first IL West title since 2007. (Perhaps eight losing seasons in a row prior to 2018 dampened enthusiasm.)

It could also be that some of their thunder was stolen by the Walleye, as the hockey team set new attendance records in the 2017-18 season and finished second in attendance in the 27-team ECHL, a league analogous to the AA level in baseball. Had their Huntington Center been larger, it’s likely they would have led the league in attendance as the Walleye averaged 102% of capacity. In 2018 the Walleye season didn’t end until early May when they lost in their division finals – they have won their ECHL division in the regular season four straight seasons – so there was an overlap between the two teams that may have cut the Mud Hens’ attendance.

In the minds of ownership, however, it doesn’t matter if the fans flock to Fifth Third Field or the Huntington Center because both are owned by the same entity: Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club, Inc. (The Walleye are owned by the subsidiary Toledo Arena Sports, Inc. They purchased the former Toledo Storm ECHL hockey franchise in 2007 and put the team on ice, as it were, until the Huntington Center was finished in 2009.) It’s a business entity with an interesting background:

The unusual ownership structure was inaugurated in 1965 when Lucas County formed a nonprofit corporation to buy and manage a team. A volunteer board of directors appointed by the county board of commissioners owns and operates the team, with the county as the ultimate financial benefactor.

“Toledo Mud Hens, Walleye reorganize top management”, Bill Shea, Crain’s Detroit Business, June 15, 2015.

In Toledo, then, Lucas County (Toledo is county seat) owns both the teams and the venues, which are conveniently within blocks of one another in downtown Toledo. Spurred on by government money, the county has also invested in Hensville, a renovation project taking existing adjacent building stock and creating an entertainment center with the ready-made prospect of 7,000 or more fans at an adjacent venue on about 100 nights a year, mainly on weekends in the winter and spring and any night during the summer. (Note this doesn’t count concerts and shows held several nights a year at Huntington.)

Now let’s compare our scenario: the recent (2015) addition of Sussex County, Delaware and Worcester County, Maryland to the existing Salisbury metro area gives it a population of about 390,000, about 2/3 of Toledo’s but spread over a much wider geographic area. This difference, as well as the disparity in levels as the Delmarva Shorebirds are three steps below the Mud Hens, more than likely explains why attendance for the Shorebirds is less than half that of the Mud Hens, barely eclipsing the 200,000 mark in 2018 as an all-time low. Moreover, even if Salisbury had a hockey team, as has been rumored for the past few years, it would probably be at the commensurate level to the Shorebirds, and at least one step below the ECHL.

On that note, the two most likely possibilities for pro hockey in Salisbury are the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), a 10-team league as currently comprised, and the Federal Hockey League (FHL), which has six teams at present. The SPHL is the more stable of the two, and has better-attended games: league average attendance for the SPHL is 2,870 so far this season compared to a puny 1,409 between the six FHL squads – but only two Federal League teams are solidly in a four-figure average; a third is at 1,010 per game.

Unfortunately, the travel scenario for a Salisbury-based SPHL team would be dicey: the league’s closest franchises are in Roanoke, Virginia and Fayetteville, North Carolina and both are just under six-hour trips; moreover, six of the ten teams lie in the Central Time Zone. The most likely way Salisbury could be added to the SPHL would be in a pairing with another expansion team along the East Coast and a switch to a format with two six-team (or three four-team) divisions. On the other hand, while the FHL is somewhat spread out over a geographic area ranging from upstate New York to North Carolina to Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, Salisbury is within the footprint and the league only schedules games on weekends, with one team generally playing two consecutive nights against the same opponent. Placing an eighth team in the Midwest would allow the league to have two four-team divisions (and possibly even adding a weeknight game within the four-team blocks, expanding the FHL’s current 56-game schedule. The schedule is similar in the SPHL; by comparison the ECHL plays a 72-game season.)

While the lack of a hockey team is a major stumbling block, the bigger issue is a lack of synergy between the two venues because they are several miles apart. And since a downtown location is out of the question for these facilities, the next best scenario to me would be to eventually replace one of the two facilities and move it adjacent to the other. Of course, having just spent millions of dollars of state and county money to repair both facilities as part of renovations requested in part by the Orioles (for Perdue) and a county study (for the WYCC), that’s not happening anytime soon, either.

So we have to make do with what we have. While it won’t necessarily be pedestrian-friendly, there is available land adjacent to both venues that could be developed into further entertainment options. In all honesty, there are pros and cons to development at both locations: the Hobbs Road site has great highway access and open land with infrastructure in place as it’s already annexed to the city. Would it be out of character with the area to have an urban-style development close by Perdue Stadium? Perhaps, plus there’s also the aspect of certain city leaders who seem to want all the entertainment options to be downtown and not develop the outskirts as a competitor.

On the other hand, redevelopment of the Old Mall site would be a welcome lift to that part of Salisbury but it’s not going to happen without a steady stream of events at the Civic Center, and minor league hockey seems to have the same level of fickleness as independent league baseball.

Every town is different, but I think Salisbury is missing out on some opportunities. I’m truly hoping that renovations in progress at Perdue Stadium bring out some of that entertainment district element and the WYCC gets that hockey team tenant to help fill the venue another 30 or so nights a year. It’s probably the best we can do for the immediate future.

Just in time for Cyber Monday…

I received this e-mail a couple weeks ago but decided to hang onto it until the time was right. So guess what? It’s right.

Over the last few years I’ve been familiar with the “buy American” group promoting our manufacturing base known as the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Since 2014 (which is about the time I became more acquainted with them – perhaps an odd coincidence) they have put out a Made in America Holiday Gift Guide, for which the latest rendition is here. (As they note: if you can’t find what you’re looking for, they link to the previous four editions at the end of this year’s list.)

While Delaware and Maryland are represented on the 2018 list, they opted to go across the C&D Canal and Bay Bridge for their featured products this year. Still, if you peruse the Guide you’ll notice a couple things: many of these entrepreneurs have unique niches for which they target their products, and while all of them are internet-based (obviously, as they are linked from a webpage) not many have a “brick and mortar” location. It’s a testament to the American entrepreneur that we have combined the vast selection and ease of package shipping into something where we need not even participate in Black Friday anymore – yet all will arrive at our doorstep before Christmas.

Meanwhile, despite the fact the Patriot Voices group has curtailed its activities over the last couple years (insofar as it began as a vehicle to keep former Senator and two-time presidential candidate Rick Santorum in the stream of social conservative consciousness) they are still promoting their annual Made in the USA Christmas Challenge. As they argue:

Did you know that a large percentage of our Christmas gift dollars go overseas? For every $1 we spend in the USA on manufacturing, $1.81 will be added to the economy. That is a great deal!

Sometimes it is simply difficult to find products made in the USA. The next best thing would be to buy local. Support the small businesses and workers in your own community.

As yesterday was Small Business Saturday, it’s not too fine a point to note that, while large mega-retailers make headlines as teetering on the brink of insolvency if their Christmas season isn’t completely boffo, the same holds true for locally-owned shops but they fly under the radar. You don’t know they’re gone until you show up there one day and the store is dark.

Several years ago I began this little side hustle of talking about manufacturing because I was working for a now-defunct enterprise called American Certified, which perhaps was an idea before its time since the AAM also has a page for products made in America which are submitted by members of the public. There’s just not a cut of the action for AAM (insofar as I know, anyway) and I don’t write for their website. But it also points out the long-standing desire to support American-made products, which used to be the norm before industry cut and ran for far-flung points around the globe in the last half-century. A new generation of entrepreneurs might be turning back the clock, though, and that’s a move we can all support.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday we have what’s become known as Giving Tuesday. To delve slightly into the political, the Joe Biden-backed American Possibilities group has called on its supporters to instead take some time to give to the firefighters in California through the International Association of Fire Fighters Disaster Relief Fund.

Today, as we enjoy the warmth of our homes and the presence of our loved ones, we have the opportunity to help these heroes get back on their feet.

The union-based charity “Provides financial assistance to members living in disaster areas who have also experienced losses of their own and has provided more than $5 million dollars in assistance since its inception.”

For a more religious perspective, my friends at iVoterGuide have turned their attention from preparing for the next election cycle to helping out their favored charity.

As shoppers prepare for hitting the malls on Friday and grabbing online savings on “Cyber Monday,” a shift is being consciously made by many to turn the Tuesday after Thanksgiving into a national day of giving known as #GivingTuesday. We embrace this idea at iVoterGuide, and our staff is taking part in Operation Christmas Child — a project of Samaritan’s Purse. It’s an easy way to share the Gospel and help the needy.

They also had a little word for themselves:

Finally, if you would like to give back to iVoterGuide, we would appreciate you praying about any organizations or people with whom you might be able to connect us as we prepare for the 2020 elections. Might you know of an organization who would like to join our coalition of partners so that we can cover more down ballot races in more states? Do you know of someone who would like to help sponsor coverage of their state legislative races or support the work of iVoterGuide?

I was one of those who helped cover the Maryland races, and it was a neat experience. The good thing about Maryland is that they only have federal elections in 2020 (meaning the same amount of coverage for iVoterGuide that they had this time) which hopefully will lead to enhanced coverage of state races in 2022. It’s a long way from Cyber Monday, but sometimes the things we do today are only realized months or years later.

Hopefully any stuff you acquire won’t already be ignored in someone’s closet by then.

2018 Autumn Wine Festival in pictures and text

Just like the Good Beer Festival last week, my photographic series on the Autumn Wine Festival returns after a three-year hiatus. And like the GBF, a lot has changed over the last three years, but not necessarily for the better. The best thing is that it gives me a break from political posts.

Once again, I can allow the captions to help tell the story.

As we arrived about 1:30, the party was already underway despite a blustery, chilly Sunday.

I’m not going to have a ton of photos this year. Unlike other years when I was somewhat of a captive to the event as the guy who coordinated the GOP tent for almost a decade and hence was there almost the entire time, this time I was a “civilian” who was simply serving as DD for my wife and generally just tagged along for about 2 1/2 hours Sunday – enough to get a flavor of the place. So a lot of my photos were taken of the two bands I saw as part of an upcoming WLR segment.

Speaking of political hostages…

Notice anything missing? The Democrats didn’t have a tent – however, they were not the only ones baring it in the sunshine.

This was the Democrats’ space. In looking at it in the photo, I’m wondering how much extra property they took outside the 10′ x 15′ square you’re usually assigned to get all those signs up – including perhaps the only two Ben Jealous signs in Wicomico County. (Okay, I’m kidding on Jealous – but I don’t think I’m kidding by much.) But seriously – it looks like they are way outside their boundaries.

Shawn Jester (behind table), Woody Willing, and a little of my finger were representing for the GOP.

By comparison, the GOP wasn’t overstepping by too much. They had a reasonable business going, but not spectacular. Nor did I see a whole bunch of folks at the competing spaces for Bo McAllister and Chris Welch. I got Welch’s space in the photo below.

On the left is the tentless space of Chris Welch, whose crew abandoned the tent on Sunday morning thanks to the high winds.

I thought I caught McAllister’s tent in a shot but it turns out I did not. It was just to the right of this photo, and you can see the dearth of people on this side.

Just off the right side of the photo would have been Bo McAllister’s tent. By the time 3:30 rolled around this end was about dead.

I’m looking up toward the food court here. The arrangement was somewhat similar to the GBF as far as the food and stage were concerned.

I will say the food selection was excellent. I tried a place called The Street Kitchen, which is the white truck way off in the background of the shot – good pulled pork and outstanding slaw some may kill for. Come on back to the next festival!

Unlike last week, those who wanted to sit and watch the game on a comfy couch were indulged. Or maybe they had the Hallmark Channel on, I dunno.

One thing I did before piecing this post together was read my previous posts (2007-15) from the AWF. (2007 was the first year I worked it, so the cool thing is the institutional knowledge – which will get even better when I dig up the photos missing from a couple of those years.) Once upon a time they had a VIP area, so I wonder why they did away with it?

The real VIP area on this day would have been smack dab in front of this fireplace. If you could see the stage from this spot I think there would have been a whole cast of people camped out there – including me!

Here is another vendor who can come back. I walked by there coming in and felt the heat.

I noted the stage in my last caption. These are views looking toward the front of the stage at 3:00 and 3:30.

They were already beginning to camp out in front of the stage by 3.

I’m looking down from the south end of the winery tents toward the stage. People had pretty much vanished from the end tents by 3:30-4:00.

Even the lines to the porta-potties were practically non-existent by the time we left, right around 4:00. To be perfectly honest, the vendors could have packed it in about 3:30 and Kim said a couple were.

So I took some shots of signs and wine bottles I liked.

Love the play on a phrase.

New variations on the old Gollywobbler theme. It’s a popular drink.

The old sun + wine bottles shot, in this case courtesy of il Dolce Winery.

Olney Winery had the neatest bottles, though.

In speaking to a vendor (in this case, the wife of a candidate) I was told they had 2,400 people there Saturday – in that case it seems like a down crowd. Granted, it was cloudy but it was also about 10 degrees warmer and about 1/4 as windy. According to the vendor application, though, the county expects an attendance of 3,500 for the weekend.

So I think they were probably about there, and even though I’m not a great judge of crowds it’s sort of sad to see the lowered expectations. In doing some digging I found out the event eight years ago drew 4,651 (and the first-ever GBF had 2,378.) But the problem for the vendors is that they need to sell probably a net $500 worth of merchandise just to cover all the fees associated with the event, let alone make up for the time. My older pictures of the event show long rows of vendor tents, but this year’s had some large gaps in them.

And when you think about it, what is the county providing? It’s their property, but it’s paid for. You have to pay for two nights of security and rent of generators for a couple days as well as pay the talent and for the printing of the tickets, I know this (as well as the GBF) is supposed to be a fundraiser, so then the question becomes how cheap is too cheap?

I’m a guy and I don’t drink wine, so right there I seem to be eliminated from their target audience as Women Supporting Women is a lead sponsor. But I am also the DD for someone who is in their target audience, so you may want to rethink a couple things next year.

In the more immediate future I’m thinking you’ll see two WLR posts over the weekend as I clear out that docket.

How much will it cost? (Part four of a multi-part series)

Since I was talking about the minimum wage in part three and the focus on the Ben Jealous “Make It In Maryland” plan was getting long in the tooth, I decided to split the piece in two and focus on the remaining items as a series of bullet points in this portion. While I wasn’t truly intending to space it that far, it does make for a good Labor Day post.

So these are the remaining topics in his MIIM plan, listed as a series of points I’ll respond to one at a time.

  • Creating a Governor’s Office of Tech Transfer
  • Better Retaining and Supporting Maryland’s Entrepreneurs
  • Reclaiming Maryland’s Position in Biotech and Life Sciences
  • Ensuring Prosperity Reaches Everyone By Tackling Chronic Unemployment
  • A Job Boosting Program For Every Marylander Who Wants To Work
  • Ending Youth Unemployment And Underemployment
  • Boosting Employment For The Formerly Incarcerated
  • Reviving Maryland’s Rural Communities
  • Making Maryland A Center Of Global Commerce
  • Connecting Workers To Jobs With A 21st Century Transportation Plan

Office of Tech Transfer: Jealous begins this section by citing a number of vague, subjective statistics, including this howler straight from the Joe Biden School of Spelling:

The top five states for cybersecurity deals in quarter 1 of 2018 were California, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas.

These states are also bigger than Maryland, and have various industries and factors which may give them a natural advantage. Regardless, while it’s unknown just how large this OTT will be or where it’s placed on the pecking order, the biggest cost might be the freedom to elude red tape, to wit:

Help to coordinate infrastructure and development policy, including multimodal and active transportation infrastructure, smart growth land use planning, mixed-use development, and gigabit internet to create the urban fabric and connections that give rise to an innovation ecosystem.

I truly have issues with that sort of mission creep and interference with both local government and the private sector. As envisioned it seems to be more than just a clearinghouse that could be useful in coordinating a limited area of policy.

Maryland’s entrepreneurs:

While Jealous paints a picture of a state that’s not inclusive enough…

Ben Jealous will create the innovation environment that will enable more locally grown companies to grow and stay in Maryland. Ben Jealous will also consider whether rules related to bonding for contractors can be eased to enable more entrepreneurs to access contract work and remove  unnecessary barriers. He will also work to make entrepreneurship more inclusive in Maryland. For example, black women are the most likely of any population group to become entrepreneurs, but they are the least likely to receive funding.

Ben Jealous will create a more level playing field to ensure this changes. As governor, Ben Jealous has also committed to raising women and minority business targets in the state to levels that better reflect equal representation. 29% is just far too low when 50% of our population are women and nearly 50% identify as minority. In order to support creation of these businesses, Ben Jealous has pledged to work with lenders who have a history of inclusive lending to support their models, identify additional strategies to capitalize businesses, and review bonding requirements for contractors that may pose unnecessary barriers.

…if you ask actual entrepreneurs they may say the problem is a little different.

For several years I was the recipient of a steady diet of updates from a company called Thumbtack.com – it’s actually a listing of entrepreneurs who provide various services. Over that period they have done a survey of business friendliness, which – even though I haven’t noticed the updates – has continued to this day and shows Maryland has been on an upward trajectory. But while Maryland has rebounded from failing grades to a B+ in Thumbtack’s 2018 survey, the one category they still receive a big fat F in is the tax code. That’s not on the Jealous agenda.

I don’t look at who owns a business, I look at the job they do – and so do most others. All affirmative action does is plant a seed in the mind of people who ask: did they get the job on their merits or because they checked a box of government approval someplace?

Oh, and one more thing:

Another critical part of changing our business culture in Maryland also is support new and emerging types of business ownership, including employee-owned businesses, worker co-ops, and other democratically-owned and operated businesses. These organization types are critical for challenging the notion that ownership of a business must concentrate profits in the hands of a few, and these organization types can open up the benefits of business ownership to many more individuals.

Whether a business is employee-owned or not – one good reasonably local example of employee ownership is the Redner’s grocery chain, which has very nice stores based on my experiences working in them a few years back in a previous career – doesn’t matter to me. But the fact Jealous opposes the “notion that ownership of a business must concentrate profits in the hands of a few” when it’s truly none of the state’s damn business is troubling.

Biotech and Life Sciences: This is mostly a series of platitudes whining about how Maryland has fallen from the top position, particularly behind Massachusetts which “made large investments in biotechnology through tax breaks, grants, and funding infrastructure.” That’s their taxpayers on the hook, so whatever.

If I were to make a suggestion for state encouragement, why not promote the area of biotech that deals with the agriculture industry? People tend to think of this as an urban phenomenon, including those at the state Department of Commerce as agribusiness is last among its “key industries.”

But maybe Jealous should read the state’s website because there’s already a program in place.

Chronic Unemployment: Aside from a vague pledge to “engage stakeholders” and conduct yet another useless study, Ben wants to throw more money at EARN Maryland (reversed as “Maryland EARN” in the Jealous plan), Operation HIRE (aimed at veterans), and the Maryland Apprenticeship and Training Program. While none would be large expenses, one has to wonder if having these disparate programs is very efficient and effective.

Job Boosting Program: To make a long story short, it’s a hiring program to create more state and state-dependent workers. Jealous cites a study done by the Department of Legislative Services that cites a chronic shortage of workers necessitated by budgetary reality. But the source material for the study makes me question its sincerity:

Research for the study consisted of data gathered from various documents; workload trend data; agency site visits; and meetings with the representatives of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and AFSCME employees. (My emphasis.)

It’s also worth noting that the number of employees the executive branch has been “shorted” is nearly matched by the number of additional positions at higher education, where staffing has increased 23% from 2002-18 (Executive Branch staffing is down 9.6% in that period.) Honestly, I don’t think we have a neutral referee doing this study. Needless to say, many of these new workers will be quickly absorbed into the public-sector union, which is, I’m sure, their quid pro quo for AFSCME support.

Youth Unemployment: Jealous would expand the YouthWorks program in Baltimore City to a statewide program and make internships or part-time jobs part of the public school curriculum. It seems to me the YouthWorks would be better tailored to a county or city level (one reason being: the city of Salisbury has a similar program in conjunction with the local Junior Achievement branch.) So the opportunities are already there.

As for the school curriculum, this is a matter where public schools could compete when it comes to school choice.

Formerly incarcerated: I believe Jealous is going to work along these lines by “banning the box” in private-sector employment (meaning applications cannot inquire about criminal record) and adding incentives to hire formerly incarcerated – however, there are private-sector employers already doing so. I believe this should be on a case-by-case basis and not a mandate.

Rural communities: The message from Ben Jealous: you can grow, but only a little bit and only on our terms. Developed areas can retain their advantage because we won’t let you compete.

Smart growth and conservation policies that Ben Jealous will promote will help Maryland to restore its reputation as a one that protects its most valuable natural resources, from farmland, to the Chesapeake Bay, to mountains, forests, and beaches. When our natural resources in land, water, and air are cared for, rural places are able to thrive as producers of agricultural products, thriving tourism centers, and choice places to live. In a 21st century economy, rural economies are also transitioning into being producers of clean energy, like solar and wind farms. Land in rural areas near existing development and infrastructure can be repurposed or ethically developed to host clean tech manufacturing, data centers, and other 21st century economic engines. Finally, rural economies are powered by small businesses, and, with proper support for early stage businesses throughout rural Maryland, these small businesses will continue to multiply and grow.

Basically, this is an extension of the MOM era where most agricultural land would be placed off-limits to development (except for solar panels and wind turbines, which are neither reliable nor desirable sources of energy). And say what you will about “low-impact tourism” – I will show you the difference between the economic base that is Ocean City in the summer season against whatever is drawn by Blackwater being a wildlife refuge. That’s not to say that I’m not glad we have the industry we do here, but we shouldn’t say no to more traditional development even if it’s placed in a more rural area.

This also ignores the transportation needs of this region, such as a second (southern) Chesapeake Bay crossing and, in cooperation with Delaware, an interstate-grade highway connection north to I-95.

As governor, Ben Jealous would provide additional funding to the state’s cooperative extension programs to develop technical assistance programs providing support to farmers transitioning into the 21st century marketplace. This would include linking urban agriculture and food production businesses with rural agricultural businesses, so Maryland families, restaurants, and commercial producers can conveniently access an abundance fresh agricultural products grown right here in Maryland.

If you were a savvy farmer, wouldn’t you already be doing this? Why is it a state concern?

We also have the talk of expanding broadband, the means of which is already in place here in Maryland as a non-profit cooperative. It will be interesting to compare their process and progress with Delaware, which is using more of a PPP approach for rural portions of Kent and Sussex counties.

Global commerce: Mainly deals with expanding Foreign Trade Zones around the Port of Baltimore. As the center of the local poultry industry that sends chicken products around the globe, I wonder why Salisbury couldn’t have one? Perhaps because it’s a federal designation. Jealous exhibits his Baltimore-centric view (and a little bit of ignorance) with this one.

A 21st Century transportation plan: The first page of this is devoted to Jealous whining about the cancellation of Baltimore’s Red Line boondoggle and Larry Hogan’s changes to Baltimore’s bus service. I think it’s hilarious how a 21st century transport plan uses the strategy and limitations of 19th century technology by advocating for more usage of the light rail service money pit.

And then we get to this:

Complete streets policies build thriving and prosperous communities by ensuring that the design of roads and other facilities is safe and convenient for pedestrians, business patrons, cyclists, and all other road users. As governor, Ben Jealous will make Maryland a complete streets leader by ensuring that ample funding is directed to local communities through the complete streets and other programs like Maryland Bikeways, and by ensuring that the Maryland adopts the most progressive complete streets policy possible.

So we cater to the 2% of travelers who use alternate means of transportation – ones that aren’t nearly as convenient and useful at a time such as this moment with a thunderstorm overhead – at the expense of the 98% who would like to get where they wish to go as quickly and conveniently as possible. This also works hand-in-hand with the effort to pack people into the urban areas, leaving vast wildlife corridors for critters to traverse.

Aside from a means of taxation in some states, those who crave control hate cars because they equate to freedom of movement and less restriction on behavior. If it’s 6:30 and I want to be at a 7:05 ballgame, I’m not going to ride my bike or walk – and sure as heck ain’t going to consult the Shore Transit routes to see if any run and stop close by. I have a car and I’m going to drive it.

Most of us do not want to be at the mercy of someone else’s schedule, which is why driving is the predominant means of personal transport in the nation. People like Jealous don’t like that, so rather than make driving easier they would rather discourage it.

If you really want a 21st century transportation plan, make it easier to use that freedom of movement by improving the roads. Promote entrepreneurship by giving less of a hassle to services like Lyft, Uber, or whatever competes with them rather than try and regulate them like taxicabs, making an artificial market the locality can use to create revenue. And rather than create the incentives for employers to encourage their employees to commute, perhaps they should instead encourage the use of remote work where possible. Given the proper broadband connection to my work server and to my boss, I could reasonably do much of my job at home.

So for this segment I can’t tell you just what the Jealous agenda will cost in monetary terms, but it’s going to cost the taxpayer a lot to wander down some pathways better trod by private initiative.

I think I’m going to put this series on hiatus for a little while, since I have a couple other projects I’d like to concentrate on. Thus, I may not get to everything on the Jealous agenda but I think you probably get the picture anyway. So I’ll see if I’m ready to resume by month’s end or not.

How much will it cost? (Part three of a multi-part series)

Despite the fact he’s trailing by sixteen points in the latest poll, I still think it’s worth the time to dissect the policy proposals of Democrat gubernatorial hopeful Ben Jealous. In recent days, he’s reshuffled his priority list, displacing his previous #1 priority of education and replacing it with a jobs agenda he calls “Make It In Maryland.” As always, though, the devil is in the details.

Jealous begins by complaining that we have fallen behind Virginia in something called the New Economy Index. It turns out, interestingly enough, that Maryland is the bottom of the three states comprising the Delmarva region – although being on the bottom is still sixth-ranked in the nation. Here’s what the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said about our three states:

Virginia comes in fourth with some of the fastest-growing companies in the country, and its proximity to the nation’s capital attracts high-skilled workers for the numerous R&D-focused firms in the region. Fifth-place Delaware is perhaps the most globalized of states, with business-friendly corporate law that attracts both domestic and foreign companies and supports a high-wage traded service sector…Sixth-ranked Maryland holds its place among the leaders primarily because it has a high concentration of knowledge workers, many employed with the federal government or with federal contractors in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

In theory, then, a downturn in federal government employment would hit both Maryland and Virginia hard, displacing them from the top tier of the rankings. But the bulk of his “Make It In Maryland” outline speaks to something federal workers seldom have to endure: working for minimum wage. Over the next five years, Jealous would increase the minimum wage in Maryland to $15 an hour for regular workers, with tipped employees reaching the plateau three years afterward.

While Jealous claims that a $15 per hour minimum wage would increase the pay for 573,000 Maryland workers, such a raise would place those just over that threshold at risk for a significant decrease in their standard of living. After all, the extra expense businesses would have to shoulder would have to come from someplace, and that someplace generally lies in two regions: increasing prices or decreasing labor costs by lopping off the least productive or lowest-skilled employees. As I often say, the true minimum wage is zero, from being jobless.

In a properly functioning marketplace, the wage one makes is just a shade less than the amount of value that employee creates – the small difference keeps the business profitable and viable. Obviously this is a relatively subjective category, best expressed by those who work on a straight commission and/or own their own business. And it doesn’t always take a lot of skill: for example, not to pick on landscapers but doing yard work isn’t the most highly skilled job – however, it is time-consuming so there’s a market of people who don’t want to take the time and effort to maintain their lawns that’s being met by entrepreneurs of all sizes who make it their job to take care of yards.

In fact, my first job was helping my brother take care of an older lady’s lawn – for 2 to 3 hours of work after school once a week I was paid the princely sum of $5. Luckily we could ride our bikes there – about 2 miles – and we used her lawnmowers and gas can filled with $1 a gallon gas. So it was not a high-skill job but it was one she was too old and frail to do, so she found two teenage boys willing to do it. That was the value to her, since she wasn’t able to perform it herself. And as it turned out, if we were efficient I would come close to making the minimum wage, which at the time hovered around $3 an hour. (Since my brother got $10 for riding the tractor to do a maybe 3/4 acre yard while I did the trimming with the push mower, he was already making minimum and then some.)

My second job was somewhat similar, but there was a catch. For most of three academic years I made minimum wage working in the dining halls at college. If we were busy, I was creating value by ensuring the cafeteria maintained a stock of clean dishes. On the other hand, if it was early in the shift all of us standing around were a money pit. The same was true at my first job out of college, working in a department store – again, for minimum wage. If there was a customer I could assist in some way and that customer made a purchase, well, I was creating value for Hudson’s. If not, I was a money pit. Luckily, I had acquired a good education so my time there was short – just weeks later I had my first architectural job, one that I spent four years at college learning the ropes to secure. In turn, I got quite the education learning in the workplace. In the next half-decade through on-the-job training I went from being a ink-on-mylar draftsman to a CAD operator (way back with AutoCAD version 11) which made me more valuable to them. Increasing skills and knowledge to maximize production: that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Conversely, if you artificially raise the wage without getting a corresponding increase in value, do you know what you get? Kiosks at McDonalds or self-service checkouts at Walmart. Unfortunately, those were among the jobs that people in my generation got to grasp as the first rung on the ladder, but increasing the minimum wage is going to leave those people behind – particularly in areas where the wage support isn’t already present. (There are places in the state where $15 an hour is pretty much a de facto minimum, particularly in the DC area.) In any case, increasing the minimum wage isn’t going to help very much in areas with persistent unemployment because there’s little there with which to create value.

But one place increasing the minimum wage will help? State coffers. While some will lose their jobs, I’m sure the Jealous campaign is banking on enough income being created out of whole cloth to help grease the wheels on some of their other pipe dreams. So I honestly don’t know what it will cost, but I’m sure we will all pay the price nonetheless.

Now, there’s actually more to this section than just the minimum wage. But I liked this here piece so much that I decided to split “Make It In Maryland” in two and cover the rest next time.

Thoughts on 3rd Friday – April 2018 edition

The beauty of having a blog is that I don’t have to be in any hurry to post what, to others, may be old news by now.

Yes, this month’s Third Friday is a hazy weekend past and normally about this time I would be starting my wrapup of the monthly Republican Club meeting. But since I don’t play as much in the political game (and I had a previous commitment anyway) I was someplace else tonight. (Apparently I missed the annual legislative wrapup this evening, but it doesn’t matter because I’m working on the real legislative wrapup called the monoblogue Accountability Project. What do you think I spent a good part of my weekend doing?)

Digression aside, on Friday evening the family and I went downtown for a little while to see what we could see.

Looking west down Main Street as the sun starts to sink on downtown Salisbury.

The parking lots were about full, but it didn’t seem like that translated into a lot of people on Main Street. It was a nice gathering, but I’ve seen wall-to-wall people down there, too.

The wares of Zockoll Pottery.

One business that has seemed to be down there month after month is Zockoll Pottery. Now I’m a little biased because I know Brent through church, but he’s quite the artisan and even tossed a little bit of clay while he was down there. His business is slowly recovering from a fire that damaged his studio around the holidays.

At the top of the Plaza hill looking east down Main Street.

As I strolled up Main Street to the top of the hill, it seemed to me the crowd was a little thinner. Granted, we arrived about 6:30 or so, thus the sun was going down and it was cooling off rapidly. Also, there’s been a bit of a change in the setup where the area that’s being closed off has increased to the first block of Market Street so the focus of Third Friday is geographically shifting a bit to the west.

This is the forgotten corner of Third Friday, down St. Peter Street.

The photo probably doesn’t do this justice, but this is where the bubbles were coming from. Sometimes there’s been a food truck down there but this is also where the Jaycees sell the beer. It’s an unusual setup to have such a large open container section since there are two blocks of space where people may imbibe.

The band of the month was a staple local cover band called Tranzfusion.

The musical choice was one of the more unusual ones – normally they don’t do a straight-ahead classic pop cover band. Normally they choose something in a more alternative or acoustic vein, but these guys kept a decent crowd nearby. Wasn’t completely my thing but that’s quite all right.

Back in the day Third Friday used to be more ambitious with multiple music groups on two or three stages, but in recent years they’ve settled on the single stage of the Plaza for music and maybe some other act (like a youth dance group) on the courthouse steps. One thing that I’m going to be curious about regarding downtown development is whether Third Friday will eventually be relocated to focus the music on the amphitheater that’s under construction – alas, that location doesn’t leave a lot of space for artisans unless they are placed across the river.

Not much was up on North Division Street this particular Third Friday.

The event that would make good sense based around the amphitheater is the “Fridays at Five” event (like the last one from 2017 that I attended in this North Division Street location.) That is a gathering where such a focal point would enhance the event. (The same goes for First Saturday, which I’ve always managed to miss. Half the time it’s held inside anyway.) I think there will be some events held in and around the amphitheater this summer as a dry run for the National Folk Festival.

Suzanah Cain, running for District 4 County Council, was one of several candidates at Third Friday. By the way, she’s not in the photo because she was circulating as a good politician would.

While Third Friday’s physical location lies just outside the district, both County Council District 4 hopefuls were pressing the flesh. I saw Josh Hastings out walking around, while I got to at least introduce myself to Suzanah Cain before I left. At the time she was standing with the guy in the ultimate catbird seat, Delegate Carl Anderton. (The third in the confab was one of my favorite Democrats, Sarah Meyers – so it was a reach across the aisle.) Also making his rounds was Clerk of Courts candidate Bo McAllster, who I saw for the second time in less than a week. He had his wife and two kids in tow.

One place I didn’t stop by and say hello was the Republican Women’s booth. (Honestly, I’m not sure which of the two local groups was there. I’m sure someone reading this would tell me and break my you-know-whats for not dropping in.) But this was while I was still walking with Kim – shortly after she stopped and I kept going until I got to the band – only to turn around and see she was talking to Carl Anderton, who I had seen a couple minutes earlier and said hello to walking by. (Turnabout is fair play, I suppose.)

Anyway, we checked out the scene and departed as things were already breaking down about a half-hour before the scheduled (but informal) 8:00 close of festivities. Seeing them bail early was the second part of the foundation of my theory that the crowd was less.

A final thought: in years past this particular Third Friday date would have been a lead in for Pork in the Park. But for just the second time in over a dozen years, there was no Pork in the Park in April. (In 2014 it was held in May because it would have fallen on Easter weekend.) A few months back Wicomico County finally decided to pull the plug on that event to concentrate on the WIcomico County Fair, which is held in the same location.

You could couple that somewhat official excuse with the cyclical nature of food-related events. Even the venerable old Delmarva Chicken Festival that had dated from the 1940s ran out of time a few years ago and was – ironically – folded into the former Wicomico Farm and Home Show and rebranded as our county fair in 2015. It’s sad because Pork in the Park was one of my favorite weekends of the year until they ruined it by being greedy. That began in 2012, which was the year they alienated half their food vendors, and then a couple years later Pork in the Park doubled down by charging a hefty admission fee. Anyway, to get a “do you remember when” back when Pork in the Park was a premier event, here is a nice walk around video from 2012 (with a cameo from Jonathan Taylor of Lower Eastern Shore News – watch from the beginning and you’ll see him.) After those spectacular failures and the loss of the KCBS competition, it was never the same. Even worse, the event that succeeded it with KCBS (Pig and a Jig, down in Snow Hill) also seems to be no more.

But the demise of Pork in the Park and the former Salisbury Festival a few years apart means that two staple events of the so-called spring shoulder season are no more. The Wicomico County Fair is held in the traditional late-summer slot one would associate with a county fair, while the Salisbury Festival is being rebranded as the Downtown Salisbury Festival and they will try it in early June, when the june bugs are in OC.

With those cautionary tales in mind, we will see how Third Friday fares as the years go on. Has it reached its peak like all these other events did?

One place gets it right

If you’ve been keeping up with my infrequent musings of late (admittedly, it’s not hard to do) you’ll probably know that I’ve been keeping an eye on the struggle to bring common-sense, job-creating right-to-work legislation to Delaware – as has the national internet site The Daily Signal.

On that front I bring you some good news and some bad news: first, the bad news.

As a prospective resident of Sussex County, I was dismayed to find out that the County Council there is four shades of gutless. That represents the four County Council members who let the vague threat of lawfare scare them into rejecting a bid to make the county the first in the state and region to become a right-to-work county. Only Rob Arlett, who represents District 5 – a district that takes in much of the southern third of the county, including Delmar, Millsboro, and Fenwick, but not Laurel – voted for the measure he sponsored.

Granted, the ink wouldn’t have been dry on the ordinance before Big Labor found a friendly judge to slap a TRO on it (and that would have been done out of Wilmington or Philadelphia, since there’s not a ton of union presence in Sussex County) but it also would have allowed a second circuit to rule on the law, just as the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that covers Kentucky ruled favorably on a county-level law there. (Later, the entire state adopted right-to-work legislation.) Since Delaware is in the Third Circuit and it’s fairly dominated by Democrat appointees, it’s likely they would have ignored the Tenth Amendment and found some excuse to thwart the county’s will. (Bear in mind that the County Council didn’t seem to object on the aims of the law but only the fact it would create a legal hassle.) Yet once two circuits come to a split decision, the next step is the SCOTUS and maybe this is a good time for them to decide on it.

So it was left to the town of Seaford to accomplish what their larger governmental unit could not, approving a right-to-work ordinance in December that was announced today. Good for them, and that was definitely good news.

And it may well be good for them. The timing was probably coincidental, but it was also announced today that a former industrial plant in the city would be getting new life as an intermodal rail and truck facility. So if you figure there’s going to be needed renovations that create construction jobs as well as a handful of jobs for distributing the freight from railcar to tractor-trailer and vice versa, that could be the difference between sitting at home making a wage of zero and working for someone making a reasonably decent wage. It could even be a union shop, with the key difference being that not everyone would be forced to join or pay dues.

Here’s the thing. What unions seem to be most afraid of isn’t the fact that they would have to compete and sell new workers on the benefits of joining, but the prospective loss of political power they would suffer if the number of dues-paying members drops off. Wisconsin is a good example of this: the unions’ dues-paying rolls are off 40 percent since right-to-work legislation passed in 2011.

(As an aside, isn’t it interesting that union members have time to go picket and speak at public meetings? So who is doing their jobs?)

Assuming the Seaford measure isn’t taken to court, which it probably will be for the reasons stated above, perhaps more businesses can help boost Seaford’s bottom line. Unlike a lot of other similar-sized towns, they have the slight advantage of having infrastructure for growth already in place thanks to a number of shuttered or underutilized industrial sites left over from the days it was the “nylon capital of the world.” I’m sure they don’t care if they get back to making nylon, or even if they’re the capital of anything – they just want to thrive.

While Big Labor may beg to differ, even the average union guy on the street knows the true minimum wage is zero. And in an area that cries out for good-paying jobs, why not make yourself as attractive as possible to secure them?

Making Maryland’s employers sick

As would be expected from a body that’s never passed up on a chance to saddle Maryland’s business community with more dictation and regulation, the Maryland General Assembly overrode Governor Hogan’s proper veto of last year’s hilariously misnamed Maryland Healthy Working Families Act. All Republicans voted to uphold the veto, along with the top five early contenders for the monoblogue Accountability Project’s final Top (Blue) Dog Award, given to the Democrat who most crosses the aisle in the right direction. But those five Democrats could be spared because the majority party had more than enough to pass the override – a situation that must be addressed in November.

Rather than write a summary of all 22 pages of the bill, which among other things requires the state to “develop a model sick and safe leave policy that an employer may use as a sick and safe leave policy in an employee handbook or other written guidance to employees concerning employee benefits or leave provided by the employer,” the chief takeaway is that an employer has to provide approximately 9 days of sick leave a year to full-time employees. Yes, it’s one hour for every 30 hours of time worked, with employers that have 15 or more employees also required to pay for the privilege. (Those with 14 or fewer still have to provide the time; it just need not be paid time.) In short, once again the state butts its head into something that should be between employee and employer, doing so based on their vast amount of time running businesses. (I would be curious how many in the majority have actually signed the front of paychecks for their employees.)

I’m not going to say that every business is like my employer, but I think most are understanding of various situations. Mine is a good example: seeing that it’s our daughter’s senior year and last basketball season, he and I have worked out a way for me to get to all of her games, home and away. I just shift my schedule accordingly and do the work needed beforehand. Luckily I have a job that allows this, and I know not everyone is that fortunate. But there are ways to work these situations without the state’s heavy hand and threat of liability from employees who may have an axe to grind months after their dismissal. (Three years of record keeping on this is even more paperwork for employers.)

In keeping with this I see employers doing something I’m familiar with as a policy: simply roll vacation and sick days into an overall category of “paid time off.” Those who use more sick days than the three previously allowed are fine, but they have fewer vacation days as a result. Next year we will see a law that prohibits employers from rolling the two together: that’s my guarantee. They can’t leave well enough alone.

It seems to me that General Assembly Democrats, not content with the plethora of people who are already drawing some sort of welfare from the state and cognizant of Margaret Thatcher’s asserting that socialism works until you run out of other people’s money, are trying to make employers into the new providers of welfare in the state. How else would it be that employers are forced by the state to pay people who aren’t being productive rather than work it out in-house? Shouldn’t there be an incentive for employees to develop their skills to make themselves more attractive to employers with better benefits rather than those employees running to the state? The market will eventually favor the employer who is most fair because they’ll get the best employees; that is, if the state doesn’t figure out a way to screw that balance up.

To use a similar example, Obamacare tried to supplant a system that almost everyone was either happy with or at least grudgingly accepted as a benefit that maybe wasn’t perfect but was better than nothing. It turned out to be a solution that didn’t perform as intended in whittling the number of uninsured down to near zero yet made the previous beneficiaries suffer with higher premiums and co-pays. Having seem this example first-hand, I can tell you this paid sick leave bill won’t work as intended either.

But Democrats win (and working Marylanders lose) in several ways: now they have created yet another entitlement that those unmotivated to work will bitterly cling onto with Democrats having the expectation of gaining their votes for another couple hundred years. Plus, as a special added bonus, they can either bludgeon Hogan with the resulting hiring slowdown or point to employment gains as evidence that this is no big deal – in fact, they would probably use it as evidence it should be expanded, never mind unrealized potential left on the table thanks to their meddling. Remember, being a Democrat in government is never taking responsibility for adverse real-world actions.

So I suppose those on the “progressive” (read: regressive) side will be cheering the override of this bill, a measure that’s wrong for the Eastern Shore and wrong for Maryland. They may like Jim Mathias’s support of it, but when he comes around later this year trying to convince us that he’s “fighting for us” just remember how he sold out the job creators for something that didn’t need to be a state concern. If I, with my public-school education, can wade my way through the bull to find the common sense, so can the average voter.

Sorry, liberals, sick leave is not a right and a sane General Assembly would rescind this in the future. In November we can work on restoring that sanity.

Tax cuts and jobs?

Since I said this yesterday:

I guess I better use the space for something besides music reviews, analysis of baseball trades, and other non-political items.

As many of you who know my site probably also know, the House put forth its initial proposal for what is being called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. (President Trump would have preferred the Cuts Cuts Cuts Act himself, though.) So most of the argument and commentary seems to be on whether this does enough for individual taxpayers – naturally, Democrats revert to their age-old “tax cuts for the rich” saw while some Republicans fret about losing particular deductions.

But I want to address two things in this post. First, I want to try and step into the shoes of a small business owner because part of the bill title is “that three-letter word, J-O-B-S” (with apologies to Joe Biden) and they are the ones who create most of them – including the ones I have now.

I’m not going to get into actual dollars and cents here because this is more of a philosophical argument. Each year business owners hand a share of their revenues off to various branches of government for a host of reasons, but the one item that perhaps draws the most blood, sweat, and tears is that federal tax return they (or, more likely, their accountants) fill out each year. Thus, the idea of both lowering rates and making things simpler works positively in two ways: a little more money to invest in the business for new hires, capital improvements, or expansion (people in my line of work perk up their ears at the latter) and a little more time to enjoy life or improve the business plan. They may not need to give that accountant quite so much, but, alas, there are winners and losers in life. (However, the day we find out H&R Block is lobbying against a tax reform proposal is the day we’ll know we have the right formula.)

The common perception from the Left is that every business owner is a fat cat member of the 1% who pays his employees less than minimum wage, skimps on benefits, and hoards his profits to spend on his fancy car and yacht – Ebenezer Scrooge personified. I don’t know about you but I haven’t met one like that yet, although I will note my previous employer went out and got a BMW i8 complete with vanity plate (and installed the charger in our parking lot) thanks to a series of very successful businesses. But that came after years of long days and lots of hard work, so I wasn’t going to complain because he had aptitude, drive, and a range of talents I didn’t.

By the same token, it’s not unknown for my current employer to be at the office or meeting clients late into the evenings or on the weekends – I know because I used to work in there at those times myself (on top of my full-time job) in order to seize the opportunity I was presented to get back into his firm. Ambitious people laugh at a 40-hour work week, and the overriding question that is being answered to an extent by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is whether they should be rewarded for those efforts or forced to hand over the excess to government to redistribute to the less ambitious.

After all, hopefully there comes a point in the life of a business where the boss can’t do it all himself (or herself.) Adding people, though, brings a whole new world of complexity to the tasks so the rewards should be maximized and risks minimized in order to encourage even more hiring when business dictates. If the government takes a pinch less maybe the additional economic activity will make up for it in time.

This brings me to my second point: whose money is it anyway?

Consider the average dollar, which is representative of an intrinsic value. There’s an old joke where someone leaves a $100 bill on a hotel counter while he inspects a room and it quickly makes the rounds paying off various debts up and down the street before the customer decides the room isn’t satisfactory and takes back the Benjamin, which seconds before had paid off the last debt owed to the hotel clerk. Everyone had a value assigned to the cash although the overall transaction was a wash.

When a worker makes a dollar, it’s a tradeoff: even at minimum wage, it’s about eight minutes of his labor in return for a dollar’s wage. In a successful business, the employee performed more in the way of value to the company than the pay but the rate of pay was still acceptable to the employee. (On top of that you have benefits, but for the purpose of this argument I’ll concentrate on pay.) My full time employer bills me out at a rate that is supposed to cover the wage, benefits, and overhead so in return I have work to do. My writing employer gives me an assignment on Thursday night and expects a turnover for the following morning. As long as this is done profitably for both parties, everything is cool – the problems occur when labor costs begin to outweigh value added. (For an example, consider why you are faced with a kiosk instead of a live person in some fast food restaurants – human order takers didn’t add a lot of value if they were inaccurate, grouchy, not feeling well, or disorganized, especially at the $15 an hour for which they were pining.)

Now think about a dollar spent in taxes, where the tradeoff is completely different. There are a number of vital services these taxes pay for, especially at a local level where the business receives its public safety protection, maintenance for the roads, portions of the utility infrastructure, and various other items which vary based on the jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, the higher up the taxation food chain you go, the more likely you’ll find these tax dollars aren’t creating value. Oftentimes these entities will act as a pass-through, returning tax dollars to the state or local jurisdiction after keeping a cut for themselves and necessitating the employment of a grant writer on a local level. It’s making a pencil-pusher rich, but that’s not really adding to society like a guy out working on an oil rig, writing computer code, or burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how to please her engineering client. Even worse, that dollar may be paying the bureaucrat who’s writing the rule that will do the business in at the behest of a lobbyist bought and paid for by some special interest.

By keeping dollars in the more productive and efficient private sector, not only does lowering taxes help increase GDP but it also provides the incentive for people to work harder. I’ve often cited Atlas Shrugged as one of my favorite books, not because it’s a feelgood story but because I see it as an absolute indicator of where our nation could be headed under the government we’ve put in place. If working harder has no reward, then why do it?

We have a long way to go before we see tax reform, if it even comes about at all because Republicans in Congress aren’t completely sold on the package. (I thought the GOP was supposed to be the party that supported lower taxes – didn’t you?) But the argument shouldn’t be who wins and loses financially – it should be about whether we believe it’s our money we’re getting for our labor or if we feel we just get to use that which is benevolently granted to us by government.

Taking matters into their own hands

So here I am, just thumbing through my e-mail for the day, and I find this on the Daily Signal website.

I would quibble enough to say that Delaware isn’t really part of the Northeast – particularly Sussex County, although many who have arrived there in recent years hail from the states commonly considered the Northeast – but the prospect of a right-to-work law in the heart of Delmarva could be enough to get a second look from prospective employers.

Councilman Rob Arlett introduced the proposed ordinance on Tuesday, according to the Daily Signal report, and it would need the support of two other Sussex County Council members to pass. (All five are Republicans, although not necessarily conservative ones.) The matter will be up for public discussion, per the article by investigative reporter Kevin Mooney, at the next Sussex County Council meeting on October 24. (As an aside, it should also be noted that Arlett was the state chair for the Donald Trump campaign so perhaps he has some of Trump’s business acumen.)

The article also details an interview with Seaford Mayor David Genshaw, who pointed out, “Right to work is a tool we need to compete for jobs. If you compare right-to-work states with non-right-to-work states, you can see where this could mean big gains for Delaware.”

I have a little bit of knowledge about the way Sussex County’s economy works as an erstwhile employee of one of their leading homebuilders. The eastern half of the county, basically from U.S. 113 to the beach but mainly close to Coastal Highway (Delaware Route 1) is booming with new developments, primarily homes that are purchased by retirees from nearby states who sell their $500,000 houses there and buy a $350,000 house in Delaware with the proceeds. On the other hand, the western half of the county languishes and Seaford may be the poster child for those doldrums as it’s littered with older housing stock and vacant storefronts throughout the city. While the population has increased by about 25% over the last 25 years (from 5,700 to the latest estimate of around 7,700) its growth is well off the pace of Sussex County as a whole, which has nearly doubled in that timespan.

So adopting right-to-work isn’t really going to affect the beachfront areas where the jobs are primarily retail, health care, or other service positions. But in those areas along the U.S. 13 corridor (in order from the Maryland line: Delmar, Laurel, Seaford, Bridgeville, and Greenwood) that have some infrastructure in place for new manufacturing facilities, this could be the economic shot in the arm they need to tip the scales their way.

Of course, I’m sure the union apologists will say that all right-to-work does is drive down wages. (Delaware’s minimum wage is currently $8.25 an hour, with legislation pending to eventually raise it to $10.25 an hour by October, 2020.) But the best argument to counter that is to simply remind this person that a person with no job makes $0 an hour, and anything that can bring jobs in will be beneficial to Sussex County. (The rest of Delaware would be unaffected.)

And you can bet your bottom dollar that, if this passes, Big Labor and their leftist allies will go running to the Delaware-based Clinton appointee who sits on the Third Circuit for a restraining order. While Mooney’s story notes a similar law has passed muster in the Sixth Circuit – which heard the case of a Kentucky county passing similar legislation – it’s much more of a crapshoot in the Third because most of its judges were appointed by Democrats and they tend to be more receptive to what passes for logic from the standpoint of Big Labor.

But there ought to be a little bit of interest in the fate of this bill in Annapolis and Salisbury. While Maryland is doing its best to attract new industry, they are still a closed shop state and large manufacturers have tended to prefer locating in right-to-work states. Should Sussex County succeed in its quest it’s incumbent on the state government to respond in kind by allowing the Eastern Shore to be a right-to-work area. (Perhaps our home rule would allow us in Wicomico County to do this, but I tend to doubt that’s the case in Maryland law.)

This is a story that could be huge for local economic development, so it’s a head-scratcher that a Google search for news on “Delaware right to work” didn’t find anything aside from the story linked above. I guess they would rather find other controversy to discuss for the umpteenth time. So maybe my local friends have heard it here first.