The manufacturing perspective on TPP

Political junkies know the first Friday of the month will generally bring the unemployment rate and job creation numbers from the previous month. As of Friday, the government told us we were at 5% unemployment for the first time since the Bush years, when economists talked us into a recession. (This was back when tepid job growth actually increased the unemployment rate. Of course, people blamed the president at the time.)

Be that as it may, though, there were no net manufacturing jobs created during the month, a fact which concerned pro-manufacturing organizations like my old friends at the Alliance for American Manufacturing. To quote their president, Scott Paul:

Underneath the euphoria over a good topline employment number is this fact: Manufacturing hasn’t gained a single net job since January. 

That’s terrible news for our economy. The effects of China’s industrial overcapacity can be seen in waves of layoffs in American steel, aluminum, and other manufacturing sectors. This weakness in factory hiring comes at a very inconvenient time for the proponents of the TPP, which analysts predicted will widen our record manufacturing trade deficit. (Emphasis in original.)

Regarding the TPP, the U.S Business & Industry Council (USBIC), an advocacy organization for small businesses, said in a statement that the TPP is full of “special deals” for multinational businesses. USBIC president Kevin Kearns:

The TPP is anything but the free trade agreement it purports to be.  The use of the term ‘free trade’ is simply a codeword designed to attract the support of Congressional Republicans who lurch zombie-like to support anything so labeled, without examining the fine print.

A real free-trade deal could be written on a single sheet of paper, with commitments to remove all tariffs and non-tariff barriers of any kind.

Over at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), writer Linda Dempsey demanded a thorough review of TPP’s provisions. All this makes it clear that manufacturers are wary about the effects of this trade deal. I also covered some of the other potential pitfalls on Friday for my weekly Patriot Post piece, which leads me to wonder: just who the heck is for the deal?

Well, actually, NAM is part of a broad coalition of business interests seeking the deal, which makes it less of a Main Street vs. Wall Street issue and mote of a tug-of-war between union interest in protectionism and businesses after free trade. But one question worth asking (as Kearns does) is why we need over 5,000 pages of agreement to clear the trade docket? One can also ponder what benefits we really get as the largest partner by far – it’s not a coalition of equals by any stretch of the imagination, although depending on the source the per capita GDP has been measured slightly higher than ours for partners Australia and Singapore.

If there was ever a case where the devil is in the details, this may be the one. I noted in Friday’s article that time is not of the essence – the 12 nations have up to two years to ratify the agreement, with only 6 (one being the United States) being enough to enable it under certain conditions. (It boils down to we have veto power, and Japan also might depending on the direction of its GDP compared to the dozen as a whole. The Japanese are close to the 15% of total TPP GDP needed to sink the deal if they don’t pass it. By the way, we have a roughly 65% share so we are by far the biggest frog in this little pond.)

The concept of free trade works best among equals. Unfortunately, there aren’t many peers at the level of the United States so you get the complexity of the TPP, which I won’t dare profess to understand. Just on gut instinct I think the acronym KISS is in order here but when it comes to modern government it seems we can only weave tangled webs.

More urban renewal needed

October 29, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · Comments Off 

This story came on my radar yesterday, but while I was sitting at home tonight it came to my thinking how our landscape will be affected. Apparently Walgreens and Rite Aid are merging, which means the local landscape that changed when Rite Aid bought Eckerd a few years back will change again.

In my old job I had to visit all of the Rite Aids from Salisbury and U.S. 13 east to Ocean City and from Lewes, Delaware to Exmore, Virginia – 21 in all, including a couple that were built or significantly remodeled during the couple years I stopped by on a monthly basis. In some of these towns and locations the Rite Aid stores moved into former Eckerd locations, leaving the old building just down the road as a vacant reminder. Two in particular, the former Rite Aids on Civic Avenue in Salisbury and in Seaford, have sat empty for about eight years since the two chains merged in 2007.

Now we have the same potential with Walgreens. In the local area they have five stores: two in Salisbury and one apiece in Ocean Pines, Delmar, Delaware, and Laurel, Delaware. Of the two Salisbury Walgreens stores, one sits a block away from a competing Rite Aid while the other is about a mile down Mt. Hermon Road from its respective Rite Aid (which was an Eckerd) – the long-shuttered former Rite Aid I noted earlier sits about halfway between them.

The Walgreens in Ocean Pines is a stone’s throw away from the Rite Aid that was just renovated earlier this year, while the competing Delmar locations sit catty-corner at the intersection of U.S. 13 and Line Road – Walgreens in Delaware and Rite Aid in Maryland. It’s hard to imagine two locations in the small town of Laurel co-existing, either.

Simply put, these communities will soon have a vacant building on their hands. Whether it’s brand new like Ocean Pines would invariably be or an older facility, in many of these cases these are freestanding buildings which few seem to have a use for – hence, the long-term vacancies.

The modern pharmacy isn’t just the place where you get prescriptions filled anymore. Most of the Rite Aids I serviced had a modest grocery section included as well as cleaning supplies, toys, and a plethora of HBA products to complement the pills of all sorts. For these box stores, then, we need out of the box thinking. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got a deal on one for a 2016 Republican headquarters, since we seem to inhabit empty storefronts every two years. The South Salisbury location would be good for traffic, as we’ve been in that area a couple times before.

Yet it’s another sign of the times, and while I can’t say I’m surprised it’s sad to think of all those adversely affected by the store closings soon to come. I know some good Rite Aid folks who may be a little nervous now.

Autumn Wine Festival 2015 in pictures and text

October 18, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · Comments Off 

For the thirteenth year, Wicomico County hosted the Autumn Wine Festival on the grounds of Pemberton Manor.

There was one notable difference in this year’s event as opposed to previous ones, even at the ribbon cutting.

It was the usual assortment of politicians, but in addition to Senator Jim Mathias in the pink shirt, there were members of the Women Supporting Women group making sure we remembered October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This as if the entrance sign wasn’t enough.

Then you had this raffle table up front.

If you wanted to buy a bottle of wine, they were there.

They were selling merchandise, too.

You could even make a game of it.

Listen, I get it. When the attendance at the event appears to be 60-70% female it’s a good marketing play. But it may be a little hypocritical to use the AWF based on one recent study. Nor is there nearly the push for lung cancer or prostate cancer awareness despite their similar incidence. Just adding perspective, folks.

It seemed to me as well the crowd was a little thinner. I like taking crowd shots to watch the evolution, as the four shots from Saturday taken from about 12:30 to 3:30 show.

Today with the brisk weather and a couple spotty showers, it was fairly slow. The shot below was taken at 1:30.

By 2:45 the end tent farthest from the stage and food area was all but deserted.

At least one vendor pulled up stakes early based on this sparse gathering. There was still over an hour left at the time.

Just the couple businesses I spoke to would have liked better sales.

There were some other nice touches, though, The VIP section for the Wine Festival is much larger than the one for its beer-based counterpart.

On Sunday it becomes an artisan section where they can sell their wares.

As always, we Republicans were there too.

Like last week, we did a “corn poll,” but this time we had a different winner as Donald Trump prevailed. Participation was significantly less this week, though.

I generally have a few favorites in the marketing department and a bottle photo to conclude with. Based on the number of stickers I saw with this logo they were a hit.

St. Michael’s Winery does the Gollywobbler, the subject of the shirt below. What I didn’t know is that they’re next door to the St. Michael’s brewery. Can you say road trip?

Finally, the bottle shot brought to you by sunshine and Linganore.

Hopefully the weather will be warmer next year!

The profitable enterprise

October 14, 2015 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Business and industry · Comments Off 

I received an amusing e-mail missive this evening from the Washington Times, and it suited me well because I didn’t really want to discuss politics after last night’s debate I didn’t watch. Seems it only took them 33 years and over a billion dollars to finally have a profitable month. And if you go to their website – which is the reason they are even close to being in the black, since the print edition is a money pit – you’ll find the reason: it’s almost as bad as the Examiner site for annoying ads. (Having once written for I can vouch that money doesn’t spread much among those who provide content.)

Reading that and realizing I’m only weeks away from the decade mark of doing this site made me ponder my profitability. While it’s not making me rich, my site does make me a modest profit mainly thanks to compensated posts and the handful of political ads I accept. (I don’t want to guess my hourly rate on doing this, though, because I’m sure it’s expressed in millage, not even pennies.)

Yet it took from about the time I graduated high school to now for the Washington Times to make money. This despite the fact they had a niche in the market that was otherwise mostly unfilled as a right-leaning print outfit. It sort of makes me wonder about whether I have the patience of Job in developing this site further given the fact I work full-time outside the home.

While that was the case for the first three years I did this site, too, the big difference is now being in a family rather than single. It takes time to be the soon-to-be husband and stepdad, and that lack of available time was one reason I brought Cathy on board.

But let’s talk profit. I still think this site is the right venue for certain non-political advertisers who want to reach a regional audience. It’s been some time since I checked my Google Analytics, but historically I have had an audience all across Maryland, with some play in D.C. as well. Maybe you have a niche of your own that seeks customers who are more intelligent and discerning. I think this could be the ticket.

In strict terms of how much I pay for the server vs. revenue, this has been a net winner for most of the last ten years. But I want to help you succeed, too.

The ticket for job creation

October 4, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Ohio politics, Politics · Comments Off 

When I wrote my brief little synopsis on Friday regarding manufacturing, I noted in my promotion that it made me think of former gubernatorial (and future State Senate) candidate Ron George, for whom the most appealing part of his campaign was the emphasis on bringing industry back to Maryland.  In response Ron wrote:

Your article is spot on. Note also the companies that are taking their manufacturing jobs out of China and bringing them home to many southern and midwest pro business states. Our Maryland midsize cities need it back.

Governor Larry Hogan needs help by voters in these areas pushing representatives and candidates for low taxes for manufacturing at the state and local level. The increase of the number of new workers paying the payroll tax will itself greatly increase state and local revenues. Keep it up Michael Swartz.

So I decided to revise and extend my remarks. Those of you who have read here awhile probably have a good idea about what I’m going to say, but I do have new readers all the time so a refresher is in order.

I have no doubt that Maryland can compete for businesses large and small once they eliminate the mindset that employers are cash cows to be milked dry for revenue and embrace the thought that their main goal is to be profitable. I definitely show my age and home state bias, but the mantra I grew up with under Ohio Gov. James Rhodes was that “profit is not a dirty word in Ohio” and to get there we wanted people to make things, just as this 1966 advertisement in my hometown newspaper states. Those things Rhodes touted a half-century ago are still valid today for attracting industry – low taxes, financial incentives, a well-trained workforce, and easy transportation. Plus aren’t we the land of pleasant living?

In the first case, Maryland can make a splash at the cost of three cents per dollar of state spending by completely eliminating the corporate tax. Even if it were phased out over a two- or three-year period, the fact that progress is being made should vault Maryland higher on those business-friendliness lists those whose business is to attract business refer to.

As for financial incentives, I’m leery about having the state in the investment business because I don’t believe they should pick winners or losers. At this time, though, they already have the Maryland Venture Fund although it’s geared more toward startups.

Supposedly Maryland has the best educational system in the country, although I’m a little skeptical of that claim based on some of the recent graduates I’ve seen. One thing we need to focus more on, though, is the idea that vocational education can be valued as much as college prep. Maybe Johnny and Susie’s parents think otherwise, but even “A” students sometimes show not all high school students are college material.

But people with the aptitude to run machinery, know how to tinker and fix things, and are good with their hands don’t need a degree from State U to succeed – and oftentimes have the advantage of not being thousands in debt. To be perfectly frank, to succeed in my chosen profession of architecture one should not need a college degree if they are willing to spend several years learning the craft from the bottom up as one of my former employers did. Somehow they have picked up the idea that five to six years of college schooling plus a couple years in an intern development program is the only way to create good architects, and that’s simply not so. This is why money should follow the child, so they can explore the maximum number of educational options out there.

Finally, there’s the aspect of transportation. Maryland is a state in a great location, but in our case on the Eastern Shore we have the lousy luck of a large body of water limiting our ground-based options. We can either go north through a tangle of traffic lights and small towns along U.S. 13 north or go south through a different gauntlet of traffic lights and small towns. Of course, any improvement to that situation requires the assistance of Delaware or Virginia.

Yet the alternative of going west remains with a third Bay Bridge span. Environmentalists can stop reading after this sentence because I will give them a stroke over the next paragraph – just pick it back up two grafs down.

To me, the best place for a third span runs between Dorchester and Calvert counties, southwest of Cambridge along Maryland Route 16. Obviously roadway improvements would need to be made, but imagine the ease it would bring for traveling between Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. No longer would it be an arduous three-hour journey to travel perhaps 50 to 60 miles west as the crow flies. Would it go through some environmentally fragile areas? Yes. But I believe the benefits would outweigh the costs.

I know people will complain that bringing industrial development to Maryland in general and the Eastern Shore in particular would ruin the rural lifestyle, but lifestyle is what you make of it. The carrying capacity of the Delmarva Penninsula is probably at least double its population; a number that will increase with advancements in technology. Regardless, we are nowhere near the density of the I-95 corridor and that should remain the case for the foreseeable future.

I’ve often said that if an area doesn’t grow, it dies. I used to use North Dakota as my poster child for this until they got an energy boom and began attracting people seeking work in a lucrative field. While Maryland can get some benefits from doing the same and allowing fracking, perhaps the best way to make their mark is to adopt the old Ohio mantra that profit is indeed not a dirty word and take the bold steps needed to shake its anti-business reputation.

To enjoy the land of pleasant living, you have to be able to make one.

More woeful manufacturing news

It’s been a crusade of mine to encourage the rebirth of American manufacturing – unfortunately, we seem to be going the wrong way, according to the union-backed Alliance for American Manufacturing. Holding Barack Obama to his promise for one million new manufacturing jobs in his second term, the net gain has fallen with the September employment results and the August revision to 370,000. Even if you consider that their figure is a net figure, we’re still way short of one million jobs created.

Overall, the job market is creating about 200,000 jobs per month – slower than last year, but still positive growth. Unfortunately, it’s barely exceeding population growth.

You may ask yourself, though – why the emphasis on manufacturing in these quarters, particularly when you work in a service industry? To me, the answer is simple: economic growth is achieved when we add value to the overall economy. Sure, you can print money until the printing presses break but that just adds paper and not value.

Consider the iPad I’m writing this on. Originally it was a number of raw materials extracted from the ground. The first addition of value came when they were extracted, but a far larger one came when the component parts were created. A further increase in value came from the assembly process, which made the iPad into something usable by a member of the public. At that point, a little extra was added in shipping it to the venue of retail.

While I can’t ascertain where the raw materials came from, the iPad is manufactured overseas and shipped to the American market. Supposedly Apple has moved some production here, but not for iPads.

I don’t want to get bogged down in those nuts-and-bolts, but suffice to say that I think manufacturing adds more value per dollar invested than service industries. Certainly it can be fickle – the fanfare associated with this early ’70s plant expansion died quickly when a national recession shuttered it within a couple years – but more often than not good jobs are provided.

We are better off when we make stuff. China may be cheaper, but is it better? How many times have you purchased some Chinese-made trinket only to scrap it in a couple years because it was assembled in a shoddy manner with substandard parts? America used to be better than that, and I want to see us return there.

WCRC meeting – September 2015

September 29, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

It wasn’t the meeting we expected, but still turned out to be informative.

We had scheduled State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello to be our speaker, but with a pending trial Matt needed to burn a little midnight oil. So we were left with some reports instead. As one member put it, having members of several local groups meant we could always have an interesting meeting.

So once we took care of the usual opening business, we got a Central Committee report from Ann Suthowski. She reminded us the Lincoln Day Dinner was slated for November 7. When asked why it was so late in the year, Dave Parker noted it was originally planned that way to attempt to get Governor Hogan to speak, but his ongoing cancer treatments thwarted that idea. However, since Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford has a daughter who attends Salisbury University, it was hoped he may appear. Suthowski wondered if he was being considered as a commencement speaker since his daughter would be graduating this year.

Suthowski also revealed there was an opening on the Central Committee, with Parker adding action to fill the vacancy could occur as soon as their next meeting October 5.

Bunky Luffman, speaking on Delegate Carl Anderton’s behalf, announced he would hold an event Thursday evening at Evolution Brewing. It was to celebrate the first day of the “Evo Bill” that allowed Wicomico County breweries such as Evolution and Tall Tales to double their output yet keep their particular licenses.

Anderton is also planning a anniversary celebration November 4, said Luffman. When he won his initial election last year, the results weren’t official until late in the evening so they wanted to have a more proper celebration for his supporters.

As part of his own campaign, Muir Boda is getting some help from around the state with a Super Saturday planned for October 17. He’ll get assistance from various volunteers from the state party and Maryland Young Republicans.

On the We Decide Wicomico front (the grassroots effort to secure an elected Board of Education) Dave Snyder reviewed the first two public hearings, the second of which in Delmar had a “pitiful” turnout, according to another observer who was there. Nevertheless, they were pressing on for the third which was held tonight at First Baptist Church. (I’ll have some observations on that tomorrow.) Snyder also added he sought to speak to the local PTAs but was turned down until such time when a referendum was on the ballot.

When asked about media, the feeling among several members was that the Daily Times was doing “nothing” but the Independent was doing a good job pushing it. The hearings are also taped for broadcast on the local access channel PAC14.

County Councilman Marc Kilmer opined that a hybrid vs. elected question can be on the ballot. But Don Coffin cautioned that we should “keep it simple,” adding “our country was founded to have elected officials.” Dave Parker added that we needed a provision for replacing members as well. “I want the best people,” said Parker.

But Kilmer pointed out this “has to be acceptable to the majority of legislators in Annapolis.” It was also revealed by Bunky Luffman that there was no precedent for a three-way referendum such as an appointed vs. hybrid vs. elected would be. We were also told that Wicomico’s legislation last year was modeled on a version Prince George’s County used.

Turning to the Crab Feast, it was no surprise that the poor weather soaked the bottom line, Attendance and silent auction proceeds were down markedly from 2014, which was the run up to the election. One suggestion made for next year was to get a better sound system so people at the outside tables could hear.

I then discussed the upcoming Good Beer and Autumn Wine festivals, and we broached the idea of getting our Christmas Party organized.

Before we left, we learned from Joe Ollinger that the school board was working on a search for a new superintendent and wanted to finish by next March. There was also the news that the school system was being investigated by the Justice Department for disparity of discipline.

The next meeting will be October 26.

Is the rent really too damn high in Salisbury?

Facing his final few months as Salisbury’s mayor, Jim Ireton decided to be Santa Claus. You know the old adage about a democracy lasting until the people figuring out how they can vote themselves a piece of the treasury? This is really a proposal for the 2018 Ireton campaign.

In a Facebook posting, the mayor explained his reasoning.

Today I announced that I will forward to the City Council a Rent Stabilization Initiative aimed at bringing rents in Salisbury into line with national averages. This is a common sense step which will have very real results for residents who find themselves living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to make unnecessarily exorbitant rent payments. I was asked by someone earlier today “Why now?”

Here’s why:

  • 59% of renting households are cost burdened, and 36% of households are severely cost burdened, i.e. paying 50% or more. This means that over 1,600 Salisbury households are paying between 30% and 50% of their income for rental housing costs, and an additional 2,700 households are paying over 50% of their income for rental costs.
  • The lack of affordable housing in Salisbury has a quantifiable negative impact on our local economy. High cost burden means households are spending less on food, transportation, health care, and apparel, while accruing little-to-no wealth. If housing was affordable for all renting households, an additional eight million dollars a year would make its way back into the local economy.
  • From 2000-2008 rents rose dramatically, over taking the national average, as a result of increased energy costs and a doubling of the average home price.

If we want and expect to do better for the people in this City who are hurting the most, then we cannot shrink from this tough discussion -and I can tell you that I won’t. Our residents pay far too much for the quality of the rentals that they live in, and far too many of them are severely cost-burdened. In the end, renters know when they are paying too much in rent; it’s when there’s no money left on the 2nd of the month. We have tried endlessly for 30 years to address the problem of the greed of the rental industry in Salisbury. This Rent Stabilization Program is good for our residents, good for the local economy, and will allow the City to get a return on the investment it makes in its citizens.

It’s small wonder that there’s a chorus of renters who agree. They think they are getting something for nothing but what they will get are fewer choices or more substandard dwellings.

But let’s look at some of these claims. Ireton says that a large percentage of renting households are overburdened. However, his proposal only addresses individual houses, not multi-family dwellings, so only some portion of the population would benefit. We aren’t given the number who would actually be affected.

And I still can’t quite wrap my head around how additional money makes it into the local economy, because it’s not really additional money. The renters aren’t making any additional money on the deal. Granted, they may gain some choice on where to spend it but this is pretty much a zero-sum game.

Ireton is playing the old class envy card here, pitting poor, struggling renters against a class of businesses his allies derisively refer to as “slumlords.” It’s a convenient target to evoke sympathy, but one tends to forget that these businesses and individual homeowners are also investors in the community. The $8 million the renters save isn’t just sitting in their pockets – they are paying workers to oversee their properties, spending money on upkeep, or, as individual homeowners who depend on rental income, they buy food, transportation, health care, and apparel too.

Let’s imagine for a moment that this initiative passes – and given the current composition of City Council I could see three votes to make it happen. What incentive is there for people to invest in housing if the return is arbitrarily limited by the assessed value of the house, something that’s determined on a triennial basis? Once a house is maxed out on rent, in effect the price is frozen for the remainder of the three years unless the city benevolently changes the formula.

In the meantime, the decrease in money coming in makes investment less worthwhile, so housing prices will sag. Arguably that’s good for renters who may want to purchase a house, but the house they get may not be in as good of repair as it could have been because less money came in to make repairs, just the essentials to keep it up to code. It’s the small mom-and-pop investor businesses which would be hurt the most by this law because the rental companies can increase the rent on those dwellings they own outside the city limits.

The solution for homeowners may be that of subdividing larger houses into apartments where possible. Certainly that’s not an elegant solution and I suspect the various housing boards may look a lot more severely at these efforts because it’s a way of skirting a bad law.

It’s just the latest chapter in the Ireton war on landlords. He may think he can bring Salisbury up from poverty but instead it will just change the distribution of wealth slightly, eventually make affordable housing more scarce, and discourage investment – or, as Ireton calls it, “greed.”

My friend Muir Boda has his own thoughts on the process, and notes that College Park dropped its program a couple years ago. I agree with his main point, though: instead of using government to bring one class down in the attempt to raise another, why not try to add value by attracting the kind of economic development which can make fewer households “cost burdened.”

Perhaps that should have been Ireton’s plan all along.

Hogan’s uphill battle

For several years I have cited an annual survey of business friendliness put together by It was useful in illustrating how poor the Maryland business climate was.

Unfortunately, year one of the Hogan administration finds the state in a deeper hole, narrowly missing the bottom five of the 36 states for which the survey had sufficient data to compile. It is noteworthy, however, to point out Baltimore’s grade basically drove the state grade so they may bear a significant share of the blame.

As for what the survey asked and found specifically:

Small business owners found Maryland to be one of the least friendly states for microenterprise, though they widely approved of local training opportunities, according to Thumbtack’s annual Small Business Friendliness Survey.

Nearly 18,000 U.S. small business owners responded to the survey, including 442 in Maryland. The study asked respondents to rate their state and city governments across a broad range of policy factors. Thumbtack then evaluated states and cities against one another along more than a dozen metrics.

“Small business owners on Thumbtack have consistently told us that they welcome support from their governments but are frequently frustrated by unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles,” said Jon Lieber, Chief Economist of Thumbtack. “Maryland offers decent programs to support business owners directly, but they tell us the regulatory environment is just too hard for them to understand and navigate.”

“The taxes here are high,” commented a property manager in Baltimore. “There is no support from the government, especially the housing office.”

Here’s where entrepreneurs will pin their hopes on the new Regulatory Review Commission, which should try and reach out to as many of these businesses as possible to get suggestions.

The biggest problems with our state insofar as this subject goes is that its grade is getting worse – declining from a C- last year to its D+ this time – and Virginia got an A on the same survey. (Delaware had fewer than the 50 responses needed to get a grade.) Business owners hated the state in particular for its environmental and zoning regulations and government friendliness, both of which were given big fat Fs from those surveyed. (The former category also gets a “see, now what have I been telling you for the better part of a decade” from this writer.)

If a state is going to brag that it’s “open for business” it needs to be better than a D+ state. The work on regulatory reform should be in tandem with other avenues toward success like lowering the corporate tax rate (or, even better, figuring out a way to cut three cents out of every dollar in state spending and scrapping it entirely) and telling the liberals in Annapolis who keep whining about the need for combined reporting to pound sand. Another proposal I would have is adoping the proposed moratorium on new Chesapeake Bay regulations until the sediment at Conowingo Dam is addressed,

We have models for success all around the country so why should we be 31st out of 36? I can’t fault Larry Hogan for a lack of effort or his difficult circumstances, but we need leadership in this regard and if it means telling the people the truth about where the problems lie (hint: they hold 124 seats in the General Assembly) so be it.

WCRC meeting – August 2015

It was via a roundabout route, but we finally heard from the man who’s presumptively Salisbury’s next mayor, Jake Day. Because Jake had another place to be this evening – the Salisbury City Council meeting that he ran as their president – we had a succession of speakers to fill the time. It was interesting to note that several of these speakers dropped in as our meeting was going on, which told me they were looking forward to hearing what Jake had to say.

But we began as we always do, with the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, all done by our first vice-president Muir Boda, who filled in for our under-the-weather president Shawn Jester. We then did the swearing in of new second vice-president Dave Snyder, who pledged to be “a very good listener” and work to recruit 100 new GOP voters and new club members.

I took a little time to thank people for helping out at the Wicomico County Fair, as did Dave. My one suggestion was to perhaps look into a spot for outside next year.

In a Central Committee report, Mark McIver called the elected school board “one of the biggest things on our plate.” He added there was a new initiative called “We Decide” that was a non-partisan group to back an all-elected school board, and related the urging from County Council that we should participate in these hearings. It was going to be “an 8-week push.”

Mark Edney added his two cents, informing us that there will be an initiative this fall to address the issue of vacancies in the General Assembly through the state party’s bylaws. Noting the issues faced by Carroll County, Edney intoned that it was “important that we get this right” because members of both parties in the General Assembly sought to take away the power local Central Committees had to choose successors.

Joe Ollinger updated us on the Crab Feast, which had most of the items in place except a silent auction coordinator. It’s still on schedule for September 12 at Schumaker Park.

Speaking of food, Muir Boda announced his own, more modest event this Saturday at Doverdale Park. His community barbecue was slated for 3-5 p.m. but volunteers could show up at 2:00. Boda remarked he had three opponents in the election, so getting out the vote was paramount.

He also commented that the proposed city curfew was a “big issue” but questioned whether it would be enforceable given current resources and the spread-out geography of Salisbury. By itself, a curfew “won’t solve youth crime,” Muir said.

Senator Addie Eckardt, who had arrived after we began, spoke briefly about her upcoming annual bike ride through the district that will cover Wicomico County on Thursday. She also praised Governor Hogan, who has “put a great team together.” It would help government become, as she put it, more responsive and cost-effective.

Delegate Christopher Adams remarked about his attendance at the defund Planned Parenthood rally in Easton as well as a stop last week at Wallops Island in Virginia. They were expecting to resume launches at the pad damaged in an explosion last fall by March, he said.

Looking forward, though, he wanted to concentrate on regulatory reform, as some needed changes could be done more easily through that avenue than through the legislative process.

Fellow Delegate Johnny Mautz predicted “a really busy session” next year but expressed his disappointment in getting a low 25% score from the League of Conservation Voters. I looked up the floor votes they scored: two were anti-fracking measures and the other was the “repeal” of the rain tax sponsored by Mike Miller. So pro-business was not going to meet pro-environmnet with the LCV.

Bunky Luffman stood in for Delegate Carl Anderton, commenting to an earlier point made about regulation by bringing up the sprinkler mandate that is halting construction locally. One local developer lost a builder who refused to build more dwellings – they weren’t able to make money with the mandate and additional costs.

Most of the legislators had come late to hear Jake Day, who spoke for about 15 minutes and answered questions for another 20. Apologizing both for being late and a lack of sleep as a new dad, Day told us he was “very excited” about becoming mayor. As a Council member he was pursuing a pro-business agenda, but noted “I have found a roadblock in the current administration.” Like the state of Maryland, his effort would be to attract business: “I want us to be competitive,” said Day, citing Delaware under Jack Markell as a “more friendly and welcoming environment.” Perdue’s decision to move some of its corporate operations to Delaware “sent a message,” said Jake. “The economy will be first and foremost on my mind each day.” His idea was to grow jobs “locally and organically,”

One area he saw as a job creator was downtown, for which revitalization was important to Jake. It’s “part of the renaissance” of Salisbury, said Day. He criticized the “lack of active leadership from the top” and sought a City Council that was cordial, but aggressive. He also announced the intention to continue divesting the city’s surface parking lots, believing successful downtowns do better with infill rather than surface parking.

Crime was another top issue. Day observed that criminal activity was starting at a younger and younger age, so the city could have to “pick up where the parents left off.”

It was an enlightening address, but the questions were good, too. The first one out of the chute was about the “rain tax.” Jake disagreed with the state mandate, but believed it was necessary for a city which had ignored the issue for over a century. He was willing, though, to reduce property tax rates and scrap the city’s inventory tax to help even things out.

And when I asked why the city couldn’t use its water and sewer fund surplus, Day said the surplus was being depleted too quickly. Basically the relief would be short-term at best.

Corollary to that initial question was a discussion about the closing of Labinal, which will cost the city hundreds of jobs. While the popular opinion was that the state’s difficult business climate drove them away, Day said the answer was more simple: Texas (and Mexico) were closer to their main customer base, and Salisbury mainly served military clients whose contracts were winding down.

A second concern was the issue with fire service. Rather than the “big mistake” of giving ultimatums through the media, Jake was working closely with county officials in coming up with a long-term solution. He conceded it probably wouldn’t be all the city wanted, but noted that he and County Executive Bob Culver were “working well together.” The key was making things more fair in a way that doesn’t alienate non-city residents.

Our wastewater treatment plant was the subject of a question. Calling its saga “a scar on Salisbury’s history,” Day announced the next phase of renovations would begin in October. Bunky Luffman, who formerly worked at the plant, pointed out it had reduced the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorou, but not enough to meet more stringent state standards that changed midstream.

A final questioner tested Day on his “number one challenge – is my (business) location safe?” Crime was a concern for local businesses, and “a lot of solutions to our challenges are economic,” Jake said. He vowed to show leadership and compile more data on the current conditions.

We finally let Jake go, so that Boda could announce our next meeting would be September 28. Hopefully it will be as chock-full of information as this one was.

Another Trump criticism

August 7, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

Donald Trump took a lot of criticism from all sides last night, so this little bit of piling on won’t make much of a dent in his self-esteem. But Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing found another reason to diss on The Donald:

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is never shy in front of the camera, and his appearance at tonight’s first big GOP presidential debate will be must-see TV – especially because he takes a hard line on unfair trade with China.

Here’s one question I’d love to hear him answer: Why aren’t any of his Trump-branded goods made in America?


During his campaign announcement speech and plenty of times since on the stump, Donald Trump has blamed China and Mexico for the loss of American manufacturing jobs. But, again, his own Trump-branded stuff is made overseas.

Trump certainly talks tough on China, jobs, and trade, but he doesn’t back it up with his own actions – while many manufacturers fight to Make it in America in spite of the odds.

I don’t believe Scott Paul is related to Rand, by the way. But this Paul’s statement is actually a valid point to make, particularly when Trump makes a loser out of America by manufacturing his goods elsewhere.

The AAM has also vowed to check on the other candidates as well, although they seem to be a bit behind. One notable omission on the Democratic side is Martin O’Malley. I did a cursory check of his website, though, and found he has no merchandise store. (Now I feel like I need a shower, though.)

When there are millions of dollars flowing through a campaign, there shouldn’t be a question about making the goods in America where possible. Given the fact most campaign merchandise comes from the apparel and printing industry it should not be hard to find these items. (Surely my old friends at American Certified can help with that.) Naturally Democrats prefer to have all their items come from union shops, while Republicans have their own list of favored suppliers. On a local level, we know which businesses are owned by Republicans so we try and steer business their way.

Like it or not, political campaigns are a multi-billion dollar business – especially on the Presidential level. So why not keep that money flowing in American hands? Hopefully the Alliance for American Manufacturing will be pleased with the level of American products they find in the various campaigns.

It also reminds me to plug my dossier series, as trade and job creation is next on the schedule. I am shooting for early next week with that one.

Regulatory reform comes to Maryland

I harbor no illusions that my post from the other day regarding the declining optimism of Maryland business owners goaded him into action, but today Governor Hogan announced the formation of a Regulatory Review Commission (RRC), charged over the next three years with “(f)ixing our burdensome antiquated, broken and out-of-control regulatory environment in Maryland.” The ten members of the RRC are volunteering their time to “focus like a laser beam on these issues”, said Hogan.

It’s interesting that the Democrats are claiming the Augustine Commission (which was created in the waning months of Martin O’Malley’s second term) was intended to address these issues and saying Hogan shouldn’t need three years to address the problem. How soon they forget that Larry’s Change Maryland organization was convening business summits over the last three years to gain the business perspective, not to mention the fact it was their administration which put out a number of these job-strangling regulations in the first place.

To me it’s just sour grapes. Ask yourself: had Anthony Brown won, would curtailing regulations be a priority? Thought not. The Augustine Commission report would have been filed and ignored.

But I hope the RRC has the latitude to go beyond just regulations and into other areas like taxation and, more importantly, looking into where other states succeed. Take a state like Texas, where hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created (as a net gain over jobs lost, not as a one-for-one swap) over the last decade. What attracts these entrepreneurs and leaders, and what assets can Maryland use to emulate their gains? Granted, a good portion of the Lone Star State’s gain came from abundant energy resources that Maryland can’t match, but there are other areas we may be able to do as well or better if we make that a goal. Unfortunately, over the last eight years our state took its cues from states like California and New York, places where capital and population have been fleeing.

Another question is just how cooperative these Democrats, who are already trying to take credit for the little bit done in 2015, will be to the RRC’s agenda as they submit their findings.

Take the “rain tax” as an example – a Democrat introduced the vastly watered-down bill that eventually passed, so they will surely henceforth try and take credit for ending the “rain tax.” But the mandate for affected counties to have a watershed protection and restoration fund did not go away (page 4 here) – it’s just up to the county to fill it, and most will likely retain some version of the “rain tax.” The actual repeal of the “rain tax” on this Hogan-sponsored bill was killed in committee by the Democrats therein on a straight party-line vote. (I used that vote as one of the committee votes on the monoblogue Accountability Project.) So it’s a fairly safe bet the Democrats are only paying lip service to the issue of regulations now because to them more is better – that’s how they’ve run Annapolis for most of the decade I’ve lived here and probably my whole life before that.

So the RRC can’t just exist in a vacuum. Now that Larry Hogan has experienced the way Democrats in the General Assembly basically gave the finger to his mandate, he will need in the coming months and years to take a page from the Reagan handbook and go straight to the people. Democrats may claim the last election was about “divided government” but the motivation was clearly behind a more conservative direction for the state.

While I would have preferred a more rapid formation for the RRC, this is a definite feather in the cap for Larry Hogan. Let’s hope that it’s not just for show but instead gives us an agenda even the Democrats can’t stop.

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