A week or so back I referred to one of Delegate Michael McDermott’s summaries of the 2013 General Assembly session, and he’s come back with another installment today. In this one, he laments the economic effects of those “few pennies” we’ll be paying every day to the state in additional taxes and fees by reminding us that businesses will be paying them, too. McDermott concludes that:
As the government draws more money out of the economy through these new taxes and fees, taxpayers (and) consumers find themselves with fewer discretionary dollars. This always results in fewer dollars being put back into our local economy and every point of commerce suffers. When business slows, expansion is put on hold. When business suffers loss, people lose jobs.
All this seems to be basic common sense which is lost on those who inhabit the Maryland General Assembly and vote with the majority party. It somehow never seems to seep into their consciousness that business aren’t going to pay maybe $100 a year for the so-called “rain tax” or the promised no more than $2 a month for “green” energy, nor will the effects of ever-increasing gasoline taxes be minimal for them.
The problem they have is twofold: the Maryland economy is dynamic and the geography is static. From my house I can be in Delaware in 15 minutes and Virginia in about 40. It’s worth pointing out that just four of Maryland’s 23 counties aren’t on a state border (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Howard, and Talbot as well as Baltimore City) while several border two states and Washington County touches three. Certainly it’s not like larger states where traveling to a different jurisdiction to take advantage of their business climate involves the expenditure of several hours and a half-tank of gas.
So Maryland has to compete on a playing field which is far from level, and savvy consumers know just where to go to get the best deal. It’s no wonder that neighboring states have large shopping meccas close by Maryland’s borders.
Now this isn’t all bad news for Marylanders, as some cross state lines to work just as some who live in neighboring states make up Maryland’s too-slowly growing workforce. But as critics like McDermott and Larry Hogan of Change Maryland point out, we can do better.
And don’t think Mike isn’t seeing the political reality. Note this passage in his report:
I am not sure where the disconnect lies with legislators who see nothing wrong with this tax and spend approach at governing, but I am quite sure the public is fully able to connect the dots. I was recently at a meeting of local business owners and entrepreneurs when a senator told them that what they could “conceive…the government would help them achieve.” Sadly this was repeated so there was little doubt where he was coming from in his thoughts regarding the purpose and scope of government.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Senator in question isn’t the person McDermott will be facing next year.
Recently Change Maryland had to do a mea culpa, because they found out they were incorrect.
Just weeks after putting out the word about Martin O’Malley and his 37 tax increases since taking office, the good-government advocacy group had to let people know they were just a little bit off – in the wrong way:
Previously, Change Maryland released a report that updated tax and fee increases following the 2013 session, which brought the total to 37 increases that remove $3.1 billion annually over and above the existing tax burden. These latest reports adds new fees for gun purchases, enacted in 2013, and two newly-discovered measures buried in omnibus legislation and not subject to normal legislative procedures.
So now we are up to a nice, round 40 tax and fee increases under the O’Malley regime. Aren’t we special?
Since I began with Change Maryland, I may as well continue with what their leader, Larry Hogan, had to say:
Nobody expected the total impact to be this staggering, not even me. Struggling Maryland families and small businesses simply cannot afford another four years of an O’Malley-Brown tax and spend binge.
Hogan continued by lamenting the ongoing nature of the problem:
This is not just an argument about big government. It’s about a government that is on auto-pilot to grow exponentially, beyond anything any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes and that comes directly at the expense of the private sector economy that we desperately need to diversify our employment base.
Undoubtedly, the question for the O’Malley/Brown team – and they are a team, since our lieutenant governor is the favored choice of Martin O’Malley – is whether Anthony Brown will try and run up the score some more. Would triple digits be possible over a 16-year reign of the O’Malley/Brown team? In a speech in Chestertown, Hogan used the occasion to blast the heir apparent, who’s announced his intention to snag the state’s top spot next year, from the stump.
(Side note: the odds are against Brown, as on three occasions since the office of lieutenant governor was re-created in 1970 the officeholder failed to win the office him/herself. Blair Lee III lost the 1978 Democratic primary, as did Melvin Steinberg in 1994. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend won her nomination, but lost to Republican Bob Ehrlich in 2002.)
Yet the more Hogan chooses to point out the foibles of the O’Malley/Brown team, the less of a chance there is he will enter the race himself. In a lot of ways, Larry has chosen to be this state’s version of Sarah Palin as he could potentially be a kingmaker as the leader of a bipartisan group closing in on 40,000 followers. If each can influence five voters, you have yourself a GOP primary winner in a year where it appears we will have two or three relatively strong candidates.
And then there’s always O’Malley’s own legacy and his dreams of running for President in 2016. Certainly he would find it a feather in his cap to get his LG elected as successor and cement his legacy. Being the media whore he is, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see Martin O’Malley take the tack suggested in this piece by Pete “DaTechGuy” Ingemi as MOM has to overcome the legacy of one Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I can see a certain Maryland governor doing this,” indeed.
Once upon a time, the massive, weekend-long food orgy we locally call Pork in the Park got its start, and I imagine it went something along the lines of what was held yesterday down in Snow Hill, Maryland. Then again, our county doesn’t have a large defunct auto dealership turned into a body shop to hold an event at. This used to be Sho-Wil Chevy-Oldsmobile, or so the large tent said.
At least these guys went out and hired an expert, as Sandy Fulton (right) has been involved with Pork in the Park since the beginning.
Certainly the Snow Hill Middle School PTA may have hit upon a winner of an event. For those of you expecting thousands of people, a throng of vendors, and dozens of competitors, though, you would be a little disappointed with this modest beginning.
A total of eight amateur teams vied for the $100 top prize in chicken and pork, along with $200 for the overall winner. I’m not sure how the vendors did, but there were a few there.
There was also a somewhat limited selection of food at this gathering, including ribs for sale from Famous Dave’s and Phat Boyz BBQ. Hey, it’s a start.
By the way, the best chicken prize was won by Broke Bob’s BBQ (obviously Bob is a little less broke) while Spicy Guys BBQ (who sent their lone girl up to claim the prize) won the best pork. But the overall champion was Tribal Smokers, which finished second in both categories.
Lest you think there wasn’t much going on there, well, there was a variety of activities. We missed the cornhole tournament, but could have sharpened our horseshoe skills.
Now a number of people left after the awards, since they had likely arrived very early to the site for their chance at the cash. But quite a few hung around in the chill to listen to one of the five bands featured. (Spoiler alert: there is also the return of Weekend of Local Rock for a post next weekend.)
This couple made themselves at home in the hay, much to the delight of onlookers.
Others in the even younger set found the bales fun to horse around in.
I imagine the young teenage boy, unseen under the lump of straw on the right side of the photo, is still scrubbing it out of his clothes, hair, etc. He had a lot of fun with it.
Another entertainer not on the bill was this talented young man.
I suggested he should try his luck on the Boardwalk because he could probably pay for a semester or two every summer, with a little more practice.
But as the sun set over the horizon, the vendors had packed up and the food court was doing the same. I think Phat Boyz was the only one left selling as we left. Well, that and the beer tent.
Yet aside from the food, which was a little on the pricey side – not that it’s an uncommon thing at these types of events – this was a relatively cheap way to spend the afternoon. With a little better weather and a year’s experience under their belt, I see no reason why they can’t draw a couple thousand next year.
Their main goal is to become a KCBS-sanctioned event next year, which will certainly make the stakes a lot higher for the teams. If they can get to a point where they’re drawing 30 or 40 teams, perhaps 20 to 30 vendors, and maybe a dozen different restaurants (not all of them sell ribs) that would be a superb one-day event for the Snow Hill area to bookend their season (Blessing of the Combines is their prime tourism draw, and they also have the annual Worcester County Fair, both in August.)
So congratulations on a job well done to Pig and a Jig. I look forward to bigger and better things next year. And also, as I said above, look for the Weekend of Local Rock post on the event this coming weekend.
For the second year in a row, a nationwide survey of business owners found Maryland lagged behind the bulk of states in overall business climate.
The survey, conducted as a joint effort between the business-to-business website Thumbtack.com and the Kauffman Foundation, quizzed nearly 8,000 business owners and operators across the country, asking them to grade their respective states in a number of categories related to their perception of the business climate.
While Maryland graded out as a “C” overall – improving from a “C-” grade in 2012 – it ranked ahead of just 12 states in the survey; on the other hand, 26 states made a better impression on their entrepreneurial denizens. (Eight states lacked the requisite number of responses for their results to count; included in that group were neighboring Delaware and West Virginia.) While Maryland paled in comparison to Virginia, which received an “A” grade overall, it did better than Pennsylvania’s “D+” mark.
Another unique feature of this survey, though, was the addition of written responses from various business professionals throughout the state. Maryland’s overall “C” grade seems to be belied by some of the comments given in response to the survey – for example, a marketing specialist in Baltimore wrote,”The tax structure in Maryland is hurting small businesses and their owners. A more business friendly environment in Virginia is causing me to consider relocating the business there.”
Sure enough, Virginia seems to have earned its grade given the number of businesses relocating there (many from Maryland) over the last few years.
Another business owner, this time a general contractor in Gaithersburg, bemoans the tax climate here, pointing out that,”To start business in my state has been a long time period of paperwork and fees and examinations. Once the process is started, there has been no help from the state or county to obtain business. The only thing this the state cares about is your taxes and fees.”
A Walkersville production company owner adds, “Sales tax is charged on services. No other state that I have lived in requires services to be taxed.”
In general, “Maryland is a very unfriendly business state,” said a cleaner in Owings Mills.
And while not all the responses were negative, with one photographer saying “it was easy to start a business in Maryland,” and praising the state’s SBA and websites, all but a couple of the fifteen or so written responses panned some aspect of starting and succeeding at business in Maryland.
And this isn’t lost on those who conducted the survey, either.
“It is critical to the economic health of every city and state to create an entrepreneur-friendly environment,” said Dane Stangler, Director of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation. “Policymakers put themselves in the best position to encourage sustainable growth and long-term prosperity by listening to the voices of small business owners themselves.” It’s likely that 37 tax increases in a row over the last six-plus years does not an entrepreneur-friendly state make.
When I asked Sander Daniels, who commissioned the study as the co-founder of Thumbtack.com, about his perspective on the problems a state like Maryland faces, he made several points.
(As for) general advice for state/local officials (on improving their grade), I would say that it makes the most sense to identify the primary pain points for your small businesses and to balance this with what are the low hanging fruit in terms of improvement.
For example, we found that licensing/permitting regulations are very important to small businesses. They often need to be reformed along two dimensions: the requirements themselves, which are often outdated or were the result of regulatory capture by extant businesses, and the number of overlapping regimes…covering the same issue at the city, county and state level. Fixing these issues is important; however, it is also time consuming and challenging. So, while working on these important but long term reforms, the state could simultaneously focus on smaller improvements like ensuring that more forms and processes are handled through easy to use websites…
(On taxes) our analysis was on a national level. Also, I should probably clarify slightly. It’s not that taxes weren’t important – in fact they were one of the most important factors – but that licensing regulations were often more important, particularly to new and expanding firms. We felt that this is an important thing to highlight given that while taxes are a frequent topic of conversation, licensing and permitting regulations get comparatively little airtime.
But the lesson which needs to be learned comes from a Virginia businessman who noted, “Maryland is losing companies to Virginia due to heavy taxation, although the federal government presence is as prominent there as it is here in Virginia. When government gets out of the way – companies thrive.” It’s not clear which portion of StateStat or the so-called “Genuine Progress Indicator” (read: excuses for poor economic performance) might cover this part of the equation, but the message couldn’t be more clear.
Crossposted on Watchdog Wire, with quote from Sander Daniels added here.
Normally I try to do a blow-by-blow of these events by question but instead this time I want to do it by candidate. Many of the questions concerned an issue I also think is paramount, and that’s economic development. Small wonder when the local Chamber of Commerce is the co-sponsor.
And as an executive editorial decision, summarizing by candidate also gives me the opportunity to comment on their final release of financial statements prior to the election.
I want to begin with District 1, a fight in which I have no dog in because I live in the city’s other district. Through a quirk in the City Charter, we found out the primary election did nothing but act as a poll as to relative position in the race. We found both April Jackson or Cynthia Polk would need to find perhaps 80 to 85 votes to get to victory while Shanie Shields only needs around 60 (based on 2009 results, where just over 250 total votes were cast.) But District 1′s pathetic turnout means it’s quite possible the first to 100 votes wins.
I’ll begin with April Jackson, who attended this forum after missing the PACE event in February and almost missing the cutoff in the primary. Her 53rd and tying vote was practically the last one counted in the final canvass.
Her business vision was one of creating a five-year plan to bring in business and tourism, stating “I have no doubt in my mind” the city could succeed. Among the successes she would like to work on if elected is the North Prong/Lake Street neighborhood, something which is currently “a complete eyesore” but could be revitalized.
April also felt that the way to a better business environment was to find out what the city wants or needs. But something the city didn’t need was the enhanced disclosure form argued about by City Council, a document Jackson called “totally unnecessary” and “not feasible.” Moreover, she believed we do need a full-time city attorney.
She also contended, on the question of consolidating city and county services, that we should all work together – I gathered she was more open to the idea than most. In the end, Jackson advocated for a clear vision, smart planning, and open dialogue and vowed to serve with “dignity, direction, and determination.”
Through two reports Jackson has raised just $945, with most of it apparently coming from supportive family and friends. Her chief expenditures have been signage and a radio ad running on local gospel station WDIH-FM.
Fellow challenger Cynthia Polk pledged to bring “the power to listen” to City Council, advocating herself for “active listening.” Yet while she spoke about “the power of no,” Cynthia noted that “every no don’t mean no,” quoting her grandmother. And even on the question of a full-time city attorney, she was noncommittal: “I would have to go and listen.”
She was more decisive about and critical of the much-discussed disclosure form, though, calling it a “borderline invasion of privacy.” Polk was “leery” of exceeding the state requirements for disclosure on a city form. She was also concerned about the consolidation of services with the county, citing the level of service and the budget as factors.
However, Cynthia was willing to create jobs – her “top priority” – through collaboration with local universities and expanding the enterprise zones to include more of District 1. She also pondered how we could attract more Ocean City-bound traffic and tourism – but she seemed a little bit hesitant to embrace mayoral candidate Joe Albero’s claim he would double as the city’s economic development director, jumping in on a mayoral question to note economic development “is a specialty.”
Polk did believe the River’s Edge project, which is near her home, would “give the whole area a lift.” The city needs innovation, and an opportunity to restore that area to the prominence it once had instead of the question “why do you live over there?” Cynthia noted in her closing her shortcomings as a public speaker, but that answer proved she could speak clearly and passionately when needed. “I’m the candidate for the rest of us,” she concluded.
After not filing a full financial report in the primary because she didn’t meet the $600 threshold, Polk revealed she had raised $550 – exactly half of that self-funded – and spent most of her funds on signage. She’d also leaned heavily on three volunteers for distributing the flyers, claiming 34 hours of in-kind services from them at $8 per hour. (One of those volunteers and contributors was former City Council member and 2010 Delegate candidate Von Siggers.)
Incumbent Shanie Shields could obviously lean on her eight years on City Council, but opened up by saying she was “ready to move Salisbury forward.” But two things she wanted in her next term were “a better political climate” and “civility” – for her, the last two years have been “stressful.”
Indeed, she was very critical of the current rendition of City Council. Citing the disclosure form as an example, she revealed it was just 23 taxpayers who wanted the ordinance, with two bothering to testify. It’s “another example of not including stakeholders,” according to Shields. “We need to bring stakeholders to the table,” she would later stress in response to another query.
A second bone of contention with the city’s legislative body was the city attorney. Shields jumped on a statement by District 2 challenger Jake Day about the city attorney, charging that the city hadn’t seen a legal bill since October. “If the previous city attorney had done that we would have his head,” Shanie charged.
On the mayoral question of a full-time economic development director, Shields added her remark that she couldn’t support the hiring of one before other current city workers received raises. Her budgetary concerns extended to the idea of consolidating services with the county, a concept she believed could be handled through mutual aid pacts. Like Jackson, Shields advocated for the idea of developing the North Prong, adding in the concept of extending the existing Riverwalk to that area. She also believed the area of Germania Circle should be converted over to a park, citing how flood-prone it has been.
Not surprisingly, the incumbent has raised the most money in the race, a total which has now reached $3,170. Much of that has come from the building and rental industry – local architect Keith Fisher, realtor Michael Weisner, GNI Properties, and Investment Properties are among contributors which donated at or near the maximum $250 limit. And while she’s spent her money on the regular campaign fare of signs, radio spots, and a handful of shirts, Shanie should also be commended for spending a little bit on feeding her volunteers.
Yet while the District 1 contenders chose to try and sell themselves, the two District 2 candidates who survived the primary were running against something: Jake Day against a Council which he claims needs more collaboration and openness and Debbie Campbell against an opponent versus whom she’s several hundred votes in arrears.
Jake Day, as the leading primary vote-getter, could afford to lay back and call out the need for a business environment that’s “all about collaboration, all about openness.” That included reducing barriers to investment, creating an EDU-free zone, and “making an investment in” an economic development office and business incubator. On the other hand, when the subject of Urban Salisbury came up before the mayoral debate, Day added his belief that Urban Salisbury wasn’t structured right nor was it focused on the right things.
His vision for downtown was one with mixed-use development, something which could be worthy of being called “the capital of the Eastern Shore.” It takes a changed culture, though.
Jake was critical of the disclosure form, decrying the $1200 of city staff time in arguing over the points of an “absurd ordinance,” but one which is a “good idea, executed poorly.” Day also pointed out these and other ideas, like a proposed “lockout law”, came before Council thanks to its president, which served as a subtle dig at Council as composed. That extended to the expenditure of $110,000 Jake claimed had been spent on a city attorney. The 2,500 voters who signed a petition to revisit the city attorney question were right, added Jake. And when questioned about the 2,500 signatures by opponent Debbie Campbell, who pointed out they weren’t certified, Day said “I knocked on doors using that list.” He added that “the county is in a great place” with its internal counsel.
But on other questions, Jake was more receptive. “We have to keep our mind open” to the possibility of combining city and county services if it’s efficient.
In his closing statement, Day pointed out this would be the last gathering of the candidates. “This has been an incredible experience,” he said, adding his admiration for former Council aspirant Jack Heath. When we set our sights on goals, we have the people to accomplish them, Day concluded.
Financially, Day eclipsed the five-figure mark in his latest statement, raising $10,535 thus far and leading all candidates. Included in that was $250 in PAC money from the Realtors PAC in Annapolis. Day has also spent the most on radio ads and fundraisers of any Council candidate, by far.
On the other hand, and by virtue of her distant second-place primary finish, Debbie Campbell had to be more aggressive in her approach to the forum.
She repeated her belief that businesses trying to engage the city should be treated like they’re checking into a five-star hotel, and reminded voters that there had been no tax increase “yet.”
On the subject of the disclosure form, though, Debbie saw it as a way of addressing the “veil” of LLCs over public money. It “creates transparency,” she argued. This contentiousness extended to the mayoral discussion of a proposal to adopt a more stringent “lockout law.” Campbell contended it could be enforced for an unregistered firearm, and the idea was from the mayor’s office.
Debbie also chimed in on a question which turned to the subject of Urban Salisbury, making the contention that they funded the organization “for years” but never saw the desired results. “Sometimes ‘no’ isn’t the popular answer, but it is the right answer,” said Campbell.
She also spoke at some length about the consolidation of services, reminding the audience of about 75 that “the political will did not exist” to keep the human resources and IT departments together between city and county. She also noted that consolidating public safety was “deemed not sensible” but “perhaps” the public works departments could be combined.
Debbie’s vision for the city was one of increasing our tax base, stating that “we don’t need more subsidized housing.” While we have “righted the ship,” said Campbell, we still need good jobs. She was also proud of the River’s Edge project.
Toward the end of the forum, though, Campbell became more critical of her opponent. Holding up a highlighted copy of Jake Day’s 44-page plan for the city, Debbie charged “everything in green (highlighter) costs money…you have to have somebody to say you can’t afford it.” Interestingly enough, that plan is
no longer available online. (Apparently there was an issue with access from certain browsers. Jake let me know it was working, and I verified this afternoon.) But I have the (non-highlighted) draft copy.
She also believed the question of a fulltime city attorney needed to be studied on a cost/benefit basis, where she alleged the 2,500 signatures were not certified. (They weren’t because the threshold for petitioning to an election in the city requires more than 2,500 signatures.)
Debbie’s key point was her status as a fiscal watchdog – “I’ve watched your money,” said Campbell – but she was also critical of the PAC money Day has received. Holding up copies of a mailing paid for by the National Association of Realtors Fund, she cried “is our city for sale?”
Whether it’s for sale or not, Campbell still faces an uphill financial slog in her race. She’s raised $3,466 so far and her fundraiser with Jimmy Merchant was a mild success, although he and the venue cost the campaign $600, while another fundraiser cost $500. She’s also spent money on signs, but no media.
And then we come to the mayor’s race.
Did Joe Albero change his mind? Some believed so regarding the Salisbury Zoo, but a careful reading of this post some observers pointed out showed he only wanted it out of city control. One could consider it privatization. “I don’t recall making that statement” about shutting down the zoo – “no way” would he do so.
But Albero would be happy to comply with the disclosure law. “I have no problem exposing information that’s being required,” said Joe, instead chiding the “overbearing” lockout law.
Joe’s prime platform plank, though, is economic development. “I will become the next economic development director of Salisbury,” said Joe, who added that a $51 million business wouldn’t be run part-time, so neither should the city. We have to market Salisbury on the western Shore, Joe contended, pointing out the difference in costs between the two areas.
Yet, under Ireton, nothing has been done in four years, Albero charged, later extending the idle time to 16 years. “How’s that working out for you?” he asked. If elected, said Joe, there will be no more fingerpointing. He also pledged two key things: “I will not raise taxes” and “we will revitalize downtown Salisbury.” But downtown as a district now was “long on arts and short on entertainment.” We need to think big and make it a destination location, added Joe.
The loss of business “needs to change,” said Albero.
What may also need to change before the election is Albero’s financial status. Two of the five entities which donated to Albero in the second phase of reporting were local businesses, while two others were based out of Delaware. Joe has raised just $600 in the most recent period, bringing his overall total to $7,150 – with $5,000 being his own seed money. Two other oddities about his latest statement: no recorded expenditures and the series of sheets notes him as a “Candidate for City Council.” (The first report was properly shown as “Candidate for Mayor.”)
Jim Ireton has the advantage of incumbency, but it also yielded him tough questions. For example, the idea of false alarm fines, which was so unpopular that Ireton promised to send it back to Council for a work session. He added “I don’t have a vote” on it. The same was true about the “overwhelming” disclosure law being discussed.
In terms of economic development, Ireton bemoaned plans that have just sat there for thirty years, and stated you need “some money spent to make money.” Moreover, City Council “cut Urban Salisbury to the bone” despite the contention by Jim that they brought in $6-7 for every dollar spent. “What happened to Urban Salisbury is a tragedy,” said Jim.
“No one has fought harder for the city,” Ireton said when asked about his plan. He also jumped on Albero for his lack of political experience, saying “you have to know what an RFP is (and) you have to move forward in reality.”
When asked about new projects, Jim stated “I already think Salisbury is a wonderful place.” We needed to use its assets to create prosperity. He wrapped up his presentation by stating some of his accomplishments: moving the barges off the North Prong, a 40% drop in crime, and being selected as an All-American City among them. Indeed, Jim claimed “I have tried to say yes” but “my two opponents” have done otherwise – Ireton was lumping Albero with Campbell; however, he did not mention his own endorsement of Campbell opponent Jake Day.
While Albero and Ireton were roughly even after the first report, Ireton has also eclipsed the five-figure line in donations, gathering $10,148.65 in contributions. One noticeable aspect of Ireton’s contributors, though: over half hail from outside the immediate area, including State Senator Richard Madaleno, another openly gay politician.
Also, while Ireton has spent the usual money on radio ads, print media, and coffee – plenty of java from Main Roots Coffee here in town – it’s also notable that he and Jake Day shared the cost of an election night event at River’s Edge. While it’s not the worst-kept secret that Jim Ireton would like Debbie Campbell ejected from City Council, one has to wonder how the city will be run if Campbell is flipped aside for Day and the 3-2 logjam swings away from current beneficiaries Campbell, Council President Terry Cohen, and Tim Spies.
Next month, we may just find out. Moderator Ernie Colburn noted at the end that “there are no losers here.” If the wrong choices are made, I think he will be wrong and Salisbury will drift further along toward obscurity.
I’m always leery of pieces of legislation which imply they’re about “fairness” and the Marketplace Fairness Act is no exception.
I was alerted to this by a group called Americans for Job Security, which called the MFA something where “our shared conservative principles matter”:
Limiting the reach of the federal government by returning power to the states. Leveling the playing field so government gets out of the business of picking winners and losers. Ending the federal subsidies that put one part of an industry over another.
There is currently a bill before the U.S. House and Senate that embraces each of these principles, the Marketplace Fairness Act. This legislation is an important step towards protecting taxpayers and enacting our shared principles.
Unfortunately, the Marketplace Fairness Act does none of these things.
For example, rather than return power to the states, the MFA “requires that states must simplify their sales tax laws.” To me, that sounds like yet another federal mandate.
The MFA, it is argued, doesn’t level the playing field, either. A coalition of conservative groups writing under the R Street Institute states the case that:
…(T)he bill would create a decidedly “unlevel” playing field between brick-and-mortar and online sales. Brick-and-mortar sales across the country are governed by a simple rule that allows the business to collect sales tax based on its physical location, not that of the item’s buyer. Under the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” that convenient collection standard would be denied for online sales, forcing remote retailers to interrogate their customers about their place of residence, look up the appropriate rules and regulations in thousands of taxing jurisdictions across the country, and then collect and remit sales tax for that distant authority.
Nor can I find the federal subsidies proponents refer to – presumably that’s a backhanded way of referencing previous Supreme Court decisions which said collecting tax for multiple jurisdictions was too much of a burden for small businesses. And whether there’s software out there which can do this is besides the point – unless it’s constantly updated with the changes made by any of the thousands of taxing jurisdictions on a regular basis, they run the risk of flouting the law. Proponents use the analogy of dealing with real-time shipping, but real-time shipping is only market-based and not a legal requirement.
The real reason for the Marketplace Fairness Act is admitted by proponents at the end of their spiel:
…(T)he Marketplace Fairness Act will help the many states now facing significant budget shortfalls. Although some suggest these States have a “spending problem” rather than a “revenue problem,” it is important to recognize that these States have already been reducing their spending levels year-over-year and increasing collection and enforcement efforts based upon their existing sales and use tax laws.
Maybe other states are reducing their spending levels, but I know Maryland isn’t reducing its spending anytime soon.
We know what advantage states with lower taxes have over the states with higher rates – all one has to do is see how many big-ticket businesses locate themselves just across the Delaware line from Salisbury. And although Maryland residents are supposed to declare their sales tax for items purchased in Delaware, the general attitude (one I share) can be summed up in one two-word phrase: Molon labe. Needless to say, cross-border businesses (particularly gas stations this year) are forever salivating at the prospect of higher taxes for Maryland residents.
A primarily sales-tax free Internet is a boon for consumers. The companies pushing for this marketplace “fairness” are a collection of large retailers, both online and brick-and-mortar, which would be able to afford the overhead required to make these changes while small mom-and-pop outlets would be hindered. If the recovery is about jobs, I think on balance more would be lost than created if MFA becomes the law of the land.
Update: While I was writing this piece, I thought about Martin O’Malley’s bid to tax internet purchases last year and Robert Stacy McCain’s reaction to that fiasco came to mind. Just had to find it.
But instead of particular states trying to sniff their way into the honey pot of e-commerce money, in this case the federal government wants the whole enchilada. Once the mechanism is in place, what’s to stop the feds from using the precedent to add their own national sales tax on Internet purchases? While I am a proponent of the FairTax, I don’t see anyone repealing the Sixteenth Amendment anytime soon.
On Monday night the Wicomico County Republican Club held its monthly meeting with gubernatorial candidate Blaine Young as the guest. Young spoke for about a half-hour on a number of topics, mainly relating to events in Frederick and surrounding Frederick County, a place where rapid growth over the last several years has come from those he jokingly described as “refugees from Montgomery County.”
Blaine outlined his position as President of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, although that position will soon be abolished as Frederick County will join a number of other Maryland counties which have adopted a County Executive form of government. In fact, just like Wicomico County, Frederick will have a similarly-comprised seven-member County Council as well beginning in 2014.
In speaking to those gathered, though, Young made it clear his biggest influence after completing a brief previous political career as an alderman in the city of Frederick was that of becoming a small business owner. “It woke me up and opened my eyes,” he said. Blaine is also a radio host, a daily enterprise he claimed the local papers and liberals hate. But his overall stable of business support between 120 and 140 people, stated Young.
But Blaine made the case that he took the appointment to the Commission in 2010 and subsequently decided to run for a full term because his predecessors “liked to spend money.” Instead, the slate he led into office is “a very property-rights oriented commission” which “started slashing away” at a $48 million deficit and turned it into a $29 million surplus. They did so by cooperating with the local Chamber of Commerce to adopt over 200 of their suggestions, eliminating taxes and rescinding “frivolous” fees. The number of county employees had also declined by 400 during his tenure, Young added.
(continued at the Watchdog Wire…)
Five of six Salisbury City Council hopefuls pleaded their cases before over 100 voters and observers at Perdue Hall on the campus of Salisbury University last evening. Included among the audience were the other three members of City Council not up for election and mayoral candidate Joe Albero. Mayor Jim Ireton was a no-show from the event as was District 1 candidate April Jackson, who was dealing with “health issues.”
Unfortunately, I arrived a little late and missed most of the candidates’ opening statements. But the questions, delivered by moderator Ernie Colburn, mainly dealt with the business aspect of Salisbury – something to be expected when a co-sponsor is the local Chamber of Commerce.
One example was the lidlifter, which asked candidates what their top three priorities for change would be. Shanie Shields would “build partnerships for positive change,” focusing on business, education, and advocating for a STEM program (science, technology, engineering, and math.) Her District 1 opponent, Cynthia Polk, told the audience “my first priority would be jobs.” She wanted to take advantage of local universities and the proximity of Wallops Island as well.
District 2 incumbent Debbie Campbell believed the “things we can do are only limited by our ability to work real hard.” Economic development and public safety were among the items she wished to focus on in a third term, citing her “attention to detail” as an asset. She pointed to the River’s Edge development as a possible way to drive tourism business from Ocean City.
Meanwhile, Jake Day saw it as a matter of restoring prosperity and pride, particularly pride in our government, which he claimed suffered from a “culture of antagonism and pessimism…it has to change.” He wanted to encourage more youth involvement as well.
“My role will be one of a catalyst and culture changer,” said Jack Heath. He then reiterated the familiar themes he’s established throughout his campaign: enhancing the quality of life through jobs, recreation, education, and a safe environment, creating an inviting and vibrant downtown, and having the city government adopt the best ideas regardless of where they came from.
The next question seemed to be tailored as an attack on District 2 incumbent Debbie Campbell, since it asked about the “culture of ‘no’” on the City Council. Heath drew the first response, calling himself “a negotiator…it all starts with culture.” He vowed that, if elected, “I will sign a civility agreement” and ask the others to sign as well. Jake Day agreed, saying we needed open communication and “an entire culture shift.” He promised to establish what he called “coffee talks” and a mayoral/council blog. (It’s worth pointing out that one mayoral candidate and two Council members already have blog sites.)
Debbie Campbell is one of those Council bloggers, but she disagreed with the premise of the question. “This Council has said yes to 70 out of 80 ordinances and 190 out of 200 resolutions,” she countered. If the Daily Times would put news on the news pages and opinion on the opinion pages, we would be better off, she assessed. On the other hand, the renovated Bateman Street/Onley Road intersection was an example where “no” eventually became “yes” once the project was improved, said Campbell.
Shanie Shields disputed Campbell’s account, noting that some of the projects which Council rejected would benefit District 1, like the Bricks project. She wouldn’t sign the Heath civility agreement, since it’s “just a piece of paper,” but wanted to bring back the goal-setting sessions Council used to have.
While Cynthia Polk didn’t have experience with the Council, she pointed back to her time at the former Dresser facility where she organized the employee assistance program. Citing the declining health of her husband of 46 years, she wistfully noted that “once I become a city council person, that’s my family. Family is everything.”
Returning to the economic scene, the question of how to attract higher-paying jobs was next. Debbie Campbell drew the leadoff answer and declared “I think that we leverage what we have…(Salisbury is) uniquely positioned to fill a void” on tech jobs. One other idea worth implementing was using the excess EDUs from the Linens of the Week property, offering them to an entrepreneur who could utilize the property as a job creator.
Shanie Shields, however, believed that property should revert to something along the lines of the neighborhood’s residential nature, like a community center. We need to give kids hands-on experience, Shanie declared, but concluded by asking the question “Are we business-friendly in this town? The answer is no.”
Jake Day used a sports analogy to begin his answer. “We have a great defense, but we need to turn it to a great offense.” He walked through a laundry list of accomplishments from those in his high school class, pointing out one thing in common: they weren’t done here. The kids left Salisbury because opportunities weren’t here, said Day. We need to be more proactive and set ourselves up for success, continued Jake, adding we should remove investment barriers, create a business incubator, and have a full-time economic development officer. Opponent Jack Heath more or less agreed with Day, adding “we need to challenge the university” to come up with additional ideas.
Cynthia Polk recalled the “runaround” she had to endure when opening her business, making the suggestion that it could be done as a piece of software the city could sell.
The next topic got the luxury of longer responses, and crime was the subject. Again Campbell received the lead answer, and she told the audience that while we’ve made progress – in part due to the Safe Streets program – there’s a long way to go. Debbie bemoaned the fact that, for years, the city lost officers to other jurisdictions where they could be paid better, but salary adjustments were made in this budget and the mayor chose not to veto them.
When it comes to increased pay for officers, “I couldn’t agree more,” said Jake Day. But he went further, calling for another 30 police officers. He warned we’ll have to make “hard choices” when it comes to other investments, but didn’t want to ignore technology improvements, either. Those were far down his list of crime-fighting measures, however, as the extra personnel was key.
Jack Heath, however, cautioned there’s another side of the issue – “Thirty cops is extremely expensive.” He quoted a figure of $100,000 per officer (which means the city would need another $3 million each year for 30 more police officers.) Technology could help in high crime areas, he added, but he would defer to the wishes of police Chief Barbara Duncan.
“You can’t lock everyone up,” said Cynthia Polk in her response, which focused more on the root causes. “I don’t know how much that would cost,” she said of after-school programs, but she felt something was needed to respond to a “sense of desperation” on the west side. Polk also came up with a thought about teaching chess in these after-school programs, claiming you could tell the difference between a “chess mind” and a “checkers mind.”
Shanie Shields was more clear: “I do not want to see the city become a police state…most of the people in jail look like me and Cynthia.” (All three District 1 candidates are black.) She called on more preventative programs, but believed they should be funded by Annapolis and Washington, “instead of locking up people.”
The next question dealt with the choice between raising taxes and cutting services. “That’s a loaded question,” Jack Heath replied. He believed revenue could be gained through increasing economic activity.
Jake Day agreed with that principle, although he couched it in terms of increasing property values. To achieve that end, Day called for a downtown-centric approach, wondering aloud how a city could value riverfront surface parking when “we have to create vibrant, livable places.” He repeated an earlier point about removing barriers to investment, and wanted to use budget surpluses to keep a 10% operating reserve. In the meantime, though, “we may need to cut services.”
Debbie Campbell disagreed, though. “This year proved we didn’t have to do either,” she noted. In fact, they funded a few extra items to avoid a tax increase as the budget plan they adopted had items she didn’t care for funding. And after she pointed out that business development pays for itself (as opposed to residential development being a net loss) Campbell concluded “you need a legislator who sharpens her pencil every year.”
Shanie Shields also believed the mayor didn’t have to raise taxes. “Taxes are a bad word,” said Shanie, but she also warned “you can’t cut everything in a budget…I don’t believe in going line by line.” Shainie also bemoaned the fact we have no retail downtown, complaining you have to get in the car and run to Royal Farms or Walgreens to get an aspirin.
So how do we create a business-friendly climate? the body was asked. For Jack Heath the answer was simple: it’s culture. Negotiate the best deals possible, and return to the inclusion process the city had several years ago. Cynthia Polk extended this inclusion idea to one of cultural inclusion, calling for a downtown filled with ethnic eateries.
Debbie Campbell was more direct: “I don’t believe in developer giveaways,” she said. But instead of dealing with excessive bureaucracy, business developers “ought to feel like they just checked into a five-star hotel,” Campbell concluded.
On the other hand, Shanie Shields called herself a “business-friendly person” and told those gathered we need to bring people to the table. We weren’t willing to work with the developers of the abandoned Station 16 project, a building which is downtown sitting empty, said Shanie. She praised the expansion of Salisbury’s enterprise zone to new areas along Snow Hill Road and Eastern Shore Drive.
Once again pounding the themes of being proactive and reducing barriers, Jake Day said we need to become a community willing to invest in itself. But we need no new impact fees, Day said.
The closing statements were quite diverse. Cynthia Polk made it known that she’s not the greatest public speaker, but she had other skills in business ownership and development to make up for it. “I am very versatile,” she said. “I look at people from soul to soul.”
Shanie Shields felt it was her “experience and love for people” that gave her the edge. She spoke about growing up in Salisbury and dealing with family tragedies here, but she had chosen to stay in the town where she was born.
“I stand on my record,” said Debbie Campbell. Noting that legislation required someone who was “detail-oriented,” she cautioned that if a proposal violates state or federal law, “that should be enough to stop you.” It was not her goal to have a “rubber-stamp Council.”
Vowing to bring a “new energy” and “spirit of partnership,” Jake Day seized a little bit on Campbell’s theme, noting that his time in the Army had made him a leader, a planner, and detail-oriented. He would work hard in the position, Day added.
The final word belonged to Jack Heath, who, when asked why he was interrupting his retirement to run, said it was because he loves the city. “Work needs to be done (and) I have the experience,” Heath stated. He promised to make decisions based not on his personal beliefs but what was best for Salisbury.
This is among the final public forums for the six City Council candidates, who will be whittled down to four come next Tuesday. Obviously April Jackson’s health issues come at a most inopportune time as she faces two political veterans, and it may be hard for her to overcome that disadvantage. Yet with such a tiny probable number of votes cast in her district, it’s really difficult to know just how the District 1 race will turn out.
In District 2, however, I suspect Campbell and Day have the advantage going into the final weekend. Jack Heath needs to make a last-minute push for votes to avoid elimination, as I see it.
I thought about adding it to an upcoming edition of odds and ends but decided this needed to be promoted to its own column. A few days ago I commented on a story in The Brenner Brief regarding an Ohio woman who was fighting her local utility over the installation of a “smart meter” and I added that our power company sends us a card each spring with an offer to have a new two-way thermostat installed.
Indeed, just like the swallows of Capistrano (or, for something closer to my birthplace, the buzzards of Hinckley, Ohio) it seems like a sure sign of spring is that mailing from Delmarva Power, and I received it earlier this week. Promoting the theme of “5 Things you may not know about Energy Wise Rewards Maryland” it claims the following:
- 25,000 Marylanders have already joined Energy Wise Rewards, or 1 out of 7 eligible homes in the region.
- Energy Wise Rewards has reduced customer bills by more than $3 million.
- Energy Wise Rewards avoids generating 27 million watts of energy per conservation period, supposedly enough electricity to power 10,000 homes for one hour.
- More than 25,000 Energy Wise Rewards devices are installed in our area, with a goal of 54,000 by year’s end.
- During a conservation period, the program removes more than 125,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air, like taking 24,000 cars off the road.
So their goal is to be in about 1/3 of the eligible homes by the end of the year, which would maybe save enough electricity to perhaps supply three homes for a year per conservation period. Three whole homes!
And if you take the $160, split between an $80 installation credit and up to $80 in annual reward credits, I can see where the $3 million figure comes from. In actual electricity costs to the utility, assuming there are 30 conservation periods a year, your savings might be a buck or two. (A home uses roughly 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.)
Yet what do you give up? The right to maintain your home at a temperature you choose. The flyer notes:
…on select summer Peak Savings Days, we’ll cycle off and on your (central air conditioning or heat pump) unit for short intervals (conservation periods.)
Your A/C compressor will continue to run for part of the time it did prior to the conservation period. You can expect a 1- to 3-degree rise in temperature, but most people don’t notice a change at all. (Emphasis mine.)
You might like your home at 72 degrees in the summer, but they want it to be 75 degrees.
Of course, when I worked a regular work schedule several years ago, I had a much simpler plan: I turned off my a/c when I went to work and turned it back on when I came home. I would keep the thermostat at 75 and normally when I walked in the door it would be 80 to 84 degrees in the house – an hour later, generally the time I finished my walk, it would be 75 degrees. It was a good system which fit my needs.
But if I bowed to Delmarva Power’s demands, it seems to me my cooling process would take a lot longer as the unit cycles on and off, never mind the wear and tear on the unit. And once you cede control for this purpose, what’s to say they won’t decide someday – in the name of conservation – to cycle it off completely until your home is warm enough for the temperature they say is best? (Generally the recommendation is 78 degrees.)
All this nanny statism is brought to you by a nasty bill which was passed in 2008 called the EmPOWER Maryland Energy Efficiency Act of 2008. And while the bill doesn’t allow a utility to directly regulate one’s thermostat – yet – that may become an option if the state decides on more ambitious goals beyond the 2015 end date of what’s being termed EmPOWER 2.0.
Don’t get me wrong: if energy efficiency is something you want, I encourage you to study the costs and benefits of making improvements. (A good payback period to me is five years or less; for example, if putting in a new energy-efficient climate control system costs $2,000 but saves you $400 annually in heating bills, it’s a good investment. But if it’s only saving you $100 a year, it’s not worth the outlay when it comes to energy efficiency. (Obviously repairs and upkeep can factor into this as well.)
If the state wants to make their facilities more energy efficient using the payback period I outlined above as a guide, well, knock yourselves out, kids. That seems to me a prudent investment, assuming of course the facility houses a legitimate government function.
But I’m very leery about putting a utility (and by extension, the government since this is a state mandate) in charge of my comfort. How we use our energy in our personal domicile should be up to us and the economic realities we face – obviously if we can’t afford a $1,500 fuel oil bill every winter, we have to turn down our thermostats or find cheaper alternative sources. But that’s a decision we as home occupants make, not someone at the utility company or state regulator.
The first press shots across the bow by Salisbury mayoral challenger Joe Albero came in a slickly produced press release decrying incumbent Jim Ireton for…not showing up at a boxing event.
When I saw the headline “Albero Supports Youth Sports Program” my first thought was, okay, where is he going to get the money to pay for it? Instead, the thin gruel I was subjected to went like this:
Salisbury mayoral candidate Joe Albero attended Saturday’s “Warriors of the Ring” event at the Main Street Gym. The event was in support of Main Street Gym’s youth boxing program. Albero and his wife Jennifer, along with other local businesspersons such as John Robinson and Danny Burt, were sponsors of Saturday’s event.
Albero stated, “The work that Hal Chernoff has done with our local youth is phenomenal! Boxing is a great sport which instills the values of hard work and discipline. These are the same traits which will help these young people succeed as adults.”
Albero lamented the absence of his opponent, incumbent mayor Jim Ireton. “I’m sorry that Jim wasn’t able to be here tonight. We were both asked to participate in tonight’s event. Regrettably, Jim felt that campaigning was more important than showing support for this great program and our area youth.”
Both candidates had been invited to participate in Saturday’s event. Ireton declined, stating that he was too busy campaigning for re-election.
So Jim Ireton decided not to show up at a boxing match in favor of “campaigning,” yet his opponent makes a campaign issue out of it. I think I’d be more worried if Ireton didn’t show up at a mayoral forum.
This superficial criticism seems to set a poor tone for the remainder of the campaign. The question, to me, is not whether Joe Albero went to a boxing match or whether Jim Ireton skipped it, but what steps would either take to support the youth sports program, whether with or without city resources. That’s what you titled the press release! As a blogger, Joe should know better. And if you want to base your vote on the fact Albero shows up at certain events, well, there’s not much I can do to help you.
It’s bad enough that Jim Ireton promises more of the same. From his Facebook page:
I am looking forward to talking to citizens about how our city has significantly lowered crime rates, how we have created the first Wicomico River Watershed Plan, and how we have partnered with so many businesses and groups in the continued revitalization of our neighborhoods and our downtown. Salisbury has made great strides by saying “YES” to so many partnerships with those who want our city to succeed and I am excited to ask our citizens to let me continue to lead on important issues. For all the times other elected officials have said “NO” to our citizens, I have said “YES” to moving Salisbury forward.
While it can be argued that crime is indeed down and the city received a small quasi-federal grant (read: borrowed money), the key economic indicators don’t seem to be heading in the right direction, as businesses continue to shut their doors. Eventually that will bring the crime rate back up.
(One of those fairly recent business casualties belonged to the aforementioned Robinson – who, in the interest of disclosure, happens to be one of my advertisers for a separate business – as the Delmarva Crossroads newspaper never really got off the ground after last summer’s debut. In that same post I noted the proposed opening of the Aqua Restaurant, and guess what? They went belly-up in a matter of weeks, too. So much for downtown revitalization.)
Year-over-year, Salisbury’s statistical metropolitan area (which includes all of Somerset and Wicomico counties, with Salisbury being the principal driver) had an unemployment rate improvement of just 0.1% (8.7% to 8.6%) which placed it both above the national average and in the bottom quadrant of improvement overall when compared to the 371 other statistical areas around the country. (We did better than the Baltimore-Towson and Dover statistical areas in improvement, but their base rates are far lower.)
So the real question has thus far been ignored. How do you bring prosperity back to our fair city? Start answering.
Update: Since I originally wrote this, Albero put out another release which is somewhat of an improvement but still short on details.
As has often been the case, Martin O’Malley’s personal irritant – that burr under his saddle known as Change Maryland – came out with hard jobs data which showed he’s the job-losing governor.
Using federal employment figures, the number crunchers at Change Maryland found out that 22 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions have seen total employment fall from 2007 through 2011. The only two jurisdictions showing gains were St. Mary’s and Howard counties, with St. Mary’s state-leading growth pegged at 6.2 percent. (In real jobs, it’s just under 2,500. Howard County had a smaller 2.8% gain but it translated into just over 4,000 jobs.)
To be fair, though, the numbers through the first half of 2012 would prove sufficient to put eight counties in the black from their 2007 average. Even that comes with a caveat, though, for in June employment tends to be around the highest in the calendar year; in particular June numbers would pull Worcester County to a point where its employment growth would be 20 percent. That’s why Change Maryland opted to use a common yearlong average in compiling its bleak set of figures.
Speaking in the press release accompanying the numbers:
“Coming out of the recession, we’re just not posting strong gains consistently, across the state,” said Change Maryland Communications and Policy Director Jim Pettit. “And we’re finding that our largest jurisdictions are pulling employment levels down, and we need to see an opposite trend in order to restore economic performance statewide.”
On the very last page of their release, Change Maryland ranks each county in percentage growth (or decline) and that’s where Martin O’Malley’s War on Rural Maryland (and, in particular, the Eastern Shore) rears its ugly head. The bottom nine performers, the laggards in an already slothlike recovery, just so happen to be the nine counties comprising the Eastern Shore. (In order from bad to worst, they are Caroline, Worcester, Somerset, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, Wicomico, Talbot, Cecil, and Kent.) 12,853 jobs have been lost in the period between 2007 and 2011 within that nine-county area, which had a total employment of 159,501 as of the end of 2011. Put another way, for every 100 jobs which existed here on the Eastern Shore in 2007, only 92 remained four years later.
So why is the Eastern Shore holding back the state? I have a number of theories, some of which can be traced to O’Malley’s liberal policies and others being systemic problems without such a quick fix.
Obviously the O’Malley bias against rural development is best shown by the passage of SB236 last year, a bill which allowed the state to butt into local planning decisions and encouraged growth only in limited areas. Want to build a job-creating facility in an area with room to expand? Not so fast. The ever-increasing taxes and fees adopted or expanded by O’Malley haven’t helped much either.
But we can’t completely blame O’Malley for everything, regardless of the temptation to do so. Bad decisions have been made by the previous federal, state and local authorities as well, most particularly in the area of infrastructure and transportation. Most glaring among those to me was not building a southern crossing over Chesapeake Bay at its narrow portion just west of Cambridge and not pushing to have a better north-south highway built through Delaware, to allow quicker access to the Northeast. Both of those would be difficult, if not impossible, to complete now in the present anti-growth climate.
There will be those who say the problem with the Eastern Shore is that it’s grown too much and losing its rural character. But I beg to differ, as that rural character is falling victim more to the ubiquitous, homogenized media culture than to any growth. We are a long, long way from becoming Howard County or the bedroom suburbs south of Washington, D.C. because we don’t have a large metropolis to serve as a driving force for suburbanization. (The largest Eastern Shore city is Salisbury, with a population just over 30,000. Several I-95 corridor suburban bedroom communities are larger by themselves, not to mention the root urban area.) Even if we grew at an astounding rate of 10 percent a year, Wicomico County would take decades to get to the level of a Montgomery County.
But we’re not going to get anywhere except to becoming the next deserted dust bowl if policies in Maryland (and nationally) don’t change. Change Maryland just showed us the evidence that what we’re doing now is a disaster.
As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that Delegate Mike McDermott introduced a bill to repeal last year’s SB236. HB106 is seventeen pages long, but practically all of the text is there in order to show existing law which would be scrubbed. A total of 24 GOP co-sponsors are behind the bill, which is awaiting a hearing in Delegate Maggie McIntosh’s Environmental Matters Committee.
Yesterday that thorn buried deep in Martin O’Malley’s side known as Change Maryland put out an eight-page report lambasting the state’s Department of Business and Economic Development as a “politically-driven marketing agency (and) not a job-creating organization.” While the report was critical, it also outlined a number of ideas for improving the agency and returning its focus to economic development, not just to be another propaganda tool for Martin O’Malley.
Step one is getting the DBED to put out useful information and guidance for local economic development units. Change Maryland head Larry Hogan remarked that:
There is no reason that Democrats, Republicans and Independents can’t work together on the shared goals of increasing employment. First we need to get on the same page and provide basic economic information in one place so we can see where we are going and how to get there.
While the Change Maryland study makes many key points, one mistake that they make – and perhaps it’s something which can be rectified in subsequent reports – is falling into the trap of assuming the DBED can be a one-size-fits-all repository for economic development. Whether formally or informally, local governments also have ideas about how they can best take advantage of their assets – thus, this particular facet of government is where the One Maryland O’Malley idea truly falls on its face. Industry drivers like natural scenic features and convenient modes of transport aren’t equally distributed across the state – the Port of Baltimore ain’t nothing to look at and Ocean City isn’t the easiest place to ship items from. Reverse these factors, though, and you find where the state can take advantage of particular job creators by listening to local input.
One point which may not be amplified enough in this study is buried on page 5:
The Maryland Made Easy website lists the results of regulatory reform under a “latest progress,” section which contains this entry from March 26: “Making It Easier to do Business in Maryland. Governor O’Malley submits more thatn (sic) 130 regulations to be revised, streamlined or repealed.” Unknown are which regulations were submitted, to whom they were submitted or their status.
Unfortunately, the report is marred by my not being able to find this specific link. However, I found this post with over 350 suggestions – some way too broad and certain to be ignored on a philosophical basis, but others rather helpful. Yet there is no follow-up to the governor’s Executive Order to streamline regulations in either case.
On the other hand, in studying what laws were passed by the General Assembly over the last several years I can ascertain that the 350 suggestions and 130 regulations were more than trumped by all the restrictions, taxes, fees, and mandates on businesses and local governments which were passed and signed into law. Any agency created to promote a state to employers would be playing at a huge disadvantage given the attitude of the current government of Maryland. As I’ve said on many occasions, the only reason we’re not an economic basket case like Nevada, California, or Rhode Island (all of which “boast” topline unemployment rates over 10 percent) is our proximity to the national seat of government.
Another great point made in the Change Maryland report is that, once again, Virginia skunked us in attracting new commercial occupancy:
The objective of the Office of Business Development is to develop and maintain a pipeline of businesses undertaking facility location decisions, i.e. where to locate warehouses, distribution hubs, corporate headquarters or office space.
In 2013 it is estimated that this office will be involved in 35 such location decisions. Of that, it is unknown how many of these facilities DBED ultimately plans to land in Maryland. On the other hand, Virginia’s comparable new and expanded facility announcements in 2011 was 273 according to Site Selection Magazine.
Alas, this is somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison but if Virginia had that many, Maryland (as a state somewhat smaller) still should have cracked triple figures. Surely it didn’t.
There’s little doubt that Maryland could bring a lot more to the table if it had leadership which was willing to work with the business community instead of using it as a piggy bank every chance it gets. While the report talked about economic development, it doesn’t speak to the economic atrophy caused by increased taxation – case in point: how many jobs have been lost thanks to Maryland increasing its alcohol tax to 9 percent and the resulting flat sales, compared to increases in other neighboring states? It may only be a few dozen jobs statewide, but those remain opportunities removed for someone trying to feed a family. “We’re not hiring” is a sad refrain throughout the state.
Economic development isn’t simple, but it’s not rocket science either. In particular, counties know what assets they have and what incentives they can afford to use in attracting and retaining jobs. But until the state gets its act together, we’ll continue to spin our wheels and while we may have success despite ourselves, the knowledge that we can do so much more will keep those who love our state and know how to fix the problem up at night.