The seduction of good intentions

In yesterday’s Salisbury Independent, County Councilman Marc Kilmer discussed his concerns about a tuition assistance program proposed by community leaders and supported by County Executive Bob Culver. The aim of this Wor-Wic College proposal would be to assist Wicomico County high school students by supplementing their available financial aid, with an estimated cost once the program is underway of $665,000 annually.

One of the examples cited by the backers of the Wor-Wic Economic Impact Scholarship is that of Garrett County at the far western end of Maryland, which has a similar program. I’m sure those on County Council have seen this document, but the Garrett County Commissioners have produced a (somewhat dated) report on the Garrett County Scholarship Program, which they began way back in 2006 – so the 2014 report had several years’ worth of data to evaluate its success.

A couple things to bear in mind are that Garrett County is not one of the wealthier counties in Maryland, and in terms of its economic strength it would fit in well with the rural counties of the Eastern Shore. As the report authors note, the county is in a transition “from an economy traditionally based on agriculture, forest products, and mining to a more diversified economy based on tourism, commerce, light industry, and construction.” But it is also far smaller than Wicomico County in terms of population, with just over 30,000 people – imagine the city of Salisbury (but not the outskirts and densely populated nearby incorporated and unincorporated areas) spread out in a far larger geographic area, as Garrett is the second-largest county in the state when it comes to land area. It doesn’t have a large populated area, either, as the largest towns of Mountain Lake Park and Oakland (the county seat) hover around 2,000 residents apiece.

According to the commissioners’ report, between 1/3 and 2/5 of the eligible students in the county took advantage of the program, but in raw numbers the total was less impressive: from a fall 2008 peak of 138 recipients, the number declined over the next several years to a low of 79 in the fall of 2013 (the last year detailed by the report.) Yet the program comes with a significant cost due to some of its qualities: for FY2013 the price tag was $427,365 and for FY2017 the county has budgeted $500,000. However, the county also assists students who are dual-enrolled in one of its two high schools and Garrett College as well as a handful who are enrolled in non-degree certificate programs, as well as encouraging students to take more than the minimum 12 credit hours to maintain eligibility. They pick up that tab.

While the programs as envisioned here in Wicomico County and the Garrett County program have somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison to them, I think it’s fair to say that the local proposal is probably going to cost more than envisioned. Expanding the Garrett scholarship to non-degree certificate programs, while a sound idea, is an example of the mission creep that often occurs with the government getting involved. It’s also worth pointing out a spike in costs came when Garrett College tuition increased significantly in 2009.

Unfortunately, the one relevant piece of data we don’t have is whether these scholarship recipients remained to take (or create) jobs in the Garrett County region. According to state records, though, the workforce in Garrett has actually declined from 15,666 to 14,475 over the last decade (April 2006 – April 2016) for a drop of 7.6%. Conversely, Wicomico County declined from 49,566 to 47,504 in that same period, for a decrease of 4.2% – so by that measure the Garrett County program may not be very successful. (Yet the Garrett unemployment rate has only risen from 4.7% to 5.7% in comparison to a jump from 3.7% to 6% in Wicomico.)

One way of expressing the cost of this program is to equate it to property taxes. For each penny of property tax, Wicomico County collects about $570,000 (this is assuming I am reading the budget correctly, of course. But it sounds about right based on my experience.) So this would be a little over a penny out of the 95 cents or so the county collects out of every $100 of property valuation. The owner of a house assessed at $200,000 would pay about $20 a year toward this goal. If that seems worth it to give students a break, then support the scholarship program.

But if I may make a couple suggestions: I think the total expenditure should be capped and given out on a first come, first served basis. I understand not everyone makes snap decisions well, but in order to be fiscally responsible we can’t let this mushroom beyond its small percentage of the county budget. I would also reserve a number of slots for certificate programs Wor-Wic offers, similar to that element of Garrett’s program. Since a P-TECH school is not yet in the cards for Wicomico County, this can be the next best thing if done correctly.

It’s not likely any member of my family will take advantage of the program, but Kilmer is right to be a little skeptical of it at this stage. The county did set aside the money to begin the program once the questions are answered, though, so it’s possible an upcoming high school class will be the first to have this option.

Rumor has it…

Certain quarters of the Maryland blogosphere are reporting that one prospective participant in the governor’s race is going off in another direction. A website called The Red White Blue as well as Jeff Quinton at RedState have both made the assertion that something I heard when speaking with a representative of another politician was true – Dan Bongino will be announcing his intention to reclaim the Sixth Congressional District seat for the GOP. Shades of Alex Mooney!

This is particularly interesting to me when you consider that just last week Bongino put out a release purportedly critical of Martin O’Malley:

Sadly, the plague of bureaucratic, government corruption is not limited to the IRS and DOJ. It appears that the O’Malley administration is attempting to rival the Obama administration in bureaucratic ineptitude with its newest scandal. The lavish, inappropriate spending of federal “stimulus” funds by Baltimore City school staff on fancy dinners and expensive watches is another sad example of the very real penalty of an increasingly unaccountable and growing government. The growth of both federal and local bureaucracy has created a ‘soft tyranny’ of diffuse responsibility. When government grows large enough to diffuse responsibility among many than the responsibility for managing it effectively belongs to no one.

But that O’Malley criticism was absent in a statement Dan made yesterday on Facebook. Instead, it leaned more in a direction critical of Washington:

The recent spate of scandals is indicative of a trend line moving painfully in the direction of a “Members-Only” government.

In over a decade within the ranks of the Secret Service, and many years in the White House, I was unfortunate enough to have been a witness to this system, which has become strictly insider-driven.

Those who are appropriately “connected” live by a completely different set of rules & government means something completely different to them. The tax code, healthcare policy, election law, environmental regulation and many other areas have been corrupted and are being used as tools to both punish and reward.

There are solutions out there but you must push your Representatives. A simplified tax code, patient-centered healthcare reform, a reduction in the burgeoning administrative state and the rolling back of many administrative functions to the states would reverse this destructive trend and help restore us to vibrant growth and give our children hope that this is not the best it is ever going to be.

Interesting choice of words: “you must push your Representatives.”

Yet the obvious question I first had when I heard this assertion was: Bongino lives nowhere near the Sixth District. There’s nothing stopping Dan from moving to that area prior to the 2014 election, though, nor does the law preclude a “carpetbagger” from representing a district because Congressmen need only live within the state they represent. Perhaps it’s still the second-best Maryland option for a Republican despite Roscoe Bartlett’s 20-point loss last year. (Andy Harris isn’t going anywhere.)

But if you look at election results, the numbers indicate an uphill battle for Bongino: he ran seven points behind Bartlett’s pace in Montgomery County – albeit these are countywide numbers for Dan and his was a three-way race.

On the other hand, Bongino carried Frederick County over Ben Cardin (although not necessarily the Sixth District portion, which Bartlett lost by 20 points.) Bongino was 400 votes behind Bartlett in Washington County, just over 1,000 votes behind in Allegany, and a little over 200 behind in Garrett. In the latter three counties, though, Rob Sobhani drew 19 percent, 13 percent, and 4 percent respectively. These counties also lie completely within the Sixth District, permitting a more direct comparison.

So I’m sure Dan Bongino has the same information I do, and probably more since he has the time and staff to delve into precinct-by-precinct results. The obvious question is whether he can make up twenty points.

One thing Democrat John Delaney has now that he didn’t have in 2012, though: a voting record. But John will have plenty of money, and perhaps the one advantage Bongino would have over would-be challengers like Delegate LeRoy Myers – who decided earlier this month not to seek another term as Delegate – is the success he had nationalizing his Senate campaign.

Of course, all this speculation could be for naught, just as the phony Bongino/Keyes ticket was last month. This is doubly true considering the source, who would likely benefit from Bongino skipping the governor’s race. But if anything it proves that Dan Bongino has some mojo as a prospective candidate for something, whether he stays home or becomes a proverbial carpetbagger.

Maybe Andy Harris should watch his back.

Where the boom is allowed to happen

June 20, 2012 · Posted in Business and industry, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on Where the boom is allowed to happen 

This post starts out with a video. Watch it and then read what I say next.

Call it propaganda from oil company shills, but the fact remains: North Dakota leads the nation with the lowest unemployment rate – even better than Washington, D.C. They have 3% unemployment, which is 0.9% better than the next state on the list (Nebraska) and a full 3.8% better than Maryland’s number. The BLS also notes that “the largest over-the-year percentage increase in employment occurred in North Dakota (+6.8 percent).”

I will caution that fracking isn’t a panacea for all unemployment ills – Pennsylvania could eventually add over 200,000 jobs related to the energy industry by decade’s end but still has a higher overall unemployment rate than Maryland does.  Part of the reason for North Dakota’s success is that it really had few other job producers before energy companies invested heavily into the Bakken play; as one observer notes in the video it wasn’t all that long ago that young people left the area because no jobs were available.

And note that not all the jobs are directly related to energy extraction, with one entrepreneur featured in the video opening her own diner and others getting work from the surge in construction. Obviously that industry will mature as supply catches up to demand but there will be other needs which will eventually have to be addressed in a growing area.

Maryland has a small piece of the Marcellus Shale formation; unfortunately the state seems to be dragging its feet on allowing its exploitation. The two counties which would stand to most benefit, though – Allegany and Garrett – have unemployment rates just about the state average as of April, with both coming in just above 7 percent. Granted, we aren’t talking about a large population center – the two counties combined are just a shade larger than Wicomico County by itself and only a small fraction of Maryland’s overall population. But imagine the impact of 2,000 new jobs in that area – I’m not saying that would necessarily be the case with fracking but that’s certainly in the realm of possibility.

It can’t hurt, can it? Moreover, cheap and abundant energy can bring industry – unlike far-off North Dakota, the western edge of Maryland is within a day’s drive from a number of large markets because of its reasonable highway access. And their success would make life just a little easier on us in the rest of the state as Annapolis can have another source of income besides raising taxes. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Why should the barren, frigid wasteland of North Dakota have all the energy fun? Let’s open Maryland up for business.

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