Helpful aid to democracy, or invitation to fraud?

I was alerted to a bill that was pre-filed regarding automatic voter registration for Marylanders, only to find that there are actually three up for consideration this year.

SB11, introduced by Senator Roger Manno of Montgomery County, and SB19, introduced by Senator Victor Ramirez of Prince George’s County, were both requested for pre-filing over the summer. While neither has been withdrawn, it appears that the two have joined forces with SB350 and gained 18 other co-sponsors from the liberal Democratic wing of the Maryland Senate.

Currently someone who wishes to register to vote has a number of options: most can do so online, although there is the route of doing so at the state MVA. However, this is an opt-in system and apparently it’s not good enough for those backing this bill as they want it to become an “opt-out” system where would-be voters would have 21 days to notify the state board that they do not want to be registered. Obviously these Democrats are counting on people to ignore the notice and be added to the voter rolls.

Those who favor “good government” and honest elections have their concerns about “opt-out” registration, but even more troubling is a proposal in Montgomery County to allow non-citizens and 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections. As it was passed by the county’s delegation, this proposed amendment to the Maryland Constitution will soon be introduced as legislation. The Maryland Voter Alliance has urged concerned citizens to help defeat this measure, stating that:

MC 25-16 must not be allowed to pass, as it will continue to muddy the rolls and flood the already-plagued system with additional ineligible individuals, particularly non-citizens and underage voters, which both are violations of state and federal law.

Of course, the proponents will protest that it’s only for local school board elections, but this is the camel’s nose under the tent for expanding the practice. Just imagine the uproar if we in the city of Salisbury passed a voter ID bill for city elections – you can bet your bottom dollar it would be taken to court by someone like the ACLU and groups from all over the country would become involved in our local issue. (Not that such a common-sense bill would pass our City Council or be supported by our mayor.)

Voting is a right, and I would love it if 100% of the population took the time to become informed on the issues and candidates and took the elections seriously. (If they did, I contend there wouldn’t be anyone left of center elected in the country.) But millions who are registered choose not to participate, and millions more have their reasons for not registering. If we get universal registration, what’s to stop the party in power from allocating the ballots of some of these voters who may not even be aware they are registered, casting votes in their name because they - and only they – know what’s good for them?

Yet if that doesn’t arrest the long-term decline in overall participation – a percentage that would only get worse with universal registration – the next step will be compulsory voting, with legal penalties for not participating. In other words, welcome to North Korea. I wonder who would win then? It sure wouldn’t be the supporters of limited government.

I suspect that these two pieces of legislation will be approved by the General Assembly, and it will be incumbent upon Governor Hogan to veto them. We have heard the discussion about this year being the session that lays the groundwork for the Democrats’ strategy to get “their” governor’s seat back in 2018, and one of these tactics was to make Hogan veto bills that Democrats can demagogue with certain voters. This would be one of them; however, he should still veto these bills.

A tale of due diligence (with a lack of cooperation)

By Cathy Keim and Michael Swartz

I have never met Ann Miller in person, but I have exchanged emails with her and I have read her columns in the Baltimore County Republican Examiner. She has always been cordial when I have requested information from her about educational issues.

Ann is a parent who has given a huge amount of time and effort to fighting Common Core and PARCC. Even with that being known, Governor Hogan appointed her to the Baltimore County Board of Education and she was sworn in last month for a three-year term. Before she could even be sworn in, there were complaints that she was too narrow minded to be on the school board and appeals to Governor Hogan to reconsider Miller’s appointment. While Miller has one child remaining in public schools, she also has one in a private school and homeschools a third.

It is to Governor Hogan’s credit that he did not rescind his appointment under pressure. Anyone who is a fan of board members actually doing due diligence in fulfilling their duties will be impressed with Ann. Although she did not become an official member until this past December, she has been requesting information about the budget and the inner workings of the Baltimore County schools for months since her appointment. (Miller was appointed several months before her term actually began.)

A key issue she faces right away is that Dr. Dallas Dance, the superintendent of the Baltimore County Public Schools, is up for a four-year contract renewal. Miller wanted to review his term carefully before agreeing Dance should serve for another four years, so she compiled a list of performance-related items for her review and requested them from the Baltimore County Public Schools. And her wait began.

Since BCPS has not responded to her requests for information, she has now asked for the information under the Maryland Public Information Act. Here is the link to see her letter and what information she is requesting. The Sun has also placed its spin on it, noting that Miller would not agree to an interview unless they published her full letter – the Sun refused.

This battle is of interest to every taxpayer and parent in Maryland. Should the school system be accountable to its board and its taxpayers by allowing oversight of the huge sums of money that are spent annually? Where is the transparency that our politicians speak of so glowingly? More importantly: why is a board member, who is appointed to a position of public trust and accountability, having to file a Maryland Public Information Act request to gain access to the budget and information pertaining to the superintendent’s performance?

Would that more of our school board members would rock the boat and demand information rather than just renewing contracts and letting the machine roll along.

You will want to keep an eye on Ann Miller and the BCPS because I suspect that we will be seeing more articles in the Baltimore Sun about her. She is angering all the right people.

Michael’s observations: I have met Ann Miller years ago, and besides our common background as Examiners, I have come to realize she is very passionate about her children and their education. It seems to me that many of these same sort of complaints were levied when John Palmer, who is a stickler for fiscal accountability, was appointed to Wicomico County’s Board of Education. Ironically, our county finds itself in a similar position except we will be appointing a new superintendent as Dr. John Fredericksen is stepping down.

It may look like an exhaustive list that Miller is requesting; however, the district has been aware of it for several months so there really is no excuse. What are they trying to hide?

My first vote

Surely you follow my site and know that each year, once the General Assembly session is over, I compile the monoblogue Accountability Project. Last year I believe I mentioned that some of the bills that I tracked were vetoed by Larry Hogan but would likely be revisited by this year’s group – sure enough, the “travel tax” was passed for a second time despite the efforts of every Republican who stood behind his or her governor. Even Senator Addie Eckardt, who co-sponsored the original bill, voted to sustain the veto.

That was one of the two bills I used for last year’s mAP. The other bill, which allows felons to vote before completing their sentences (as parole and probation are part of the sentence) has not received a veto vote yet. According to the Maryland House Republican Caucus, the reason why is that Mike Miller is one vote short and waiting for an appointee to replace former Senator Karen Montgomery, who resigned effective January 1. Given the fact Democrats hold a 32-14 edge and will get the 33rd vote when Montgomery is replaced, it appears four Democrats are feeling the pressure to stand with the governor. (If I were to guess I would say three of those four are John Astle, Jim Brochin, and Jim Mathias. They tend to be the most willing to cross the aisle in the Senate and represent conservative districts.)

Assuming the Senate gets that vote – and it won’t happen if Miller can’t rustle up the votes – that will be 2 of my 25 votes. I’m debating whether to eliminate one committee vote and one floor vote or two floor votes to accommodate these veto votes – it may depend on what else shakes out.

The felon voting override was particularly galling because it made it by one vote, and the one member of the Eastern Shore delegation who voted to override should have known better. Perhaps a “soft on crime” label will come in handy in four years because Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes won’t have an incumbent to protect her next time. It was an office that should never have received the free ride she got in 2014.

Next week’s assignment will be to get testimony in favor of our elected school board bill. Those of us who do honest work for a living can’t drop everything and go to Annapolis, but I will make it a point to write up my own statement of support. The hope is that the bill emerges unmolested and we get to decide how we want our school board to be come November.

The 67 percent solution

At 12:01 on Tuesday morning, the Maryland Democratic Party probably had a collective conniption when they found out how much damage they would have to do to Larry Hogan over the next three years in order to get “their” governor’s chair back.

That was the moment that the latest Gonzales Research Maryland Poll came off its embargo and revealed two key points that probably keep whoever is in charge of that party awake at night. In a state which features voter registration numbers 2-to-1 in their favor, even a plurality of Democrats think Republican Larry Hogan is doing a good job. (If five more Democrats had stated in the affirmative there would have a majority – as it was, 48% is a good number.) Meanwhile, 52% of those same Democrats think the state is heading in the right direction.

Overall, a whopping 67 percent of respondents approved either somewhat or strongly the job Larry Hogan is doing as governor, with a paltry 19 percent disapproving. While the margin is only 48-31 as far as Democrats are concerned, it’s that same coalition that propelled him to the governorship.

Yet the Democrats have played with fire a little bit by overriding several of Governor Hogan’s vetoes. It seems to be their priority to make life more difficult (and taxing) for travel agents and allowing felons to vote prior to completing their sentences. The ball will now be in Hogan’s court for his legislative agenda, which didn’t really fare all that well last year.

It’s obvious people like the job Larry is doing, so maybe he needs to get a little more of a bully pulpit. Imagine what his approval could reach if he got a little more Reaganesque with his tax cut proposals. Let’s make Mike and Mike (Busch and Miller) look like the obstructionists they are. I don’t want to predict we can bury the Democrats face down come 2018, but they do deserve a few shovelfuls of dirt for the damage they did to the state over the term of the guy who gets a pathetic 4.5% of the Maryland Democratic presidential primary vote.

The magic potion?

One little piece of Larry Hogan’s FY2017 budget proposal caught my eye, but I want to begin with a little reaction to the State of the Union show from my favorite manufacturing advocacy group, the Alliance for American Manufacturing and its president Scott Paul:

President Obama cited economic progress in his State of the Union address, and he also noted the need to address income inequality. If he wants to address this, he need look no further than manufacturing, which had its worst year in 2015 since the Great Recession.

While the president was right to highlight economic progress, he missed an opportunity to address some of the core concerns that are holding back manufacturing. Yes, manufacturing has added nearly 900,000 jobs over the past six years, but that represents less than 40 percent of the factory jobs lost over the recession. Only 30,000 jobs were created in 2015.

Keep that in mind as you read on, particularly the income inequality part. So I noticed a particular piece of news today, and after a bit of searching I found that Baltimore Sun writer Erin Cox included this in a story on Hogan’s tax plan:

Hogan also proposed granting a 10-year corporate tax income break for manufacturing companies new to the state who open in Western Maryland, Baltimore and the lower Eastern Shore, areas where unemployment is dramatically higher than the rest of the state.

“We’ve lost 28 percent our manufacturing base because other states were stealing our manufacturers,” Hogan said. “It was like spearing a fish in a barrel. It was too easy. We’re trying to bring back the manufacturing base because there are a lot of hard-working people in the heartland of Maryland who want to work.”

Hogan’s manufacturing tax amnesty would extend to employees of those businesses. Workers earning less than $65,000 a year would be exempt from state income taxes for a decade.

So let’s say XYZ Widgets opens a manufacturing plant in Salisbury. Not only would they get a tax break from the state of Maryland for a decade, so would the workers who make less than about $30 an hour be exempt from paying Maryland state income tax. (This would probably come as a refund once the taxpayer files his or her return.) I will cheerfully admit this goes against my grain of not supporting targeted tax cuts – particularly since it’s micro-targeted to maybe a few thousand taxpayers at most over the ten-year period – but it is an idea for the hopper that could be successful.

In fact, it extends a practice of states and municipalities granting a tax abatement to chosen entities to convince them to set up shop there. We have enough of a knowledge base now to see how these programs work for large-scale employers such as automotive assembly plants – here is one example from South Carolina, where BMW set up shop over two decades ago.

The other fly in the ointment, though, is determining what happens when the decade is up. Surely it’s the hope of Hogan and his economic development team that these companies would stay, but if not it’s the problem of his successor. My suspicion is that this program will maintain the exemption for the workers, because let’s say you’ve put your ten years in at XYZ Widgets and have become accustomed to that big state refund check. When those sands run out there will be a lot of upset taxpayers who just saw their state tax bite increase by up to $3,000 depending on income and deductions.

There’s also the question of timing. If we are to assume that the 10-year clock begins to tick for a company when they set up shop, we may see a cottage industry of new employers taking advantage of workers who are on the eighth or ninth year of their term of employment and hiring them on. Not only does the new employer poach skilled labor from the older competitors, the older companies won’t have the incentive of being able to work tax-free anymore. Conversely, a blanket starting date means that the program will work well for years 1 through 5, then begin to peter out unless extended.

And then there’s the job creation aspect that Scott Paul and AAM touch on above. Oftentimes with the use of tax incentives a manufacturing job isn’t so much created as it is transferred from somewhere else, and this particular proposal is specific to companies new to the state. So we may see a zero-sum game being played, particularly in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore as companies simply move a few miles from Delaware, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia to take advantage with many of the same workers staying on. Locally, we will see this in reverse as Perdue moves some of its operations in the next few years just across the state line to Delaware – it makes Delaware’s bottom line look a little better and takes a little bit from Maryland, but the workers are just driving a different distance and will stay in this area. (Those who live in Maryland and work in Delaware, though, will have the joy of filling out two state tax returns.)

Overall, this is an interesting idea but there are a number of ways I’ve already found to play devil’s advocate with it. Lord knows ours is a region of the state which could use an economic shot in the arm, though. I still think the complete elimination of the corporate tax (which is also discussed briefly in the South Carolina study I referred to earlier) is the better play as a job creator overall.

And lastly, I’m sure Democrats will be whipping up their base in the Capital region by pointing out they’re not included in this deal. I guarantee that if this program works for the areas with high unemployment there will be a bill within the first year or two adding the rest of the state to the mix (in the interest of fairness, of course.)

Since it’s not clear what the vehicle for attempting to bring about this change will be, I can’t track this proposal to see just what progress it makes. Perhaps it will create a split in the majority party since Baltimore City will be a beneficiary and they’ll back the Republicans who follow the governor to see this through with a narrow victory.

Let the terror begin

For years I have dubbed the annual Maryland General Assembly session the “90 days of terror,” and with good reason: no wallet or personal liberty is safe when the statists who inhabit most of the seats therein get together. Over the eight years of the previous two terms we endured tax increases, spending boondoggles, and enough new regulations to choke a horse, not to mention three measures which were petitioned to referendum by angry citizens.

While a new broom swept the governor’s office clean last year, Larry Hogan needed to get his sea legs under him as he took the helm of the ship of state so he didn’t create a huge legislative agenda last year – in a broad sense, it was about easing some of the tax burden Marylanders had been subjected to over the O’Malley administration, including repeals of the rain tax and automatic increases in the gasoline tax. Other items Hogan focused on were charter school reform and public campaign financing, which were among the few items Hogan had passed.

So since Hogan didn’t get his tax relief last year, it’s the front and center item on his 2016 agenda that kicks off later today. Democrats, of course, believe shoveling money into a bloated public education system is more important than giving hard-working Marylanders a tax break.

Something else to keep an eye on, though, are the department-sponsored bills, which now will bear the stamp of Hogan’s departmental appointees. Just like the governor, this is their first full legislative session as well and I’ve noticed a number of interesting measures coming from various departments that have already been pre-filed.

But the tension will be thick as Hogan tries to enact the agenda he promised while Democrats strive to make sure he’s another one-term Republican governor. As of 2018, it will have been 64 years since a Republican was re-elected as Maryland governor; however, Hogan has began his term as one of the most popular governors in the country and this session will occur with the backdrop of a Presidential race in which the Democrats aren’t utterly sold on their potential nominee. (Tellingly, the previous governor couldn’t even be a “favorite son” Presidential nominee from his own state.) In a contest over pocketbook issues, Hogan may have the public on his side.

We will know quickly just how the session will go as several of Hogan’s vetoes will be up for override. This was a rarity in the previous administration, but it’s worth recalling that the Democrats didn’t give Bob Ehrlich much of a honeymoon so I expect there to be at least one Hogan veto rebuffed. Democrats want to raise taxes, give felons the right to vote before completing their full sentences, make some reforms on civil forfeiture, and decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia. Out of those four vetoes, only the civil forfeiture bill originally had enough House votes to override a veto.

On a local level, we will be very interested to see what becomes of our elected school board bill. Will this finally be the year the state relents and lets the voters of Wicomico County decide its fate?

With a projection that we will have a large increase in filings over last session, it should be a year worth watching. I suspect I will have a difficult time keeping it to just the 25 votes I use for the monoblogue Accountability Project given that the veto votes will likely be included. But with a little help from my friends I look forward to the challenge.

A quick lesson in narrative

January 7, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

I don’t want to write a long post tonight – fortunately, I don’t think I’ll have to. Let’s take a look at what’s become an all-too-common assumption from the media, thanks to today’s Baltimore Sun.

The lead from writer Erin Cox states:

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday he will ask the General Assembly to grant “modest” tax cuts to working families, small businesses and retirees.

But the Republican governor offered no details on his proposed cuts nor on how he would pay for them. (Emphasis mine.)

First of all, I seriously doubt the budget will actually be reduced in real dollars – although that would be nice. No, a “cut” is now a situation where spending is less than the increase assumed to be granted. Back in the O’Malley (and Ehrlich) eras it was not uncommon for the annual budget increase to be between three and five percent, so each line item was figured as increasing by a commensurate amount. If you spent $1 million one year, you figured the budget for the next would be $1.05 million.

So when Hogan came along and nearly level-funded the budget last year with an increase of barely one percent, this was considered a “cut” because instead of the $5,000 increase the mythical agency expected, they “only” received $1,000. They got more than the previous year but $4,000 less than they thought. It’s why we spent the most on education ever yet Democrats whined about “cuts.”

But more important to this lesson is how easily the writer makes the implication that government spending less money is something that has to be paid for. We who are on the outside, with our incomes limited by how much skill and worth we have to our employers or customers, indeed have to worry about how we have to pay for expenses both expected, like rent or insurance, and unexpected, such as the extra heating oil you need. But we don’t think of cutting our family vacation out of the budget as paying – to us, it’s spending less money so that income and expenses come closer to evening out.

So if Larry Hogan wants to spend less on particular line items in the budget, these don’t have to be “paid for” because the tax dollars are already coming in. And it’s not like there’s not a long list of secondary items to consider such as paying down the state debt that O’Malley dramatically hiked or making up for raiding the pension funds.

Now that Larry has had a year to consider a budget, instead of being forced by the vagaries of the political calendar and state law to have one ready just days after taking office last year, we will see just how fiscally conservative he really is. Pushing it back under $40 billion may be a pipe dream, but since he has the most executive power over the budget of any governor in the country he may as well use it for good and point the state back toward fiscal sanity.

What do you think the narrative pushers will say about that?

A look ahead: 2016 in Maryland

Now that I made my thoughts on the fate of Wicomico County next year known, it’s time to expand the focus to the state as a whole. After the runup to the 2014 campaign and the transition of last year occupied the state over the last two years, it seems that the political class has settled in as we enter the second year of Larry Hogan’s term. His honeymoon was extended to some degree by his cancer diagnosis, but with a clean bill of health I suspect the gloves will be coming off as far as statewide Democrats are concerned. They need to position themselves for both the 2018 state election and, in some cases, the 2016 election as well. The surprise retirement announcement from Senator Barb Mikulski placed several Congressional Democrats into the race to succeed her, with House members Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen leading the charge. Elijah Cummings is also considering the race as well.

Of course, having these vacancies means ambitious state politicians are eyeing a move from Annapolis to Washington. So far five Democrats are considering the move, which in turn could create some vacancies by year’s end as it’s likely some of them emerge victorious. But on a policy note, these Democrats aren’t going to run from the political center so look for a serious turn to the left from the General Assembly this year – particularly if they succeed at overturning some of Larry Hogan’s 2015 vetoes in the opening days of this year’s session.

One place where Hogan can make a difference, though, is on the regulatory front. He doesn’t always need the General Assembly to make progress toward his goal of a more business-competitive Maryland, so look for him to try and do some pruning through his department heads.

With the economy recovering ever-so-slightly and the state addressing the structural deficit to the degree that it ran a small surplus this fiscal year, another bone of contention will be how the state’s budget is set up when it comes out next month. Having reached $40 billion last year, even the $500 million reportedly in surplus only allows the state to increase spending by a little over 1 percent – of course, the Democrats have a wish list twice that large and then some. Being used to the 4 to 5 percent annual budget increases common during the O’Malley era, Democrats consider Hogan’s smaller increases as cuts and that attitude is already in effect as we get ready to see the FY2017 budget.

Conservatives, though, probably aren’t going to see a lot of progress toward cutting the O’Malley excess on other issues. Short of a rejection to Maryland’s 2013 gun law in federal court (not likely), Hogan isn’t going to push very hard to restore Second Amendment rights or bring more school choice to the state. In year one, Hogan hasn’t really used his bully pulpit very much – granted, he was ill and undergoing cancer treatment for a large portion of the year but if you’re expecting Hogan to be another Ronald Reagan you may be disappointed. Besides the toll and fee decreases we were given last year, there’s not been much of a push for overall tax relief either thanks to the continuing structural deficit that Hogan’s predecessors have granted to him.

To the extent that Maryland has a large majority of Democratic voters, perhaps the best a conservative can expect is to slow down the leftward slide into the abyss. Bringing real change to the state is perhaps a multiple-term effort – not just the two Hogan may be fortunate enough to receive, but also with the hope that he paves the way for a more conservative successor. With the exception of one Bob Ehrlich term, the state has shifted leftward more or less continuously for decades so it will take time to undo the damage.

With the national election and the real prospect of conservative change in mind, the Maryland Republican agenda should be one of working the state away from its reliability on Uncle Sam as both employer and provider of funding. Since the Democrats are going to make 2016 about laying some ticking time bombs to go off just in time for them to come save the day in 2018, the GOP needs a plan to defuse them.

Maryland probably won’t make the same kind of news in 2016 as it did in 2015 – given the Baltimore riots and tremendous murder rate, we sure hope not. But the year has a lot of potential for this state, in my opinion more so than we’ve had in a decade. Leadership will be the key: if Larry Hogan emerges as the leader, we should be all right. But Heaven help us if it’s one of those on the loony left.

An aggressive beginning

Several months ago I told you about the “travel tax,” which has come up in the news again because Mike Miller believes he has the Senate votes to overturn Governor Hogan’s veto and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce is behind it. Indeed, there’s a post on what’s billed as Maryland’s premier conservative website regarding this but I was stymied in reading it by some scam invitation to get a free iPhone 6 – and probably all the malware I can unknowingly download. I’ll come back to that in due course; in the meantime I will fill you in on what is really happening.

My local Delegates are telling me they predict a bumper crop of legislation, and they may be correct – as of this afternoon, 180 bills had already been pre-filed, with 114 Senate bills complementing 66 in the House. (My, my, those Senators are busy beavers.) One bill I did not see among them was the Wicomico elected school board bill, which I would have liked to see pre-filed. Unfortunately, I think that time has passed.

Even with all that work stacking up it’s likely the first things the body will take up are overriding vetoes, with my interest coming from two bills I used for the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project: SB340 (voting rights for felons) and SB190, the travel tax. Both passed with veto-proof margins in the Senate but neither had a comfortable enough House win – for an override the felon bill would need to pick up three votes and the travel tax one.

That one vote for the travel tax may come down to newly-minted Delegate Elizabeth Proctor, whose late husband James died in office earlier this year. James Proctor was the lone absent Delegate when the travel tax passed 84-56. Another new Delegate, Carlo Sanchez, replaced former Delegate Will Campos, who resigned after being a “yes” vote on both bills in question. As for felon voting, Proctor was absent while Delegates Michael Jackson and C.T. Wilson ducked the vote. In both cases, should opponents hold all their votes and pick up one the vetoes will stand. (Out of our local delegation it was the only Democrat delegate, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who predictably voted in favor of both.)

You’ll notice I basically ignored the Senate in both cases because all they need is the same vote they had the first time to override both vetoes – for the record, both our local Senators voted against felon voting but both favored the travel tax. So it wasn’t really news that Miller had his votes, nor was it groundbreaking to see the state Chamber of Commerce side with big business over entrepreneurs. It’s akin to the struggle between Uber and local taxi companies; oftentimes the Chamber backs the rent-seekers.

Now about that other website: it’s so funny because I used them as an example the other day. Apparently they have chosen to cast their lot with the clickbaiters of the world in the quest for advertising dollars. Self-promotion is one thing - and Lord knows all of us would like advertisers – but the ad was such that I literally could not close it, for a site which had all the red flags of being a virus-laden website. I have to question the integrity and wisdom of a site which uses those techniques.

Perhaps I’m not the biggest or best site around, nor is it lucrative for me in a monetary sense. But just remember – I’m not the one knocking you over the head with the annoying pop-up ads. All I have is a little tip jar and an Amazon affiliation, so if you get an Amazon gift card Friday hook yourself up through me.

More importantly, after the holidays it may be a good idea to ask your legislators where they stand on the travel tax (as well as felon voting.) Contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t been all fee and toll decreases since Hogan took office – if he were a purist he would have vetoed two other House bills which increased certain court fees. But encouraging entrepreneurship and making sure felons pay their entire debt to society before regaining their franchise should be no-brainers, shouldn’t they? There’s a reason a governor has a veto pen, so let him be the check and balance to an overreaching General Assembly.

Resettlement concerns on Delmarva

After the 11/13 Paris massacre and San Bernardino Islamic terror attack, the concerns about the resettlement of Syrian refugees were understandable. After a few days to think about it, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan opted to cooperate as little as possible with the federal government’s attempts to bring in thousands of refugees, who are primarily male and of fighting age. Even so, the request by Hogan is non-binding and Montgomery County, home to about 1/6 of Maryland’s population, has put out its own welcome mat in the shadow of the nation’s capital.

Perhaps more worrisome for Delmarva residents concerned about the proximity of these barely-vetted Muslims in search of a peaceful locale to wage jihad (oops, did I say that?) is that Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has joined most of his Democratic counterparts in saying this army of refugees would be welcome. Sussex County is a possible destination, which leaves some in the First State unsettled.

On Thursday a coalition of groups will come together in front of Legislative Hall in Dover for a press briefing to express their opposition to Delaware’s putting out the welcome mat so quickly.

A Concerned Coalition of Delaware residents, representing thousands of concerned citizens is holding a press briefing in Dover at noon on Thursday, December 17, 2015. Alliance leaders will meet in front of Legislative Hall. The leadership of various groups will present their collective “Open Letter to Governor Markell” regarding his stated plans to resettle some undetermined number of Syrian refugees in the state of Delaware.

These groups are united in opposition to the Governor’s plan and will present their views to the media and the public. The alliance represents the concerns of their memberships totaling in excess of 10,000 Delaware families and individuals. All are welcome who wish to join in support of these shared concerns. Spokespersons will be in attendance from the various allied groups and will be available for comments.

The alliance is a coalition of the 9-12 Delaware Patriots, Faith and Freedom Coalition Delaware, the NAACP – Central Delaware, the Frederick Douglass Foundation – Sussex County, IOTC Delaware, Reverend Shaun Greener, (and) other individual citizen supporters.

This came to me from my friends at the 9-12 Delaware Patriots.

Obviously the concern is that a percentage of these refugees aren’t coming here to escape the pandemonium of Syria’s civil war but to assist in spreading the jihad of the Islamic State, which has its unofficial “capital” in the eastern Syrian city of Raqaa. With the continuing revelations of how the San Bernardino killers were able to plan their attack and the more recent news about mass cell phone purchases and propane tank thefts in rural Missouri, people are understandably on edge.

While Maryland may get refugees whether Governor Hogan likes it or not, the chances are they will settle in the Baltimore or Washington areas. Similarly, Delaware refugees would likely migrate to the Wilmington area but the rural character of southern Delaware and the Eastern Shore may have more appeal as training or staging grounds for mischief. We may be making something out of nothing, but a neighbor noticed the San Bernardino couple were getting a lot of packages and opted not to call authorities for fear of “profiling.”

People in this coalition may be profiling these prospective refugees, but the track record suggests its for good reason.

Odds and ends number 76

Once again I have a potpourri of items that I think need between a couple sentences and three paragraphs, so here goes.

Over the last few months I have followed the saga of atheists who have tried to have the Bladensburg Peace Cross removed thanks to attorney and second-time U.S. Senate candidate Richard Douglas. Early last week a federal judge dismissed the case in a brief, two-page order, although the plaintiffs promised to appeal. Douglas called the decision ”a good day for liberty,” and I tend to agree. Kudos to the good barrister for lending a hand.

Something Douglas has stressed in his populist campaign is the plight of the working man. So while manufacturing jobs held relatively steady over the last couple months, those who advocate for manufacturing thought the job report was rather bleak. “It’s the latest evidence that manufacturing in America is at or near a state of recession,” said Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) head Scott Paul. ”While much of the service sector is growing albeit with low wages, our goods-producing economy is struggling under the yoke of global weakness and China’s massive industrial overcapacity.”

That imbalance with China was also the subject of print ads sponsored by another industry group, the U.S. Business & Industry Council.

Their point is simple: there were no currency manipulation provisions included. While China, which has a long-standing reputation for the practice, is not a part of the TPP, other members have also been accused of similar tricks. The USBIC apparently desires a united front among many of China’s regional trading partners.

Those who can’t find jobs often need government assistance such as food stamps (now known as SNAP.) But the state of Maine recently grabbed the notice of the Daily Signal for a proposal to ban the purchase of junk food and pop with EBT cards. Certainly to some it would border on nanny statism, but the state argues that:

“Our current food stamp policy lets water in one end of the boat while bailing out the other,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “If we’re going to spend millions on nutrition education for food stamp recipients, we should stop giving them money to buy candy and soda. Maine is facing an obesity epidemic, especially among its low-income population, and we should be solving that problem rather than enabling it.”

In short, if you wish to gorge yourself on Skittles and Mountain Dew, find a job and get off the dole. Maine has cracked down on welfare programs since Governor Paul LePage took office – maybe Larry Hogan should pay attention.

Someone in Hogan’s administration got the hot water turned up on him, as the James O’Keefe video I talked about a few days back had the sequel. Now we know his deputy isn’t particularly into martial fidelity, but then again we sort of factor that into the equation anymore. This guy named Clinton was elected president for doing far worse, so perhaps being on the large end of the Project Veritas telescope will be a resume enhancer for this liberal deputy AG.

Chances are, though, soon Thiruvendran “Thiru” Vignarajah will be ignored by the media, sort of like what we’re advised to do by columnist, fill-in radio host, and would-be Congressman Dan Bongino regarding Barack Obama. Whether it’s gun control, border security, Syrian refugees, or simply his method of leadership, America is better going in the opposite direction our feckless President desires us to go. Simple advice that’s worth the read, as Dan often is.

Yet Obama’s government is still powerful and has the capacity to make peoples’ lives miserable. Take the Internal Revenue Service and a new proposed rule that will ask nonprofits to keep Social Security numbers for donors who give more than $250. Tonya Tiffany of MDCAN got her moment of fame as an advocate against this regulation.

Those who are interested in stating their case have until December 16 to go here and give their opinion. Operations which only have sporadic activities and run on a shoestring would be most affected, and MDCAN falls under that umbrella as their primary activity is the Turning the Tides conference each January.

As they argue:

The IRS wants to make non-profit organizations responsible for storing and reporting the Social Security Numbers for anyone who donates more than $250. This will burden the non-profits financially as well as increase your chances of having your identity stolen. It could also make it easier for the IRS to target organizations based on politics and move on to also targeting the private individuals who support those organizations.

On the latter point, I think back to the emotion surrounding donations to the side supporting Proposition 8 in California some years back (in favor of traditional marriage.) Even years later, those who chose to donate in its favor had to deal with its fallout. Instead of harassment from a group, though, imagine the full weight of the government harassing donors. The system isn’t really broken so there’s no need to fix it.

There’s no need to fix my e-mailbox, either. While it’s not completely empty, the remaining items deserve more of a hearing. Look for these in the next few days.

Scraping the bottom

Earlier this week the Tax Foundation released its annual State Business Tax Climate Index. Despite Governor Hogan’s insistence on improving business climate and efforts to adopt some of the Augustine Commission’s reforms, Maryland once again has the dubious distinction of being a bottom-10 state.

Yes, that sickening orange color tags us as a state to avoid insofar as business taxes are concerned. In truth, we’ve only dropped one spot from the 2015 index so while we could have made a few minor improvements other states are improving at a faster pace. (Maryland seems to tread water – over the last four years we have oscillated between #40 and #41.) Moreover, we still lag behind all of our neighbors with Delaware again leading the region. The First State maintained its #14 ranking.

There is one important caveat to Maryland’s decline which could push them out of the bottom 10 next year. Late last month Governor Hogan announced a significant cut in the unemployment insurance tax, which is one of the factors (albeit the least-weighted) the Tax Foundation uses to determine its rank order. But other states are trying to push the envelope more quickly by reducing corporate and individual tax rates, something Maryland has talked about but not acted upon. (The Tax Foundation’s weighting process is explained on page 16 of their full report.)

While reducing regulations doesn’t always require legislative approval, the tax nut is a harder one to crack. The requirement to balance the budget means that revenue no longer extracted from corporations and small businesses alike can’t be used for profligate spending. At a time when government getting an increase that’s less than expected brings screams about draconian cuts from the left side of the aisle, heads truly explode when less real money is allocated. Even if you get 97 cents when you used to get a dollar, liberals act as if you just shot their unicorn with a scary-looking AR-15.

There’s a reason I bring up 97 cents as a particular figure. According to the state’s FY2016 budget, the corporate income tax accounts for 3% of the revenue; thus, eliminating it entirely would mean a corresponding budget cut. (We’ll leave aside the obvious competitive benefit to the state, which would eventually attract more business and increase revenue via other means such as income and sales taxes.) While it’s true that having a poor corporate tax ranking doesn’t completely eliminate the good – Delaware’s #50 ranking in corporate taxes only drags its overall rank to #14 – eliminating the tax would make it plain that Maryland is indeed “open for business.”

Eliminating the tax would also eliminate what’s become an annual debate about combined reporting. Proponents of its adoption, mainly Democrats, claim large businesses are not paying their fair share because they use the accounting trick of claiming their income arises from low-tax states. They may make actual profit in Maryland but don’t report it because they have operations in other. more tax-friendly states. The most recent iteration of the idea came last year, with the tradeoff that would have eliminated filing fees for small (less than 10 employee) businesses. In that respect it was a money-loser for the state; however, the research showed in better economic times the effect would be beneficial to state coffers.

Interestingly, Salisbury has a new mayor that epitomizes the opposite end of the chicken-and-egg approach: last week in the Salisbury Independent, Jake Day was quoted as noting:

“Economic development isn’t what it used to be,” he said. “It includes more activities. It’s now about culture. About quality of life issues. The arts and people. Parks, bike trails, bike lanes. And if you don’t get those right, don’t even talk about workforce development and industry and business development efforts, because you have to have those things to attract anyone.”

This portion of Delmarva boasts a lot of natural beauty along its rivers and coastlines, a well-regarded university, and a proportionate share of arts and culture. Perhaps the traditional bricks-and-mortar manufacturing or legacy service industries won’t come to Salisbury, but it’s been obvious over the last ten years that the beauty, academics, and culture isn’t exactly making this a hotbed of economic activity either. There needs to be a more balanced approach to development because it takes a fair amount of money to create and maintain parks, bike trails, and bike lanes – particularly if the money is granted from the state as it often is. We may be competitors to certain other urban areas around the state, but development somewhere else in the state or even another state, depending on the grant source, is paying the lion’s share for the bike lanes to be installed here. (In some cases, local gifts have helped.) Funding will also be required to maintain parks and develop new ones like Pirate’s Wharf along the Wicomico River.

There are thousands who have moved here over the decades as adults, and for the most part they came here for one of two reasons: they came to school or they came for a job. And if they came for school, there’s no guarantee they will stay if jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities aren’t available.

Simply put, Maryland has a long way to go in overcoming the poor reputation they have for growing and attracting businesses. It’s a lot easier for those on the Western Shore to prosper when there’s a ready-made source of confiscated wealth in close proximity. (If all those people had to find honest work Maryland would be just like West Virginia, with high unemployment. Because it’s well away from that honey pot of confiscated largess, the lower Eastern Shore already is in that same high-joblessness boat.)

I learned the other day that the Augustine Commission determined 1/4 of Maryland’s GDP comes from the federal government. If we can rightsize the federal government over the coming decades, Maryland will be negatively affected in what would be of overall benefit to the nation. It’s time to wean our state off the opioid of living off the federal employees and make strides in diversifying our economy. For that reason, making our state more business-friendly simply has to occur.

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