The easy way out

A couple weeks ago I pointed out that about two dozen bills passed by the Maryland General Assembly this year were still pending after Larry Hogan had his final bill signing session May 12. Here was the list of bills I urged him to veto:

If he wishes to let the decriminalization of marijuana become law without his signature, that’s quite all right.

So I’m very disappointed to report that the deadline came and went while Hogan was away in Asia, and only two of those bills were properly vetoed: HB980/SB340 and SB190.

Yet while he turned aside the travel tax, Governor Hogan increased a number of court fees and kept an additional O’Malley fee increase scheduled to sunset this year for another five years.

The governor who claims to be business-friendly and who wanted to create jobs went against the wishes of his party on flexible leave and thwarted the introduction of fracking to Maryland for another two years. This after announcing during the campaign:

States throughout the country have been developing their natural gas resources safely and efficiently for decades. I am concerned that there has been a knee-jerk reaction against any new energy production.

Now we have our own knee-jerk reaction.

He also added yet another unnecessary mandate to health insurance with in-vitro fertilization coverage for same-sex couples, and if Bruce, uh, “Caitlyn” Jenner were born in Maryland s/he could legally have his/her birth certificate changed to reflect the “fact” he bills himself as a female.

Perhaps you believe Hogan was making the political calculation about whether a veto could be sustained. With the Senate in Democratic hands by a hefty 33-14 count, it’s not likely a veto could be sustained there. However, a 50-seat group of Republicans in the House only need seven Democrats to keep a veto in play, and given enough political pressure there are still a handful of centrist Democrats who could go along with the governor.

These were the House votes on the eight measures I advocated a veto for. I’m also adding the votes on the handful of bills he vetoed for policy reasons.

  • House Bill 51 passed the House 97-40. It would have difficult to uphold this one.
  • House Bill 54 passed the House 82-58, after originally failing on third reading. This veto could have been sustained.
  • House Bill 345 passed the House 86-52. This one was right on the cusp of a maintaining the veto; definitely doable.
  • House Bill 449 passed the House 93-45, and its crossfiled SB409 passed 103-36. But if Governor Hogan had vetoed this and put the whip to his department heads to come up with regulations by next January they may have upheld this veto.
  • The margins on HB838/SB416 were 94-44 and 93-45, respectively. That’s iffy but the onus should have been placed on the General Assembly to vote on it again.
  • Similarly, HB862/SB743 only won the House by margins of 85-50 and 91-49. Still unlikely to hold, but should have made them vote again.
  • HB980/SB340 only had 82 votes apiece in the House, which makes these good candidates to be upheld.
  • SB190 only passed 84-56, which means it’s also a good possibility to be sustained.
  • SB517, which decriminalized marijuana possession but was vetoed, is right on the cusp of overturn as it passed 83-53.
  • Similarly, SB528, which dealt with seizure and forfeiture (also vetoed), passed the House 89-51 so it’s also a possible overturn.

I suppose I should be happy with the half a loaf I have received from Governor Hogan considering the absolute disaster we’ve had to endure under eight years of Martin O’Malley. But the leftists are crowing about the fracking ban, and see it as just an initial step to a permanent halt.

The only way to curb an ambitious, leftist agenda is to put up a conservative one of your own and stomp out any attempt to sneak things through. Instead, what we are receiving is a leftward drift in lieu of pedal-to-the-metal liberalism. However, to borrow the words of a former governor, we really need to turn this car around and not using the veto pen as much as it should be won’t get us going in the correct direction.

The wrong idea

THIS is what happens when Americans aren’t taught history.

Our former governor, who gave illegal aliens in-state tuition if they were lucky enough to have their parents make it across the border without being caught and properly tossed out of the country until they go through the proper processes to stay, now believes in “comprehensive immigration reform.” According to his “vision” page, this is what Martin O’Malley considers comprehensive immigration reform:

Bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows will grow our economy, expand our tax base, create jobs and lift wages – benefiting our country as a whole. We must boldly advance comprehensive immigration reform, while also using executive action to its full authority to end unnecessary detentions and expand deferred action. As Americans, when refugee children arrive on our doorstep, we shouldn’t turn them away—we should act like the generous, compassionate people we are.

Here are the series of questions I have regarding all these claims:

  • How exactly does legalizing illegal immigrants “grow our economy, expand our tax base, create jobs, and lift wages?” They are already priced into the job market because they are “doing the jobs Americans won’t do.” (Apparently this includes construction and food service now.) What’s to say they wouldn’t maintain these arrangements even if they become legal, as working on a cash basis enables them to avoid paying taxes and Social Security?
  • Moreover, this wave of illegal immigrants granted amnesty will only bring another wave of low-skilled (and probably illegal) immigrants into the country. That depresses wages, creates more of a strain on the welfare system (as the initial wave of immigrants is undercut on wages and goes on public assistance), and puts pressure on the government to do this all over again. We should have learned this after Simpson-Mazzoli in 1986.
  • What are “unnecessary detentions?” If they are here illegally, the detention should be long enough to assure they will be in court for a deportation hearing. Too often we catch and release illegal aliens who never show up for court and become those in the shadows.
  • Is the definition of “refugee” being stretched to a breaking point? Since Cuba is now apparently our friend, there really aren’t any nations close by which would have the sort of oppressive government that qualifies one for “refugee” status, nor is there an active war in our hemisphere. Just because the economic condition is bad in a place doesn’t make one a refugee from it.

And it’s interesting that O’Malley brings up the Statue of Liberty. At one time, Ellis Island was the main entry point for immigrants, who were checked for health and whether they had criminal records. Eventually there was a prohibition on children arriving without adults during this era, which ended when President Harding signed the Immigration Quota Act in 1921. So while the Statue of Liberty has been a beckoning symbol for well over a century, for much of our history we were very selective on those we would allow into the country.

Further, immigrants of that era were not given the benefit of a welfare state or catered to in their native language. Certainly we had enclaves of Germans, Poles, Italians, and so forth, but eventually these families were expected to assimilate to one degree or another.

To me, true immigration reform would return to that time of quotas and strident checking. Those who immigrate legally go through a lot of red tape to get their green cards, only to see those who bypass the process get preferential treatment. I understand life is less than fair, but that is patently unfair to those who are doing it the right way.

And to those who say we can’t round up and deport 11 million illegals? It’s been done, and if the political will is there we can do it again. Most of them would self-deport once the word got out we were serious.

Let’s face it. The real need for reform is on the other side of the border, where our economy and largess has been a crutch to many nations for far too long. When remittances make up over 1/6 of a nation’s economy, this is an issue. (Surprisingly, the share in Mexico is quite low, but they are still a larger share of GDP than tourism.)

For the true sake of our country’s security, well-being, and economic growth, we need to rethink our immigration policies, restoring them to the point where we can be selective in who we choose to admit. It doesn’t mean we won’t accept people who work hard, but it does mean we want them to become Americans first and dissolve into our vast melting pot – as my German and Polish forefathers did over a century ago.

Maryland enters the fray

Yesterday we had the spectacle of Martin O’Malley using the Baltimore skyline as a backdrop for the announcement we figured would eventually come the moment the 2010 Maryland gubernatorial election was called for him. Color me unsurprised that he’s running for president in 2016.

But Baltimore’s recent events created even more baggage for O’Malley, who led Maryland through a recession that is still lingering for those portions of the state not within commuting distance of Washington, D.C. That forgotten region includes the city of Baltimore, where the unemployment rate is usually among the highest in the state. In general, Maryland’s better-than-average jobless rate is a result of the federal workforce – take that away and you might have numbers more in tune with struggling states like West Virginia or Nevada.

Granted, if you look at politics through a liberal lens you may see a lot to like with O’Malley. With a friendly and compliant General Assembly backing practically every move, in his first term O’Malley won his prized environmental initiatives with bills like the Clean Cars Act and EmPOWER Maryland utility mandates, increased sales and income taxes while expanding Medicaid, and legalized casino gambling. In his second term he doubled down with the passage of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and same-sex marriage, beating back spirited efforts at the ballot box to rescind them in 2012. He also championed wind power and a scheme to help with EPA compliance in cleaning up Chesapeake Bay.

That last initiative, officially called the “Stormwater Management – Watershed Protection and Restoration Program,” eventually was boiled down to two words: “rain tax.” It, along with his mismanagement of the state’s Obamacare insurance exchange, proved the demise of Anthony Brown’s campaign to replace O’Malley from his lieutenant governor’s chair, and coupled with this spring’s Baltimore riots may perhaps have become the legacy of Martin O’Malley.

In comparison to his Democratic opponents for the Presidential nomination, though, he and Lincoln Chafee (who is planning to announce his entry next week) are the only two with executive experience, and O’Malley the only one to win re-election. On the GOP side you can cite a number of two-term governors (among them Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal as a partial list) but in terms of governing experience on the Democratic side O’Malley is above the rest.

Yet a record works both ways, and Maryland is arguably the most liberal state in the country. The advocacy group Change Maryland began pointing out the O’Malley economic record shortly after its founding in 2011, and state conservatives can quickly rattle off the key facts: 6,500 businesses lost, 31,000 residents leaving the state with $1.7 billion in net income out-migration, and – most importantly – 40 tax increases. That won’t play in Peoria.

For those of us who have been bruised and battered by a recession without a recovery, Martin O’Malley’ paean to populism rings hollow. He may talk about how crooked Wall Street is, but his prescriptions for the problems with Main Street will only enrich those who stroll along Pennsylvania Avenue.

As a meme making the rounds this weekend implies, those former residents of Maryland who fled the state’s punitive taxation and regulation during the O’Malley years won’t have anywhere to go if he becomes president. While Larry Hogan hasn’t necessarily been the answer here, job creation has bounced back since he took over and he has worked to address the state’s structural deficit without the usual O’Malley answer of a tax increase. Why should America dig itself a deeper hole with Martin O’Malley?

Meanwhile, last night on the other side of the Transpeninsular Line residents of Delaware were stunned to learn of the passing of Beau Biden.

From a political aspect, though, and despite his health issues, the younger Biden was the odds-on favorite to be the Democrats’ nominee for Delaware governor next year after an eight-year run as the state’s Attorney General. Now the race on the Democratic side has opened up and those who were quietly considering a run due to Biden’s condition may step out of the woodwork after an appropriate mourning period. The most likely candidates may be Congressman John Carney, who ran in 2008 only to lose to current term-limited Governor Jack Markell, and New Castle County Executive Thomas Gordon.

Whether this loss will affect Joe Biden’s 2016 plans is unknown; however, he hadn’t planned to announce anyway until late summer at the earliest.

A toast to our neighboring states

Summer has arrived – the kids are out of school (in some cases, like ours), the weather is warm enough to fire up the grill on the deck, and people are hitting the beach in droves. And it’s the weekend to boot. In many cases such as this, the setting is not complete without a cold one by your side.

So my interest was piqued by a piece in the Daily Signal asking how high the beer taxes are in our state. When it comes to high taxes, Maryland is generally right near the top and the data from the Tax Foundation found beer taxes in Maryland, expressed in their cost per gallon, are no exception – they rank among the highest in the nation.

But there were two surprises in the data. First is that states in the Deep South, which generally have the reputation as low-tax bastions, have the highest beer taxes int the country. I suspect this is a hangover (see what I did there?) from their days as the Bible Belt. While Maryland is 9th in the country, they are well outside the top 8 and the top four (Tennessee, Alaska, Alabama, and Georgia) have rates at least double Maryland’s 49 cent-per-gallon toll.

Second, though, is the large disparity between Maryland and its surrounding states, which rank no higher than 24th (Virginia.) A beer in Pennsylvania costs 41 cents per gallon less in taxes, as their 8-cent rate is tied for the sixth-lowest in the nation. (Wyoming drinkers only pay 2 cents per gallon in tax.)

Maryland may make a little more money soon, because recently two local breweries (and perhaps others yet to be created) were the beneficiaries of a bill signed into law by Governor Hogan at the behest of the Wicomico County delegation. Dubbed the “Evo Bill,” it allows Wicomico County brew pubs to create more product with their current licensing structure. This is good, but only slightly dampens the effect of a increased alcohol tax that took effect under Governor O’Malley.

So now that Larry Hogan has rolled back tolls, maybe it’s time for him to give more assistance to a fledgling industry by removing the additional 3% sales tax on alcohol. Remember, we exist next to a state which has no sales tax so we’re now at a 9% disadvantage to our neighbors to the north.

Shifting out of PARCC

As I noted yesterday, there was an item brought to my attention by the Worcester County TEA Party. Fortunately, their version is slightly inaccurate in a good way.

According to their communication, Governor Hogan only had until June 1 to act. That date is problematic because he will be in the opening stages of a 12-day trip to Asia to drum up business for Maryland. I’m definitely not crazy about this trip – considering many on our side chastised Martin O’Malley for doing the same thing – but it is what it is, and that’s really not the subject of the post.

Let me refer to the actual authors to set things straight. This is from the Stop PARCC in Maryland group:

In June 2010, Governor Martin O’Malley and former State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick signed a Memorandum of Understanding that committed Maryland to the various guidelines, by-laws, and responsibilities of membership in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium.  (The complete Memorandum of Understanding can be found by clicking here.)

Section VII, Subsection B of the Memorandum of Understanding states:

“In the event that the governor or chief state school officer is replaced in a Consortium state, the successor in that office shall affirm in writing to the Governing Board Chair the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by that official’s predecessor within five (5) months of taking office.”

On January 21, 2015, Governor Larry Hogan was inaugurated and took office as Maryland’s 62nd Governor. According to the Memorandum of Understanding, Governor Hogan has until June 21, 2015 to recommit Maryland to the PARCC consortium.

We believe that the “shall affirm” provision, in this case, is directory (non-binding) and not mandatory due to the nature of the agreement as well as legal precedent.

We believe that the Governor has the authority to nullify Maryland’s agreement with the PARCC consortium simply by declining to reaffirm the state’s commitment within this five month window.

We believe that Governor Hogan is in a unique position to reclaim, remodel, and rediscover Maryland education.

In looking through the Stop PARCC website, I also found a letter from Delegate David Vogt in which he implores Hogan to withdraw, citing Florida as one example of a state which has done so. In fact, there are over a dozen states (including neighboring Virginia and Pennsylvania) which have already withdrawn from PARCC or a similar testing regimen called SBAC or joined neither in the first place – Virginia is one of four that never adopted either idea.

The objection to each of these is simple: they were adopted as a one-size-fits-all scheme in which hundreds of millions of federal dollars were shoveled to states to bribe them into compliance. The concept of local control is being usurped more and more by these standards; meanwhile, we are finding more and more that Johnny not only can’t read, but he has trouble with math and knows little about basic science, history, and geography – however, he is programmed to regurgitate whatever topical talking points are popular with the teachers’ unions.

Maryland is supposed to be one of the best states for education – so why are we lowering ourselves to “average” standards? We can be a leader by encouraging innovation and letting local districts work to educate students in the basics, with the emphasis on teaching in time-tested methods proven successful rather than catering to a testing regimen that takes up valuable classroom time.

Taking less of a toll

It wasn’t completely unexpected. but just in time for the height of tourist season travelers around the state will retain a little extra in their pockets when they cross one of Maryland’s toll roads or bridges, including the Bay Bridge. Yesterday Governor Hogan announced a toll reduction he claimed would save Marylanders $270 million over the next five years. For those coming to the Eastern Shore, it will save them $2 on the trip – not much, but the symbolism is strong.

Commuters, though, will get more of a break as their tolls drop from $2.10 to $1.40 per trip. Factor in the elimination of the EZPass service charge – which cost Maryland drivers $1.50 a month and probably drove some of that business to other states which don’t charge a service fee – and you’re closing in on a $30 per month break. That’s the same as getting a 15-cent an hour raise.

Of course the Maryland Democratic Party found fault with this:

Today, Larry Hogan announced that tolls at the Bay Bridge would go down.

Meanwhile, the cost of in-state tuition at State Universities went up 7%.

Despite his campaign promises, Marylanders are paying more under Larry Hogan.

Since I don’t go to an in-state university but occasionally use the Bay Bridge, this is yet another desperate attempt at spin by Democrats. It’s also worth pointing out that July 1 will also see a 2.5 cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax – an increase Democrats failed to stop when they had the chance this term. This will decrease the benefit for commuters who use the Bay Bridge and other toll facilities and take more from the pockets of the rest of us, to the tune of a dollar or two per month.

The complaint I’m waiting for from the mouths of Democrats is the one where they will begin to complain about the prospect of neglecting maintenance on these toll roads and spans. But Hogan’s Secretary of Transportation was confident the money will be there:

“I have thoroughly reviewed the toll-reduction plan, and I’m confident the MDTA will continue to maintain its sound financial footing and commitment to safety and quality services,” said MDTA Chairman and Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. “A lot of hard work went into the development of this proposal, and I’d like to thank MDTA board members for their careful analysis and approval of this toll-reduction plan.”

Another gripe sure to come from our tax-and-spend friends on the left is that the O’Malley fare increases for mass transit weren’t cut as well – I can see the carping by representatives in areas dependent on mass transit. That, however, is a money pit as farebox revenue comes nowhere close to meeting the expenses of those services.

This all leaves one other transportation shoe to drop, and advocates for the Purple Line are pressing for Hogan to keep the rail line going. However, if Hogan pulls the plug on that and the Red Line in Baltimore most of the justification for the O’Malley gas tax and farebox increases is gone, or the funding could be used for more important projects like some I’ve detailed before, such as completing the intended route of I-97 with Virginia’s help or improving the U.S. 13 corridor through Delaware with their assistance.

So I consider this news to be a pleasant surprise in a situation where input from the General Assembly majority was not needed. When the chips are down, though, it seems the Republicans are the only ones we can count on to truly help the working family.

The presidential race veers farther left

May 1, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

At last, someone who admits what he is.

Since Elizabeth Warren continues to express her disinterest in the race, it took 73-year-old Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist and independent, to become yet another far-left regressive alternative to Hillary Clinton. (Despite being nominally independent, Sanders caucuses with the Democratic Party and will run for president under that banner.)

But those fringe leftists out there must have a little extra coin, as CNN and MSNBC both breathlessly described how Sanders outraised all the declared Republicans on their first day in with $1.5 million in the coffers. Whether that’s because Sanders is thought to be a viable alternative to Hillary Clinton or if it was an event made for news consumption is yet to be seen, but he’s off to a good start.

As he told the Guardian:

“People should not underestimate me,” Sanders said. “I’ve run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country.”

The message he believes will resonate is as follows:

Sanders said he would release “very specific proposals” to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations, as well as offer tuition-free education at all public colleges and universities. He touched on his past opposition to free-trade agreements, his support for heavier regulation of Wall Street and the nation’s banking industry, and his vote against the Keystone XL oil pipeline as a preview of his campaign.

It’s a textbook populist (and job-killing) agenda, chock full of class warfare – but at least he’s not shy about it, vowing “a political revolution is coming” as soon as he launches his website formally later this month.

So the question has to be asked: will it affect Hillary? For a short time, the smart money as the alternative to Hillary was Martin O’Malley. But now that Baltimore has blown up, the question will naturally be what his tenure as mayor did to make Baltimore into the tinderbox it turned out to be, particularly as he came back to town in the days following the riots. The other Democrats in the race either don’t have the name recognition among the far-left in the party (Lincoln Chafee) or are too centrist for their taste (Jim Webb.) Sanders, on the other hand, is a somewhat known figure and has a long political record since he was first elected to Congress in 1990. A Public Policy Polling survey in Iowa placed Sanders as the only contender besides Hillary in double digits, and also pointed out:

On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton leads with 62% to 14% for Bernie Sanders, 6% for Martin O’Malley, 3% for Jim Webb, and 2% for Lincoln Chafee. We have now found Sanders polling at double digits in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He leads the non-Clinton candidates in name recognition at 56%, followed by 34% for O’Malley, 31% for Webb, and 25% for Chafee. Sanders is also the most frequently named second choice at 18% to 14% for O’Malley, and 12% for Clinton.

Besides Joe Biden, who has stated he won’t decide whether to run until the summer, it can be argued that Sanders is the most viable candidate. A race without Hillary would probably be as interesting and competitive on the Democratic side as the Republican race promises to be. (The same Iowa PPP survey had Scott Walker leading the GOP field, but only with 23%.)

So the race between aging pre-Baby Boomers continues on the Democratic side. If the contest is one of being more liberal than the next, we’ve pretty much reached the end with Sanders. Let’s just hope he doesn’t scream like Howard Dean when he loses.

The basket of (rotten) eggs

April 15, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

It looks to me like the Democratic National Committee has lost all pretense of objectivity and fairness in their most recent advertising campaign, for their latest e-mail (and yes I’m on the list because most of their e-mails are comedy gold) puts them squarely in the tank for one candidate:

I don’t recall seeing this when Jim Webb formed his exploratory committee and I’m suspecting a similar message won’t be splashed all over my inbox when Martin O’Malley makes it official. The powers that be in the Democrat party are, for better or worse, hitching their wagons to the colossal failure that is Hillary Clinton.

On the other hand, the Republicans now have the advantage of focusing on one target, don’t they? Interestingly enough, the e-mail graphically depicts five of the presumptive frontrunners for the GOP nomination (Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio) as “guys…ready to do whatever they can to make sure a Democrat isn’t the 45th President of the United States.” Well, damn, I would hope so. I know a Democrat as the 45th president (or 46th, 47th, or so forth) isn’t my personal preference!

Yet the fact that she’s almost the candidate by default may be her undoing in the end. Say what you will about Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign, but I think the fact his nomination wasn’t handed to him made him a better candidate. It was the reverse of 2000 and 2004, when Al Gore and John Kerry had relatively brief and easy campaigns. And while conventional wisdom and the party establishment would likely prefer a bloodless nomination campaign, the potential is there for a summer of campaigning as a couple GOP candidates jockey for the brass ring. The idea that they can focus on Hillary while she doesn’t have the advantage of knowing just who her opponent might be could start swinging some votes.

It’s a classic case of putting all their eggs in one basket. Just wait until it falls.

Taking the queen

The news cycle today was dominated by the reports that Hillary Clinton would make her 2016 plans official on Sunday – and she would be doing it via social media and in small groups because she’s oh-so-hip.

Yet there are a number of people out there who are afraid Democrats would have buyer’s remorse if Hillary is the nominee. A handful are coalescing around Martin O’Malley because of his experience as governor, but another former governor who can also boast of a term in the Senate is entering the race now as well. Is it blood in the water?

Perhaps not, but former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee promises “fresh ideas for America” as the second Republican-turned-Democrat to run in this cycle after onetime Virginia Senator Jim Webb entered late last year. Of course, these “fresh ideas” are typical liberal bromides but nonetheless Chafee is playing the populist card in an effort to attract those who aren’t ready for Hillary. As opposed to Webb, who is a former Republican running to the center, Chafee is going more to the left of Hillary, but based on the approval ratings he had during his lone term as governor of the Ocean State and the fact his chosen successor didn’t even make it through the primary it makes Martin O’Malley look like a political genius – and that is damn hard to do.

Yet it makes a great point. If you look at the contenders who have entered (or are likely to enter) the GOP race, you have a vast selection of current and former governors, members of the United States Senate, and even a private citizen or two. There could be upwards of 15 serious aspirants who bring some sort of unique experience to the table.

On the other hand, so far the Democratic slate may include a former First Lady who was a failure as a Cabinet secretary and undistinguished one-plus term Senator, a gaffe-prone vice president and two-time failure in the Presidential race (who was also caught plagiarizing material). a pair of governors who couldn’t even get their anointed successors elected, a one-term Senator who got tired of the job, an avowed Socialist, and Fauxcahontas. Yeah, that’s a real set of winners. And the average age of this group is 66, with O’Malley serving the useful purpose of dragging it down by a couple years since he’s only 52.

Nobody really likes Hillary. Eight years ago most people figured she would be the first woman president and we would have a Presidential history lineage which went Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. Instead, some semi-obscure Senator named Barack Obama promised a fundamental transformation of America and we got it. (We didn’t necessarily like it, but that’s another well-documented story.)

It’s also worth noting that the 2006 elections, which saw the GOP lose its majorities in both houses of Congress, were seen as a precursor to 2008 where Barack Obama won. The TEA Party wave of 2010 didn’t quite reach the White House in 2012 – in part because Mitt Romney was seen by some conservatives as uninspiring – but the presidency is an open seat once again in 2016 and the 2014 results returned the GOP to control of Congress.

Some Democrats probably feel Hillary is the best, last hope to regain the prosperity many enjoyed during the Bill Clinton years. But we are almost a generation removed from his tenure and much has happened in the interim – 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an economic meltdown, and a division in politics rarely seen since the days before the War Between the States. If you compare that to the first 16 years removed from Ronald Reagan, the conditions back then were much more placid – the fall of the Soviet Union, a minor recession, a quick Gulf war, and then worries about scandals culminating in one involving a blue dress. Until 9/11 that was our real news story. From Bush to Bush was easy compared to the longer potential timeframe from Clinton to Clinton.

For all those reasons, Hillary may be the most vulnerable fait accompli candidate in recent memory, and I don’t think Chafee’s entry will be the last dark horse.

Informally making it formal?

When you stop laughing, hear me out.

It’s only been two months since he left office, but I think we can all agree our somewhat esteemed former governor is all but an official announcement away from throwing his hat into the 2016 Presidential ring. And when you consider that Hillary Clinton is continually being tarred by scandal after scandal (Benghazi and her e-mail questions) and blunder after blunder (the Russian “reset” button and discussing the “fun deficit”), Martin O’Malley almost looks sane. Come on, what else do you have on the Democratic side – the gaffe-prone Joe Biden? “Fauxcahonotas” Elizabeth Warren? One-term Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is the one who has the exploratory committee going, but the far left considers him a “Reagan Democrat” who they can’t support.

So when you see the above photo on the O’Malley Facebook page (which is where I got it) you have to ask if the “taking on powerful and wealthy special interests” message is meant for Hillary? After all, look how much the Clintons’ foundation has raked in over the years. And his message today about the presidency “not (being) some crown to be passed between two families,” would resonate with a lot of people who believed the propaganda about how disastrous the George W. Bush tenure was and are already tired of the constant turmoil surrounding the Clinton family.

Perhaps Delegate Herb McMillan put this best, noting, “Raising taxes on the poor and middle classes 83 times isn’t the same as taking on powerful wealthy special interests.” But it’s more than that.

Obviously the laughter among many who read this website comes from knowing how rapidly O’Malley would genuflect to particular special interests when it suited his purposes. Environmentalists got a lot of goodies during MOM’s reign: California rules on emissions, punitive restrictions on development in rural areas (via the “tier maps”), an ill-advised and job-killing moratorium on fracking, and of course the “rain tax.” Illegal immigrants, too, had a friend in O’Malley, but productive taxpayers – not so much. He also decided to work on legalizing gay marriage only after his electoral coast was clear in the state – if he had tried to run for re-election on the issue he would have lost the black vote in 2010. (Remember, that was before Barack Obama’s flip-flop on the issue.)

Say what you will about Martin O’Malley, but he is the lone Democrat openly considering the race who has executive experience – on the other hand, there are a number of GOP candidates who can boast the same thing: in alphabetical order there’s Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker. Depending on who the GOP puts up, the “experience” tag could apply to the Democrat. We’re not saying the experience would be a good one, but it is what it is.

Don’t be too shocked if the O’Malley’s March national tour makes a lot of stops in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s his way of pandering to the special interests he cherishes the most, and if people are fooled by this sudden bout of populism it’s their own fault. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Update: At Front Line State Jim Jamitis echoes these sentiments, with a great headline to boot.

WCRC meeting – March 2015

Those members who attended last night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting got a somewhat different perspective on the Annapolis political arena. Instead of hearing from one of our representatives – who were sort of busy at the moment, seeing that Monday nights are session nights in our state’s capital – we instead gained the perspective of Pat Schrawder, the district representative for Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who brought “mostly good news from Annapolis.”

She explained that not all members of the General Assembly have a district representative, but given Mary Beth’s “frenetic” schedule as a member of the Appropriations Committee, she thought it was prudent to have someone back home. (Appropriations meets five days a week, according to Pat.) As it turned out, though, the Eastern Shore delegation “is running very well” in Schrawder’s opinion, in part because those on it represent all the key committees, and they have met with “most of” the large groups.

The good news was that the “chicken tax” and a “farmer’s bill of rights” had both been killed, and a “full-court press” was being placed on the Pinsky bill to instill the PMT regulations. (This may be a moot point, as Pinsky placed a hold on his regulations pending acceptance of a deal between stakeholders which would put a revised version in place.) Schrawder pointed out regulations are more flexible than legislation, which was an advantage for the agricultural community.

Pat also relayed that the Hogan budget, which was in balance as submitted, was still a better deal than the O’Malley budgets as most of the structural deficit had been eliminated.

And while Delegate Carozza was “working as hard, if not harder, than anyone else up there,” Pat added that Mary Beth was still interested in hearing from her constituents, and happy to receive the correspondence. Moreover, one goal they had was to have as strong a link to Wicomico County as they had to Worcester County.

Schrawder also announced that a legislative scholarship was available to a student in her district, with the application deadline coming up on April 15.

Turning to Central Committee news, we learned that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be put on hold until this fall as the preferred speaker, some governor named Larry Hogan, wasn’t going to be doing speaking engagements until then. We may need to change the venue because of this. Mark McIver also noted the upcoming state convention in Ocean City, encouraging those at the meeting to attend and see how a convention is run.

I also reminded the group that we had sent the names of prospective Wicomico County Board of Education applicants to the state.

Speaking on behalf of County Council, John Cannon noted that the “Evo bill” had passed the House of Delegates and Senate, although there was a minor difference between the two versions to work out. County Council was also watching the PMT regulations, the original version of which they opposed. Also, they had finished the Capital Improvement Plan and were now working on portions of the budget.

Cannon also commented that MACO (the Maryland Association of Counties) was “staying relatively conservative” with its actions this session.

John also explained some of the process behind the elected school board bill, conceding that “we rushed it through” but noting that the hybrid option was placed to appease the cries for “diversity” and to avoid the prospect of turning over the entire board in one election and eliminating all the institutional knowledge.

However, he believed the struggle to get this through the General Assembly would be “an uphill battle” because opponents wanted more public hearings. I made the case that the bill had the deck stacked against it early on when it received a late hearing date. If there needs to be a re-introduction next year it should be pre-filed as there was no one to do so this session.

At this point, the new officers were sworn in. Incoming president Shawn Jester said that “this club did more to make Wicomico County a Republican county” than anyone else and hoped the good work could continue.

That good work will be celebrated next on April 27, with a speaker to be announced.

The state budget shell game

March 20, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

By Cathy Keim

Governor Hogan was elected because voters had had enough of the O’Malley spending spree. Before Hogan was sworn in, the budget shortfall of $1.2 billion over the next eighteen months was already public knowledge. Everybody knew that cuts were coming; only the particulars were uncertain.

Because Maryland has a strong executive branch, the General Assembly can only cut the budget or move money around. It cannot increase spending. The House is squandering many hours debating how to find the money to undo cuts that Hogan made, particularly to schools and the state employees’ COLAs.

Last July, Martin O’Malley gave the state employees a cost of living increase of 2% despite knowing that the budget was not in good shape. I would like to point out that employees in the private sector are not seeing cost of living increases. Why the state employees deserve a taxpayer-funded pay increase when the taxpayers are not getting their salaries increased is hard to justify. Governor Hogan rescinded that increase in his budget because the state did not have the funds to support it.

He also declined to fund the schools to the level they desired. Yet his budget gave a 1.3% increase to education over last year’s budget, so it is hard to make the case that he cut the budget drastically. One might have expected a 0% increase when we are facing a $1.2 billion deficit in the upcoming months. That sort of deficit on a smaller scale is what causes taxpayers to choose ground beef over steak. But then we have to actually balance our checkbooks rather than use creative accounting to get the job done.

Let’s take a moment for some background information. Despite our budget shortfall, Moody’s just gave Maryland an AAA rating once again.

Why is this AAA Bond rating so important? “Retention of the AAA ratings affirms the strength and stability of Maryland bonds during difficult and volatile times,” said state Treasurer Nancy Kopp. “This achievement allows us to continue to invest in our communities’ schools, libraries, and hospitals while saving taxpayers millions of dollars thanks to the lower interest rates that follow from these ratings.” (Emphasis mine.)

Maryland is one of only 10 states that has the AAA bond rating from all three firms that assign ratings, Moody’s Investors, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings. Moody’s included the following warning when assigning the AAA rating:

WHAT COULD MAKE THE RATING GO DOWN

  • Economic and financial deterioration that results in deficits and continued draw downs of reserves without a plan for near-term replenishment
  • Failure to adhere to the state’s tradition of conservative fiscal management, including failure to take actions to reverse its negative fund balance
  • A state economy that does not rebound in tandem with the rest of the country
  • Failure to adhere to plans to address low pension funded ratios (emphasis mine)
  • Downgrade of the US government

Why does Maryland have low pension funded ratios? Because all that pension money just waiting there for the retired employees is too tempting for the politicians. They have dipped into the fund before. In 2011 as a corrective measure, Martin O’Malley reached an agreement with state employees that if they would increase their contributions to the retirement fund from 2% to 7%, then the state would put in $300 million annually to fund the pensions at an 80% level by 2023. That would still leave the pension fund $20 billion short, but that would be an improvement. The state employees have been putting in their extra 5%, but the state has not been putting in the entire $300 million. They find other ways to spend that money.

Now we are finished with the history and back to the present. The House debated for hours yesterday whether to fund the pension plan with the full $300 million or to take a portion of the money to continue the 2% increase in state employee’s wages and increase school funding. As I write, it is uncertain how the issue will be determined and whatever the House decides will still have to be reconciled with what the Senate produces.

Politicians seem to prefer to pay their supporters now and to let the future take care of itself since they will probably not still be in office when that bill comes due. It is a pleasing shell game. The politicians appropriate raises and perks for their constituents who then pay union dues, and then the unions donate money to the politicians –  lather, rinse, repeat.

According to the Washington Post, those public servants/union members might want to take note that:

In an effort to block relatively modest budget cuts proposed by Mr. Hogan, mainly to schools and public employees’ wages, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis are pushing a plan to revamp the formula for scheduled contributions. According to Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of the few prominent Democrats who opposes the scheme, it would shift $2 billion into the general budget over the next decade, then cost the state $4.5 billion in the following dozen years — meaning Maryland would face a net $2.5 billion in additional costs over time in order to keep its pension promises.

Additionally, even if the state did put all the funds into the pension plan that they promised, the pension fund would still be underfunded by $20 billion in 2023. Since over 382,000 current and former employees are covered in this plan, it would seem to be a rather important item for the state to fully fund the pension program.

So our esteemed politicians in Annapolis are willing to risk our credit rating which could lead to increased interest payments when borrowing funds, underfund the pension program that thousands depend on, and incur $2.5 billion in additional costs to finally keep its pension promises, just so that they can override Governor Hogan’s budget.

While that may be a winning hand for the politicians, their constituents that get the 2% cost of living increase, and the unions, it is not a winner for the taxpayers.

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