Hostility to cuts

It’s been a little while, but the political hijinks of Cecil County return to my site via a dispatch I received from Bob Willick and their Campaign for Liberty chapter. The purpose of the dispatch was to relay the open hostility from a couple members of their pubic school faculty, making the point that:

Apparently, even though you and I have funded the local school system millions above the maintenance of effort level for years—we are still “slackers.”

Thomas went on a public rant last week writing a post on her new blog demanding that citizens fork over whatever outrageous increase CCPS asks for this year.

You see, Cecil School Superintendent, D’Ette Devine, is lobbying the County Executive and County Council for a taxpayer funded $8 million dollar spending hike over last year’s budget.

This when CCPS has been fully funded and given millions in extra funding for years.

Regardless of this fact, some CCPS teachers are showing their disdain for the hard working folks that pay their salary.

These attacks are coming from a government sector employee who receives competitive pay, sick days off, vacation time, summers off and a pension.

Thomas knows that this type of angry rhetoric will motivate the employees of the largest employer in Cecil County (CCPS) to pressure local government to once again award them with more tax payer funds.

Aside from the oversimplification that teaching is a nine-month profession given some of the training they may have to receive during the summers, there is a lot to be said about the Campaign for Liberty’s point. How many government agencies are protected by law against cuts in such a way that Maryland public schools receive thanks to “maintenance of effort” laws? The state dictates how much money counties have to fork over in order to match their goals, and whether the county can afford it or not (or passed a revenue cap as Wicomico County did a decade ago) does not matter to the state – if the county doesn’t comply the state treasury will hijack the county’s allotment of state money and make sure the schools are paid what the state thinks they are due. It’s a ridiculous constraint on county budgets.

Whenever conservatives take over in government, the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Left is all but intolerable. Listen to them whine about cuts to education in the state budget and you’d quickly forget that the allocation to education (both pre-K to 12 and state-funded colleges) increased for the Hogan FY2016 budget – just not as much as the education lobby expected or demanded. Structural deficit be damned, they aren’t satisfied with any less than the massive increase they assumed they would get when Anthony Brown was elected.

The same holds true locally. Hours after being sworn in, County Executive Bob Culver announced he wasn’t going to borrow for a new West Salisbury Elementary School, triggering outrage in the local community. But after a January tour of the building by experts in the construction field as well as Wicomico Board of Education members and administration, it’s been quietly determined that spending $2 million would be enough for most of the desired upgrades. (The cynic in me thinks the folks at West Salisbury just took too much pride in maintenance and didn’t let the building go far enough to pieces, as opposed to the former Bennett schools.)

More recently the alarm sounded when Culver brought up the idea of keeping the old Bennett Middle School, which is being replaced by a new building away from the current Bennett High School site, as an office complex for the Wicomico County Board of Education. The Bennett community was outraged as the old middle school is supposed to be torn down for athletic fields to complete the planned three-phase replacement of the old Bennett Middle and High Schools with a new high school building and facilities on the existing Bennett site and a middle school built near Fruitland. (The middle school is slated to open next school year.) Proponents have taken to social media to make their case.

But perhaps the better question no one is asking is why more office space is needed? Over the years claims have been made that county government is very lean, but I question that assessment if the BoE needs more room for administration. The county has already bonded millions for the Bennett construction (among other projects, big and small) so debt service is a concern at our level as well as for the state.

It’s a problem because increasing debt load doesn’t help citizens in any way but takes money from needed services, such as snow plowing and otherwise maintaining roads. (I say that because the plows just went by here.) It doesn’t matter which county you are in, citizens feel they have enough taken from them by government but the public sector demands more. Martin O’Malley’s solution of tax increases and additional debt was bad for Maryland, so the new approach promised by Larry Hogan is in the process of being enacted. It’s not our fault the schools aren’t thrilled about the prospect of making do with less. Welcome to the real world.

Wicomico elected school board takes a big step

Update 2/18: Hearings are scheduled for both bills now: SB730 on March 18 and HB1040 on March 19.

Friday the 13th may be considered an unlucky day by many, but it was the day a crossfiled pair of bills allowing the changeover to a partially-elected, partially-appointed “hybrid” county board of education was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly.

HB1040/SB730, sponsored by the Wicomico County Delegation (comprised of Delegates Chris Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes) in the House and Senator Addie Eckardt in the Senate, both got their first readings and were referred to committees. The House version went to Ways and Means while the Senate version went to Rules because of its late introduction there. Chances are it will be re-referred to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Senate. (Update: It was.)

While the bills have been introduced, though, there’s still a long way to go. First of all, neither bill has a hearing scheduled and that’s the logical next step. It’s also worthy of note that Senator Jim Mathias, who has sponsored our elected school board bills before, is not a co-sponsor this time. I’m sure he’s aware the bill would be placed in the hopper but I suspect he and Delegate Sample-Hughes – being the lone Democrats in the delegation – are getting some pushback on the issue from certain constituency groups who like things just the way they are. Those groups, though, are the squeaky wheel minority.

All this comes at an interesting time as two of the seven members of the existing Wicomico County Board of Education have tendered their resignations while a third has stayed on for months beyond his term expiration because no successor has been appointed. These openings affect two Democrats and one Republican; however, with the election of Larry Hogan the board composition is set to become 4-3 Republican instead of 4-3 Democrat as it was with Martin O’Malley. So two of the three slots would be filled by Republicans, and the Central Committee is in the process of collecting applications, reviewing them and deciding on potential nominees at the next meeting March 2.

While I’m an erstwhile member of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, I think I can speak for them when I say they would rather not have the job of selecting candidates – that should be up to the voters. I would have preferred a fully-elected board but for now we can try for a first-step victory by getting this through the Maryland General Assembly this session.

The gale force for renewed tax credits

Somehow it always seems that I like to write about wind power on blustery nights, when the winds are howling with gale force. Tonight is such a night, and it coincides well with a new report done by the American Wind Energy Association. It’s a report which makes the claim that the reliability and scope of wind power nationwide has given that industry the potential to create nearly half our electricity by mid-century.

Something I noticed on this report, though, is a graphic I had previously seen but not been able to find again. It’s a graphic which showed how much of each state’s electricity load was created by wind power, and states in the southeast don’t get much help from it – on the other hand, those in the upper Midwest do quite well. I suppose one could liken this phenomenon to whether a state is fortunate enough to have oil or natural gas underneath it, as some states have plenty while others are barren.

Yet the production increases and success the wind energy market has had comes mainly from two elements, both controlled by government: the Wind Production Tax Credit (WPTC) and various state regulations which mandate a certain percentage of electricity come from “renewable” sources. (Maryland is a state which has the latter.) Here’s what AWEA said about the WPTC:

Policy certainty is needed so that the U.S. can continue rapidly scaling up wind power. The renewable energy Production Tax Credit has successfully helped the U.S. become the number one wind energy producer in the world. Congress must rapidly extend the PTC for the longest possible time to avoid pushing American wind power off a cliff. A loss of $23 billion to our economy and nearly 30,000 well-paying jobs resulted the last time wind was left without policy stability.

Their definition of policy stability is keeping the WPTC afloat for more than a year-to-year basis, and some in Congress have unsuccessfully tried to ratchet this credit up for five additional years. To me, there’s no better proof that wind hasn’t reached a share of viability in the market than the fact that thousands of projects stall when the tax credit expires. Without the WPTC, it may be assumed that the costs of bringing wind energy to market are otherwise far too high. (This doesn’t consider offshore wind like Martin O’Malley wanted Maryland ratepayers to subsidize.)

AWEA makes the case that wind’s inherent unpredictability isn’t as big a deal as it was before since the industry is so widespread around the country – there is redundancy in the system now, so while Ohio may not be getting much wind Iowa could be buffeted. But it’s their claim that the unpredictability of policy holds them back, and the fact they continue to seek this crutch of the WPTC leads me to believe their lobby is all about the money and not so much about energy independence.

 

Pessimistic part of the state

I said the other day that I wanted to look more deeply at a poll done by the Washington Post last week, and my focus is on how the outstate areas that overwhelmingly supported Governor Larry Hogan compare with the rest of the state on these issues.

For example, the right direction/wrong track polling showed statewide respondents had a 48-40 opinion that the state was on the right path, but those who answered from outstate were the most pessimistic by a 36-55 margin. It was eight points down from any other group.

Yet those who voted for him from the hinterlands were still not sold on Hogan’s efforts. Their 43-24 approval of Hogan’s performance was almost identical to the 42-24 statewide numbers. On the other hand, they were slightly more confident in his ability to turn things around, believing he would by a 61-30 margin compared to the statewide average of 58-33.

Tellingly, the number of outstate repliers who believed the state should be governed more conservatively was several notches above the average, with 44% agreeing we need a more conservative direction as opposed to 36% overall. Only 22% favored more liberalism among outstaters compared to 28% as a whole.

And when the polling turned to the performance of General Assembly Democrats, the 49-43 favorable margin among all voters melted down to a 36-58 disapproval outside the I-95 corridor. The strong disapproval of 35% from those polled outstate was by far the highest. Outstate voters also differed from the norm as they believed the hot issue the General Assembly needs to work on was the state economy (21%) followed closely by public education and taxes at 20% each. Overall, Maryland picked public education at 26%, with taxes at 18% and the state economy at 16%.

We on the geographic fringes also didn’t fondly recall Martin O’Malley, giving him a 37-57 approval-disapproval number compared to 49-43 for the state at large.

There was also a tendency to see particular issues in a more conservative way, which is to be expected from the regions of the state which aren’t urban or suburban. In general, the Post lays out its geographic regions to specifically cover Prince George’s, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, and Howard counties, along with Baltimore City and its suburbs. The rest of us are lumped into the “rest of state” category, which covers a wide swath of the state from border to border in both directions.

One thing the Post did not poll on was the Phosphorous Management Tool, the enactment of which Hogan delayed within hours of taking office last month. Naturally, counties where this was sold as another tactic to clean up Chesapeake Bay would likely be against this change, which the rest of the state (particularly the Eastern Shore) may be solidly behind Hogan’s action.

If you ever wanted real proof that there is more than one Maryland, this poll is a pretty good indicator of the differences.

The monkey wrench in the system

In writing a future post, I got kind of curious about the field for the 2016 U.S. Senate race Maryland will have. It’s presumed Barb Mikulski, the 30-year incumbent who will be a new octogenarian by the time the election is decided, will run for yet another term but there’s this former governor who might be looking for a new gig once his quixotic attempt at the Oval Office peters out.

In either case, there’s been very little talk on the Republican side about trying for a Hogan-style upset in another statewide race. But there is a candidate who’s already filed with an interesting approach; one which has a slim potential of upsetting the apple cart like Rob Sobhani did in 2012.

I say it’s a slim potential because Greg Dorsey, the candidate in question, is fresh off a write-in campaign for Delegate where he gathered 128 votes in District 43 – a scant 0.2% of the vote that placed him 139 votes behind the aggregate total of all the other write-ins. His candidacy was the minor speed bump on the highway to victory for the three Democrats who were on the ballot.

Dorsey, however, is an avowed and unapologetic unaffiliated candidate, one who has created what he calls The Unaffiliated Movement of America. In decrying “the system” Greg postulates that:

Our two party system seems to be played out like a sporting event.  There is a red team and there is a blue team, and each time they collectively step onto the playing field (ie., voting on and creating legislation), their team goal is to win at all cost, to take the victory and retain league dominance.  They sometimes win fairly and by the rules, and sometimes they cheat.  A quick rib strike here, a calf/achilles stomp there, aggressive trash talking, jersey holding, you name it, and all behind the referee’s line of vision even though the spectators have a clear view.  And sometimes, with impulsive and subjective emotions on the line, a player will blatantly cheat with such malicious intent that they are penalized and removed from the game.

I’m sort of guessing Dorsey is a soccer player based on the analogy, but this is an increasingly widespread view. I’ll grant that promoting a book by Jesse Ventura on his site isn’t going to win Dorsey a ton of converts on this side of the fence, but if nothing else Ventura stands as a blueprint for an unaffiliated candidate to be elected.

I used Sobhani as an example because, for Dorsey to get on the ballot he would have to use the same petition approach and solicit the signatures of 1% of Maryland’s registered voters – that would be roughly 40,000 signatures required. In essence, Sobhani self-financed that part of his campaign which presumably Dorsey cannot do – otherwise he probably would have been on the District 43 ballot (and may have stood a slim chance of winning with no Republicans on the ballot given his conservative-leaning platform.)

It may take time on the GOP side, but considering the 2016 ballot will be just like the 2012 ballot (primarily federal races, including a Senate seat) we may see one or two ambitious members of the Maryland General Assembly try a statewide run from the cover of a legislative seat. Recent examples of this are State Senator C. Anthony Muse running against Ben Cardin in the 2012 Democratic primary and former State Senator E.J. Pipkin getting the GOP nomination in 2004 but losing to Mikulski in November. I could see at least one General Assembly Republican giving it a go, and maybe there will be a Democrat who sticks his or her neck out - on that front all bets are off if Mikulski decides to retire.

So it may be later this spring before the race begins to take shape, but there’s not a lot of time to waste as the primary will be April 5, 2016. Dorsey may be first to file but I suspect he will have a lot of company by the filing deadline next January.

Post poll appears to have mixed results

An initial survey from the Washington Post claims that Marylanders are willing to give Larry Hogan a chance. However, his job approval ratings wouldn’t be called stellar as Hogan rests at 42% in the poll - granted, he only has 24% disapproval so the ratio is quite good. If everyone were pressed to give an opinion, chances are Hogan would be in the low 60s for approval and that’s very positive.

One place in which the narrative needs to be shored up, though, is the perception that Maryland is cutting education spending. It may not be the increase those in the field desire to have, but in FY2016 Maryland will spend more on education than it did in FY2015. Numbers don’t lie, but people seem to be operating under the mistaken belief that cuts in education spending were actual reductions – in many cases it’s simply not true. “Cuts to education” is an easy message for Democrats to send, though. (Honestly, I’m not surprised the liberals in Maryland haven’t dubbed Hogan’s idea to cut income taxes for retired first responders as “tax cuts for the rich” given their generous pensions.)

I haven’t taken the time to dig into the Post poll but there are some factors I want to look for. One example is the geographic breakdown on results, since we also have the election results to look back at. One would suspect places which voted heavily for Hogan are willing to give a little more slack.

A question I don’t think was asked (but should have been in the wake of the Democrats’ reaction to Hogan’s State of the State address) would be the approval rating of the General Assembly. Mysteriously, we don’t hear a lot of talk about the need for bipartisanship and cooperation with the state’s chief executive right now – not that we heard much of it with Martin O’Malley, but the reason there was the lack of need for it as Democrats could easily ramrod through all of MOM’s agenda without a single Republican vote.

So let me dig into this poll and see what I find. It’s been a busy week for me and there’s not much sign of a letup. Good thing I added a second contributor.

A shift in the air currents

You probably recall that last month I detailed a study claiming that wind-created energy saved consumers $1 billion in last year’s “polar vortex.” Ironically enough, it was released on the anniversary of the 2014 polar vortex in the midst of more unusually cold weather at a time when the favored energy source of natural gas was serving the twin masters of electricity generation and home heating.

Yet a bone of contention for the wind industry has been the overdue renewal of a production credit of 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour, allowed over the first ten years of a qualifying project’s life. A five-year extension of this credit, sponsored by Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, was included in an amendment to the Keystone XL authorization bill in the Senate, but the amendment lost 47-51. One opponent of the credit, Americans for Limited Government, called it:

(J)ust another example of the crony capitalism that runs rampant in Washington, D.C. distorting our nation’s energy markets while encouraging the non-economically sustainable wind farming of America.

Of course, the American Wind Energy Association, while touting the increased capacity put into place last year, lamented the lack of this tax incentive:

2014 saw the completion of 4,850 megawatts (MW) in generating capacity, with cumulative installed capacity increasing eight percent to a total of 65,875 MW. That current wind capacity will avoid over 130 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, equal to taking 28 million cars off the road, when the current wind capacity produces generation for a full year.

However, the amount installed in 2014 still falls far short of the record 13,000 MW that the U.S. wind energy industry was able to complete during 2012.

Industry leaders blamed uncertainty over federal policy. The renewable energy Production Tax Credit was only extended for two weeks at the end of last year, and has now expired again.

“Wind is gaining strength, but as recent history shows, we can do a whole lot more,” said AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan. “We’re looking forward to working with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle so that a reasonable, responsible tax policy is in place that allows the wind industry to continue lowering costs and investing billions of dollars in U.S. communities.”

So is it a “reasonable, responsible tax policy,” or a boondoggle?

As noted above, the tax credit is equal to 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average American home uses just over 900 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. Rounding down to 900 for ease of math, it means that each month a wind-powered home creates a tax credit of $20.70 – over a year that adds up to $248.40.

In the same AWEA release, they claim that “U.S. wind farms now provide enough power for the equivalent of 18 million typical American homes.” If this is so, then the annual cost of this tax credit would be nearly $4.5 billion. Granted, this assumes that all wind capacity in the country would qualify for the credit, but stick with me.

Yesterday our not-so-illustrious former governor Martin O’Malley blustered in the New York Times that:

(R)enewable-energy businesses still aren’t even competing on a level playing field with fossil-fuel companies, which enjoy more than $4 billion in guaranteed federal subsidies each year.

Yet if you work out the wind power tax credit, that section of renewables could get a tax break exceeding $4 billion per year, not to mention the carve-outs states like Maryland provide for renewables at the expense of less expensive and more reliable fossil fuels. The benefit of having a share of a market worth tens of billions of dollars handed to renewable energy (or, as is more common, the treatment of this rent-seeking as a penalty paid by energy companies) is rarely factored into the equation, but stands as an advantage for the renewables side that traditional sources do not enjoy.

To really get a sense of where wind power can compete, not only should we permanently eliminate the Wind Production Tax Credit, but also do away with the market share requirements for renewables. Only then can we get a sense of where the market really is for that type of energy.

There’s a reason we have cars that run on gasoline, electrical plants which run on coal and natural gas, and fervent exploration for new sources of oil, just as there’s a reason wind turbine construction came to a near-halt in 2013. The market seeks its own level.

The new “it” candidate

In each Presidential cycle, there always seems to be a candidate who breaks through against the conventional wisdom choices and becomes popular because he is a new face and excites the populace. Barack Obama was one of those in 2007, and he rode that early wave of popularity all the way through to the White House. They are usually from the opposition party to the one in the White House.

But aside from Obama, usually that particular politician flames out early in the process just as Howard “the Scream” Dean did in 2004 and Herman Cain did in 2011. So whether the cycle is going back in the other direction or we’ll hear the same old song is up to the voting public.

This cycle’s early “it” candidate has been through the electoral wringer quite a bit in the last four years, though, so he’s not exactly a completely unknown quantity. But over the last couple weeks, since the Iowa Freedom Summit, the star of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has rapidly ascended in the Republican ranks, putting him up into the top tier of candidates. Walker drew praise from no less than Rush Limbaugh, who believed the Wisconsin governor has clearly expressed a conservative manner of governance in his tenure over a previously staunchly Democratic state. “I believe Scott Walker is the blueprint for the Republican Party if they are serious about beating the left,” said Rush.

Walker, who recently formed an exploratory committee, comes into the race as one of several successful GOP governors. It’s a group that includes recent or current governors in Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Chris Christie, along with former governors Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush. This group with executive experience has served to push back many of the other contenders, such as Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, who don’t have as much time in the national spotlight. (One exception in that group is Rand Paul, who remains among the top dogs.)

Yet the argument for a candidate like Walker is simple in light of the last six-plus years of having a president who learned on the job: it’s time to put the adults back in charge. In fact, you have to reach all the way down the Democratic field to Martin O’Malley to find a person who’s actually run anything on a scale that several GOP aspirants have – and O’Malley’s legacy was so poor that he couldn’t even get his lieutenant governor to succeed him in a majority-Democratic state. Otherwise, their top half-dozen contenders got their political experience mainly from the Senate and despite the oversized ego required to be a Senator they really don’t have a lot of qualifications for the job. Good or bad, four of the preceding five Presidents before Obama served as governors of their state.

The question going forward will be how much scrutiny Walker will receive, although having survived both a recall effort and re-election should mean there’s not too many secrets we don’t know about him. Much will be made about Walker’s lack of a college degree (he attended Marquette University but did not graduate) but it hasn’t stopped him from running the ship of state in Wisconsin. Consider him a magna cum laude graduate of the School of Hard Knocks.

I can see why Walker would be popular, though. He has the record of success against Big Labor Chris Christie can only dream of and beaten them back at the polls in a way John Kasich of Ohio could not. And while he doesn’t have the job creation record of a Rick Perry in Texas, his state also doesn’t have the energy potential Texas has. Wisconsin did rank fourth last year in the number of new manufacturing jobs, as industry has traditionally been the state’s economic bread and butter.

So is Walker the outsider the GOP rank-and-file is looking for? Time will tell, but he’s the buzz on social media right now and for good reason.

The power of one

January 25, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

The return of a Republican to Government House has been a boon to the state party, but it has created no shortage of chaos in the General Assembly and in counties where erstwhile members of that body reside. One example of this is Carroll County, which has had to replace two members of its delegation as both Senator Joe Getty and Delegate Kelly Schulz were tapped for administration jobs.

Replacing the latter brought significant strife to neighboring Frederick County, where most of District 4 lies, but since a small portion lies in Carroll County they also get their say. But one change in their process was agreeing to Larry Hogan’s request to send him three names, which Carroll did. Since former Delegate Barrie Ciliberti is on both lists, it would presumably be his seat once Schulz is confirmed the Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation by the Maryland Senate.

But if you look at the three men Frederick County advanced to their final interview stage, you would notice that Ciliberti was the only name agreed on – however, it’s been reported that Carroll had Ciliberti as their second choice behind Ken Timmerman, who didn’t make Frederick’s top three.

Carroll County has also been feeling the heat for sending up the name of Robin Bartlett Frazier as their choice to replace Senator Getty over Delegate Justin Ready, among others. Frazier was a county commissioner until losing a bid for re-election this year; her biggest claim to fame is ignoring a judge’s order and beginning commission meetings with a prayer. One argument in Bartlett’s favor was that selecting Ready would have only set up a second search for his vacant position.

These incidents serve as a reminder to the issues Republicans had with replacing Senator E. J. Pipkin and Pipkin’s eventual successor Steve Hershey back in 2013. But imagine if all four counties in the District 36 jurisdiction had to send up three names, and they were all different? It would be chaos.

Here’s what the Maryland Constitution has to say about the process of replacing General Assembly members:

SEC. 13. (a) (1) In case of death, disqualification, resignation, refusal to act, expulsion, or removal from the county or city for which he shall have been elected, of any person who shall have been chosen as a Delegate or Senator, or in case of a tie between two or more such qualified persons, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing, within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, by the Central Committee of the political party, if any, with which the Delegate or Senator, so vacating, had been affiliated, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, in the County or District from which he or she was appointed or elected, provided that the appointee shall be of the same political party, if any, as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and it shall be the duty of the Governor to make said appointment within fifteen days after the submission thereof to him.

(2) If a name is not submitted by the Central Committee within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the Governor within another period of fifteen days shall appoint a person, who shall be affiliated with the same political party, if any as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in the District or County.

(3) In the event there is no Central Committee in the County or District from which said vacancy is to be filled, the Governor shall within fifteen days after the occurrence of such vacancy appoint a person, from the same political party, if any, as that of the vacating Delegate or Senator, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in such District or County.

(4) In every case when any person is so appointed by the Governor, his appointment shall be deemed to be for the unexpired term of the person whose office has become vacant.

(b) In addition, and in submitting a name to the Governor to fill a vacancy in a legislative or delegate district, as the case may be, in any of the twenty-three counties of Maryland, the Central Committee or committees shall follow these provisions:

(1) If the vacancy occurs in a district having the same boundaries as a county, the Central Committee of the county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(2) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion of one county, the Central Committee of that county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(3) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion or all of two or more counties, the Central Committee of each county involved shall have one vote for submitting the name of a resident of the district; and if there is a tie vote between or among the Central Committees, the list of names there proposed shall be submitted to the Governor, and he shall make the appointment from the list (amended by Chapter 584, Acts of 1935, ratified Nov. 3, 1936; Chapter 162, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 8, 1966; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 649, Acts of 1986, ratified Nov. 4, 1986).

One can argue this both ways, but since the language states “a person whose name shall be submitted” it’s taken to mean one person. In the case of District 36, the choice was made by then-Governor O’Malley between two names because two counties backed Hershey and two preferred Delegate Michael Smigiel. All of them submitted one name.

And this brings me to a message those of us who serve (or ran for) Central Committees around the state received from Kathy Fuller, who serves on the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. After she went through the process Carroll County used, she made one key point:

We have the constitutional requirement to provide one name. To do anything else usurps the constitutional authority endowed upon the Central Committee. If a Central Committee decides upon one name and submits it, the Governor must appoint that person. The power of the appointment then rests with the Central Committee. If the Central Committee can be convinced to submit more than one name then the Governor actually chooses who is appointed, and the power of the appointment rests with the Governor.

The Constitution designates Central Committees to choose who is appointed and the governor to carry out the appointment. This is separation of power. The Governor is the executive branch; the House and Senate are the legislative branch. If the Governor picks the members of the legislative branch then this corrupts the separation of powers and the checks and balances necessary for good government.

Think of it this way: The Governor has hundreds of appointments he is able to make. If he were to appoint legislators to most of those jobs and then tell the central committees who to send as replacements he would control most of government, both the executive and legislative branches. This is an extreme example, but illustrates the danger of allowing the authority endowed upon the central committees to be usurped by giving the governor more than one name or by allowing him to tell the central committee who that name should be. This is the same reason many gubernatorial appointments are made with the consent of the legislature. It is the check and balance of good government.

Just because Larry Hogan wants three names to choose from doesn’t mean he is entitled to those three names. Unfortunately, most Republican politics turns the process on its head as they desire only one person to run in any primary (to avoid a GOP candidate spending money in a primary fight) but more than one person in this instance so that the state elected official farthest from the people (and perhaps representing the opposite party) makes the choice. Given the choice between a hardline conservative and someone more moderate and “bipartisan” we know who Larry Hogan would pick 95 percent of the time – so Carroll County should have maintained their fealty to the original process. If Maryland had a provision for a special election to fill these seats I would be happy to have plenty of choices, but it does not and I think Fuller’s argument is the correct one.

And to me there is no better illustration of what went wrong with the process than our experience with the District 4 Wicomico County Council vacancy some years ago. By charter, we had to submit four names to County Council, which did their own vetting process after we did our interviews and voted on who to send. At the time it was also an overly rushed process because we only had 30 days to get through the process – a charter change adopted in 2012 extended this to 45 days. But had we only been required to send one name, there would be a different occupant of the office because the eventual appointee was not our top choice. This would be a good charter change to consider since the county charter is different than the state’s Constitution on this manner.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that, in one respect, all of these appointments are moot because none of the principals have resigned yet. They all await confirmation to their positions but the process was started early because the General Assembly would be in session during the time. But I think it needs to be clarified that the duty of the Central Committee is already spelled out in the state’s Constitution and we need only submit one name for these positions.

Let’s do what’s right under the law, not the personal preference of the new governor.

Differing transportation thoughts

January 24, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Last week at Blue Ridge Forum, regular author Richard Falknor stepped aside for a two-part series by writer Peter Samuel, a specialist in writing about toll roads. In part one, Samuel advocated for a reduction in tolls and license fees, which was good, but in return we would have to endure this:

Fairness and efficiency will be best served by moving toward transport systems that self-finance with user fees: more precisely, fees-for-use roads should finance themselves with fees based on the cost of providing road service, road use fees, or tolls based on the distance traveled, the scarcity of road space, and the costs the vehicles impose.

Unfortunately, this raises the prospect of abuse by the state. Imagine portions of U.S. 50 and Maryland Route 90 becoming toll roads from the Bay Bridge to Ocean City, such as the bypass around Salisbury and any future routes around Easton and Cambridge. Sure, you could avoid the tolls and go through town but the traffic would become the same issue it was before the current U.S. 50 portion of the Salisbury bypass opened a decade or so ago. This would also be discouraging for truck traffic.

Maybe the best example of the problem with this philosophy is the Inter-County Connector between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The ICC, as it’s called, was in the pipeline for decades before finally becoming a reality under Bob Ehrlich, with Martin O’Malley finishing it last year. But the ICC isn’t popular with drivers because of its lower speed limit and heavy enforcement of traffic laws, so it hasn’t met revenue projections.

It’s likely Samuel is thinking more of the urban areas with their existing HOT lanes and other means to divide express traffic heading to the suburbs and local traffic which may hop on the highway for a couple exits. But Samuel’s second part discusses the fate of the Red Line in Baltimore and Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

In that case he is correctly diagnosing the problem with mass transit solutions such as these:

Project advocates list all the jobs created during construction, but this is only a measure of cost, and avoids the real question: what value are they creating?

In any enterprise there is positive net value if the users are paying sufficient user fees (fares) to both cover operating costs and provide a competitive return on capital (ROI).

To the extent fares won’t cover costs plus return on capital, we have a clear measure that the value to users falls short of costs, making the project a net loss to any operator.

Rail transit in Maryland presently collects in the ‘farebox’ less than 30 cents on the dollar spent on operating the system and, of course, makes no return on capital invested. Light rail is the very worst with lower farebox recovery (currently under 20 cents per dollar.)

Some of those results could be improved, but almost no rail system in America come close to the black (100 on the dollar + ROI).

If you read further, Samuel likes the concept of the Red Line but is concerned about the construction cost and likelihood of overruns. On the other hand, his thought on the Purple Line is that it should change its form and become a bus-only route. The construction would be far cheaper and the schedule could be more easily adjusted to suit the needs of consumers. That’s an approach which makes more sense, although one has to ask why automotive traffic couldn’t utilize the route then.

At the end of part two, Peter also adds a map of proposed changes, including a westward extension of the ICC which crosses over into Virginia and provides another Potomac crossing west of Washington, as well as an eastbound addition which connects to U.S. 50 near Bowie. Also noted is a “new span Bay Bridge.”

What I would propose, though, is a truly new span Bay Bridge that’s several dozen miles south and connects Dorchester County with Calvert County. There’s no question the environmentalists (and some of the locals) would scream bloody murder, but they would for any attempt at progress anyway.

I think this bridge would encourage more tourism from the Washington area and, if combined with an extension of I-97 to its original destination near Richmond, could open up the Eastern Shore as a new tourist destination as travelers seek an alternate route around the traffic presented in Baltimore and Washington. Adding a bypass around Easton and cutoff between U.S. 50 and U.S. 301 through Queen Anne’s County (paralleling or upgrading the existing Maryland Route 213) could make this route even more desirable. Samuel could even get the cutoff to be a toll route.

There is a lot which can be done in lieu of wasting money on the Red Line and Purple Line because both are destined to be money pits; on the other hand, investing in transportation alternatives which maximize options and freedom makes more sense. As Samuel writes:

Better mobility provides greater employment opportunities, better shopping choices, more specialized health and medical services, more social and family interaction, better education, sporting. and recreational opportunities.

Our travel is not frivolous. People don’t drive the Capital Beltway for the scenery. We travel because the trips provide value.

There would be value in having a second Bay Bridge as well as the other roads for which I advocated. People and goods could move more freely up and down the East Coast, avoiding the bottlenecks presented in northern Virginia and around Baltimore, while the Lower Shore would have more direct access to a route across Chesapeake Bay, allowing for easier movement west and south.

It’s time to think on a larger scale while accepting the reality that people want the freedom to be able to jump in their cars at a moment’s notice and go wherever they wish. Mass transit simply creates dependency on the provider and allows them some level of control of movement. That may be acceptable to some, but the rest of us want to get where we want to go as quickly as possible – on our terms – and this is where government can be of service to the public.

The longest 2 1/2 months

January 19, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Believe it or not, there will be 78 days between the time Larry Hogan won his election and the day he will be sworn in. Those 11 weeks have seen practically every other unit of government turn over since the November election – for example, Wicomico County changed over in early December while Congress went two weeks ago and the General Assembly last week.

In that timespan we’ve seen much of Maryland turn in a decidedly more conservative direction. But as one Facebook observer pointed out, Larry Hogan has bent over backwards to appease most of the groups in Maryland with his cabinet and executive branch selections, which include at least one O’Malley holdover and several former Ehrlich staffers. The one group he has not tapped, however, is the TEA Party branch of the Republican Party.

And with most of the prime spots already taken, it looks like the Maryland government will shift rightward but only about as far as the middle of the road because there’s not going to be anyone there to really push it hard right. Likely this is by design as the perception of bipartisanship may be necessary to win again in 2018, but then I always work under the assumption that the dominant media will support the Democrats in this state so it really doesn’t matter just how much our side panders to the left. So why not try to beat back the other side with conservatism on all fronts?

Now I also know that there are people on my side and who I call friends who say that we have to work with Democrats on things we can agree on. That’s okay as far as that goes, although I think that list of agreements is a lot shorter than my more moderate friends think it is. There are some functions of government I believe are necessary, though, and to the extent that we can improve them to make them more user-friendly I can deal with it.

But then take budget items like the Purple Line. In the 2 1/2 month lame-duck gap between the election and Larry Hogan’s inauguration that special interest has taken the time and money to lobby for its very existence. History and logic would dictate that the Purple Line would be a cronyist boondoggle to build and a money pit to maintain because ridership will never pay for the cost of running the trains, but I’m detecting a softening of Hogan’s previous hardline stance. A couple billion dollars would fix a lot of bridges and potholes, but those aren’t as sexy as a rail line which proponents will claim will improve the environment – of course, that’s based on full trains which we won’t see.

Everyone who is a prospective victim of the budgetary chopping block will be out in force over the next month or so trying to plead the case that they should be spared the axe, like the state’s arts community. But catering to everyone is how we got to where we are in the first place.

Obviously Larry Hogan needed a little time to make sure he won the election and mull over those people who he will need to run his administration. But this change in government couldn’t come soon enough for those of us who would like it rightsized, and while job one of the Hogan administration has to be that of getting the state’s economy back on sound footing and moving in a positive direction, not far behind that effort should be one to have a FY2019 budget that’s no larger than the one we passed last year.

186,000 reasons to smile (and one to worry about)

In the quest to get America back to making things, it was good news to find that manufacturers added 17,000 jobs in December. That brought the 2014 growth in that sector to 186,000, continuing the steady growth in that sector since the job market hit bottom there in 2009-10. When you consider that 2012 predictions saw the manufacturing sector losing jobs through this decade, having a very positive number nearly halfway through is a good sign.

Naturally Barack Obama tried to take some credit for this during a speech at a Ford plant near Detroit last week. As I noted in a piece I wrote for the Patriot Post, it’s ironic that the plant was idled due to slow sales of hybrids and small cars built there, but the auto industry has played a part in the resurgence of manufacturing jobs in America. This is particularly true in the construction and expansion of “transplant” auto plants in the South by a number of foreign automakers.

But there has been criticism of Obama from his political peers. As a carryover from my American Certified days I often quote Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, because his organization is strongly influenced by Big Labor and presumably supported Obama in both his elections. Yet Paul is none too happy with Obama’s progress:

Manufacturing job growth slowed to 17,000 in December, which portends some of the challenges an overly strong dollar, weak global demand, and high goods trade deficits may bring in 2015. While President Obama is touting factory job gains and our Congressional leaders are looking for ways to rebuild the middle class, what’s missing for manufacturing is good policy.

Congress and the president need to hold China and Japan accountable for currency manipulation and mercantilism, and invest in our infrastructure. New innovation institutes are a good thing, but their presence alone won’t bring manufacturing back. And as the president enters the final half of his second term, he’s falling way behind his goal to create one million new manufacturing jobs.

The innovation institutes Paul refers to are public-private partnerships being created around the country in various fields, in the most recent case advanced composites. But Obama lags behind on his promised 1 million new manufacturing jobs for this term as it nears the halfway mark as he’s created just 283,000. It’s great if you’re one of those newly employed workers, but his policies are leaving a lot of chips on the table. In fact, National Association of Manufacturers economist Chad Moutray frets that:

…manufacturers still face a number of challenges, ranging from slowing global growth to a still-cautious consumer to the prospect of increased interest rates. With the start of the 114th Congress, manufacturers are optimistic that there will be positive developments on various critical pro-growth measures, including comprehensive tax reform, trade promotion authority and a long-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, and focusing on important infrastructure priorities like building the Keystone XL pipeline and addressing the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

While manufacturers would like to see these measures, attaining some of them may be tough sledding in a conservative Congress. There are a number of representatives and conservative groups who don’t want to give the President fast track trade authority, wish to see the Export-Import Bank mothballed out of existence, and will not consider increasing the federal gasoline tax – an action for which Moutray uses the euphemism “addressing the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.” These actions may benefit the large manufacturers but won’t help the bread and butter industries solely serving the domestic market like the 24-employee machining shop or the plastics plant that employs 80.

Turning to the state level, our local manufacturing (so to speak) of poultry has a big week coming up. On Wednesday morning, the final deadline to submit new regulations to the Maryland Register for the January 23 printing will pass. You may recall that the December 1, 2014 Maryland Register featured the new Phosphorus Management Tool regulations as proposed (page 1432 overall, page 18 on the PDF file.) The new regulations were not in the January 9 edition, so January 23 may be the last chance to get these published under the O’Malley administration due to the deadline being set in MOM’s waning days.

Yet I’m hearing the rumors that a legislative bill is in the works, to be introduced in the coming days by liberal Democrats from across the bridge. Doing this legislatively would perhaps buy a few months for local farmers because such a bill would probably take effect in the first of October if not for the almost certain veto from Governor Hogan. If Democrats hold together, though, they would have enough votes to override the veto in January 2016, at which time the bill would belatedly take effect. Still, it will be difficult to stop such a bill given the lack of Republicans and common-sense Democrats in the General Assembly. To sustain a Hogan veto would take 57 House members and 19 Senators, necessitating seven Democrats in the House and five in the Senate to join all the Republicans.

We haven’t received the data yet to know whether the installation of Bob Culver as County Executive was enough to break an 11-month job losing streak year-over-year here in Wicomico County, but his task would be that much tougher with these regulations put in place.

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