How much will it cost? (Part two of a multi-part series)

July 30, 2018 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on How much will it cost? (Part two of a multi-part series) 

I really didn’t mean to take so long between part one of this series and part two, but because the second item on the Ben Jealous for Governor issue list is health care – and there’s a claim out there that his plan will cost Maryland a staggering $24 billion a year, according to analysts at the state’s Department of Legislative Services – I was hoping to see the actual evidence before I wrote the next part. But my trips to the DLS website have been fruitless, leading me to believe that there were a couple cowboys at the DLS who chose to leak this to the Sun.

So before I say this will cost $24 billion a year, I suppose the best thing to know is how we would pay for this program called “Medicare-for-All.” Here’s how Jealous explains the key benefit for the majority of us who are under employer-sponsored plans:

This system will end premiums for participants, reducing costs to most employees and employers. It will be important to create a system that ensures covered employees also see the benefit of this change. MD-Care will explore creating safeguards to ensure that employer savings are passed down to the workers in increased wages, and guarantee that workers see real savings instead of having all of the gains captured by employers no longer paying premiums. (Emphasis mine.)

It’s worth pointing out that health insurance as a employer fringe benefit is a relatively new phenomenon, one that began when wages were frozen during World War II. Since workers (generally those belonging to unions) could not receive wage increases, the measure to circumvent this prohibition was the inclusion of health insurance – with the added bonus of employer-paid premiums being non-taxable income.

Basically what Jealous wants to do is enforce a raise to workers who currently receive these benefits, whether deserved or not. That seems to me a good way to kill jobs in the state.

And stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Those who want to keep their existing Medicare program will be able to.

Bear in mind, of course, that Medicare is not free. Those of us who work for a living see that little category on our pay stubs – mine actually calls this “Medicare Employee” – and every couple weeks a few dozen dollars added to that total. I guess that’s the down payment on what we have to pay when we get to the age where we can presumably sign up and collect on Medicare, which isn’t really free but has a bewildering array of premiums, deductibles, and co-insurance payments. So to say Medicare-for-All is “free health care” or “single-payer” is clearly a misnomer because there are three payment sources: your pocket, the generosity of those who pay the taxes but don’t use the service, and (in the case of the federal government) a massive amount of IOUs.

Jealous then cites a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate that health care in Maryland costs $51 billion a year (at least it did in 2014) and proclaims:

This is simply unsustainable, and MD-Care offers an opportunity to finally get costs under control. Administrative savings could quickly add up to billions of dollars in Maryland and fully expanding the All-Payer model would finally allow us to bend the “cost curve” in medical spending. In addition, by ensuring the plan is designed properly to reduce costs and maximize federal dollars, we can further reduce the healthcare burden on Maryland taxpayers.

So wait a second: this is Maryland’s plan, but we’re expecting everyone else to pony up and pay more for it? Yeah, that will fly like a lead balloon.

And I’m not sure where “administrative savings” (if administration is 8% of health care cost, that’s $4 billion for Maryland) comes from when people who work for those eeeeeevil insurance companies (mainly paid for with private-sector dollars) are repurposed as government employees who are paid from the public till, to wit:

This plan and the Maryland All-Payer Model Progression Plan call for widespread use of emerging new titles in healthcare such as coordinators and community health workers to ensure that high risk populations are being treated properly (and at lower cost). This offers an opportunity to minimize the net disruption to employment by ensuring job retraining and preferences for those who previously worked at private insurance companies. Instead of thousands of workers in Maryland being paid to deny access to care, they can now be paid to provide healthcare.

In addition, there is going to be a need for administrative employees to ensure that Maryland is complying with all federal law so we can continue to draw down dollars for Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the ACA.

So much for saving on administration; in fact, given the lavish government payroll that seems to be a cost increase.

Speaking of cost increases, here’s where it gets important:

There is no question that any plan will have significant cost savings compared to current healthcare spending, while also moving most healthcare dollars away from the insurance companies and into the plan. These variables will determine the final cost of the plan and the revenue requirements. Among other revenue options the advisory panel will consider:

  • Income Based Premium Paid by Employers

This premium would be a deductible business expense, meaning this plan will have the same tax advantage status as employer provided healthcare. However, it is unknown how businesses will react to this, and significant input from the Maryland business community will be needed. Businesses would have predictable health insurance costs instead of double-digit increases with no end in sight.

  • Sales Tax

Having some portion of the plan paid for by a sales tax would have several advantages, including capturing revenue from non-Marylanders. It would also reduce the amount of revenue needed on the payroll side, thus reducing the taxation burden on new employment. At the same time, a sales tax is regressive by nature, so any tax increase on working Marylanders would have to be measured against the net benefits received from this plan.

  • Non-Payroll Income Premium

A non-payroll income premium would ensure that the most financially successful in Maryland pay their fair share of taxes. The advisory panel will need to study the tax sensitivity of these higher earners to ensure that any increase doesn’t result in significant population shifts in the region to avoid any changes to the Maryland income tax system.

I can tell you exactly how business will react to the first one, Ben: they will close their doors and/or leave. Those that have to stay will be hiring fewer people, and they have the perfect incentive:

We will also look at ways to ensure that small businesses and new companies succeed under this plan. This could mean exempting small businesses and start-ups from additional taxes associated with MDCare depending on revenue or firm age. The advisory panel will work with the small business community to design an exemption that makes the most sense.

One surefire way to cut revenue to fit under the limit: close a few locations, let go a few workers, and fold the business into a newly-formed holding company.

Because of that possibility, my thinking on this is that Jealous would go with a blending of options two and three: perhaps an increase in the sales tax from 6% to 8% and a reprisal of the infamous “millionaire’s tax” that will cause capital to flow out of the state.

Assuming that the roughly $4.6 billion collected by the state in sales taxes in FY2017 is a valid figure, a sales tax increase to 8% would cost taxpayers roughly $1.1 billion a year, and $5.5 billion over five years. A millionaire’s tax would be perhaps a $500 million cost to taxpayers over 5 years.

But that won’t begin to cover this program – not when spending is $51 billion a year now, and probably $70 billion when it’s “free.” (That is if you can find a provider – only 7 of 10 providers accept new Medicare patients.)

The most truthful statement made from Ben on the subject is this one, a throwaway line on his “Path to Medicare for All“:

When the ACA was written, Democrats were overly concerned with the optics and not enough with the actual mechanics of the bill.

Yes, we had to pass it to know what was in it. Likewise, we have no idea if that $24 billion cost is anywhere close to reality but it is likely that state revenues will take a significant hit as private-sector businesses throw in the towel.

Next up in this series will be Criminal Justice, a platform that likely has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

How much will it cost? (Part one of a multi-part series)

July 18, 2018 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on How much will it cost? (Part one of a multi-part series) 

I know, I know, you want Tawes coverage. Look for it tomorrow or Friday.

Since Ben Jealous won the Democrat Party nomination for Maryland’s top job, the progressives who have already seen his campaign as a chance to put their dreams into action on the state level are beside themselves with giddiness about the prospect of a state that borders Washington, D.C. being set up as a contrast to the relative austerity of one President Donald J. Trump.

But skittish voters may have been turned off by a Department of Legislative Services report (as reported by the Baltimore Sun) that claimed Ben’s single-payer health scheme could cost the state as much as $24 billion a year – astounding when you consider Maryland’s annual state operating budget runs about $44 billion. It would become the single largest line-item on the budget overnight and (of course) necessitate significant tax increases.

The story, however, neatly coincides with the question I’m sure I’m not alone in asking: how much is the Jealous agenda going to cost?

Well, I can’t give you an exact answer. But what I can do is study his platform, point by point, and give as good of an estimate as possible. And when you say, “Michael, all politicians promise to spend taxpayer money when they pledge to ‘invest’ in whatever item they think will get them the most votes,” I would say yes, you are correct – but Ben Jealous pledges to do it in spades.

If you go to his issues page, you will find Jealous has laid out a wide-ranging agenda of several issues:

  • Education
  • Medicare-For-All
  • Criminal Justice
  • Ending The Student Debt Crisis
  • Police Reform
  • Great Cities: A Vision For Maryland’s Future
  • Opioid Crisis
  • Make It In Maryland: Building A More Inclusive, Thriving Economy
  • Civil Rights
  • Immigration
  • Environment
  • Seniors

On many of these, Ben goes beyond the standard one-paragraph blurb and lays out fairly detailed plans – although they are often lacking in financial estimates. So today I’m going to start laying out my thoughts on what this agenda may cost taxpayers, and I’m going to begin with Education and the related subject Ending the Student Debt Crisis.

As a baseline figure, bear in mind that the most recent budget adopted by the state (for FY2019, which began at the start of this month) has the state of Maryland spending $14.72 billion between education and higher education, for a total of 33% of the budget. K-12 gets $8.099 billion and $6.621 billion goes to higher education. (The total budget, by the way, is $44.416 billion, compared to $42.142 billion just two years ago.)

Here’s the first concrete proposal in the Jealous education plan, increasing teacher salaries:

In the Kirwan Commission’s preliminary report, there’s a recommendation to bring Maryland’s average teacher salary to the average of Massachusetts and New Jersey’s – two of the country’s top performing states – by the 2024-2025 school year. Ben Jealous is committed to raising teacher pay by 29% between now and the 2024-2025 school year – the exact same percent increase as was accomplished in the seven years following the Thornton Commission.

To determine the cost of this salary increase plan, we need to find the difference between the natural cost of increasing salaries under the current Thornton funding formula and a new salary plan.

In an attached chart, Jealous details the cost over the five year period from FY2020 – FY2024. Total cost to taxpayers: $1.8953 billion over five years, with FY2024 alone contributing a $658.5 million increase. This is above and beyond raises already baked into the budget totaling $2.1845 billion.

Jealous, however, says he has a way to pay for this – but it depends on Maryland voters.

Late in this year’s session, a Senate bill was passed that placed an amendment to the Maryland Constitution on this year’s ballot. The “Fix The Fund” Act mandates that gambling revenue become a supplement to educational spending rather than a component of it. The Fiscal Note for the bill notes that revenues for education are expected to increase by $1.2678 billion from FY2020 – FY 2023. Unfortunately, that money doesn’t replace what would have gone into the General Fund: as the Fiscal Note continues, “Designating the use of a portion of (Education Trust Fund) monies for supplemental funding requires general fund expenditures to increase by an equal amount.” However, this money is folded into the expenditure from above, yet Jealous admits to being short in year 5. His solution? Enacting a combined reporting tax on Maryland businesses.

On this particular point of combined reporting, Jealous references an unsuccessful bill from 2017 that would have enacted this, with the carrot to business of eliminating filing fees for a business or entity with 10 or fewer employees. That may not necessarily be in Ben’s plan, so I am going to make two assumptions here: one. that the revenue for a five year period of FY2020-24 is similar to that which would have occurred FY2018-22 as covered by that particular Fiscal Note and that the filing fee waiver would be eliminated. Given those two items (and the fact business taxes aren’t paid by businesses but by consumers) I will say this adds $150.8 million over five years – but that still leaves Jealous short, and WAY short if “Fix The Fund” doesn’t pass – however, you can bet your bottom dollar the teacher’s unions will be out in full force to pass that one come November. (The odds of the Fix The Fund Act passing are very good, though, as Maryland voters seldom turn down a referendum. But it won’t be a fix, just more tax on the poor.)

And the fun is just beginning…next up is this gem:

In the 2018 legislative session, two former educators in the General Assembly proposed legislation to guarantee all education support professionals a living wage: at least $31,500 a year in lower cost of living counties and at least $36,000 a year in higher cost of living counties. It would be phased in starting in FY2020 and fully funded from FY2024 onward.

Based on the Fiscal Note for this bill, over three years (FY2022-24) the total cost to taxpayers will be $527 million.

Another biggie comes up a page or so later:

As governor, Ben Jealous will provide the funding necessary for full-day, universal pre-kindergarten and he will pay for it through the tax revenue generated by legalizing and taxing marijuana for adult use.

In a report entitled A Comprehensive Analysis of Prekindergarten in Maryland, the authors noted that at the time (early 2016) the state spent $132.9 million to educate the 35.58% of 4-year-olds who are already enrolled. Doing the math for 100% of 4-year-olds means an annual expenditure for pre-K on a state level would be a total annual cost to taxpayers of $375.3 million, and over a five-year period the cost would edge close to $2 billion.

Yet again, it’s likely that revenues will not keep pace. Obviously laws vary from state to state, but a good fit for projecting Maryland’s success might be Colorado because of its similar population. In 2017 Colorado generated $223 million in revenue from the sale of marijuana, while Washington state (which is somewhat larger) added $314 million. It’s not likely that Maryland would be able to sustain its revenue stream to the extent needed, meaning money would need to come from the general fund.

Next up is an unknown amount of money to address this seeming disparity:

We need to reimagine what schools provide in our low-income neighborhoods by making the school building the central hub for community services – counseling, job training, meals, mentoring programs, and health clinics. As part of the new funding formula, the state should add a concentrated wealth factor that drives more funding to schools with 40% or more of their student population coming from low-income families.

To me, this is akin to the current Geographic Cost of Education Index that cost taxpayers $141.6 million this fiscal year (page 47 here). But that money is a starting point because, in order for schools to take on all these functions, there is an unknown capital improvement cost involved. I suspect when all is said and done this could easily exceed $2 billion in additional spending after five years.

Lastly on the K-12 education front, there is this idea:

Providing children with a critical mass of mental health services requires an investment in personnel like inschool social workers and psychologists, but it also requires fully incorporating these service providers into the broader academic ecosystem, and providing other key members of that ecosystem with the training they need to help our mental health service providers.

So let’s begin with this:

By providing the child with case-management, the social worker can ensure a student is connected with an in-school counselor (and) has up-to-date treatment from an inschool psychologist.

(…)

… it is important that enough counselors be hired to maintain a low student-to-counselor ratio…

(…)

Every school should have at least one on-site psychologist, who is focused fully on addressing the mental health needs of the student body.

(…)

As governor, Ben Jealous will work with key stakeholders like the MSEA to increase staffing levels for service providers like social workers and school psychologists…

Yes, because we know the MSEA teacher’s union is oh-so-careful with taxpayer dollars.

The information is a little out-of-date, so I’m extrapolating the 1.449 schools that Maryland was claimed to have a half-decade ago to 1,500 for ease of math. So let’s make some more assumptions: three new social workers, one new psychologist, and three counselors (to maintain the low ratio) are added per school – that is a total of 10,500 staff statewide. And they’re not going to come cheap: on average a school psychologist makes almost $60,000 per year, a school counselor checks in at almost $49,000 a year, and school social workers earn just over $48,000 a year. Therefore, the additional per-school staffing expenditure (just for salary, mind you, and not including benefits) would be $351,000 a year. Multiply that by 1,500 public schools in the state and the total annual cost to taxpayers is $216.2 million.

Once you’ve paid for K-12, you still have the aspect of “free” college.

As governor, Jealous will make community college free for every Marylander… The guarantee of free tuition will be extended to every Maryland high school graduate. This program will be paid for by increasing the state income tax for the top 1% of earners ($500,000+ annually) by 1%, and savings from significantly reducing Maryland’s levels of incarceration.

Now this is a little bit confusing because I thought we already had that, based on a bill passed last year. And the question is whether Ben means every dollar of the average $4,324 (see here) for tuition and fees or whether it’s an expansion of the “last-dollar” program where prospective students have to exhaust other avenues of aid first (although, in all honesty, the taxpayer pays most of it anyway.) Now multiply that by a projected 46,592 full-time students and just a high-end estimate of Ben’s scheme comes out to be $201.5 million every year. And since it’s “free” we should probably assume a total annual cost to taxpayers of $300 million because more will take advantage and (naturally) colleges will increase their tuition and fees to get in on this largess.

Yet as they say on the home shopping networks…but wait, there’s more.

As governor, Jealous will create a MD Careers program that partners with industry experts to determine growing job sectors, and incentivize education and training in these sectors by covering any education costs associated with entering the fields. Special priority will be given to service professionals like first responders, organized labor sectors like educators, and healthcare workers who can help drive down the cost of quality treatment for our population in the years ahead. The guarantee of free tuition will be extended to every Maryland high school graduate who commits to staying in Maryland for five years after they receive their degree.

This program will be paid for with a percentage of the savings generated by significant reductions to Maryland’s incarceration levels. This funding stream will stretch even further when one considers that training for in-demand sectors like construction rely on apprenticeships and technical training that are less cost intensive than traditional 4-year degrees.

As governor, Jealous will extend this guarantee to students pursuing graduate degrees at Maryland’s public institutions. This will be paid for by increasing Maryland’s cigarette tax, which is currently less than the cigarette tax charged by regional competitors such as D.C., Pennsylvania, and New York.

I love how he pointed out “organized labor sectors.” Like we need more of that.

So we come to the “savings” part. Jealous proposes to save our dollars by emptying out the jails.

Ben Jealous will reduce Maryland’s prison population by 30%. He will do so by ending returns to prison for technical violations, downgrading drug possession, expanding opportunities to earn parole, and investing in reentry programs. Doing so will create savings of up to $660 million.

Obviously the amount spent on free tuition is going to depend on the shape of the program, but more predictable is the increase in the cigarette tax. Maryland currently has a $2 per pack cigarette tax, which indeed is less than D.C. ($2.50), Pennsylvania ($2.60) and New York (tops in the nation at $4.35.) It’s even a dime less than Delaware’s and New Jersey comes in at $2.70 as well. (And then you have Virginia, second lowest in the country at 30 cents a pack.) Nor should we forget about the millionaire’s tax I cited above.

So let’s speculate that the cigarette tax of $2 a pack increases to $3, which would peg us just above the surrounding jurisdictions aside from Virginia and West Virginia. For FY2017 (the latest figures available) the cigarette tax raised $348.8 million. So a 50% increase in the tax brings a 50% increase in revenue, right?

Well, not quite. For taxes, there is almost always a lag between the rate of increase and the revenue increase. I’m thinking the difference in this case will be about 30%, although your mileage may vary. Total cost to taxpayers (particularly the poor and working class): $244.2 million a year.

On the other side of the scale is the tax on the “top 1%.” It’s harder to judge the impact based on a lack of parameters, but the “millionaire’s tax” of a decade ago reportedly brought in $120 million. I think with inflation, and the fact income taxes bring in $9 billion a year, that a 2% increase in revenue is a realistic estimate because there aren’t that many who would qualify. Total cost to taxpayers: roughly $180 million a year.

After that, there is another highly variable promise:

The guarantee of debt-free tuition will be extended to every Maryland high school graduate.

Jealous will offer this debt free path to graduation in the form of a state-financed work study program that pays students the cost of their tuition each year, including for public graduate schools. A significant part of this restructuring will also come from driving down the overhead costs associated with higher education: expensive book purchases, inflated rents, and non-essentials like luxurious gyms.

The obvious question is how many students would be eligible and how much of the tuition they will pay. Pennsylvania has a similar program where students are allowed to make $10,000 a year toward their college funding. If this is the case, for every 100 students that are accepted there’s a million dollars that has to come from somewhere, oftentimes from the college itself.

Jealous also desires the state get into the student loan refinancing business:

10 states currently offer refinancing programs for student loans. It is long past time that Maryland embrace its role as a national leader, and join these states in easing the often onerous financial burden that student loans pose for Marylanders.

Assuming the state can find the cash reserves, this is actually very inexpensive in comparison. A state study found other states run these programs for less than one million dollars a year, Total cost to taxpayers over five years: $5 million.

Lastly, Jealous wants to correct the supposed shortchanging of HBCUs in the state:

As governor, Jealous will reallocate future state-based funding streams for higher education to provide restorative funding that equals the historic underfunding of HBCUs in Maryland. Moreover, ongoing funding will be fixed to prevent this disparity in the years ahead. Jealous will also end the practice of allowing other public institutions to offer duplicative programs to those traditionally offered by HBCUs.

(…)

Under Jealous’ leadership, the state will begin to fund immediate infrastructure improvements at HBCUs using a percentage of the over $1 billion in general obligation bonds that it issues each year. Beyond improving the physical infrastructure of HBCU facilities, it will allow HBCUs to reallocate existing infrastructure spending to other programmatic investments.

It’s been claimed (by a minority member of the Maryland Senate) that HBCUs have been shortchanged by $2 billion over the years. I don’t think Jealous would try to eradicate that in four years, but over eight it would be a doable thing, simply increasing the $1 billion the state annually puts on its capital funding credit card by 25%. Over four years, this would be $1 billion in additional debt which needs to be paid eventually.

So, to total all this up: just for education at all levels, Ben is looking to ladle on at least $6.743 billion to the budget. In order to fill this gap, we will have to endure the adoption of an ill-considered amendment to the Maryland Constitution, the legalization and taxation of marijuana, increases in business taxes, cigarette taxes and income taxes for certain brackets, the emptying of our jails (with no telling how that will affect the crime rate), and squeezing people out of a legitimate business, refinancing student loans.

And that, my friends, is just for starters.

Now allow me to say that Ben seems like a nice, personable guy. I spoke to him a little bit at Tawes about a concern I had unrelated to this series, and he seemed receptive to help out. But in order to be informed, it should be known that his “free stuff” is going to come at a cost people may not be willing to pay.

Gas tax study: jobs could be lost

Late last month the Americans for Prosperity Foundation – Maryland, along with the Sage Policy Group, released a study claiming that possibly over 1,000 jobs could be lost in Maryland if the gasoline tax is increased via either the adoption of a 3% or 6% sales tax on the product – in other words, expanding an already-existing tax to cover a product previously exempt from that avenue of taxation – or simply adding a dime per gallon to the current state tax burden of 23.5 cents per gallon.

Before I begin my take on this, though, it’s helpful to know the players. We all know AFP tends to be a group which favors low taxation and limited government; they have graced this website many times before with their message. I had never heard of the Sage Policy Group prior to this study, though, so I looked them up. It seems like a small, one-horse operation but their clientele is varied and they appear relatively apolitical. I would have to say, though, this isn’t the most in-depth study I’ve ever read – to me it’s almost like a paint-by-numbers job based on the description of the software used. (Then again, the experience to interpret the numbers has some value.)

The obvious weakness of the study, plainly stated within, is that it’s not an attempt at a cost-benefit analysis. Obviously the state would be able to derive some benefit to having a Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) stocked with more cash to do the needed repairs and construction on state transportation infrastructure, but the question on the mind of most is whether they trust a greedy governor and compliant legislators to keep their hands out of the till. We probably wouldn’t be having this discussion if our last two governors hadn’t “borrowed” over $1 billion from the TTF “pot of gold” to keep the budget in balance, rather than bearing the blame for unpopular spending cuts or more new taxes; not that the latter stopped Martin O’Malley.

Yet it’s all but inevitable the tax will be increased; after all, the Democrats have the votes and the respective ribbon-cuttings on projects would likely be timed in the few months before they face voters. Surely, they will argue, a dime or two a gallon – most of these schemes would work out to ten to twenty cents a gallon, depending on gasoline price – is a small price to pay for fixing Maryland’s roads and bringing O’Malley’s dream of expanded light rail to fruition. And perhaps it would be, if the former assumption on usage was true.

But a study by the Department of Legislative Services shows that spending on transit takes up almost half of TTF funding, up from about 1/3 twenty years ago; meanwhile, the highway construction share has declined by about the same amount, to less than a quarter per dollar spent. The drop has been most precipitous during Martin O’Malley’s tenure. Given those facts and O’Malley’s stated wish list of new mass transit projects, it’s likely that the best we can hope for would be to get back to pre-O’Malley levels of spending on highway needs if the gas tax were increased.

The Sage Policy study, though, also estimates the number of jobs lost due to the tax hike. Obviously, though, there would be some jobs gained as a number of construction projects are funded. Someone has to pave the roads, design the bridges, and provide the materials necessary for working on infrastructure. While the Sage study couches in some fashion the job losses based on a theory that money taken out of the private-sector economy results in job losses, there are legitimate needs the public sector pays for and roads are among them – hopefully to provide a net gain.

Simply put, if you figure the $4 a week lost by an average family due to this tax is computed as one latte, sure, if everyone stops buying as many lattes it will eventually result in the coffee shop laying off workers or even closing, but the construction business next door may be able to hire laborers with a higher skill level and wage thanks to the new highway projects being built. It’s a tradeoff, and we all know that a robust highway network facilitates the efficient movement of people and goods. On the other hand, light rail projects don’t contribute in the same way and generally require subsidies from the state to remain in operation. Fewer jobs are created with that spending – yet that’s my suspicion as to the real purpose of this proposed gas tax hike.

I believe Marylanders would be less reluctant to pay a gas tax increase which amounts to something no worse than an average “sticker shock” gas price jump where the cost goes up 20 cents a gallon overnight if they had confidence the money would be spent wisely and not just tossed into the void of the state’s General Fund or spent on mass transit boondoggles. Yet if we returned mass transit to its traditional level of spending we might be able to get back to fixing roads without the need to increase the gasoline tax. That seems like the logical step here before we vacuum more money from the pockets of those Marylanders who still are among the working.

Odds and ends number 32

Yes, it’s another edition of those items which deserve a paragraph or three but maybe not a full post.

Let’s begin with a rescheduled event. Originally scheduled for last month, Andy Harris will hold his “healthcare discussion” fundraiser on Wednesday, August 24 at 6 p.m. at the original location. It’s still $50 and you can still contact Cathy Keim at (443) 880-5912 for details.

That may be the last time you have a spare $50 in your pocket, though, since the Maryland General Assembly is spending their summer trying to figure out just how they can squeeze more revenue out of the citizenry. Take this report done by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

There’s a couple not-so-obvious things which jumped out at me and were buried in the report. One is the idea of considering those who are online affiliates to a company such as Amazon.com as a presence in the state, necessitating the collection of sales tax. As a website owner who indeed acts as an Amazon.com affiliate (and makes a few pennies off the website in that manner) the last thing I really want to do is collect sales tax. Amazon doesn’t have affiliates in states with such laws, and for good reason.

But notice what South Carolina did – in order to create jobs they waived their requirement, and Tennessee is considering the same. Yes, they would lose sales tax revenue but would presumably make that up and more with increased economic activity. Maryland? Well, I guess they seem to believe that making more taxes will make the state more attractive. Not.

In fact, the Republican Caucus in the House of Delegates continues to point out this fatal flaw:

For years, the House Republican Caucus has offered plan after plan to bring Maryland’s spending in line with revenues and ultimately lower taxes; knowing that real spending cuts, not fantastical numbers games, would ultimately protect the taxpayers of Maryland from another mugging by their government.  We have warned repeatedly against the reliance on federal funds. Real, meaningful spending reductions have not occurred; in fact the budget has grown year after year.  Rather than listening to sound fiscal advice, the Democratic monopoly has chosen instead to demonize anyone who suggests true spending reductions and terrorize the public with tales of apocalyptic calamity should true reductions in government spending happen.

The only “apocalyptic calamity” seems to be the job creation numbers in Maryland, which are dismal to say the least.

But there’s no calamity in the ozone layer, as the EPA fortunately has held off on new, tougher job-killing ozone standards so stringent that even Yellowstone National Park couldn’t qualify. Perhaps a reason why is that Fedzilla couldn’t hide their cooking of the books nor justify the benefits versus the costs.

It’s foolish, though, to believe that this was ever about costs or even public health. It’s about control, and something tells me that well-connected companies could make sweetheart deals with regulators to carve out an exemption or two. In Washington these days you have to pay to play, and the sale of regulations favoring the highest political contributor seems to be in vogue more than ever.

Then again, drug cartels have a lot of money. And in the wake of a deepening protection scandal involving the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico, maybe Gary Johnson and his libertarian ilk is right on this one:

While I certainly disagree with several parts of Gary’s platform, I do believe perhaps it’s time we considered the legalization option. Granted, the cartels may still operate because there are a lot of other illegal substances out there but I’m not so sure the benefits of the War on Drugs outweigh the costs. It’s a little surprising that Barack Obama hasn’t pushed for this himself given past history – in theory, the act of drug possession could have landed him in jail in some jurisdictions.

Imagine how things may have turned out had that happened. (Oh wait, I’m undercutting my own argument!)

I must say, though, that Gary is perhaps the most blogger-friendly candidate out there. If only Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann were as accomodating… *sigh*

By the way, I didn’t forget that I’m still in the midst of grading candidates. I’ve just been a little busy lately and now I have an issue with the laptop where all those text files are, so it’s temporarily out of commission.

And now for something completely different.

I was asked by a nice lady to include her website as one of my links.

Now this sort of thing happens on occasion as spam e-mail and this particular message was in that folder as well. A lot of the time it’s one of those “we should trade links” sort of things to cover as an advertisement for a poker or porn website. But I checked out the site in question and it’s definitely legit – and it’s striking in the amount of photography used, along with the fact that Kathy covers an area that I don’t often get to for this gig – up around St. Michaels (also known as “the town that fooled the British.”) So dig in and enjoy.

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  • 2018 Election

    Election Day is November 6. But in Maryland we extend the fun: early voting runs October 25 through November 1.

    Maryland

    Governor

    Larry Hogan (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Shawn Quinn (Libertarian) – Facebook

    Ben Jealous (D) – Facebook Twitter

    Ian Schlakman (Green) Facebook Twitter

     

    U.S. Senate

    Tony Campbell (R) – Facebook Twitter

    Arvin Vohra (Libertarian) – Facebook Twitter

    Neal Simon (Unaffiliated) – Facebook Twitter

    Ben Cardin (D – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

     

    U.S. Congress -1st District

    Andy Harris (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Jenica Martin (Libertarian) – Facebook Twitter

    Jesse Colvin (D) – Facebook Twitter

     

    State Senate – District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R – incumbent) – Facebook

    Holly Wright (D) – Facebook

     

    Delegate – District 37A

    Frank Cooke (R) – Facebook

    Sheree Sample-Hughes (D – incumbent) – Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 37B (elect 2)

    Chris Adams (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Johnny Mautz (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Dan O’Hare (D) – Facebook

     

    State Senate – District 38

    Mary Beth Carozza (R) – Facebook Twitter

    Jim Mathias (D – incumbent) Facebook Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 38A

    Charles Otto (R – incumbent)

    Kirkland Hall, Sr. (D) – Facebook Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R – incumbent) Facebook Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 38C

    Wayne Hartman (R) – Facebook

     

    Delaware

     

    U.S. Senate

    Rob Arlett (R) – Facebook Twitter

    Nadine Frost (Libertarian) – Facebook

    Tom Carper (D – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Demitri Theodoropoulos (Green)

     

    Congress (at-large):

    Scott Walker (R)

    Lisa Blunt Rochester (D – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

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