Western Maryland is blessed with an enormous amount of cleaner burning natural gas and we need an all of the above approach to energy. I am concerned that there has been a knee-jerk reaction against affordable energy production in our state. Maryland is definitely behind the curve because this administration has decided to politicize the issue rather than take a balanced approach to ensuring we have access to clean and affordable energy sources to power our homes and businesses and grow our economy.
States throughout the country including our neighbors develop their natural gas resources safely and efficiently. Many of these states are realizing an economic boom through gas and oil exploration and are working in concert with groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council to harness these vast resources of domestic energy in an environmentally sensitive way.
Larry Hogan, in response to a WYPR-FM candidate survey, May 2014. (Emphasis mine.)
Three years later, western Maryland is still blessed with an enormous amount of cleaner-burning natural gas, but on Friday Governor Hogan decided it would be better to leave this valuable resource in the ground rather than create jobs and economic opportunities for a section of the state that lags behind the rest of Maryland when it comes to those two very things.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming, though: the temporary moratorium that was in place stemmed from a bill that Hogan allowed to become law without his signature rather than veto it back in 2015. The bill, which as originally introduced was laughably intended to “protect our health and communities,” was amended from a ban extending to 2023 to a prohibition intended to last until October of this year, when the Maryland Department of the Environment was to have regulations in place. But, as Governor Hogan noted in his press conference announcing the new fracking ban, Maryland envisioned the most stringent regulations in the nation – a roll of red tape that would have amounted to a de facto ban if enacted.
And to illustrate the political pressure Radical Green can put on wobbly members of the GOP, bear in mind that the original third reader vote on the 2015 House bill had 45 opposed, but that number whittled down to 33 once the Senate version passed and the House bill (as amended to match the Senate version) went to third reader. The wobblers who changed their votes were Delegates Anderton, Afzali, Beitzel, Carozza, Krebs, Malone, McComas, Miele, Shoemaker, and West. (This list is ten because two Delegates who voted “no” originally were absent the second time, but Afzali changed her vote after the fact to be truly gutless. Interestingly enough, Delegates Anderton, Carozza, Krebs, and Shoemaker all changed back three days later when the Senate third reader came to the House while Delegate Saab opted to join the dark side.) Conversely, the Senate only had two votes correctly in opposition all along, Senators Hough and Ready.
Now we can add Larry Hogan to the list that has wobbled and fallen – this despite a mountain of evidence that hydraulic fracturing, which has been ongoing for over six decades, is safe when done properly. Even the EPA, which put out a final report in the waning days of the Obama administration, noted they found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances. Yet many of the circumstances they point out could occur at any chemical plant, and they note:
Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources locally and nationally. Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.
So should I point out again that over 2 million wells have been hydraulically fractured over the last six decades without incident? It seems to me that past performance should be a very good predictor of future results, particularly as the technology advances. And if you read the report, you’ll note that the uncertainty of cause even extends to those limited, rare incidents blamed – many times falsely – on fracking and most publicized by Radical Green.
No one denies there is risk with hydraulic fracturing – just as there are documented issues with low-frequency noise and impacts on bat population with wind turbines and potential for environmental impact as more and more solar panels are spread over the landscape to significant effect – but the rewards from fracking, as measured by both local economic benefits and the lessening of reliance on foreign energy supplies, have been found to outweigh the risks in nearly every jurisdiction where fracking is possible, while the recalcitrant others (Maryland and New York) have believed the hype over the facts.
While Maryland is a small part of the Marcellus Shale formation that has produced the resurgent energy industry in a region that first benefitted over a century ago from an oil boom – there’s a reason we have motor oil from Pennzoil and Quaker State and it’s not because the brand names are cute – this is a time when the domestic oil and natural gas industry is in a holding pattern. Crude oil prices in the $40-50 a barrel range and a relatively constant balance of natural gas supply and demand means that Maryland missed the boat by about a half-decade in the current cycle, but an increased potential in natural gas exports – coupled with a multi-billion dollar investment in Maryland’s Cove Point facility for LNG exporting that’s slated to come online later this year - means our state would have been in good position to benefit in a few years’ time once natural gas exploration began and delivery infrastructure was put in place. (People tend to forget that part of the equation, too.) But politics, embodied in the baseless fear caused by a noisy environmental lobby, ruled the day Friday.
Allow me to let you in on a dose of common sense: there’s no way in hell Radical Green will give Larry Hogan any credit for what he did on fracking come election time. You can bet your bottom dollar that they will flock to whoever the Democrats end up anointing in their primary because their main goal isn’t a clean environment but to have statists in charge of government. Yes, the rank-and-file who might send a couple hundred dollars to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation every year may really care about the health of the bay, but when the people who benefit most from it are the ones who determine the annual “grade” for the cleanliness of the Bay one has to wonder how much of their thumb is placed on the scale. After all, if the Bay had a grade of A and was pristine H2O, what need would there be for a CBF?
The oil and gas industry doesn’t depend on a government subsidy – they just want a fair and predictable regulatory scheme. But a state which has no problem bending the energy trade by mandating a certain percentage of electricity comes from solar energy and demanding ratepayers subsidize an offshore wind farm seems to have an issue with the source that’s been proven reliable over time and is known as a job creator.
As a ratepayer and voter, I was willing to accept the slight environmental risk of fracking in return for a more prosperous state overall as well as more inexpensive and reliable energy. (And yes, I know that the area in question isn’t one where I live. But if I ever secure a piece of land nearby and someone wants to pay me for the right to use my land to explore for energy resources, I’m glad to oblige. No one has yet assessed the Delmarva Basins on which many of us live for their energy potential.)
In 2014, Allegany and Garrett counties provided almost 1/4 of Larry Hogan’s margin of victory as he carried the duo by 16,466 votes in an election he won by 65,510 votes. Add in adjacent Washington County and that number becomes 35,274 votes, or over half his victory margin. At the risk of losing thousands of votes in that region, Larry Hogan has acquiesced to an environmental lobby that’s not going to give him any credit, any dollars, or any votes for the decision he’s made.
I suppose Larry Hogan thinks he’s got an all-of-the-above electoral strategy, too. But at a time he could have changed Maryland for the better, he instead foolishly chose to surrender to the naysayers.
After controversy about the prospect of large poultry operations with multiple chicken houses (up to a baker’s dozen in one case) as well as concern over the paleochannel that runs near the Salisbury area, County Executive Bob Culver organized a public meeting held earlier this evening to discuss some of these concerns with a number of state officials. Ten representatives, mainly from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) but also representing the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), were made available to answer questions from a large audience of onlookers.
Culver assured the audience that there were “no predetermined outcomes from this forum,” stressing that the idea was to explore the impact these operations would have on groundwater and the paleochannel, along with the possibility of airborne toxins. Culver noted that a Daily Times editorial penned by local activist Judith Stribling called on us to be “determined to avoid polarization,” and the crowd inside complied.
Outside? Well, that was a different story.
I shared this on social media, noting the anti-poultry zealots had arrived. Yet that band of perhaps three dozen was no more than a fraction of those inside. And it’s a sure bet that many thousands more will be alerted to the results of this meeting on local media.
Needless to say, once moderator Greg Bassett of the Salisbury Independent opened up the questions, which were written by audience members and passed to the front of the room, we had a lot of queries about how the operations would affect the water supply as well as the disposition of the natural by-products of the poultry.
In fact, the first question out of the chute was on how the PMT regulations were affecting the capacity of the land to handle manure. Dave Mister of the Department of Agriculture told those gathered that “we feel there will be adequate land to apply manure.” One thing he didn’t add was that much of the lower Shore has reached its saturation point for phosphorus, so that waste would need to be transported.
But the main thrust of the questioners regarding the waste itself was the effects it would have on peoples’ health. There were no “cancer clusters” being caused by these operations, said Dr. Clifford Mitchell of DHMH. Asthma from airborne particulates could be an issue, but that depended more on the individual and poultry operations couldn’t be blamed as a blanket cause.
The only possible issue could be nitrates in the water supply, which is regulated by the federal EPA to prevent what’s called “blue baby syndrome.” There is no regulation for phosphorus, added John Grace of MDE.
Moreover, the panel agreed health or environmental issues shouldn’t be a problem as long as the operation is run according to permit requirements. The idea is “zero discharge,” said Gary Kelman of the MDE. “No discharge will occur…if the permit is adhered to,” Kelman added. We also learned that they inspect based on complaints, and “we have lots of eyes out there,” said Kelman. Operations are inspected every five years at the minimum, but more often if there are complaints.
This to me may be an Achilles heel for the industry, since those who want to stir up trouble can make it difficult for CAFOs (short for concentrated animal feeding operations) to survive a week without some inspection. (To be considered a CAFO, a grower has to deal with 37,500 or more birds.)
And while they couldn’t answer a question dealing with the carrying capacity of our local industry, Mister admitted the number of chickens being grown was probably increasing. “The industry is growing, and that’s a good thing,” said Mister. The industry has to expand to be successful.
It was interesting to me that one of the more asinine questions was what they would do to protect smaller farmers; a question that received a smattering of applause. Mister simply said that was “best answered by the industry.” But on a compliance basis, he noted that all farmers have issues yet they get “phenomenal” cooperation from growers when there are problems.
We went almost the first hour without getting a question about the paleochannel, but one finally came. And the consensus was that there was “little chance” the paleochannel would be affected by these operations because they were all under roof – even the mortality composters were protected from the elements. In the event of a catastrophic loss, there was also the option of using the manure storage shed. There seems to be a lot of redundancy in the operation as well as in the permitting process.
That process also was a concern of some questioners, who worried that there was an effort to “fast-track” approvals. But the idea was to process them as efficiently as possible, protested Hussein Alhija of MDE, who noted “my job is to improve the process.” Several different state entities have to work in conjunction to get these permits in order. It’s a “very complex process.” noted Mister, who added that education on permitting was important. Kelman chimed in by pointing out lenders need the permits in order to fund the operations.
Nor is the paleochannel in danger from the water usage required by these operations. Poultry growing uses “several orders of magnitude” less water than cropland operations, said Grace. In fact, there is “no declining water level” in the aquafers. “We’re okay as far as the water supply goes,” Grace assessed.
Yet while the answers seemed to be satisfactory regarding water quality and permitting, those who thought CAFOs could be eliminated from being adjacent to residential areas were likely disappointed. The only standard that applies as far as the state is concerned is that operations must be 1oo feet away from “waters of the state.” Otherwise, Kelman conceded that it “seems to be a local zoning issue.” Given that residential development is oftentimes adjacent to land zoned agricultural, that will be something the county would need to address.
And there will still be people who are aggravated, even with all the assurances from the state group.
Perhaps the creator of this sign is related to the late William Donald Schaefer, the onetime governor who called the Eastern Shore the “shithouse” of Maryland.
In about an hour and a half, though, we all got a little understanding about the permitting process prospective growers have to go through, and perhaps it’s the idea that dealing with one big farm and one permit rather than several operations that is making the large-scale farms the better business model.
In his introduction, Culver noted there are 2,300 employees of local poultry companies. That’s a decent percentage of the local workforce, and it doesn’t count the ancillary jobs created by the need for these employees to live their lives. If the supply chain of chicken dries up, there will be a significant impact to our local economy that low-impact tourism can’t replace.
Given the evidence that the state of Maryland is trying to be of assistance to growers in maintaining a clean environment, the only explanation for the opposition is that it’s being whipped up by Radical Green, with the paleochannel just an excuse to stop vital development. With the steps being taken to treat stormwater and precautions being taken to keep farm operations as environmentally friendly as possible, I think that chicken growers are trying to be the best neighbors they can – it’s the outside extremists who are trying to foul our economic nest.
While many of the fiscal issues that dogged the state in 2014 are still around – and have continued to worsen with each revelation of another revenue shortfall – the personnel in place to address the problem has undergone significant changes thanks to a wave election which pulled Maryland into its tide.
At this time in 2013 when I wrote the look at 2014, the election seemed to be the molehill Anthony Brown thought it would be as the Maryland GOP was divided and despondent. But Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland movement was enough to overcome the built-in advantage in Democrat voter registration; meanwhile, Brown ran a highly uninspiring campaign that led to the lowest Democrat turnout on record. The drag from the top of the ticket allowed Republicans to pick up seven House seats and two Senate seats despite the gerrymandered redistricting done by Democrats after the 2010 elections.
November was the easy part, though – now Hogan has to govern. Job one will be finding $420 million to squeeze from this year’s budget, while the gap for next year is an estimated $750 million. While that number is daunting, it should be pointed out that the FY2015 state budget was $1.886 billion higher than the FY2014 version. That’s a 5.1% increase, so being $420 million short equates to a 1.07% cut. Simply holding the line on the budget for FY2016 and keeping it under $40 billion (in essence, level funding) should cover a lot of the problem. In fact, holding the budget to $40 billion rather than another 5.1% increase to match last year’s would net a difference of $1.224 billion – more than enough to cover the shortfall.
I realize it’s not as easy as I make it sound, but the budget is in Larry Hogan’s hands. The other key is a bill normally introduced immediately after the operating and capital budgets each year called the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, or BRFA. This is where the mandated spending that makes up over 80 percent of the budget is tweaked, and this is the bill for which Larry Hogan will have to sharpen his pencil and will want to keep a close eye on. Generally it is introduced by the administration’s request in the body which considers the other budget items. Although a version goes to both the House and Senate, by tradition budget consideration alternates yearly and 2015 will be the House’s turn.
And starting it in the House is important because a significant number of members are freshman legislators, many of whom were elected by receiving the message that voters were looking for change and fiscal responsibility. Over half of the Republicans in the House are newly-elected, with at least one appointee as well to replace Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped to lead the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. This process will be a sidebar story as two current members of the General Assembly have already been chosen for positions in the new administration (Schulz and Senator Joe Getty.)
On a local level, the entirety of Wicomico County will be, for the first time in memory, represented in the House by a delegation entirely made up by freshmen. A combined 83 years of experience among six members was wiped out by a combination of redistricting, retirements, promotions, and electoral losses, leaving the county with five freshman representatives – Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes all begin their tenures next week. It’s perhaps a situation unique to the state; fortunately, the combined legislative experience of the county’s Senators is 28 years (20 for Addie Eckardt in the House and 4 years apiece for Jim Mathias in the House and Senate.)
Yet the change in leadership in the state could make things easier on the counties as well, provided Hogan makes the right departmental selections. As I pointed out yesterday regarding Wicomico County, a change at the Department of Planning could make county-level tier maps become more suited for local needs rather than state mandates. (Certainly counties with approved maps should consider tweaking them to address perceived inequities.) Hogan has also promised steps to allow fracking in western Maryland, to consider a plan to clean the Bay by addressing the sediment trapped behind the Conowingo Dam, and will maintain strident opposition to phosphorus regulations which would affect poultry production on the Eastern Shore. All these endeavors can be assisted with prudent selections at the departments of Environment and Agriculture.
All through the state government there’s an exciting potential for reform – if the right choices are made. Hogan’s early picks have been of a bipartisan nature, which may frustrate GOP activists who saw the same practice help to undermine the Ehrlich administration, but could be argued to be necessary with the political reality that a lot of Democrat votes went to electing Hogan. (Statewide Democrats down the ticket, on the other hand, were selected by comfortable margins.) That also becomes the price to pay for having a majority-Democrat General Assembly.
Something else to watch in Maryland will be how much more Second Amendment erosion takes place under newly-elected Attorney General Brian Frosh. A gun grabber in the Maryland Senate, Frosh now takes a bigger role and it will be up to Hogan to prove his Second Amendment bona fides by championing the eventual repeal or overturn in court of the ill-considered Firearm Safety Act of 2013 – although the law may see its day in federal court first.
Another probable line of demarcation will be how to deal with the certainty of more illegal aliens thanks to Barack Obama’s policies of amnesty. With Maryland’s reputation as a sanctuary state, anything short of a localized get-tough approach will be a further drain on the budget and another headache for Hogan.
All this and I haven’t even touched on economic development or educational reform, which will also be items to watch in 2015 but currently have far too many known and unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase. On the latter, Hogan has made it known he’ll work to strengthen charter schools but true reform is probably some years away.
The story of 2015 in Maryland will be the story of how Larry Hogan leads after he takes the oath of office January 21. By then we’ll have some idea of what the priorities of the General Assembly will be as they’ll have already put a week of session under their belts and the hearing process should be underway on the highest-priority items. Success may be as simple as plugging the financial hole by tightening the state’s fiscal belt and the faster that happens, the more of the conservative agenda could be debated.
Yesterday we received word that the unemployment rate dropped again, with another month of job growth in the 200,000 range. It’s not the Reagan recovery of the 1980s – when we had 15 straight months of job growth in 1983-84 that would put this latest number to shame, including a whopping 1,115,000 jobs created in September 1983 – but it is a reasonably decent run.
Yet just as manufacturing didn’t share in the Reagan-era gains as much as other sectors did (in fact, it lost some ground), the second Obama term has also fallen well short of manufacturing growth goals. I’ve discussed this group and its job tally before both here and on my former American Certified site, but the Alliance for American Manufacturing tracks progress toward the one million manufacturing jobs Barack Obama promised in his second term.
AAM’s president Scott Paul isn’t all that pleased about it, either.
The good news is that manufacturing jobs have grown over the past few months. The bad news is that they haven’t grown fast enough. I’m very concerned that a surge of imports from China and a paucity of public investment in infrastructure will continue to hamper the great potential of the productive sector of our economy.
Hopes of achieving the White House goal of 1 million new jobs in the Administration’s final term are fading fast. Without some progress on the trade deficit and a long-term infrastructure plan, I don’t see that changing. No doubt the economic anxiety that many Americans still feel is compounded by stagnant wage growth and diminished opportunities for middle class careers.
Two of the key issues AAM harps on are, indeed, currency manipulation and infrastructure investment, although they also took time recently to praise Obama’s manufacturing initiatives and chastise Walmart for their ‘buy American’ effort because much of it comes in the form of produce and groceries. Around these parts, we don’t really mind that emphasis because we produce a lot of American-grown poultry so if Walmart is willing to invest in us we’re happy to provide. (Then again, that promised distribution center would be nice too.) Of course, AAM is backed in part by the steelworkers’ union so one can reasonably assume their view is the center-left’s perspective.
Even so, the group is useful because it makes some valid points. And I think we should have some focus on creating manufacturing jobs in Maryland, as the defunct gubernatorial campaign of outgoing Delegate Ron George tried to do.
Thus, I think the incoming Hogan/Rutherford administration should make it a goal to create 50,000 new manufacturing jobs in Maryland over his first four-year term – if he succeeds, you better believe he deserves a second. According to BLS figures, as of September an estimated 103,000 people are employed in manufacturing in Maryland. But if you look at past data, it’s not unprecedented to have 150,000 (as late as November 2002) or even 200,000 (as late as June 1990) working in the field. And when you take the confluence of a state that is supposedly #1 in education and combine it with the proximity to both major markets and inexpensive energy sources, there’s no reason we should have lost 30,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector under Martin O’Malley – or 16,000 under Bob Ehrlich, for that matter.
But how do you turn things around in four years? Maryland has to make people notice they are open for business, and there are some radical proposals I have to help with that turnaround.
First of all, rather than tweak around the edges with lowering the corporate tax rate, why not just eliminate it altogether? The revenue to the state from that toll is $1.011 billion in FY2015, which is far less than the annual budgetary increase has been. Would that not send a message that we are serious about job growth and immediately improve our status as a business-friendly state?
The next proposals are somewhat more controversial. To the extent we are allowed by the federal government and its environmental regulations, those who choose to invest in the state and create jobs should have an easier path to getting environmental permits and zoning approvals. Even if a moratorium is temporary, making it easier to deal with MDE regulations would encourage job creation. Most of Maryland’s towns and cities already have industrial sites available, but we shouldn’t discourage construction in rural areas if a job creator needs more space.
We’ve also heard about the construction of the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the Red Line in Baltimore - combined, the two are expected to fetch a price tag of $5.33 billion. For that sum, it seems to me we could build a lot of interstate highway – even if this $4 million per mile figure is low (and it would be 1,267 miles of highway based on the combined cost of the Red Line and Purple Line) we could do a lot to assist in moving goods through and from Maryland, whether by finishing the originally envisioned I-97 through to the Potomac (and with Virginia’s assistance, to I-95 near Richmond) or enlisting Virginia and Delaware’s help in improving the U.S. 13/58 corridor to interstate standards to provide a secondary route around Richmond, Washington, and Baltimore.
Once we eliminate the onerous restrictions proposed for fracking and begin to open up the western end of the state for exploration, and (dare I say it?) work on making Maryland a right-to-work state like Virginia – or even creating right-to-work zones in certain rural counties like the Eastern Shore and Maryland’s western panhandle – the potential is there to indeed create those 50,000 manufacturing jobs – and a lot more! It just takes a leader with foresight and the cajones to appeal to the Democrats in the General Assembly as well as a Republican Party unafraid to take it to the streets in the districts of recalcitrant members of Maryland’s obstructionist majority party.
But even if we only create 40,000 or 25,000 manufacturing jobs through these policies, the state would be better-positioned to compete for a lot of other jobs as well, and the need is great. For too long this state has put its economic eggs in the federal government’s basket and there’s a changing mood about the need for an expansive presence inside the Beltway. Rightsizing the federal government means Maryland has to come up with another plan, and this one has proven to be a success time and time again across the nation.
Yesterday, in my thoughts on an unrelated subject, I alluded to the massive loss of jobs in Maryland. Turns out it was worse than I thought – based on the unrevised Bureau of Labor Statistics totals, 16,286 fewer people in Maryland were working in July than June, adding 10,057 to the ranks of the unemployed.
The state compiles this data for Wicomico County as well, and I thought it would be instructive to note the June totals for the last several years. It’s worth noting that employment here normally tops out in July, with June usually a close second. The numbers are readily available for the period 2009-14, which covers the trough of the recession and the recovery.
So here are the June totals since 2009:
- 2009 – 49,271 employed, 4,556 unemployed (8.5%)
- 2010 – 49,548 employed, 4,856 unemployed (8.9%)
- 2011 – 49,160 employed, 5,030 unemployed (9.3%)
- 2012 – 49,585 employed, 4,759 unemployed (8.8%)
- 2013 – 48,991 employed, 4,526 unemployed (8.5%)
- 2014 – 48,760 employed, 3,964 unemployed (7.5%)
Over the five-year period, the unemployment rate went down 1 percent, but the number employed also went down by 511.
Just as a comparison to use a (generally) worst-case scenario, here are January numbers:
- 2009 – 47,015 employed, 4,722 unemployed (9.1%)
- 2010 – 45,526 employed, 5,669 unemployed (11.1%)
- 2011 – 46,838 employed, 5,393 unemployed (10.3%)
- 2012 – 46,758 employed, 5,178 unemployed (10.0%)
- 2013 – 46,806 employed, 5,066 unemployed (9.8%)
- 2014 – 46,711 employed, 4,338 unemployed (8.5%)
Over that five-year period in the month which is generally the nadir for local employment, we still lost 304 jobs although the rate deceased 0.6 percent.
But it’s estimated that Wicomico County gained 2,163 people between the census in April, 2010 and the 2013 estimate. So how are those people supporting themselves on 300 to 500 fewer jobs?
The title of this piece comes from a tagline and hashtag that District 38B candidate Carl Anderton, Jr. has been using during his campaign. While state numbers have fluctuated due in large part to changes at the federal level, the number of jobs in this area really doesn’t depend on the mood of the federal government. Instead, much of it is influenced by the policies at the state level and, judging by the figures, it’s pretty obvious that what’s being tried isn’t working – particularly if you’re one of those who had a job and lost it.
It’s often forgotten that the government doesn’t necessarily produce anything nor does it create value. Even in cases where infrastructure is being improved (such as the airport runway I described a few days back) the actual work is contracted out to a private company. But that private company has to follow additional rules and regulations to access that federal money, ones which may not apply in a truly private transaction – oftentimes there is a prevailing wage provision, for example. Meanwhile, we also have to pay the bureaucrats who reviewed the grant application, wrote the specifications, and so forth. The airport is receiving $5.53 million, but it may have cost taxpayers $7-8 million with the overhead involved.
Simply put, the Washington bureaucrats served as a conduit and a filter, meaning they received their cut first. Sure, this project will create a handful of construction jobs but imagine what the overhead could have done. It’s pretty much the same when Annapolis or local government is involved, since they get their cues from higher levels.
There are a number of economic drivers which this area relies on: agriculture (particularly poultry, with the feed stock being an integral part of this), tourism, and to a small extent, technology (thanks to spillover from Wallops Island.) Here’s where we really need help from the state:
- improving transportation by using the gas tax we pay to actually build the needed bypasses and through routes to make access easier for tourists and getting goods to market more efficiently for producers;
- leaving alone our true environmentalists, the farmers, by allowing them to use their land as they see fit and reforming the transfer of development rights to a generational term rather than perpetual;
- creating a sales tax-free zone to allow us to compete directly with Delaware for retail sales;
- finally, putting an end to blaming farmers for environmental problems and looking at common-sense solutions for cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. Work on the problems we know we have and put a moratorium on new regulations until we can determine how well the ones we have in place work.
Larry Hogan addresses some of the problem in his new video:
But the other side of that is reining in the Maryland Department of the Environment and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, neither of which Hogan addresses. That’s okay, though; I’d rather not telegraph those sorts of moves.
I have often seen complaints from the other side (of both the Bay and the political spectrum) that we on the Eastern Shore take more from the state than we give to them. For the sake of the argument, let’s say that’s true.
One has to ask, then, why this is the state of affairs? The people of the Eastern Shore seem like the hard-working, prideful sort who don’t like the thought of handouts. All we want is a chance to shine and do what we do best – left to our own devices, we can prosper and lead the state.
But there are those who like the Eastern Shore just as it is, preferring it remain rural and backward so they can look down on us and refer to us as the state’s “shithouse” as they fly through on the way to their beachfront Ocean City condo. Those are the people who need to be on the outside looking in politically in order for us to succeed.
It’s been awhile since I wrote about the energy industry but things are always happening there and I decided to take a peek because of some items I’ve spied in daily updates I receive from the American Petroleum Institute. I like to know what’s going on in important growth industries which profoundly affect our daily lives.
As one might expect, API CEO Jack Gerard is a leading spokesperson against what he calls Barack Obama’s “irrational” energy policy. It makes sense when you consider that the United States is now the world’s leading producer of both natural gas and oil, thanks in large part to recent advancements in fracking technology which have revitalized the once-moribund American energy industry. Speaking before an audience in New Orleans, Gerard noted:
The choice before us is whether we pursue an American future of energy abundance, self-sufficiency and global leadership or take a step back to the era of American energy scarcity, dependence and economic uncertainty.
It is that simple.
There’s a clear benefit to having the abundant resources we do. I was only nine years old when the first oil crisis hit in 1973, but I remember the long gas lines and jump in prices. If you consider the long-term effects in policy and marketing, such as the adoption of fuel economy standards and the push toward smaller cars, ask yourself what may have happened if we hadn’t become so dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Would we have had the resulting mid-1970s recession?
Obviously we have recessionary conditions now in spite of the current oil boom, but there’s a valid argument that opening up the spigots (so to speak) and allowing more extraction would push the economy into more consistent growth.
Another example of an irrational energy policy is our continued ethanol mandate, about which API is asking for another cutout of a mandated increase. The EPA decided not to change the allotment for this year, but needs to finalize the rule.
To me, there are two telling facts about this story: one is that API has given up on legislative relief from Congress and appealed directly to the EPA, which speaks volumes about the transition of our supposedly limited government into a fiefdom unto itself.
The second is the sheer volume of interests on the side of eliminating the mandates entirely – everyone from motorcyclists who complain about ethanol’s deleterious effects on their engines (as is the case for other small engines from boating to lawn equipment) to the poultry producers who have seen corn prices artificially propped up due to the amount of corn necessary for creating ethanol and even environmental groups who fret that the corn-based product is actually worse for the environment. Obviously the corn growers love the price support, though, and farmers have their own determined lobbyists who would love to see an even higher ethanol blend called E-15 allowed.
API and other ethanol opponents are hinging their future hopes on a more business-friendly Congress in the next term, though.
Irrational energy policy on the state level may occur after this fall in Colorado, a state which has taken advantage of the energy boom but may fall prey to the scare tactics environmentalists use to portray fracking in a negative light. There Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, sees his state’s energy success being threatened by a petition drive to place further restrictions on fracking on their November ballot. Hickenlooper is quoted in Bloomberg as pointing out, “(t)hese measures risk thousands and thousands of jobs and billions in investment and hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax revenue.”
I found this interesting because the proposed restrictions would prohibit drilling within 2,000 feet of structures, a change which energy companies complain would “effectively ban” fracking in the state. Their current restriction is 500 feet.
Now something which came out the other day to little fanfare was a draft report outlining some of Maryland’s proposed fracking regulations. The original recommendation, based on other states’ best practices by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory, was for a 500-foot setback from wells. That guidance was expanded by the Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of the Environment to – you guessed it – 2,000 feet. (Page 18-20 here shows the recommended DNR/MDE changes.) In short, these regulations are intended to “effectively ban” fracking in Maryland to the detriment of not just our far western counties, but any of the regions of the state (including the Eastern Shore) that have shale deposits underneath. Talk about an “irrational” energy policy!
So here’s the deal: Maryland wants to depend more and more on methods of generating electricity which lack reliability and increase cost to consumers. Yes, that’s sounds like “smart, green, and growing” to me – not too bright, costing more green, and growing the desire of businesses to leave the state to find a place where energy exploration and extraction is encouraged and rates therefore are cheaper.
I know the Hogan administration would want a “balanced approach” to energy in the state, but I would have to hope part of that balance is returning to the best practices suggested by UMCES and not the onerous restrictions which would effectively ban fracking in the state.
I suspended this process for several days in the incorrect belief that Larry Hogan would jump into the race and give me some direction on where he stands with the various issues I’ve already covered. But since he’s passing until January I will continue to vet the others without him.
The definition of “War on Rural Maryland” is rather broad to me, but generally focuses on land use, environmental, and agricultural issues. In many ways, the three are intertwined but over the last seven years the prosperity and freedom rural denizens of the state enjoy has been significantly eroded by decisions from on high in Annapolis. This is an effort to grade the candidates on how they would react and reverse some of these ill-considered ideas.
David Craig: As Governor, I will return land use decisions to local government where they belong and will replace a punishment and control regime with a conservation agenda. I will work with the Governors of New York and Pennsylvania to clean up the Susquehanna and reduce that major source of Bay pollution. I will end the practice of Maryland bearing the brunt of responsibility for cleaning up the Bay and being responsible for a 64,000 square mile watershed that includes surrounding states.
I will work with local governments to promote sound planning but leave the control of land use where it belongs, closest to the people. (campaign site)
When asked “where will you stick PlanMaryland?” Craig answered back with, “where do you want me to stick it?” (WCRC meeting, July 22, 2013)
What I’ve found is the best way is to actually listen to the farmers have to say and have them come up with solutions for what they think needs to be done, and then convince the other farmer this is the best way to go – it’s not government talking to you. (They’d say) I did this on my farm, it saved me money, it did this and saved me all these rules and regulations.
But we get all these people that are in environmental services, they have this job, they’re lawyers, they’re environmental – but they know nothing. I had a situation talking with the Maryland Department of the Environment, I said give me an example of this rain tax, I have two – or septic tax. I have two farms, tell me which one’s the worst. How will I be able to determine which one – one guy’s doing the good job, one’s a bad job? And the guy looked at me and said we can’t figure that out. (monoblogue interview)
Perhaps the biggest environmental enigma about David Craig is Harford County’s on-again, off-again flirtation with ICLEI, or the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. (It’s better known as ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.) In 2010, to much fanfare, Harford County became one of Maryland’s ICLEI members, saying it had “taken another step towards achieving the goal of environmental stewardship” by joining the group.
But less than three years later, the county more quietly withdrew from the group, with the local Harford Campaign for Liberty taking credit along with an assist from the county’s Republican Party and a resolution it passed early this year. Perhaps they read the group’s charter?
Somehow, though, that notice of withdrawal has escaped the county’s Sustainability Office, which is instead in the midst of promoting another cherished leftist scheme, Car-Free Days, next weekend. (monoblogue, September 15, 2013)
He called for a repeal of the state (“rain tax”) law, then went on to suggest that Maryland should back off from a range of measures adopted in recent decades to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. His proposals include elimination of the 1984 Critical Areas Act, a measure regarded by environmentalists as the crown jewel of the state’s Bay protection laws.
“Why don’t you get rid of all the previous bills?” Craig said. “Let’s get rid of of the Critical Areas Act.”
In addition to the critical area law, which restricts development on parcels within 1,000 yards of the bay and its tributaries, Craig said he would like to get rid of a 2007 law requiring developments to avoid any increase in stormwater runoff and abolish a 1998 law requiring farmers to limit the runoff of fertilizer and animal waste. (Baltimore Sun, September 17, 2013)
“While I share the desire for a clean and healthy bay, as most of us probably do, I question the priorities of those in Annapolis who feel that no price is too steep to pay for only a marginal improvement in bay quality,” Craig said. “Our businesses and taxpayers expect us, as county government, to act as their last line of defense against over-the-top polices from the state and federal governments whenever possible, and that is what I intend to do.” (Washington Post, September 18, 2013)
Ron George: Ease Farm regulations that over reach while making large areas unprofitable.
Restore, Conserve and Preserve Our Natural Resources without punishing the very people who live, work and recreate here because they love our beautiful state including businesses, homeowners, boaters, farmers, watermen or taxpayers…or anyone who gets rained on.
Dredge the “silt pond” above the Conowingo Dam, which causes far more harm to the bay’s ecosystem each time it overflows or the dam is opened.
Encourage planting of Maryland’s tall deciduous tree species including Oaks and Maples.
Allow for the hunting of overpopulated species.
Giving the dollars for bay oyster restoration directly to River Keepers and their volunteers. (campaign site)
In a past campaign, Ron George billed himself as the “Green Elephant.” Here’s a list of some of the environmental restrictions he’s voted for in the past eight years – many of which he cheerfully admitted voting for in his 2010 campaign. The number in parentheses afterward is the number of opposition votes in the House of Delegates.
All of these votes were graded in previous editions of the monoblogue Accountability Project.
Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007 (17 votes)
Clean Indoor Act of 2007 (39 votes)
Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund (30 votes)
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Program (25 votes)
EmPOWER Maryland Energy Efficiency Act of 2008 (33 votes)
Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Protection Program – Administrative and Enforcement Provisions (15 votes)
Smart, Green, and Growing – Local Government Planning – Planning Visions (7 votes)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2009 (30 votes)
Smart, Green, and Growing – Smart and Sustainable Growth Act of 2009 (12 votes)
Natural Resources – No Net Loss of Forest Policy – Forest Conservation Act (23 votes)
Agriculture – Lawn Fertilizer – Low Phosphorus Fertilizer (19 votes)
Smart, Green, and Growing – The Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 (27 votes)
Stormwater Management – Development Projects – Requirements (13 votes)
Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – Solar Energy (31 votes)
Smart. Green, and Growing – Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission (20 votes)
Chesapeake Conservation Corps Program (27 votes)
Natural Resources – Forest Preservation Act of 2013 (27 votes)
I will note, however, that the majority of these votes came during Ron’s first term in office (2007-10) and he has moved somewhat away from the “Green Elephant” designation – one key example was voting against the Septic Bill in 2012. But how do we determine Ron’s line in the sand? (monoblogue, September 15, 2013)
Charles Lollar: I am committed to saving the Bay – and to doing it in a right and in a balanced way.
First, I will support full annual funding – $50 million – of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, created in 2007. Those trust funds must not be diverted to general and other purposes, as the O’Malley/Brown Administration proposed in FY 2010. Other budget needs and challenges will be addressed directly – and not bailed out by grabbing Trust Fund monies.
Second, we must find deal smartly with the sources of pollutions, including those coming from other states in water that flows into the headwaters of the Bay. Our approach to the public and private point and non-point sources of the pollutants that threaten the Bay must be prudent, balanced – not extreme. Our approach must avoid economic dislocations and injuries that can result from overzealous regulation.
As Maryland’s Governor, I will fully engage directly with the Governors of the other Chesapeake Bay states and federal officials at the Environment Protection Agency to determine the best approaches to be taken to continually improve the quality of the bay and protect its eco-systems. (campaign website)
“This cronyism, and this opportunity to shut down the agricultural industry in this state, is going to come to a stop.” (YouTube video at Hudson Farm, September 8, 2013)
Since the Democrats are the ones perpetrating the War on Rural Maryland it’s doubtful they will back off. In fact, Doug Gansler’s entire environmental platform seems to be one of making chicken farmers convert waste to energy, while the other two major candidates basically ignore rural needs.
I think that, in order to give David Craig a fair evaluation, I have to know which one I’m talking to. Telling them to stick PlanMaryland, repealing the rain tax, and wiping out the Critical Areas Act would be a great start to restoring balance, although I guarantee the media coverage sensationalized what he said in the latter case just to make him look like he’s for dirty water. (I don’t fall for the hype, figuring local areas could have regulations which are just as strident, which is the beauty of local control. Or they could work toward something more reasonable.)
But then again, three years ago he was signing up for ICLEI and the county he runs still has a Sustainability Office. So I’m left to wonder just how serious he is about ridding us of overbearing government and over-the-top radical environmentalism. I think I’ll give him 8 points of 12 for now.
To a great extent, the same applies to Ron George. It’s worth pondering how he was pushed from being a “green elephant” to the point where he at least talks about easing farm regulations (but doesn’t provide a lot of specifics) and votes against an onerous septic bill. It seems to me that Ron is trying to skate a middle ground between what he thinks people want to hear and actions which would potentially help farmers and rural counties but can be portrayed negatively by the major media outlets (as Craig was.) So I can only give him 6 of 12 points, right in the middle.
In listening to Charles Lollar speak at the Hudson farm, I was struck by his passion. But when I read his brief statement on environmental matters – one which accepts the premise that the state has to spend $50 million (or more) a year in a vain attempt to coddle an environmental group which will never be satisfied, I wonder what his real plan is. Certainly it needs more study, but I can’t see at this point where he would make a bold statement on repealing legislation or rolling back regulations. If he can accept the status quo on the trust fund, what else will he leave in place? So I can give him just 5 of 12 points.
I haven’t decided if I will double back to Obamacare before tackling the higher priorities or not. Only one candidate has answered me directly on the subject, while another is promising me more information. With this being a holiday week I will likely make the decision for Friday, since I already have a book review planned for Saturday.
It’s not often I agree with the Baltimore Sun, and for good reason: their editorial stance is almost completely at odds with the best interests of the state.
So when I found out about a blog post by former Gazette political columnist Barry Rascovar chastising David Craig as being an “environment-killer” – based primarily on the information related by the Sun article by Michael Dresser – I had two reactions.
First, one has to note that Rascovar has 42 years in the political game; in other words, he had covered Annapolis since 1971. With the exception of Bob Ehrlich, one-term Republican U.S. Senator John Glenn Beall and liberal Republican U.S. Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias, Maryland has been primarily a one-party state the entire time he’s covered politics. Naturally he seems to operate under the assumption it always will be; on the other hand my aim is to break that vicious cycle of governing against our own best interests by pointing out the hypocrisy and lunacy of the liberal stranglehold on the state. So I have to question the grizzled veteran on this one, particularly since he’s an ardent supporter of the “rain tax.”
This leads to my second reaction: why do they care what Craig does anyway? We know they’ll support the Democrat in the race. Here’s what Dresser accused Craig of:
Among other things, Craig wants to scale back Maryland’s role in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, give the state’s business department a greater voice in environmental and health regulations, and impose limits on how long low-income people can collect food stamps and other benefits — even if it means refusing federal money.
May I ask what’s wrong with that?
For one thing, our cleanup plans do not seem to account for the potential impact of cleaning up the sediment behind the Conowingo Dam, which leaches out pollutants after bouts of severe weather. And guess who’s primarily responsible for placing it there? (Hint: it’s not Maryland, and certainly not the ten counties collecting the “rain tax.”) I have said for several years that the best thing we can do going forward is take a breather from further regulations so we can see if what’s in place now is really working. Let the states upriver suffer for their part in this and quit blaming development and chicken farmers.
And let’s be bluntly honest here: do the MDE and Chesapeake Bay Foundation really want the Bay clean? If it ever became so, neither group would have a real reason for existence anymore, and as we all know power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. They know they have the whip hand over business and development in this state just as long as they keep giving out Cs and Ds on Bay cleanliness.
This goes hand-in-hand with the second point about “giv(ing) the business department a greater voice in environmental and health regulations.” Maybe the better way of putting it is to actually listen to what they have to say, since Martin O’Malley ignores their pleas. In this day and age, it’s doubtful any business wants to get caught making the same kind of mess government makes when their sewage treatment plants fail.
Moreover, Rascovar berates Craig for wanting to eliminate the state’s Critical Areas Law. So here’s my question: if a person can have a septic system as close as 100 feet from a well and have it be deemed safe to drink, what gives the state the right to regulate development 1,000 feet from tidal waters? The state should indeed junk the Critical Areas law, leaving it up to individual counties to replace it if desired. Seems like a good compromise to me as it brings power closer to the people. It also allows an uber-liberal county like Montgomery County to crank that Critical Areas restriction up to a mile; hell, just put the whole county under it. They don’t need jobs or development, but we here on the Shore could use some.
Barry also panics at the thought of the state refusing federal money, recoiling in horror at the prospect of placing a time limit on how long people can live on the dole. But wasn’t that already federal law? I realize that people can have a sweet deal living off the taxpayers, with Maryland being one of the more lucrative destinations, but shouldn’t they do something productive instead?
Besides, Barry may not be considering the long strings attached when we cash that check from Uncle Sam. I’d rather see how independent we can be, thanks.
In the end, though, the trick is how we sell these common-sense ideas to a population which, among other things, considers Rascover a learned expert. Certainly he’s covered Annapolis for about 35 more years than I have, with mine being a much more indirect basis to boot, but since when does that tenure grant expertise on the issues? He sounds like a liberal who can fit right in with those already ruining the state. Sadly, in the words of one observer:
I guess to a liberal columnist acting like a jerk to state troopers and being conservative are in the same category.
This is in reference to the foibles of Doug Gansler in the Rascovar piece, reminding us that Doug is a typical Maryland liberal who seems to believe laws and regulations are only for the unwashed masses. Ones he doesn’t agree with can be ignored. To be fair, much of the article is about Gansler’s issues, but only in the respect in which it may damage his campaign. No one really cares, since Brown is just another pea in the same pod.
I suppose the problem comes down to this line:
None of what Craig proposes is realistic. A heavily Democratic legislature wouldn’t tolerate the notions he is advancing. He’s seriously harmed his electability.
Well, there’s an easy solution: get rid of the deadwood Democrats who are impeding true progress in this state. Imagine how much better this state would be if it followed conservative principles with a Republican-led legislature.
There was a saying popular in the era in which I grew up, about a decade and a half into Rascovar’s career: question authority. I think it was probably about that time that he grew comfortable with his status in the state and decided the status quo was all right with him. Well, it’s not all right with me nor should it be with thinking Marylanders.
We definitely need a change. If David Craig wants to run to the right, it’s not “pandering to the TEA Party,” it’s exhibiting the common sense sorely lacking in this state.
For the third month in a row (and fourth overall this year), a gubernatorial candidate came to speak to the Wicomico County Republican Club. This time it was Delegate Ron George who graced us with his presence.
So once we opened the meeting in our usual manner, with the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of a growing number of distinguished guests, we turned the meeting over to Ron. He began by making the case that he was making the “sacrifice” of running because “I don’t want to leave the state (as it’s becoming) to my sons.”
And after giving a brief biography covering everything from being far enough down the sibling food chain to have to learn a trade instead of going to college, learning the business of being a goldsmith well enough to make his way to college at Syracuse University, making his way to New York City and briefly acting in a soap opera (“I died…but then I came back later,” he joked) it eventually ended with him meeting his wife and returning to Annapolis to start a family and business.
But it was his time in New York where “I saw a lot of people suffering on the street” that moved him the most. “I’m a man of faith,” continued Ron, and the experience gave him insight into the situation in Baltimore and other impoverished areas. One problem in Maryland was that “we don’t have an economic base in this state.” He pointed out that employment in the public sector in Maryland was up 7% while private-sector employment was stagnant. The budget had increased from $27 billion to $37 billion, and “they’ve squeezed you to death,” said Ron.
It was interesting to me that Ron provided some insight on how he got into politics – in essence, his frequent testimony in Annapolis got him noticed, and he was asked to run in the same district as Speaker of the House Michael Busch. Ron stated that Busch spent $350,000 and turned to negative ads in the campaign’s waning days. At first the mudslinging appeared to work as George was behind on election night by about 50 votes, but absentees sent in before the negative campaigning began pulled Ron over the top by 53 votes when all was counted.
On the other hand, George did such an effective job in the General Assembly that he was the top vote-getter in 2010, finishing 1,636 votes ahead of Speaker Busch. “I never ran to the middle,” Ron reminded us, “I spoke to the middle.”
But the idea behind the 2006 run was also one of keeping Michael Busch from spending his money to help other Democrats. (Hence why I harp on having a full slate of candidates.)
Ron then turned to this campaign, stating the case that his 10-point plan was based on three things: “economics, economics, economics.” It was a message which played well in Democratic areas, alluding to polling he was doing on the subject.
He also revealed why he had the success he’d had in Annapolis. Liberals “like to feel good about themselves,” said Ron, but never thought of how their policies affect the average Marylander. By organizing opposition testimony on various issues, particularly the abortive “tech tax” – where he found dozens willing to testify and put a face to the opposition – Ron got bad laws reversed or changed. “I’m very solution-oriented,” he added.
As Common Core has been in the news, Ron weighed in on how Maryland adopted it. The package of bills was fourfold, he explained, with the first two not being too obnoxious – but once they passed the fix was in for the bad portions. Ron stated he was “very much against” the mandates in Common Core. It’s being forced on the counties, he later said, but was “totally dumbing down” students.
To conclude the initial portion of his remarks, Ron noted he was the Maryland Business for Responsive Government’s legislator of the year, in part for his work in capping the state’s boat excise tax, and promised that, if elected, “I will make sure (rural areas of Maryland) get their fair share.”
While Ron delivered his remarks well enough, though, I sensed he was almost ill at ease making the stump speech portion of the remarks, expressing several times the preference for a question-and-answer session. It wasn’t as somnambulant as David Craig can occasionally be, but wasn’t delivered with the passion of Charles Lollar, either.
As was the case Saturday at the First District Bull Roast, Ron seemed better with the give-and-take of answering questions. When asked about the impact of the banes of rural Maryland – the Maryland Department of Planning, Department of the Environment, and Chesapeake Bay Foundation – Ron launched into an explanation of how he got the state to revisit laws passed in 2008 and misused for two years afterward, noting that several of those overcharged for permits were quietly reimbursed after it was revealed they were interpreting the law too broadly in order to collect additional permitting fees. On that front, Ron also vowed to work toward repealing the “rain tax” and following Virginia’s lead in challenging the EPA.
He was equally as excited about the prospect of auditing state agencies. “I guarantee we’ll find about $5 billion in waste,” promised Ron. The Delegate blasted the current administration for its handling of highway user revenues, pointing out previous shortfalls were paid back, but not with real revenues. Instead, more bonds were issued, and rather than the standard five-year payback these were 15-year bonds.
Finally, Ron made sure to remark the Second Amendment “has my full support,” noting he was the only Delegate to actually testify at the afternoon regulatory hearing in Annapolis. He noted eight different problems with the regulations, where legislation was being written in. (It was also why Ron missed a planned appearance at the club’s happy hour.)
As Lollar did the month before, Ron was courteous enough to stay for the meeting, which meant he sat through my lengthy reading of the August minutes and our treasurer’s report. Deb Okerblom was pleased to report the Crab Feast did better than expected financially.
Jackie Wellfonder, in her President’s report, also thanked those who put together the club’s main fundraising event. She also noted an event to be held in Wicomico County October 20 but benefiting the Dorchester County GOP, which was represented by Billy Lee. She also announced “we have a new website” and asserted our happy hours are “going well.”
Speaking in the Central Committee report, county Chair Dave Parker reminded us of upcoming events like the Wicomico Society of Patriots meeting featuring Charles Lollar this Wednesday (as well as his appearance at a business roundtable the previous evening), the Good Beer and Autumn Wine festivals in October, and the state party’s Octoberfest on the 12th. Parker was pleased at the amount of attention we were getting from the gubernatorial hopefuls.
Parker also filled us in on some news, particularly the Common Core meeting fiasco in Towson. (Ron George noted the charges against the speaker have been dropped.) Dave also related a Forbes article claiming families will pay an extra $7,450
annually over a period of nine years for Obamacare. Apparently Maryland has the highest increase in the nation.
But this gave Ron George the opportunity to add that he created the Doctors’ Caucus in the General Assembly and reveal that 60% of doctors were near retirement age. Some are more than willing to hang up the stethoscope thanks to Obamacare.
Blan Harcum chimed in to alert us to a Maryland Farm Bureau campaign seminar in Annapolis October 14 and 15. Then it was my turn as I updated those in attendance on the status of our candidate search.
In club business, we found a chair for our upcoming Christmas Party, I reminded the folks they could sign up to help at the upcoming festivals, and we secured space for equipment one of our members urged us to purchase. These are the mundane things which seem tedious, but can turn out to be important.
The same may be true about our last three meetings with gubernatorial hopefuls. Next month we go back to local races and speakers, although the exact keynoter is to be announced. We will see you October 28.
As I noted in my original coverage last Wednesday, I received the opportunity to have a one-on-one interview with gubernatorial candidate David Craig after he concluded his public remarks. Rather than ask him strictly about his stump speech, I wanted to ask about some of the topics which may be more important to my fellow Eastern Shore residents.
monoblogue: Just to ask you the first question, I know we’re the seventh stop or so on this tour…
monoblogue: …so how’s your reception been?
Craig: It’s been very good. Started out good – a little rainy when we started out…
Craig: …but good crowds everywhere we’ve been, the people who showed up have been very receptive (and) very happy about what was happening. Very impressive in Hagerstown, we got out there and did the walking tour of downtown and went in to see several businesses, went by the schools…a lot of people saw the bus, they saw me, and they started walking with us. Got a little reception afterward where people could just come in and talk about stuff.
We went to Silver Spring – how many Republicans are going to go to Montgomery County? But we drive through the neighborhoods and I think, “Why are these people voting for Democrats?” These people have their nice little homes, they obviously have nice jobs and stuff like that, paying income taxes…
monoblogue: Well, the problem is they may have government jobs that depend on the government being large.
Craig: Well, they may depend on the federal government being large but not us. Anyway, it’s nice neighborhoods and things like that. The one in Prince Frederick was very good, Annapolis was Annapolis (laughs)…that was fun. So they’ve all been very interesting, you see the differences – everybody says one Maryland, but there are slight differences.
monoblogue: Yeah, well, for example I come from a rural perspective – I grew up in a rural area – and I know you talked in your speech about the lost balance between environmentalism and that. How’s that going to affect our “outhouse” out here?
Craig: (laughs) You tell people that farmers were the first environmentalists that we ever saw. Farmers are usually pretty fiduciary – they usually don’t waste money.
monoblogue: No, they’re trying to make money.
Craig: They’re trying to make money, so they’re not going to do things that are bad. What I’ve found in doing this in Harford County is I do have an executive – I have an Agricultural Economic Advisory Board and I have an Agricultural Preservation Board that I work with, and one of my deputy chiefs of staff is the agricultural deputy chief of staff. What I’ve found is the best way is to actually listen to the farmers have to say and have them come up with solutions for what they think needs to be done, and then convince the other farmer this is the best way to go – it’s not government talking to you. (They’d say) I did this on my farm, it saved me money, it did this and saved me all these rules and regulations.
But we get all these people that are in environmental services, they have this job, they’re lawyers, they’re environmental – but they know nothing. I had a situation talking with the Maryland Department of the Environment, I said give me an example of this rain tax, I have two – or septic tax. I have two farms, tell me which one’s the worst. How will I be able to determine which one – one guy’s doing the good job, one’s a bad job? And the guy looked at me and said we can’t figure that out.
monoblogue: Well, that’s reassuring. After they passed the septic bill and they can’t tell you that? I know there was a bill – and it was one of our Delegates (Mike McDermott) put it up – to rescind that entire septic bill. Now, if it does somehow get through the General Assembly would you consider signing that bill rescinding the law?
Craig: I think there are many things that have been done over the last 20 years that ought to be rescinded, particularly when it comes – what was the one Parris Glendening did? I can’t remember, it was some kind of infectious disease thing…
monoblogue: I don’t know, it was before my time.
Craig: Anyway, they came up with all these ideas – for them it’s always about what’s the headline, what’s the media going to report in the next 90 days – after it gets done, do they ever go back and evaluate what the bill did, and whether it was effective? You know, William Donald Schaefer was the one who put the Critical Areas section in – I was the mayor, I had to adopt Critical Areas legislation in the city of Harve de Grace or no building was going to be permitted. I had to actually impose a tax, I was the first one to pay it because I was the first one to go for a building permit. And they kept saying, we need 1,000 feet from the bay to be doing this. And I would say we’re not the only ones polluting this, you think it’s just us, why are you doing this to us? And does it actually solve things? If I have someone who rebuilds something and fixes it up, isn’t that better than just letting it sit there the way it is? Let’s come up with real solutions for what needs to be done. Did the critical area and the critical area tax solve the Chesapeake Bay problem?
monoblogue: No. And the problem is they keep moving the goalposts…
Craig: Yes! And they’re made up – that’s the thing, the numbers are made up. Who came up with the idea a football field had to be 100 yards? Why couldn’t it be 120 yards, why couldn’t it be 90 yards? You know, it’s like – first they make a number up, I’ll give you this example. I was the mayor of Havre de Grace, we get hit with this issue with our sewage treatment plant that we have to do this change – $9 million it costs us to upgrade the sewage treatment plant.
A week later, the rules and regulations were changed. They came back and said, this is no longer functioning the way we need it to function, now you need to do this – $47 million. Here’s the problem, the analogy I use. Let’s say you decided to redo your kitchen – new refrigerator, new stove, new microwave, you buy new ones, you put them in there, spend $4,000 – and then you come back home, no I think we need to rip the whole kitchen out and you throw away those appliances. None of that $9 million was good enough to maintain the $47 million, so we wasted the $9 million. We’re still paying – the people of Havre de Grace are still paying…
monoblogue: Salisbury has the same problem, they’re messing around with their sewer treatment plant.
Craig: Yeah, so they keep changing the concept of what’s going on, and they don’t really look at real solutions. And if someone comes up with a real solution that’s not what the government wanted, then they ignore it.
At this point, we were interrupted by a well-wisher. When we got back to the conversation, I changed the subject.
monoblogue: You also talked about the – all the tax increases we had. I love how you used all the Change Maryland numbers, that’s great. I said I could tell Jim Pettit’s on his staff now…
Craig: Well, we’ve got them for a variety of things but when Larry Hogan started Change Maryland we talked about it and said, you know, I might run, I might not run, but if I don’t run Change Maryland’s going to go with you. And I’d like to admit that Larry’s done a good job getting that information out…
monoblogue: He does.
Craig: …and persuading people. I think in the long run Larry realizes that he’s making more money (laughs) being a private worker…
monoblogue: Oh yeah.
Craig: …and I think ultimately he stays there. But he can he huge in helping us reform the state party.
monoblogue: Right. But is there any chance we’re going to see some of that stuff rolled back if you’re elected?
Craig: I will look at all of them. But if somebody says “which tax first?” I’m going to look at all of them. There are certain taxes that probably haven’t been on the table that people said, would you ever get rid of this? If the state says that we’re going to make – we have a Public Service Commission to keep your BG&E rate as low as possible, why do we tax it? Why do we tax it? If we got rid of that, it gets rid of $5 on your BG&E bill every – well, it would save you 60 bucks. And guess what? You’re probably going to spend it somewhere else.
monoblogue: Well, that’s the idea. It’s where YOU want to spend it, not where the state wants to spend it.
Craig: You know, sales tax…I go back to that Calvin Coolidge thing with lowering the income tax, if you lower the sales tax more people would buy stuff here and it increases what gets sold. My wife’s not dumb – we live 17 miles from Delaware. You’re going to buy $4,000 worth of appliances times 6 – you do the math…
monoblogue: And seven miles from Delmar – if you go up 13 you’ll notice all the big-ticket items, furniture stores…
Craig: Yeah, look at the ads, look at the ads. I mean, I was looking at ads this morning on the TV when I was here and it was like – I forget what the particular issue was they were selling, and they go “in Delaware, no tax.” You know, it’s like – and how far away are you? Cecil County last month, in May, had twelve liquor stores give up their licenses…
Craig: …and close. And they did it because, if you live in Elkton in five minutes you could be in (Delaware), you can buy your liquor, you can buy your gasoline, you can buy your cigarettes. All that tax is lower or non-existent and we got nothing. And so, I don’t know how many people but say each had three business people – so 36 to 40 jobs gone?
Craig: And all because “oh, it’s an alcohol tax, it’s okay to raise it.”
monoblogue: And the same thing is true (for cigarettes), because I go to Virginia for my job every week and driving back into Maryland the last convenience store I see – “Last Chance for Cheap Smokes.”
Craig: That’s right.
monoblogue: Because Virginia’s tax is, like, thirty cents and ours is two bucks.
Craig: And if I throw out the issue of the corporate income tax, people are like “oh, you’re only for the rich people.” All right, I’ll throw out other issues: Harford County, a lot of military people stationed there, when they get done they retire. They move to Pennsylvania because their military pension is taxed. We shouldn’t tax a military person’s pension, they already made their sacrifices. So let them live here in the state of Maryland.
monoblogue: I think they have tried to do that a few times, and the legislature just doesn’t go anywhere.
Craig: Well, they haven’t gone with it because they haven’t been told to go with it. If the governor had said go with it, they would have gone with it.
monoblogue: That’s true, it’s usually Republicans who bring it up.
Craig: Well, you know, I think if enough veterans were showing up and saying – what was this whole thing about the governor pointing out and bragging about what he was doing about creating jobs for veterans, about a month ago? Remember he was changing some policies, it was going to make it easier for them to get a job?
Craig: Why would they want to come here and get a job and pay a higher tax on their pension that they also get and then a higher tax on their income tax? So, we need to change the income tax…(also) the death tax is ridiculous, somebody in your family passes away, they pay taxes on that money for their entire life – why are you paying a tax to inherit it? If they were smart I guess they should sell everything and give you the money before they pass away. But people leave the state all the time, go to Florida, no tax, go to Pennsylvania, don’t have to pay that tax.
The gas tax – I do tell people I have to be cautious to (not) say I’m going to get rid of this tax or lower this right away because – I’ll have to use the septic tax for an example – when Ehrlich was governor the septics were all done through PAYGO, so he didn’t have capital projects. This governor turned it to bonding, so if I’m stuck with paying off a bond I’ve got to do that first before I can get rid of the tax.
monoblogue: Right, exactly. I’m sure he’s created a few mousetraps for his successor to deal with if they want to change things. It’s going to be harder to undo this Gordian knot then most people would think.
Craig: And then they brag about, oh, we’re going to do this private-public partnership, this 3P thing, it’s like – most likely that’s not going to work. If you look at something that’s going to be a good financial thing with some private company coming in and doing something, they probably could have done it if they didn’t have to pay the minimum wage, if they didn’t have to pay the union fee, if they didn’t have to deal with the minority business stuff – you could probably lower the prices of those projects by 35 percent. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake just gets a billion dollars for school construction, well, $300 million of that is going to be wasted and she could have had it – that would have done how many more schools for her?
Craig: So which is better? Is it better to have a good school for the kid, or you created this “fake” job?
monoblogue: Right. I remember, being from Ohio, when Ohio built all its schools they actually eliminated the prevailing wage for schools just to get more bang for the buck.
Craig: Yeah, that’s what you should do. Period.
monoblogue: Speaking of education, I liked how you tied in the lack of – lack of academic achievement with our so-called “number one” ranking. Now where do you – where do you prioritize your spending to bring up the actual achievement and not necessarily worry about being “number one” in the country?
Craig: A couple things. There’s a lot of duplication that we could…a lot of duplication. Here’s the situation in Harford County. Since I’ve been County Executive, the size of the school board employees has increased by 650 employees. The school population has declined by 2,500 students. Why didn’t the size of the working staff decline?
Now, if they had had 2,300 new students move in they would have come to me and said, “we need 100 new teachers.” But when 2,000 went down they didn’t say, “well, we didn’t need 100 teachers anymore.”
Craig: So we have that situation, and I get teachers complaining to me all the time, “well, you know, the size of the class has gone up.” If you’re a good teacher, it doesn’t matter how many kids you’re sitting in the class. The first year I taught, 39 kids in the class. Second year, 42 kids in the class. Forty-two. I didn’t even have enough desks for the kids; one of them had to sit at my desk and one of them had to sit at a table. So when they say there’s 23 kids, the fact is, studies have been shown that the change does not occur until the size of the class falls below 15. So that’s what you’re going to do, if you say we’re reducing the size, we’re going from 24 to 23 – so what? If you’re a teacher, you can’t teach 24, can’t teach 25? That’s one thing.
But there’s duplication, so much duplication, in government – county government and school board government. I have a capital projects committee, they have a capital projects committee – why do we need both? I have the same guys that do the investigations, the inspections and all that stuff, I have a procurement department. I don’t buy chalk and all that stuff, but they have a procurement department. That’s duplication. I have a lawyer, a law department, they have a law department – duplication. They have a human resource department, I have a human resource department, duplication. Now, do I get rid of all those employees? No, but at least get rid of the top person. The person who’s making $150,ooo, instead of having two of them, you only have one. And you can probably merge a lot of things together and only have office – and none of that takes place in the classroom.
monoblogue: You need to think about that at the state level, and not necessarily the county level – I mean, if a county wants to do that, that’s fine and dandy, that’s their money. At the state level is where you’ll be concentrating…
monoblogue: …I would think we need to rightsize the state Department of Education…
Craig: I agree.
monoblogue: …because the localities should control anyway.
Craig: Yes they should. Yes they should. And it has grown exponentially. And if you look at higher education, when I was in the House I was always assigned the higher education budget and you look at a college that’s got nine vice-Presidents – why? We only have one Vice-President in the country, yet nine in a college? Come on! And are they teaching? No. You know, all these different people, you have all these professors that are teaching one class, maybe two classes. I had someone, when I was doing a debate one time, who said “what are you going to do about the cost of higher – you know, how much my education’s going to cost?” We need to reduce it on our size – on our side, for one thing. We’re forced to spend this money on that, it doesn’t need to be spent.
So there’s a lot of duplication in both higher ed and elementary through high school at the state level that I agree we could change.
monoblogue: Okay, I appreciate it.
Craig: Thank you.
Ideally, I wanted to come in about 15 minutes and with the interruption that’s about where I ended up. Hopefully this establishes some of where David Craig stands on various issues.
Over the past few days mayoral candidate Joe Albero has taken to his Salisbury News website – you know, the one with no authority line – and thrice bashed incumbent Jim Ireton for scheming to raise city taxes and fees by $19 million. But is Albero correct in blaming Ireton?
Yes and no. One could extend blame to the party Ireton is a member of and the politician he supported twice for President for signing an Executive Order compelling the federal government and states to increase their tempo in restoring Chesapeake Bay. It allowed the EPA great latitude in determining a course of action (like these marching orders show – orders which include the stick of possibly “withholding, conditioning, or reallocating federal grant funds”) and established a “pollution diet” which had little to do with maintaining the economic viability of the region but more to do with pie-in-the-sky goals for the state of the Bay twelve years hence. This supposedly would “ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025.” (Yet, as I’ll discuss in a bit, that won’t be the end of the road. Far from it.)
Thus, the state of Maryland became a greater participant in the effort – not that Governor Martin O’Malley, who Ireton also supported for election twice, was exactly going to be dragged kicking and screaming into the prospect of further power over and control of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay watershed population.
But it can be argued Ireton has his hands tied, and if Joe Albero wins? He still has to deal with it. As it turns out, this $76 million effort is just a portion of Salisbury’s share of costs to enact the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan, lovingly presented to the EPA by the state of Maryland last year. This led to the mandate from the Maryland Department of the Environment for local officials to prepare a plan for Wicomico County:
As requested by MDE, each of the twenty‐three counties and Baltimore City were instructed to prepare a Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan that details / demonstrates how each jurisdiction will do their part in improving the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries across Maryland.
We in rural Maryland know all about MDE “requests.” They expect the City of Salisbury to reduce their nitrogen load to the Bay by 24% and phosphorus by 40% compared to 2010 levels by 2025. (The county as a whole has a slightly greater task, 25% and 44% respectively.)
But in the report, it details (Figure 6b) the city’s annualized cost over a 12 year period to implement the targeted reductions, and guess what? It comes out to roughly $18.9 million per year – not for the four years Albero refers to, but for the next twelve years. (For Wicomico County as a whole, the annualized cost is $57.9 million a year – a sum roughly half again the county’s budget, for the same time period. My quick math tells me that’s $700 million dollars over 12 years!)
Still, by 2025 we are supposed to have what’s termed a “fully restored” Bay, right? “Isn’t that short-term pain worth it?” proponents in the Radical Green world will likely say.
Let’s face facts here. Do you honestly think that on January 1, 2026 the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is going to release its annual water quality survey and say, “welp, the Bay now grades a 100 on our scale, so our work is done?” Not a chance in hell. The sad fact is that, regardless of what measures are taken, the only long-term solution which will really satisfy the CBF and the rest of Radical Green would seem to be entirely depopulating rural areas and packing people into cities, where all their waste can be treated in acceptable sewage plants (which sometimes leak) and otherwise allow the rural areas to return to a pristine, John Smith-era condition. Sorry, rural landowners, your property is now worthless. Poultry industry, you’re banished.
Joe Albero can bash his opponent all he wants, but it doesn’t matter because the problem isn’t Jim Ireton – it’s Radical Green. We just won’t have as much green to live on thanks to them.
Yet there is something which can be done. While we have the Phase II WIP in place, what we don’t know are the steps which need to be undertaken. In short, what we should be asking for is a precise accounting of where this $19 million is going to go every year. Otherwise, we know what happens when a large pot of money extorted from ratepayers is left out there – greedy hands line their pockets with it and waste it on boondoggle projects. (For an example, see: pilfering of gasoline tax to General Fund for deficit reduction rather than fixing roads and bridges, Maryland.) That’s where Joe should focus his efforts, because we’re already stuck with this tab unless he can convince a number of unfriendly courts otherwise. Unfortunately, the best time to act on this has long since passed, not that Maryland’s leadership would ever dare to tell Uncle Sam and his overreaching minions to go pound sand anyway.
Long-term, this subject should be front and center in any discussion of how federal mandates adversely affect the states. There is a lot more bang for the buck in reducing nitrogen levels upstream of Chesapeake Bay and in urban water treatment plants, yet instead some used the Bay and this WIP as an excuse to wrest control of land use issues from the counties by passing the Septic Bill (SB236.) This bill won’t solve the problem but creates a situation where we are beholden even more to our Annapolis and Washington, D.C. overlords.
Something that’s often forgotten is the fact America is one of the cleanest countries on earth; meanwhile, areas of the communist world have been rendered uninhabitable by environmental disasters created by an uncaring government. There’s no question people would prefer the Bay be clean, but the effort should be voluntary and balanced with regard to the rights of property owners. The EPA’s solution is neither voluntary nor balanced, and our charge in the future should be one of restoring accountability to an unchecked bureaucracy, respect for private property, and free will – in short, government closer to that which our Founders intended.
There was some good news for a change for farmers and those involved in the local agricultural industry yesterday. This was celebrated by the advocacy group Save Farm Families in a release:
A federal judge in Baltimore, Md., has ruled against out-of-state environmental activists in a case against fourth generation family farmers brought by the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, alleging their chicken farm violated the Clean Water Act. SaveFarmFamilies.org applauds the judge’s decision, and calls on Judge Nickerson to award legal costs to the Hudsons and to Perdue Farms, which was also named in the suit. In addition, the Assateague Coastal Trust, Waterkeeper Alliance, and the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic should publicly apologize to the Hudsons and to the Maryland taxpayers who unwillingly funded this wasteful lawsuit.
The Hudsons’ nightmare began three years ago when they acquired biosolids from the town of Ocean City for eventual use on their farm. Whether intentionally or not, the pile was originally placed in a position where its runoff washed into a waterway which flowed into the Pocomoke River and eventually to Chesapeake Bay. The matter was resolved by the Hudsons agreeing with the Maryland Department of the Environment to relocate the biosolid pile to a different location on their farm for usage prior to the next growing season; in addition, the Hudsons were assessed a $4,000 penalty which was overturned on appeal.
Enter the Waterkeepers’ Alliance, which with the other plaintiffs were basically pining for a fight and found the perfect scapegoat when they assumed the manure piled on the Hudson farm came from the chickens they grew for Perdue. It was Radical Green’s wet dream: an eeeeeeevil factory farm controlled by a large poultry producer willfully piling up chicken manure in order to spew pollution directly to Chesapeake Bay. If they didn’t know better, one would believe the raw chicken waste was being piped directly from the chicken houses to the Chesapeake to achieve maximum effect!
Needless to say, their narrative developed holes rather quickly when the pollution data from downstream was inconclusive to whether it came from the biosolid waste pile originally thought to be chicken manure. Undaunted, the Waterkeepers plodded on with the help of Maryland taxpayers. This was because the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic, in the name of giving its students “trial experience,” piled on to help the radical environmentalists. (The Hudson farm case is just one of several they’ve worked over the last few years.)
But the judge ruled in the Hudsons’ favor, and to press on further would be “money after bad money,” said Perdue Farms Chairman Jim Perdue. Even Governor Martin O’Malley, who rarely meets a Radical Green proposal he can’t embrace, called the lawsuit a possible misuse of state funds.
Given the deep pockets behind the Waterkeepers’ Alliance, though, I’ll bet they indeed appeal. They couldn’t care less about the Hudson family; to them these rural farmers are just collateral damage in their jihad against “mega-meat” producer Perdue, one of several meat processing companies that Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter calls “the biggest threat to family farming in the United States and around the world.” (Then again, she thinks the waste in question came from Perdue when, as it was conclusively shown, it was biosolids from Ocean City – so what does she know? The D.C. lobbyist may well have contributed to it if she vacationed here.)
And while Hauter snivels that agriculture is but a tiny part of Maryland’s GDP, she conveniently forgets that there are other industrial categories which depend on farm products to bolster their share. While she bashes these farms for what she considers an pollution problem outstripping their actual economic impact, she would do well to remember that urban sewage plant malfunctions are far more of a Bay problem than agricultural runoff ever dreamed of being.
The trouble with all these Radical Green groups is that they seem to believe the food which is placed on their table just magically appears at their local market. Yet a prudent farmer knows how and when to fertilize his crops and to do so releases some amount of pollutants to the watershed. I jokingly say it “smells like Delaware” during those early spring months I drive by a freshly ripe farm field but I realize it’s a small price to pay for the harvest which feeds us, whether directly through corn-, wheat-, or soy-based foodstuffs or indirectly through the chicken most of us enjoy a couple times a week. The Radical Greenies seem to think the Whole Foods store fairy creates the food they eat, but that’s not how those of us who enjoy life happen to live.
So best of luck to the Hudsons. They’ve won this battle, but I fear the war isn’t over for them – or for the rest of us.