WCRC meeting – November 2015

November 24, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comment 

We didn’t have the biggest crowd on a Thanksgiving week, but Delegate Christopher Adams made his points during the final scheduled WCRC meeting of 2015.

Adams was down the agenda this time, as we chose to do our usual opening routine with the exception of me giving the treasurer’s report for the absent Deb Okerblom. We slotted the Central Committee report first, which meant Mark McIver could detail the “huge success” of the Lincoln Day Dinner.

McIver chalked up the success to a couple factors: good profit from the silent auction and the use of several database lists – and 150 hand-written personal invitations – to target our advertising.

Briefly going over the state convention, McIver detailed how we heard from the three leading Republican U.S. Senate candidates. Ann Suthowski chimed in that Muir Boda was mentioned twice during the convention for his success and Mark Edney did a good job explaining the succession by-laws amendment. The Salisbury University College Republicans were also mentioned as part of the state CR report for co-hosting the Lincoln Day Dinner.

McIver also announced he would host a joint club and Central Committee Christmas Party next month.

Finally, we heard from Delegate Adams. He was pleased to see the change in government in Salisbury, which he said has more sway than he does locally.

Adams noted that with $20 trillion in debt, it was likely the GOP would win this year’s election. He suggested they make cuts to the “fourth branch,” as cost-saving measures.

In Maryland, Adams continued, the Augustine Commission determined that federal spending accounted for 25% of the state’s GDP, so government cuts would affect Maryland disproportionately. The state needed to develop an “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he added.

Most of Chris’s message dealt with legislation he was introducing to allow counties to opt out of sprinkler system requirements once again. It’s something they’ve been asking for, Adams added, but they were up against a powerful firefighter lobby. Adams noted he had a meeting slated with the state!s deputy fire marshal.

Yet the $5 to $7 per square foot cost for a small, affordable home was one that couldn’t be added to the value. Mandates like this are putting new homes out of reach for young families,

He explained that the 2012 International Residential Code had this mandate, but prior to last year counties were allowed to opt out. Taking back local control “has to be a grassroots effort,” said Adams, and it requires action on a local level.

Adams was asked if many new home builders voluntarily put in sprinklers, but few did. He added that some states prohibit the mandate, including several neighboring states.

Mark McIver noted that the state was “taking away the American Dream…it’s bankrupting the younger generation.”

Adams was also asked about sprinker systems affect insurance rates. He believe they made little difference in the rates, because alleviating the fire risk was balanced against the leaking and water damage potential.

Finally, Adams was asked about last year’s bill, introduced by Delegate Jeff Ghrist, to address this. He noted it was late-filed, so it never got a hearing. His bill is pre-filed.

Christopher concluded by announcing he has a unique fundraiser at the OC Hilton December 12 and 13. You would get 2 nights’ stay and lunch with special guest Bob Ehrlich for one price.

Since we had a number of other state legislators in attendance, we got brief updates.

Carl Anderton spoke with Delaware officials, trying to get their perspective on agricultural issues. He also has a fundraiser coming up at the Delmar VFW on December 3.

Johnny Mautz believed “this year will be different than last year” in the General Assembly, with “a lot of activity.” Federal campaigns will drive some of that activity, so it would be up to Eastern Shore Republicans to kill bad bills as they could.

Addie Eckardt thought it would get “testy,” with pressure to spend our new-found surplus on items that were cut from last year’s budget. The idea was not to let ourselves get splintered, she concluded.

All in all, it was a nice little pre-session update – and timely, since we won’t meet again until after the session starts in January. To be exact, the WCRC will reconvene on January 25, 2016.

The lab of democracy

You wouldn’t think much about South Dakota, which is a state squarely in flyover country and fated to be close by – but not the center of – several economic, cultural, political, and geographic phenomena. It lies just off the booming North Dakota oil fields, dosen’t have a major league pro sports team like neighboring Minnesota does, misses the campaign excitement of Iowa just across the Big Sioux River, and is one state east of the majesty of the Rocky Mountains.

Yet South Dakota has one neighbor that it’s trying to emulate, and the impetus behind that is, in part, from a candidate who’s been destroyed electorally in that state by running as a populist liberal, Rick Weiland. He’s a guy I’ve quoted, featured, and snickered at on occasion here, but give him credit for not giving up. At least he’s not tossed me off the mailing list – perhaps bad press really is better than no press at all.

After having his doors blown off in the midterm Senate run last year, he put his energy into a website called TakeItBack.org, which has lent itself to an initiative called South Dakotans for a Non-Partisan Democracy. Its goal is to scrap partisan elections in the state via a referendum on next year’s ballot in order to match its neighbor to the south, Nebraska. Not only is Nebraska the only state to have a unicameral legislature, but they elect all of its members on a non-partisan basis with the top two finishers in the primary advancing to the general election regardless of party.

Given that South Dakota has Republican domination, certainly the cynic can easily argue Weiland is just trying to fool the voters, albeit with the backing of a popular local talk radio host. Yesterday they announced the initiative had more than enough signatures to make the ballot for 2016 – South Dakota is a state which allows citizen-driven referenda without a corresponding act from the legislature.

I’m sure this is a rhetorical exercise because Maryland doesn’t allow citizen initiatives, but it makes me wonder how the Maryland conservative movement would fare under such a system if it were introduced here? Obviously there are thousands upon thousands who almost reflexively vote for the first Democrat they see on the ballot, but what if that security blanket were taken away? The Justice Department didn’t want to find out in one city, but eventually relented.

We didn’t have a primary in the recent Salisbury election, but if we had (as was the case in previous elections) the lone white candidate would have been eliminated in District 1 (a majority-minority district), one minority candidate would have moved on in District 2 (also a majority-minority district), and a minority candidate would have been eliminated in District 3. Racial minority hopefuls ran in three districts but won just one seat in these non-partisan elections.

But Salisbury scrapped its partisan primaries some years ago, allowing candidates who are unaffiliated to run on an even playing field with those having partisan backing. Arguably this may have helped Muir Boda, although he was successful in far greater measure based on the work he put in. We’ll never know if not being specifically identified as a Republican would have helped or hurt his cause, although having a slew of statewide Republicans helping him may have yielded a clue to the discerning voter.

Unlike South Dakota, which doesn’t have a Congressional gerrymandering issue because there’s only one House member from the state (it’s less populated than Delaware), Maryland Denocrats stand in the way of non-partisan solutions because they run the show. They even complain about the Hogan redistricting commission because (gasp!) drawing boundaries in a way that makes geographical sense could make the Congressional delegation 5-3 Democrat – never mind it’s a closer proportion to voter registration than the result of the current scheme Martin O’Malley put in place. While the House of Delegates comes relatively closer in proportion to registration numbers, the districts there were still drawn in such a fashion that safe GOP districts on average have more population than safe Democrat ones.

If my home state can do a redistricting reform, so can Maryland. If going to non-partisan elections is a worthy goal – and I suspect some of my unaffiliated friends may agree – the first step should be getting the districts in order.

The process of change (part 1)

October 19, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Last week the state wrapped up a series of hearings on the state’s redistricting process. Unfortunately, the local hearing was neither local (held in Easton) nor convenient (held on a weekday afternoon.) While the Eastern Shore is well-ensconced in the First Congressional District, it endured plenty of change in the last state redisrtricting as boundary lines were shifted dramatically and former multi-delegate districts broken down for single delegates.

To be more specific about the points I mentioned above, the Democrats in charge of the 2010 census redisrtricting placed two Republicans in a single-member district based mainly in Somerset County. To form the revamped District 38A, they chopped off the southern portion of Wicomico County that freshman Republican Charles Otto was elected to represent in 2010 and pushed the district eastward into Worcester County to include fellow freshman GOP member Mike McDermott. Otto kept the seat in 2014, but McDermott lost a bid for Senate to incumbent Jim Mathias.

The part of Wicomico County formerly represented by Otto shifted mainly to District 37B, a fairly safe GOP district then represented by Delegates Addie Eckardt and Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio. After neither sought re-election in favor of higher office, the district became home to two freshmen Republican Delegates: Christopher Adams of Wicomico County and Johnny Mautz of Talbot County.

The rest of the old 38A was placed into a greatly diminished District 38B, one which encompassed territory from Delmar to Fruitland through the eastern half of Salisbury. Removing the rural portions of a former two-delegate seat was supposed to make it easier for incumbent Democrat Norm Conway, but he was still ousted by Republican Carl Anderton. The rest of District 38B not taken by Otto’s district was rebadged District 38C, a fairly solid Republican area now represented by Delegate Mary Beth Carozza.

The only district that stayed relatively the same was District 37A, a majority-minority district where Delegate Rudy Cane retired and left the field to freshman Democrat Sheree Sample-Hughes. As it turned out, the only incumbent Delegate to survive out of the two districts was Charles Otto. Wicomico County is now represented by five freshman Delegates, four Republican and one Democrat.

Yet the cynicism wasn’t just limited to our area. According to Delegate Jeff Ghrist, there are 71 districts that have an above-average population while 70 fall below the average. It’s just amazing that 44 of the 50 Republicans represent districts in the larger-than-average category, while 64 of 91 Democrats come from “small” districts. Given that a variation of 5% is permissible, there could be 4,000 more residents in a GOP district than a Democratic one, allowing the party in power an extra 6 or 7 seats across the state.

Ghrist also complained about the size of the districts. He lives near the border of District 36, but noted adjacent District 37B spans from Denton to the Somerset County line and from the Delaware border to the far reaches of Oxford and St. Michael’s as a two-member district. His District 36 takes in the northern part of the Eastern Shore as a three-member district. While most of the counties on the Shore are too small to support their own district, it is possible for the Shore to fill four full three-member districts with a little help from the eastern end of neighboring Harford County.

The key, though, is single-member districts. A county like Wicomico could have two members to itself, while sharing the majority-minority district in existence with Dorchester County. Geography may dictate some crossing of lines, but the districts can be made much more compact and contiguous.

Obviously Senate districts will need to span several county lines. The remedy to this is to go back to a system which, unfortunately, was dealt its mortal blow by the ill-advised passage of the Seventeenth Amendment and formally died with the Reynolds vs. Sims decision in 1964. Until then, each Maryland county had its own Senator to represent county interests. The right thing to do would be place the Senate in the hands of each county’s legislative body, allowing them to choose two (for a total of 48) and staggering the terms to having them pick a new one every two years. (Like the U.S. Senate, it would be the job of the Lieutenant Governor to break tie votes.)

If they had the cojones to challenge the 51-year-old Reynolds ruling Maryland can be a leader in moving forward into the past, restoring the original intent of our founders in balancing the interests of the people and local governments.

In part two, I want to consider our Congressional districts.

Hogan’s uphill battle

For several years I have cited an annual survey of business friendliness put together by thumbtack.com. It was useful in illustrating how poor the Maryland business climate was.

Unfortunately, year one of the Hogan administration finds the state in a deeper hole, narrowly missing the bottom five of the 36 states for which the survey had sufficient data to compile. It is noteworthy, however, to point out Baltimore’s grade basically drove the state grade so they may bear a significant share of the blame.

As for what the survey asked and found specifically:

Small business owners found Maryland to be one of the least friendly states for microenterprise, though they widely approved of local training opportunities, according to Thumbtack’s annual Small Business Friendliness Survey.

Nearly 18,000 U.S. small business owners responded to the survey, including 442 in Maryland. The study asked respondents to rate their state and city governments across a broad range of policy factors. Thumbtack then evaluated states and cities against one another along more than a dozen metrics.

“Small business owners on Thumbtack have consistently told us that they welcome support from their governments but are frequently frustrated by unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles,” said Jon Lieber, Chief Economist of Thumbtack. “Maryland offers decent programs to support business owners directly, but they tell us the regulatory environment is just too hard for them to understand and navigate.”

“The taxes here are high,” commented a property manager in Baltimore. “There is no support from the government, especially the housing office.”

Here’s where entrepreneurs will pin their hopes on the new Regulatory Review Commission, which should try and reach out to as many of these businesses as possible to get suggestions.

The biggest problems with our state insofar as this subject goes is that its grade is getting worse – declining from a C- last year to its D+ this time – and Virginia got an A on the same survey. (Delaware had fewer than the 50 responses needed to get a grade.) Business owners hated the state in particular for its environmental and zoning regulations and government friendliness, both of which were given big fat Fs from those surveyed. (The former category also gets a “see, now what have I been telling you for the better part of a decade” from this writer.)

If a state is going to brag that it’s “open for business” it needs to be better than a D+ state. The work on regulatory reform should be in tandem with other avenues toward success like lowering the corporate tax rate (or, even better, figuring out a way to cut three cents out of every dollar in state spending and scrapping it entirely) and telling the liberals in Annapolis who keep whining about the need for combined reporting to pound sand. Another proposal I would have is adoping the proposed moratorium on new Chesapeake Bay regulations until the sediment at Conowingo Dam is addressed,

We have models for success all around the country so why should we be 31st out of 36? I can’t fault Larry Hogan for a lack of effort or his difficult circumstances, but we need leadership in this regard and if it means telling the people the truth about where the problems lie (hint: they hold 124 seats in the General Assembly) so be it.

Regulatory reform comes to Maryland

I harbor no illusions that my post from the other day regarding the declining optimism of Maryland business owners goaded him into action, but today Governor Hogan announced the formation of a Regulatory Review Commission (RRC), charged over the next three years with “(f)ixing our burdensome antiquated, broken and out-of-control regulatory environment in Maryland.” The ten members of the RRC are volunteering their time to “focus like a laser beam on these issues”, said Hogan.

It’s interesting that the Democrats are claiming the Augustine Commission (which was created in the waning months of Martin O’Malley’s second term) was intended to address these issues and saying Hogan shouldn’t need three years to address the problem. How soon they forget that Larry’s Change Maryland organization was convening business summits over the last three years to gain the business perspective, not to mention the fact it was their administration which put out a number of these job-strangling regulations in the first place.

To me it’s just sour grapes. Ask yourself: had Anthony Brown won, would curtailing regulations be a priority? Thought not. The Augustine Commission report would have been filed and ignored.

But I hope the RRC has the latitude to go beyond just regulations and into other areas like taxation and, more importantly, looking into where other states succeed. Take a state like Texas, where hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created (as a net gain over jobs lost, not as a one-for-one swap) over the last decade. What attracts these entrepreneurs and leaders, and what assets can Maryland use to emulate their gains? Granted, a good portion of the Lone Star State’s gain came from abundant energy resources that Maryland can’t match, but there are other areas we may be able to do as well or better if we make that a goal. Unfortunately, over the last eight years our state took its cues from states like California and New York, places where capital and population have been fleeing.

Another question is just how cooperative these Democrats, who are already trying to take credit for the little bit done in 2015, will be to the RRC’s agenda as they submit their findings.

Take the “rain tax” as an example – a Democrat introduced the vastly watered-down bill that eventually passed, so they will surely henceforth try and take credit for ending the “rain tax.” But the mandate for affected counties to have a watershed protection and restoration fund did not go away (page 4 here) – it’s just up to the county to fill it, and most will likely retain some version of the “rain tax.” The actual repeal of the “rain tax” on this Hogan-sponsored bill was killed in committee by the Democrats therein on a straight party-line vote. (I used that vote as one of the committee votes on the monoblogue Accountability Project.) So it’s a fairly safe bet the Democrats are only paying lip service to the issue of regulations now because to them more is better – that’s how they’ve run Annapolis for most of the decade I’ve lived here and probably my whole life before that.

So the RRC can’t just exist in a vacuum. Now that Larry Hogan has experienced the way Democrats in the General Assembly basically gave the finger to his mandate, he will need in the coming months and years to take a page from the Reagan handbook and go straight to the people. Democrats may claim the last election was about “divided government” but the motivation was clearly behind a more conservative direction for the state.

While I would have preferred a more rapid formation for the RRC, this is a definite feather in the cap for Larry Hogan. Let’s hope that it’s not just for show but instead gives us an agenda even the Democrats can’t stop.

Announcing: the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project

For the eighth consecutive year, covering sessions since 2007, I have completed my annual guide to the voting record on key issues from the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly.

There will also be the sidebar link I maintain for future reference.

This guide not only features the General Assembly’s voting records on specific votes in graphical form for easy comparison, but also my take on the bills they voted on this year. Suffice to say it was a very unusual year, perhaps as much so as the last initial session from an incoming administration in 2007 – the first year for which I did the mAP.

I began this project in 2008 as a continuation of the former Maryland Accountability Project, which was a similar attempt to catalog legislators’ votes that ended with the 2006 session. (Here is a cached version of its website, which is no longer active.) Over the last eight legislative years I have focused on over 200 votes by the General Assembly. Once committee votes became publicly accessible in 2010 I began adding those as well. This year I looked at 52 separate votes – 22 floor votes and 30 committee votes, or three from each of the ten voting committees in the General Assembly.

So what can you do with the information?

Well, while the mAP is by its nature reactive because it documents events which occurred in the recent past, we can learn from history. While I can count the number of legislators who have attained a perfect 100 percent rating in any given year’s legislative session(s) on one hand, the sad truth is that Maryland has far too many who have a lifetime score of 10 percent or less cluttering up the General Assembly. Our job is to learn who they are and educate the voters of that district as to why their legislators are voting against the interests of their fellows. That’s why the bulk of the mAP is a summary of why I, as someone who favors liberty, would vote in the way I denote in the report.

On the other hand, there is a group I consider the Legislative All-Stars, those who score 90 percent or above or at least lead their legislative body if none reach 90 percent. (Alas, it was not a bumper crop this year.) If the Maryland General Assembly had those legislators as a working majority we could vastly improve our state’s lot in life.

Before I conclude, I want to once again thank someone for her work, a task which perfectly complements the idea of this one but occurs during the legislative session. Elizabeth Myers (who I have interviewed before for my old TQT feature) runs Maryland Legislative Watch, which covers every vote a legislator makes during session and recently updated the site to provide this information for legislators all the way back to 2005 for Delegates and Senators. It may seem like competition but we actually work together in the respect that MLW provides a lot of raw data and I give context on key issues. The Maryland Legislative Watch data is also useful for showing just how many votes are unanimous and how much of the legislature’s time is devoted to local issues; these are the ones which incumbents generally point with pride at bringing home the bacon.

You can judge for yourselves whether legislators vote the correct way on the issues I present. I simply provide this service to Marylanders as a way of being more aware of how the sausage grinding in Annapolis turned out this year.

And while we are still three long years away from the next legislative election, this can be a guide to use to correct the representatives you think are voting in an errant way. Let’s just say some of my local ones need a little chat and leave it at that for now.

So make use of the information. Hopefully creating the 2016 version will have far fewer twists and turns than this one did, since I originally planned to release it four weeks ago – but it’s done and all I ask is a link to my site if you use it somewhere.

And call me crazy, but I am seriously considering doing this same exercise for Delaware since I now work in that state. In one respect it should be easier since they only have a total of 62 legislators, but I have to learn their system so it’s still under consideration as their legislative session comes to an end this week.

The easy way out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now we have our own knee-jerk reaction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maryland enters the fray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A ‘loophole’ is only bad if the government thinks it’s being stiffed

For what is being described as “financial stakes (that) are small, (yielding) just $3 million to $4 million annually.” the Washington Post sure has its collective panties in a wad over the prospect Larry Hogan may veto the “travel tax.”

When I did my last look at the idea, I didn’t really know how much the difference was to the state. Now that I know it’s only a rounding error in a $40 billion budget. the prospect of Democrats (and, sadly, a handful of Republicans) trying to fill in this supposed budget hole looks to me like a “gotcha” moment set up by General Assembly Democrats who will turn around and bash Hogan for enacting the “travel tax” in four years – after all, if they can perpetrate the fiction that school funding was cut this year (never mind the increase of over $100 million) they can make up anything to tell unsuspecting voters that the sky is falling.

But it’s really funny to me that the Post considers this a “travel agent loophole” and “undeserved windfall” when it’s actually a legal transaction. Even the Post admits it:

Rather than collect sales taxes from the agencies based on the actual prices they charge customers for hotel rooms, most states have accepted a reduced payment based on bargain room prices the agencies manage to negotiate with hotels.

That’s as it should be, so it sounds to me like General Assembly Democrats have some sour grapes. The transaction in question is at a reduced rate – why should the state collect the sales tax on the full rack rate if the place of lodging offers the rooms first to a reseller at a lower price? There is no gun being placed at the proverbial head of the hotel or motel to sell the rooms to an online travel agency; they can go it alone and try to market themselves without a middleman. (Hence, loyalty programs and other perks provided by hotels who prefer to keep bookings in-house.)

But it’s obvious that many hotel chains prefer the assurance of knowing they would get something – a “something” that is about 60 to 70 percent of full rate – for a room which will be paid for many times over before the paint dries on the renovation or new construction based on future reservations already on the books. Chances are your room rate is really paying for the employees who check you in and take care of the rooms moreso than the bricks, mortar, and furnishings in the facility, and that factor can be adjusted easily by management. (To use a local and somewhat extreme example, just drive through Ocean City in January and note how many hotels and motels shut down completely for the winter. No one is there to pay for the bricks and mortar, so no employees save a caretaker and maintenance are needed.) So even getting a reduced rate from a travel agency which reserves the rooms just in case isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a cause for complaint by a state which hasn’t completely given up the attitude that “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine, too.”

Conversely, to use another traveler analogy, you won’t hear the Post (or any of their liberal allies) tut-tutting if gasoline prices go up and the state collects more sales tax as a result – no one there would consider that an “undeserved windfall” for the state. I’ll explain.

Should the per-gallon tab for gasoline go up another 50 cents (as it has over the course of the last few months, from about $2 locally to north of $2.50) the state will make up the $4 million “lost” by vetoing the “travel tax” in no time. A 50-cent per gallon increase, as we have already had, nets yet an extra half-penny to the state per gallon come July as an additional 1% gasoline sales tax increase takes effect then. Just based on that 50-cent gas price increase alone coupled with the 1% increase (to 3%) – hence, the half-penny – and assuming the state consumes 7 million gallons per day (probably still in the ballpark despite these old statistics), they will make an “extra” $4 million from what they could have anticipated receiving when 2015 dawned in less than two weeks.

Yet the Post will not throw a pity party for motorists – I guarantee it. Ignore their whining and leave the hotel room rate system be.

Sneaking laws into the books

May 13, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Important update: Per the Maryland General Assembly webpage, the date of presentment was actually fixed as May 3. This means the legislative limbo can run as late as June 2.)

On Tuesday Governor Larry Hogan risked carpal tunnel syndrome by signing hundreds of bills into law. The extraordinarily high output was made necessary by two factors: the events in Baltimore that scuttled a planned bill signing back on April 28, and the desire to enact these laws within the period mandated by the state’s constitution. As a refresher, Article II, Section 17 (c) of the Maryland Constitution states:

Any Bill presented to the Governor within six days (Sundays excepted), prior to adjournment of any session of the General Assembly, or after such adjournment, shall become law without the Governor’s signature unless it is vetoed by the Governor within 30 days after its presentment. (Emphasis mine.)

There are a handful of bills which may make it into the books this way. Since the General Assembly session ended at the stroke of midnight April 14. 30 days hence would be tomorrow, May 14. (Update: presentment doesn’t happen with adjournment, as I have found.) Some of the bills in limbo happen to be those which are part of the monoblogue Accountability Project, so you can bet there are some calculations going on about whether a veto can be sustained.

Many of these bills Hogan has held off on signing establish or extend fees and taxes, with a few being issues local to Calvert, Charles, and Howard counties. Two of them extend or increase fees in state courts; in another case I wrote about the “travel tax” of Senate Bill 190 a few weeks ago. Senate Bill 183 would mandate the adoption of the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which would be a budget-buster. He’s also passed on extending the film production activity tax credit that the producers of “House of Cards” wanted.

Business interests, though, should be happy that Hogan hasn’t signed the de facto two-year fracking ban or the extension of flexible leave.

On the social issue end of the spectrum, we do not yet know the fate of bills which would decriminalize marijuana, allow for same-sex couples to have their IVF procedures covered under insurance, let those who have undergone the treatment to revise their gender to change their birth certificates to reflect this, or allow felons who are out of prison but still on probation or parole to vote.

These are less than 5% of the bills which were passed. Many others have already been vetoed as duplicative, but those above are the ones most likely to get an attempt at overriding the veto – or they can try, try again in the next term knowing that the votes for passage were there the last time. Some bills may be improved with a few minor changes that can be worked out while others should just be put out of our misery.

I’m hoping that Governor Hogan sends a strong message by vetoing the following bills I advised voting against:

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

This all goes to show that my monoblogue Accountability Project should be a hot-ticket item when it comes out. next week. The good news is that it’s free and available for the taking once I upload it Monday. (See the update above.)

Secession over energy

You might recall that an ongoing, back-burner thought we on the Eastern Shore have had is the idea of seceding from the state of Maryland – a state which otherwise belittles us, doesn’t share our concern about the agricultural community, and tries to lord it over us because we only have a small percentage of the population. With a Republican governor that sentiment has diminished somewhat but it’s still active among a few.

The southern tier of counties in the state of New York have a similar beef. Their state is controlled by the denizens of the Big Apple, which overshadows both the urban enclaves of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany and the rural areas upstate. Those who represent the urban areas have prevailed on the state government to ban fracking in the state, which means areas within the Marcellus Shale formation can’t tap into that valuable resource, while just a few miles away Pennsylvania towns and cities are thriving. This story by Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times makes it plain that residents in that area are frustrated, just as those who live in the western end of Maryland have been pleading for the state to lift its de facto ban on the practice. Instead, the Maryland General Assembly put yet another two-year delay on the books.

In both cases, the problem lies in the small minority of citizens who are blessed to live in an energy-rich portion of a state being forced by a majority who thinks they know better to suffer, watching those who live just a few miles away prosper.

Also in both cases, the chances of secession vary between slim and none, with slim vacating town to pursue a fracking job in an adjacent state.

Of course, this is the small drawback to having 50 different state governments: it allows for some to fail in their economic efforts. Both New York and Maryland have an economic engine which depends on the growing alliance and partnership between Wall Street and the federal government, with thousands of financial sector workers in New York City and thousands of federal employees in Maryland. In their worldview, we can secure all our energy needs from renewable sources and oil and natural gas are dirty, nasty fossil fuels. Problem is we still use an awful lot of those fossil fuels because renewables are extremely expensive or highly subsidized.

Perhaps what needs to secede is the crazy idea that fracking is something to be avoided at all costs from the laws of the several states. Until then, those poor people in New York and western Maryland will continue to see prosperity from afar.

Maryland: contrarian again

It’s been awhile since I looked at the energy industry, what with legislation, riots, and other general mayhem. Fortunately for me, I have several sources in that industry to return me to speed and one is writer Marita Noon, whose piece on NetRightDaily today detailed the efforts of forward-thinking states to repeal their renewable energy mandates - some by whopping margins in their legislature. In those states, the market-bending allocations to renewable energy are coming to an end, leveling the playing field and perhaps saving their taxpayers millions of dollars.

Unfortunately, Maryland isn’t one of those states rolling back its mandates; in fact, the only piece of legislation dealing with the renewable portfolio was a liberal Democrat-backed scheme to expand it some more. House Bill 377 and Senate Bill 373 both were aimed at significantly increasing the percentage of renewables up to 40% by 2025 – current law peaks renewables’ share at 20% by 2022. (Both these figures are a pipe dream.) The Senate version lost in the Finance Committee by an 8-3 vote, and the House version was withdrawn before it was voted upon.

It was good that a bad bill was thwarted, but it was unfortunate that no bill was introduced to repeal these mandates. Maryland would be in far better shape energy-wise, eventually with lower utility rates, if true reform was achieved: repeal of the renewable energy portfolio, the withdrawal of the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, repealing the subsidy for offshore wind, and encouraging energy production from hydraulic fracturing and offshore drilling.

Over the course of the O’Malley administration, energy companies took the brunt of new regulations and changes in the market; in particular, their cost of doing business was affected by the renewable energy portfolio and the RGGI. If you assume the goal of the utility is to provide energy as cheaply as possible to make a profit – while keeping prices low enough to maintain and grow a customer base – having the dead expenses of the “alternative compliance payment” made necessary by falling short of renewable goals and the CO2 allowances auctioned off by RGGI as a sweet redistribution scheme aren’t helping the cause. Meanwhile, more exploration and investment in energy infrastructure could bring Maryland closer to being at least even as opposed to a net energy importer.

I wouldn’t expect any repeal of these bills to pass on the scale that they’ve moved through some state legislatures, but 71-70 and 24-23 are perfectly fine margins to me. It would also likely require getting around the committee process and bringing the package directly to the floor. (The portfolio repeal, RGGI withdrawal, and repeal of the offshore wind subsidy could be one bill: call it the Maryland Energy Reform Act of 2016.)

The trick is getting the right people to advocate for the changes by showing how much can be saved by consumers. That portion seems like a job for a group like the Maryland Public Policy Institute, while the lobbying on the part of the energy providers should include a pledge of reducing rates. Shaving 2 cents a kilowatt hour off the bill may not sound like much, but it translates to about $216 a year based on average residential usage of about 900 kWh a month. I don’t know about you, but an extra $18 a month would be nice for me. Just think of the economic benefits we received last year when gasoline skidded to $2 a gallon – benefits being lost now as prices have edged back up over $2.50 a gallon.

To help in prosperity, Maryland needs cheap energy. As it stands now, we don’t have it but I think we can get it if the political will is there.

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