The drive to be Delaware

As you can see, the state of Maryland is once again exhibiting its generosity by not charging sales tax this week on clothing and certain other goods. (I took the picture at my local Walmart, actually to send to Kim as a reminder.)

I’ve often advocated for the reduction or elimination of the sales tax – at least for those counties on the Eastern Shore – as a way to compete with nearby Delaware, which charges no sales tax. However, unlike my recent idea of ridding ourselves of the corporate income tax, which raises about $1 billion annually, I realize it would be a lot more difficult for the state to rescind the sales tax entirely. The state expects over $4.4 billion a year from the sales tax – about 11% of revenue – so getting rid of that would be a lot less likely. The sales tax is the third-largest revenue stream for Maryland, behind the individual income tax and the 27% of our revenue we receive from Uncle Sam.

But would it be a bad thing to make the Eastern Shore a tax-free zone? Obviously I can hear from here the wailing and gnashing of teeth from those of you on the other side of the bridge, but when you think about it the chances are pretty good those from the Western Shore have to pay a toll to get over here anyway. So why not give yourselves that break?

In rough terms, the Eastern Shore is 1/10 of the state’s population, so in theory it would cost the state $440 million a year to exempt the Eastern Shore from the sales tax. I’ll assume we do a little better than that given the tourism attraction of Ocean City and several close outlet malls, so call it $500 million. Certainly the state can figure out a way to excise 1% or so from its budget, with the additional income and jobs created for people on this side of the Bay making a significant dent into that perceived loss to the state. That’s borne out in part by what Comptroller Peter Franchot told the Daily Times – lost revenue from exempt items is partially made up by extra non-exempt items purchased. By that same token, the sales tax loss would come back in the form of extra gasoline tax collected, more income tax from increased employment, and other revenue from enhanced economic activity.

We’ve tried to exempt ourselves from the sales tax increases before, but all those General Assembly members from the other side of the Bay want us to pay our fair share – never mind we are already taxed, regulated, and dictated to death over here. We carved out certain parts of the state to pay a “rain tax” so why not go the other way and allow some counties the economic relief?

When Larry Hogan is trying to figure out some of the taxes he can cut to assist hard-working Marylanders, why can’t he do those of us who have to compete with Delaware a favor and make this part of the state a sales tax-free zone? You just might bring some business back from Delaware as a bonus.

The life of one (soon to be) former Delegate

August 9, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

While we have to wait and see what November brings, the chances are pretty good that there will be an additional few dozen Marylanders walking around with the unofficial title of “former member of the General Assembly.” Some, like outgoing Senator Nancy Jacobs or Delegate Donna Stifler, decided well in advance, while our local Delegate Rudy Cane cynically waited until after the filing deadline to insure no one would oppose his apparent choice for successor, Sheree Sample-Hughes.

And then we have the handful who lost in their primary – among them was Delegate Don Dwyer, whose well-documented personal struggles and legal issues, along with redistricting, made his an uphill battle. But as he wrote a few days back:

I simply couldn’t walk away without committing to continue my efforts in regaining liberty and true freedom. I believe as many do, that the one best solution to federal tyranny is the doctrine of NULLIFICATION under the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution. I would like to introduce the States Rights Foundation and new blog The Rightful Remedy.

Washington will not fix itself. Our intent is to partner with other groups and people who are dedicated to advancing the 10th Amendment movement. It is the solution to the out of control Federal Government. If enough States say NO, the Federal Government will be unable to enforce its unconstitutional laws, lacking the resources to do so without aid by the States.

Whether intentional or not, The Rightful Remedy was officially launched on Bastille Day, July 14.

As has been his modus operandi in the past Dwyer is holding a gun raffle to raise funds for his project, which he explains further:

As a Maryland State Delegate, I introduced several bills considered Nullification Legislation, by which the State of Maryland would refuse to comply with Federal “laws” for which the Federal Government has no Constitutional authority to impose. The legislation essentially prohibits the State to use any resources to assist the Federal Government in taking action against Maryland Citizens who are not complying with any Unconstitutional Federal Act. The result, should such legislation pass, profoundly affects the ability of the Federal Government, which rely (sic) heavily on resources from the state, such as police, to effectively enforce their “laws.” (Emphasis in original.)

Nullification is an intriguing practice, although it’s not often tried (here’s one example.) It brings arguments about whether it should be up to the states or left to the judiciary to decide what is in accordance with the Constitution.

But states are generally reined in under the federal judiciary’s interpretation of the Supremacy Clause (such as the case with Arizona’s SB1070 in 2010) as well as the prospect of losing needed federal funding if they don’t perform a particular action – examples I’ve often used are the .08 blood alcohol level standard and legal drinking age of 21, for which the lack of acceptable state law resulted in a deduction of federal highway funding. It would take a state willing to endure the penalties of perhaps defying the Supreme Court (as in a fictional example I recently reviewed) and losing a significant part of its federal funding to openly adopt nullification, and I can tell you Maryland politicians are way too gutless to try either. (Given his go-it-alone attitude, I daresay Rick Perry and Texas might come the closest to using the approach.)

Yet there is a logical argument to non-enforcement as well. We’ve often heard about the prospect of gun confiscation, but there’s an open question as to whether law enforcement – particularly in rural areas like the Eastern Shore – would be willing to go on what’s been described as a “suicide mission.” At the time, Dwyer was calling for the formation of a “voluntary militia” in each county. On the other hand, we have constant complaints about the federal government not enforcing certain other laws, such as the ones dealing with illegal immigration – a backhanded form of nullification unto itself.

I guess the problem is who decides which laws to not enforce, and if they’re not enforced, are we still a nation of laws? A stricter adherence to the Tenth Amendment and Constitution in general would help, but for that we need to clean out our judiciary swamp. I think an equally productive avenue for Dwyer to pursue with his States Rights Foundation would be to work for repealing the Seventeenth Amendment, which has been argued in some circles for several years and is something I’ve advocated for on both a federal and state level as well. That would help to assure the interests of the several states are represented in Congress, so nullification may not be as necessary.

Fighting ‘behavior modification’

Fortunately, we are about five months (and one election) away from the “90 days of terror” which comprises a regular session of the Maryland General Assembly. We have no idea yet just who will be representing us in Annapolis, but there is one agenda item a familiar group is out to stop in its tracks.

As Bob Willick of Maryland Liberty PAC puts it:

Maryland Liberty PAC is ramping up efforts to drive a stake in the heart of the proposed VMT tax before it gains any more traction.

Their aim is to pass a bill prohibiting the practice, similar to one which was introduced last year but went nowhere. In that effort, they have compiled a half-page flyer and video describing their reasons for concern.

Aside from blaming a few current and former legislators for their votes on the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009 – indeed, a poor vote but just one – the video does a nice job of illustrating what the bureaucrats of the state have wrought and why it should be stopped.

But let’s leave aside the peak-hour tolls and tracking just for a moment and look at the impact a simple VMT might have.

Let’s say you work here in Salisbury but choose to live in a rural part of Wicomico County, such as around Tyaskin or Powellville. Every day you may drive 20 to 30 miles round trip to work, plus there are those 15 to 20 mile round trips for grocery shopping, taking the kids for extracurricular activities, and the like. It would be easy to put 20,000 to 25,000 miles annually on your car and if a VMT is set for every mile above some artificial limit such as 10,000 miles it could run into several hundred dollars a year, almost regardless of what kind of car you own. (Chances are certain models would be exempted from a VMT, regardless of how useful they are to one’s needs.)

The VMT became seriously discussed when the effects of the fuel economy standards adopted by the federal government in the wake of the 1970s oil embargoes became painfully obvious. As cars became more efficient, they used less gasoline so a per-gallon tax became less and less lucrative. If you drive 20,000 miles a year in a car that gets 40 miles to the gallon, you’re only using 500 gallons of gas a year as opposed to a 20 MPG car that takes in 1,000 gallons. At a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, that’s a “cost” to Uncle Sam of $92 a year for being a “good citizen” and purchasing a more efficient car. As they often say, “no good deed goes unpunished,” so with the advent of GPS tracking systems it became more possible to accurately gauge a car’s true mileage and perhaps make up all of that $92 or even more.

As I see it, though, the VMT tax is just a small part of a larger drive to decouple people from their cars. Maryland is doing little to enhance the traffic situation in parts of the state insofar as highway work is concerned. Sure, they may replace the occasional bridge or repave a perfectly good highway, but the bulk of their transportation money and effort is going to be concentrated on two boondoggles called the Red Line and Purple Line. Before that, it was the ICC toll road, which should serve as a signal for what’s to come: variable tolls based on time of day, collected by electronic means with an EZPass or – for a “service fee” – a bill sent to the car’s registered owner. I predict this same “makeover” will be on the Bay Bridge within the next decade, with sky-high tolls at rush hour and on weekends.

Obviously this process of enhancing specific, politically correct traffic is well underway – witness the HOT lanes in urban areas or proposed “transitways” for busses only. Maybe that’s great for urban dwellers, but that doesn’t help people trying to get into Ocean City or through Cambridge or Easton at the height of tourist season. Forget the logic of building another Bay Bridge connecting southern Maryland and Dorchester County to save motorists coming from the Washington area time and hassle.

There’s no question we need to invest money in our transportation infrastructure. The problem with Maryland is that it seeks to create demand where none exists and ignores logical extensions of the existing overburdened system in the name of addressing a “global warming” problem we couldn’t change if we tried.

The idea of the VMT should be the first thing scrapped, but let’s not stop there. It’s time to give up on the folly of reducing our greenhouse gas output because that equates to reducing our standard of living as well as our liberty.

By the way, since I’m on the subject of boondoggles like the Red Line, Purple Line, and VMT, I’ve been meaning to work this editorial on ethanol by my Patriot Post cohort Mark Alexander in for a few days. Here’s a good chance to read it.

Addressing the challenge

Many years ago, when I was a mere political babe in the woods, I volunteered to help out a candidate by the name of Maggie Thurber. At the time, she was running for a full term as Clerk of Courts in my former home of Lucas County, Ohio, having won the office in a huge upset two years earlier. She went on to win that election and one more, plus serve a term as a County Commissioner before leaving politics.

She parlayed that political success into a stint as a radio host and also has blogged for several years at a site called Thurber’s Thoughts, although now that seems to be used as additional material for her work on Ohio Watchdog (a subsite of Watchdog Wire.) And that’s where I pick up the story.

I happened to come across a piece she wrote regarding the “Live the Wage” challenge, something set up by this website. This movement is backed by the same people who connived Maryland into raising its minimum wage earlier this year.

The premise of this challenge was to buy groceries and gas on $77 a week, which was the amount deemed to be left over once taxes and housing expenses are paid. Thurber writes that:

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland gave up. He started on a Sunday, but ran out of money by Thursday, he explained in a column for Politico. He said he skipped meals to save money and ate smaller, less healthy meals.

“Because fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find at a price within a minimum wage budget, I turned to bread, peanut butter, bananas and bologna more than anything else,” he wrote. “That was what I could find when I took this budget to the grocery story (sic) last Sunday. And that’s why I ate lunch from the McDonald’s dollar menu.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, spent his money foolishly, paying $7 for sardines and crackers, $5 for a Burger King Whopper, $2 for a cup of coffee and his “last couple of dollars to buy trail mix,” he explained on his Facebook page.

It’s obvious to me Strickland and Ryan didn’t take this seriously; otherwise they would have done as well as Thurber and her husband did. She bought a week’s worth of gasoline for $44 (using points from her local Kroger grocery store) and spent $82.83 on a basic menu of groceries for the week, with a couple splurge items. As for the leftover money?

We approached the challenge as if we had both lost our jobs and taken minimum wage jobs to get by. Under this scenario, we’d have some items on hand, like paper towels, detergent, aspirin, condiments and corn to make popcorn for snacks.

But with $27.17 remaining in our budget, or going without our two splurge items, we’d be able to purchase those supplies as we needed.

Of course, the banshees came out of the woodwork in the comments section and shrieked that she should live like this for a year or so before talking. Well, these (very well-paid) politicians didn’t even try hard to make it through a week – what does that say about their compassion, let alone their eating and cooking habits?

As I noted above, Thurber expanded on this Ohio Watchdog piece on her own site, which gave politicians a new challenge:

Don’t you think it’s funny that no one ever tries to live like a small business owner for week? To feel what it’s like to try to make a payroll, deal with government forms and mandates, handle local government rules and regulations, deal with happy and angry customers, supervise a work staff, promote your business, do the accounting and somehow find time for family and friends and an actual life outside of work?

One day in the life of small business owner is much more difficult and stressful than trying to live on $77 a week.

That’s the reality of this ridiculousness – and that’s why the whole “live the wage” publicity sham is such a travesty.

I talk about business climate a lot on this site because, as a state, Maryland is far too dependent on one industry – the federal government. In that, it mirrors the city of my birth which is overly reliant on the auto industry. But in catering to the auto industry you at least do things which benefit other businesses around the state, and overall Ohio is a diverse state with several distinct metro areas as well as a significant rural component.

In contrast, Maryland seems to work only toward enriching government and those businesses connected to government by hook or crook. So raising the minimum wage was no big deal to most of Maryland – it’s a world of almost automatic annual raises and the job security one receives when you work for a government which rarely, if ever, cuts itself. People can shoulder that burden more easily along the I-95 corridor.

But when you come out to the forgotten parts of Maryland, a minimum wage raise means jobs lost – there’s no other way around it. There were efforts to waive or slow down the increase for counties here on the Eastern Shore, but they were rebuffed in the General Assembly.

And if you think buying groceries on minimum wage is difficult, just try it being unemployed. That’s going to be the result of these shortsighted policies once the political stunts and game playing are forgotten.

Bye bye Beretta

We were warned about this all along, but everyone seems shocked that gun maker Beretta has followed through and decided to relocate its production to a new plant in Tennessee next year. The loss of 160 manufacturing jobs from its Accokeek plant will be the gain, once production ramps up, of Gallatin, a town which is a few miles outside Nashville and is about the same size as Salisbury. Here’s what Maryland is losing, from Beretta’s release:

Beretta U.S.A. anticipates that the Gallatin, Tennessee facility will involve $45 million of investment in building and equipment and the employment of around 300 employees during the next five years.

It’s worth noting that Beretta is not the only gun manufacturer potentially leaving Maryland. LWRC of Cambridge said last year “we simply couldn’t do business here” if the gun law passed, with 300 jobs at stake. Rumors of a purchase of LWRC by Colt were rampant earlier this year,  yet while no formal announcement has been made the Bob Owens piece I’m citing is useful as a reminder of what such a company means to a rural area.

Needless to say, Larry Hogan had the expected reaction on Beretta’s plight. Yet the question isn’t one of “high taxes and punitive regulations” so much as it’s a question of repealing a knee-jerk law passed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting – not that any law was going to stop Adam Lanza anyway, nor does this law stop a single homicide in Maryland. It was all feelgood legislation from the start; unfortunately, the powers that be chose not to back the referendum route which would have placed the law on the ballot at the same time as many who voted for it.

To change Maryland’s fate in this respect, not only does the state have to improve on its business friendliness but it also has to find the political will to overturn its onerous gun laws like 2013′s Senate Bill 281. Elections mean things, and not only do we need a governor willing to backtrack on this mistake but also enough of a General Assembly coalition to get a bill through the legislature. That part may be the most difficult, because getting to just 50 Republicans in the House and 19 in the Senate would be a minor miracle – yet Republicans need 71 and 24, respectively, to actually control the chambers. It’s mathematically doable but the odds of hitting the Powerball are probably much better.

So say goodbye to Beretta’s production, and know that it won’t be missed at all by the Democrats in Annapolis.

Time to get serious

While I mentioned the other day that not much fresh news would come from the political races until after the Independence Day holiday, that doesn’t mean that “Maryland’s top conservative blogger” (at least according to David Gerstman, contributor to Legal Insurrection) won’t have his say on things. I wanted to open up by taking a look at Larry Hogan’s “Hogan’s Plan” for the state’s finances.

Over the course of the primary campaign I was critical of Hogan for having such a vague “to-do list” of priorities he would have as governor, and this wasn’t a whole lot better. Be that as it may, I’m going to try and work with it in the real world anyway.

In Maryland, the governor perhaps has the most power of any such chief executive in the country – particularly if he wants to get serious about cutting the budget. The General Assembly can’t come back with a larger budget total, although they can tweak around the edges to some extent. So let’s go with the baseline established by Martin O’Malley when he set the FY2015 budget that takes effect tomorrow at $39.224 billion. Hogan promised that:

On day one, he will begin to run the government more cost-effectively and honestly. The Hogan-Rutherford administration will implement the recommendations of past audits, conduct additional independent audits of every state agency, and immediately get to work eliminating duplication, fraud, and waste to make sure that every cent of taxpayer money is spent efficiently.

By his reckoning, there is “$1.75 billion in waste and abuse” in state government. Figuring this with my public school math, that is 4.46% of the state budget – which seems like a nice little chunk of change until you realize the difference between the FY2015 and FY2014 budgets is $1.886 billion. In other words, the “waste and abuse” only accounts for about the same amount of money as an average annual increase. Something tells me there’s more low-hanging fruit than that. Yet Hogan says:

By cutting the waste and abuse from state government, he will be able to save the taxpayers of Maryland billions of dollars without having to cut our priority programs and agencies. It is a simple solution to a problem that has plagued our state for the last eight years, and it will enable him to cut and eliminate the regressive taxes that have crushed middle-class families and small businesses.

Nothing is ever that simple, but on the other hand his opponent is willing to blow up the budget with millions and millions of dollars in additional spending. If Anthony Brown simply maintains the Martin O’Malley glide path of 4% budget increases each year, this is what the next four budgets would look like:

  • FY2016: $40.793 billion
  • FY2017: $42.425 billion
  • FY2018: $44.122 billion
  • FY2019: $45.887 billion

Compared to level-funding the budget, that’s an additional $16.331 billion in tax dollars needed and you can bet your bottom dollar the Democrats will take all that and more from hard-working Maryland families.

And if you look at what Anthony Brown is promising, particularly in the area of education with universal pre-kindergarten, student loans for children of illegal aliens, creating a new Office of Educational Disparities, and providing extra money for HBCUs, assuming 4% annual increases may be on the low side.

The other part of Hogan’s Plan deals with business climate:

Maryland’s unemployment rate is 75% higher today than it when the recession began. In fact, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation ranked Maryland #41 in the nation for business climate. The main reason for this unfortunate reality is that it costs too much for job creators to stay in or come to Maryland. He will reduce the burden on job creators, open Maryland for business, and make our state more competitive with others in our region. The Hogan-Rutherford administration will overhaul the Department of Business and Economic Development to focus on aggressively attracting and retaining job creators in order to bring more and better-paying jobs to Maryland.

This is where the lack of specifics is really aggravating, particularly when Hogan’s vanquished opponents directly addressed the issue by proposing corporate tax cuts. In the FY2015 budget, corporate taxes bring in $1.011 billion so eliminating them entirely is affordable if you assume Hogan has the $1.75 billion of waste and fraud elimination in his pocket. Now THAT would turn some heads, but Hogan refuses to make the commitment.

Let’s look at Brown’s “Competitive Business Climate Tour” plan, though. There are nine “areas of focus” therein, but I’m going to focus on five of them:

Tax Liability: Reform our tax code to ensure that it reflects our current economy, enables state and local government to adequately fund our shared priorities, and encourages job generating investments in Maryland.

If you want the tax code to reflect our current economy, rates should be decreased to match the zero growth Maryland is enjoying right now. Unfortunately, it will instead be certain to “enable…government to adequately fund” all the brilliant schemes these liberals come up with. And don’t be surprised if combined reporting isn’t among those items designed to “encourage” investment in the state by hiking taxes on national companies.

Cost and Reliability of Energy: Promote the cost-effective generation of energy and improve the reliable delivery of energy through the grid to businesses and residents while transitioning to more sustainable energy sources.

There’s either one of two ways to go here: we get a “grand bargain” where fracking is finally allowed on the western end of the state in return for “investment” in wind turbines off Ocean City (perhaps via a tax on natural gas producers), or we just get the necessary subsidies to make these unsightly and inefficient wind turbines and land-wasting solar panel farms a reality. Look for the “renewable energy portfolio” to increase the percentage of “sustainable energy sources” to levels unsustainable for utilities to address without huge increases in consumer bills.

Cost of Living: Expand access to affordable housing and healthcare, healthy food options and cost-effective transportation to create a reasonable cost of living for all Maryland families.

When you see the words “expand access to” they really mean “spend more on,” with two exceptions: expanding access to “healthy food options” will involve the elimination of those options deemed unhealthy, such as fast food outlets. You will eat your broccoli and like it. The same goes for “cost-effective transportation” because, for many, transportation will become cost-ineffective: gas taxes will increase in order to subsidize mass transit, which is only cost-effective to the inner-city user whose farebox donation isn’t nearly enough to cover its cost.

And just how is a “reasonable cost of living” determined by the government? To me, that is determined by the market and the desires of those families as to their priorities.

Reliable and Predictable Legal System: Provide a civil justice system that allows deserving individuals to get justice and hold wrongdoers accountable while ensuring that awards are fair and equitable.

That is called tort reform, and the chances of pigs flying in Maryland are probably far higher than passage and enforcement of anything of the sort – especially if Brian Frosh is elected as AG.

Small- and Medium-sized Business Access to Working Capital: Ensure all viable small- and medium-sized businesses have access to affordable capital by working with lenders and businesses to maintain a strong environment for growth.

When I read this, I immediately thought: nice little financial institution you got there, be a shame if something happened to it. It’s the market’s job to figure out if a business is capital-worthy, not government’s.

My gosh, Larry Hogan, you have to do better than this. There are so many holes and code words in Brown’s plans that it should be easy to come up with something actually viable for keeping businesses and people from leaving the state.

A thin case of semantics

I haven’t weighed in much on the Senate District 4 primary race between incumbent David Brinkley and challenger Delegate Michael Hough except to point out that Hough’s score on the monoblogue Accountability Project has been significantly better over the last four years as part of my summary within.

But the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance is reaching back 18 years to reinforce its belief that David Brinkley is pro-abortion, as they dredged out a procedural vote on a 1996 bill which would have banned partial-birth abortion in the state. It was a bill which failed in committee, so its sponsor tried to bring it back as a substitute bill and Brinkley voted against consideration, as did a handful of other Republicans whose names I recognize from that long-ago session.

I also noticed another name among the opponents, and that was Addie Eckardt. I don’t think she’s pro-choice in the least, but it’s interesting that the Senate version of that 1996 bill was co-sponsored by Richard Colburn.

Now I can better understand the logic of equating a vote for a budget which happens to have abortion funding as a tiny proportion of the whole, or not advocating more for the advancement of the PCUCPA bill - which didn’t even get a committee vote – than using this particular vote to paint a candidate with that broad of a brush. I know my opinions on some subjects are different now than they were in 1996, in particular the so-called War on Drugs and term limits, so this is an overreach in criticism as I see it. What Brinkley didn’t vote for in 1996 isn’t as relevant as what no one got to vote for in 2014.

Something that was voted on in 2014, in both the Senate and the House, was an amendment to remove taxpayer funding for elective abortions. Needless to say, neither version passed as the House amendment from Delegate Susan Aumann failed 84-48 and the Senate version lost 29-16. The sponsor of the Senate version? David Brinkley. This is based on information from Maryland Right to Life, which did a three-vote scorecard covering both the Brinkley and Aumann amendments as well as an amendment from Delegate Tony O’Donnell to limit taxpayer funding of third-trimester abortions. Delegate Hough went 2-for-2, as did most other Republicans in the House (Delegate Robert Costa didn’t vote on the O’Donnell amendment and Delegate Bill Frank missed both votes), while all but one Republican voted for the Brinkley amendment – Senator Allan Kittleman was the lone no vote. (If only the GOP were as united on several other issues, but I digress.) They also pointed out the failure of PCUCPA to get a vote.

This is what I mean by seriously reaching. It’s pretty likely that a Republican will be pro-life to one extent or another; on the other hand pro-life Democrats are few and far between. Of course, the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance could pick almost any of those standard-issue Democrats as the “Pro-Abort Legislator of the Year;” my choices would be the committee chairs who wouldn’t even give PCUCPA a vote.

Some may say I’m the pot calling the kettle black given my criticism of certain Republicans in various races. My beef is generally in one of two categories: issue obfuscation or pandering to a particular audience. Thus I have a preference for candidates who spell out a platform which is bold. Say what you will about Heather Mizeur’s views on the issues, but at least she makes no bones about being way out on the last strands of that left-wing feather and clearly states her reasoning.

But there is a point where the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. The pro-life movement could do far worse than have David Brinkley re-elected, so maybe the MPLA should train its fire where it will do more good. Check out the pro-abortion votes from Norm Conway and Jim Mathias, for example – wins there from Carl Anderton, Jr. and Mike McDermott, respectively, will do far more good for the pro-life community than this internecine squabble.

Announcing: the 2014 monoblogue Accountability Project

For the seventh 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. Some of the key votes I cover are those on the state’s budget,expanding pre-kindergarten, various fixes required due to Obamacare, and the “bathroom bill.”

I began this project in 2008 as a continuation of the former Maryland Accountability Project, which was a similar attempt to catalogue 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, giving me a total of more than 400 separate tallies over the life of the mAP. 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 score 10 percent or less year after year 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 the people in the district. 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. (Sadly, this happened this year in the Senate, and that leader is among those retiring.) 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 works during session to determine the merits of each bill and works to keep bad ones from ever getting out of committee. With over 2,500 bills introduced last session, dozens of volunteers are needed to keep track of them all, grade them on pro-liberty merits, and keep the heat on legislators in stopping violations of liberty from proceeding.

Moreover, they cover 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. Methinks there was something rotten in the state of Maryland, now known as the “Fee State.”

Let the campaigning begin

Now that the General Assembly has made it to sine die, the transition to regular campaigning can begin. Certainly there will be posturing over one issue or another, and there are rumblings that the “bathroom bill” and perhaps even marijuana decriminalization could be placed on the ballot. But for better or worse, the General Assembly has completed its work for the year, and at least 37 members out of the 188 will not be back – many are retiring, but some are seeking other local or statewide offices.

So for those who are looking for greener pastures, as well as the 150-odd who are willing to serve another term – with many among them trying to move up from the House to the Senate – the campaigning can begin in earnest. Only seven Senators (three Republican, four Democrat) have a free ride to re-election, barring a late write-in entry. Two Democrats running for the House of Delegates will enjoy the same freedom, and both will be newcomers – Will Campos in District 47A (Prince George’s County) and Sheree Sample-Hughes from right here in Salisbury. Both had opposition, but the one filer against Campos was disqualified and incumbent Delegate Rudy Cane from District 37A withdrew from his race, leaving it for Sample-Hughes.

Some in difficult races have been chomping at the bit to go out there and press the flesh, along with once again having the chance to raise funds. An e-mail from Delegate Neil Parrott greeted me this afternoon in my e-mail box, and certainly many others were making plans to raise some dough.

While he didn’t serve in the General Assembly, Larry Hogan is making a push to look good on his initial campaign finance report. Messages like this have been appearing on his Change Maryland Facebook feed:

Thanks to the generous support of engaged and informed Marylanders like you, we are EVEN CLOSER to hitting our fundraising goal before tonight’s finance report deadline! We have less than TWELVE HOURS to hit our goal – Can we count on you to help us get there? Any contribution you can afford, whether it’s $5, $50, or $500, will make a big impact on our campaign and could be enough to put us over the edge to reach our goal!

Of course, since they’re not letting on exactly what the goal is, I highly doubt they’ll actually fall short. Yet what would be success in fundraising? Back in January, it was revealed that David Craig raised just under $250,000 in 2013 after a similar performance in 2012. Since we’re closer to the election, I would have to assess success as whether Hogan raised the amount required to qualify for matching funds, which would come pretty close to matching Craig’s total 2013 take. Since Hogan has media up already with a cable television buy, it’s likely he’s raised at least $200,000.

(It’s worth pointing out as well that Hogan is slated to appear at our Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday, as are Ron George and Charles Lollar. Jeannie Haddaway will pinch-hit for David Craig, who has another engagement. So if you’re coming you can ask the tough questions, although we don’t plan this as a debate.)

For us, the event will serve as a kickoff to the serious campaigning to come since it’s likely we’ll hear from a number of Republicans who are running, even if we have to drag out the egg timer to make sure they keep things short for our featured guests. If we let all of the District 37B aspirants go, we’ll be there all night! (Yes, that was supposed to be funny. You are allowed to laugh.)

After all, not that I’m trying to hurry it along by any stretch of the imagination, we’re just 30 weeks away from the November election (and 11 weeks from the primary, which I have a vested interest in.) Lots of time for good things to happen.

Winding down

As I begin to write this, we have about an hour and ten minutes remaining in the 90 days of terror that is the annual Maryland General Assembly session. And because of the Maryland Legislative Watch website, the process of completing my annual monoblogue Accountability Project will be a snap – they’re kind enough to align all the votes taken during session by individual legislator.

So the process of weeding out what I’ll be focusing on has been my task over the last couple weeks. Since I cover 25 different votes, with three of them being committee votes for practically all the legislators (there are three exceptions: Speaker of the House Michael Busch, Senate President Mike Miller, and Delegate Don Dwyer, who was stripped of a committee assignment as punishment for his misdemeanor conviction last year) having them already arranged by legislator is a HUGE help.

Sadly to me, out of the hundreds of votes the General Assembly takes each year, the vast majority are unanimous or have very limited opposition. While there have been occasions I’ve used such exercises in futility for the minority, generally I like to find bills which have a significant number of votes on both sides. Unfortunately, this has eliminated a number of good bills I would have used via what I call the “gutless Senate syndrome” – a bill which may be 96-38 in the House passes 46-0 in the Senate. For example, did you know the state was soon to ban “vaportinis”? (Interesting, since they’re decriminalizing pot in the same session.) It would have been a good vote to use, but our gutless Senate passed it with no opposition. The same went for bills designating new wildlands, financial assistance for so-called “food desert” areas (not “desserts,” by the way), mandating balcony inspections, and several others.

All told, I will probably have 25 to 30 candidates to distill into the final 22 votes – there were a few bills which may have received a vote in their opposite chamber tonight. The “automatics” in this term will be the budget bills, the “bathroom bill”, minimum wage, and the “fix” for individuals who were hosed out of health insurance because the state screwed up. Those were always going to make the cut, even though the Senate vote on the capital budget was 46-0. Talk about gutless!

So when can you look for the monoblogue Accountability Report? I figure it could be done by month’s end.

One change I’ve made from previous editions is that legislators will be arranged into groups based on whether they are retiring, running for higher (or different) office, or trying for another term. Of course, I will still have the Legislative All-Stars and my usual rewards and criticism as well.

The process can go full throttle in less than a half-hour.

The same old story

Proving once again that elections mean something, Delegate Mike McDermott pointed out the voting record of his upcoming opponent, Senator Jim Mathias. Mathias supported the state’s Capital Budget of $1.17 billion as well as a $300 million transfer from the General Fund, leading McDermott to predict a property tax increase to cover the difference.

McDermott went on to note:

There are many good projects in the Capital Budget but, quite frankly, voting for the Capital Budget is irresponsible with this state’s economy. Making your grandchildren pay for their parents’ playground is immoral. You’re using a credit card with your kid’s name on it.

(Mathias’s) vote goes to support extremist liberal groups like CASA de Maryland who receive funding for their illegal alien advocacy at the expense of Eastern Shore families struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. This must stop!

In 2010, Jim Mathias lost both Wicomico and Somerset counties to Republican Michael James, but prevailed by enough in Worcester County to win election by just 640 votes – in percentage terms, it was 1.4%. The bulk of that damage came from absentee and provisional votes, probably swayed by Jim’s insistence he was the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Okay, that may be a little over-the-top, but as I wrote at the time he sent out a lot of mailings insisting he was conservative. (I debunked them, too.)

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Michael James would have been a rock-ribbed conservative in the Maryland General Assembly, but I’m very sure Mike McDermott would be a far better steward of our tax dollars. After all, I have his voting record over 4 years in the House of Delegates to back that assertion up.

Yet Mathias has a number of built-in advantages which need to be overcome: he’s very personable and quite popular as a former Ocean City mayor, plus he has a boatload of campaign money available to spend – lots of it came from across the Bay, too. Starting in late summer I’m sure the good citizens of District 38 will get the full-color mailers telling us Jim’s fighting for us in Annapolis, even though his true voting record on this is spotty at best. Given the Democrats’ 35-12 advantage in the Senate, they can afford to have Jim side with the Republicans once in awhile.

But what if it begins to appear that the GOP may win several seats in the Maryland Senate? For many years, District 38 was ably represented by Lowell Stoltzfus, who decided to retire despite the fact he could have kept the seat for years to come because he was popular and his conservative voting record fit the district. The only reason Mathias even ran for the Senate was because Lowell decided to call it a career. I happen to think that, when the chips are down for Annapolis Democrats, Jim Mathias will be right there to save their bacon at the expense of the needs of his district. This budget vote stands as proof, and underscores the importance of bringing this seat back to the GOP column where it belongs.

To conclude, I found it apt to remind people of how I reported something Mike McDermott said four years ago:

(Mike) thought it was funny to hear liberals talk about conservative values. “Don’t tolerate that nonsense,” he said.

Because 641 too many in District 38 bought the line Jim Mathias handed them, we’ve tolerated nonsense the last four years. It’s time for that to stop.

Much ado about HB1513

March 16, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2014, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Controversy is still swirling about a proposed bill that is all but universally despised by Republican Central Committee members and the state party itself, with one local member alluding to a new twist in the saga.

Scott Delong, who is a member of the Harford County Republican Central Committee, sent out a lengthy e-mail yesterday to fellow Central Committee members detailing his opposition to the move. While this bill has remained bottled up in the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee of the House of Delegates due to its late introduction, a committee where no further meetings are planned for this session, Delong alleges that sponsor Delegates Rick Impallaria. Pat McDonough, and Kathy Szeliga are trying to petition the bill to the floor.

Assuming this is indeed the case, it’s worth pointing out that petitioning is a rarely-used alternative to the standard committee process, but while the GOP is seemingly afraid to use this procedure to move bills along which have merit, such as repeals to onerous legislation like the Septic Bill or so-called Firearm Safety Act, these members are apparently embracing this manuever to promote a bill harmful to the state GOP. It wouldn’t surprise me to see mostly Democrats sign this petition just as a way of dividing their opposition prior to an important election.

Delong also comments on the responses from Delegates Szeliga and Impallaria in links from his e-mail. It seems that the good Delegates have some concerns about the way things have operated in the past, which is fine. So why wait until after the filing deadline to put this bill in the hopper if this has been a concern? Amazingly, the 12 positions on the Harford County Republican Central Committee have attracted a total of 32 aspirants – only the far larger counties of Baltimore and Montgomery have drawn more for their positions, but many more will be elected from those jurisdictions.

Again, the biggest problem I have with this proposal is that it’s none of the Delegates’ business who sits on the Central Committee, aside from the vote they cast in that election. Moreover, certain people who are co-sponsors of this bill don’t even have that right because they don’t live in Harford County –  neither McDonough nor Szeliga live there, as both come from Baltimore County. To use Wicomico County as an example, there could be four Republicans in our county delegation but potentially only one actually living in the county. And because all of Harford’s (and Wicomico’s, for that matter) members are elected at-large, would it be fair for someone for whom only some of those who live in the county cast a vote to have the power to represent an entire county in this manner?

Let’s hope the bill remains buried in committee. I also call on the Delegates to abandon any effort to petition this to the floor, as it is simply a divisive and unacceptable abuse of power to follow through with this bill.

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    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

    ___

    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Christopher Robinson (D)

    ___

    House District 37B

    Republican

    Christopher Adams (R)
    Johnny Mautz (R)
    Rodney Benjamin (D)
    Keasha Haythe (D)

    ___

    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

    ___

    House District 38A

    Charles Otto (R)
    Percy Purnell, Jr. (D)

    ___

    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

    ___

    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

    ___

    Wicomico County

    County Executive

    Bob Culver (R)
    Rick Pollitt (D)

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    County Council at-large

    John Cannon (R)
    Matt Holloway (R)
    Laura Mitchell (D)

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    Council District 2

    Marc Kilmer (R)
    Kirby Travers (D)

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    Council District 3

    Larry Dodd (R)
    Josh Hastings (D)