The right idea but with the wrong approach

September 4, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

I find the controversy over Governor Hogan’s executive order mandating that Maryland public schools begin classes after Labor Day and wrap up by the following June 15 to be a good opportunity for commentary, so I decided to add my couple pennies.

First of all, this isn’t a new idea. In 2015 and 2016 legislation was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to create a similar mandate. As proof of how Annapolis works, the 2015 versions only got House and Senate hearings but the 2016 versions picked up the remaining local House delegation as sponsors (only Delegates Mary Beth Carozza and Charles Otto were local co-sponsors in 2015) and got a Senate committee vote. (It failed on a 5-5 tie, with one of the Republicans on the committee being excused. The other two voted in favor.) There was a chance this legislation may have made it through in 2017, but apparently Hogan was unwilling to take the risk. He took the opportunity to make a news event at a perfect time – when most local districts were already a week or two into school, Larry announced this from the Ocean City boardwalk on a pleasant beach day – and showed he was willing to stand up for one of his principles, that being improving opportunities for small business. (At a minimum, with Hogan’s edict kids are off for 11 weeks for summer vacation.)

In reality, what Hogan has done is shift the calendar backward by about a week: for example, Wicomico County public school kids had their last day of school June 9 and returned August 29 and 30. But the thought process is that families are more likely to take a vacation in July and August than they are in June, so because Ocean City is a great tourist attraction the state should follow Worcester County’s lead and begin school after Labor Day. (They simply went an extra week into June, concluding on June 17 this year.)

Granted, our family has enjoyed a post-Labor Day start for a number of years since parochial schools have more calendar flexibility: our child began her summer vacation after classes ended June 3 and returns on Tuesday the 6th. Growing up, I seem to recall the city schools I attended began after Labor Day and went into June but the rural school I graduated from began classes in late August and was done by Memorial Day. (We had a longer Labor Day weekend, though, because our county fair runs that weekend and the Tuesday after Labor Day was Junior Fair Day. Thirty-odd years later, it still is.) The point is that each of these localities knows what works best, so I can understand the objection from those who advocate local control of school schedules. And talk about strange bedfellows: I’m sure many of those praising Hogan’s statewide mandate locally are also those who have fought for local control of our Board of Education - after at least ten years of trying, we finally have a chance for local control (as opposed to appointments by the Governor) over our Board of Education through a referendum this November. (I recommend a vote for the fully-elected Option 2 on Question A.)

So I agree with the objections on those grounds, even though I personally think a post-Labor Day start is a good idea based on the school calendar typically used. (If I truly had my way, though, we would adopt a 45-15 style plan so that summer break is somewhat shorter and kids spend less time relearning what they forgot over the break.) What I don’t see as productive are those who whine about how this would affect preparation for particular tests – that shouldn’t be the overall goal of education. Obviously they would be the first to blame the calendar (and by extension, Larry Hogan) if test scores went down. But Hogan’s not alienating a group that was squarely in his corner anyway, as the teachers’ unions almost reflexively endorse Democrats, including his 2014 opponent, and mislead Marylanders about education spending. It’s increased with each Hogan budget - just not enough to fund every desire the teachers have.

Come January, it will be interesting to see if the Democrats attempt to rescind this executive order through legislative means, daring Hogan to veto it so they can override the veto and hand him a political loss a year out from the election. While most Marylanders are fine with the change, the Democrats are beholden to the one political group that seems to object and those special interests tend to call the tune for the General Assembly majority.

Yet the idea that the state feels the need to dictate an opening and closing date to local school districts is just another way they are exerting control over the counties. We object when they tell us how to do our local planning, so perhaps as a makeup for this change our governor needs to rescind the PlanMaryland regime in Annapolis.

The exemption

As the Maryland House of Delegates considered a bill to increase the minimum wage statewide a curious exemption was slipped in, a change in language seemingly placed in the bill to benefit amusement parks like Six Flags.

Seeing that, Delegate Mike McDermott tried to add an exemption for another tourist playground: Ocean City.

The amendment would have exempted Ocean City’s seasonal employees – defined as those who work a maximum of 120 days in a calendar year – from the new wage law, instead maintaining the current federal standard of $7.25 per hour. Said the Delegate:

“Prince George’s County wisely decided that locally this is what they needed to do. Everyone across the state is dealing with their own issues and everyone is dealing with their own different unemployment rates. (Counties) should be able to decide for themselves whether it’s higher or whether it’s lower.

We struggle right now keeping these jobs available for these kids… The lower shore is not recovering; the unemployment rate is still soaring… Our Ocean City businesses will lose out to competition in Delaware with Bethany and Rehoboth Beaches and to competition in Virginia and North Carolina. Ocean City is our world class resort and this state’s premier destination. The revenue from Ocean City paves a lot of roads in Baltimore City; the revenue from Ocean City does a lot for the state of Maryland.

(snip)

If you can see it for a sector like Six Flags, or Jolly Rogers…if you can capture a vision for how [minimum wage] impacts that industry…Can you not see how that impacts an entire region like Ocean City?

(snip)

This is about creating an atmosphere where people can still afford to come and the employers can still afford to keep people there.

Needless to say, McDermott’s argument fell on deaf ears, as the amendment failed on an 89-47 vote. The bipartisan support for the amendment included six Democrats (Bromwell, Conway, James, Kevin Kelly, Minnick, and Wood) and all 41 Republicans who voted (Cluster and Frank were absent.) The original amendments to exempt Six Flags and other like businesses were added at the committee level and not through a floor vote, including one by committee Chair Delegate Dereck Davis of Prince George’s County.

But as the process goes on, it appears low-wage Marylanders will get a raise come January whether they deserve one or not, which probably means more layoffs than normal after the holiday season.

Of course, McDermott’s amendment was nothing more than symbolic because there wasn’t much of a chance of it passing anyway. One thing it did, though, was give local Delegate Norm Conway a chance to vote against the minimum wage bill on that particular amendment. It wouldn’t surprise me if he voted against the entire bill since it’s an election year and he needs to look business-friendly to the good conservative folks on the Shore – surely his union supporters can give him a hall pass since the votes will likely be there. It’s just another example of the BOHICA form of government a state which finds itself in yet another budget shortfall will enact upon its citizens.

Disgruntled by the Dew Tour

June 23, 2013 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Sports, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Back in the spring I told you that, like the crocuses, the picketers from Carpenters Local 2012 were out protesting a property owner who made the decision to eschew union labor for a less pricey alternative.

Well, on Friday as I was driving into Ocean City, I saw the same crew out again for a different reason. (Sorry, no picture. I was too far back in traffic to get a clean shot.) With the Dew Tour in town, the laborers were unhappy that the event used non-union labor to construct the arena used by the athletes. Instead of casting “shame” on the property owner, though, the group casts aspersions on the Dew Tour, NBC (the network televising the events), and Comcast, which owns NBC.

This is an interesting case because the idea here was to build something for temporary use, and obviously cost was an object since NBC is trying to recoup its expenses paid to the Dew Tour for the rights to broadcast it. So they weren’t looking for the Taj Mahal here, just something which would look good on television. Not being a student in set design, I have no idea if those who build the sets for the broadcast networks are unionized; I would presume they are simply based on the locales in which most soundstages are located. Obviously Ocean City isn’t typically a hotbed of television production.

So it’s obvious that at least a trio of workers for Seaford-based United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 2012 had nothing better to do than stand at the main corner coming into Ocean City – the point where you exit the U.S. 50 bridge and either proceed straight toward the Boardwalk or right into the Inlet – and watch both the cars coming in and the bikini-clad women walking by.

And they probably made prevailing wage for it.

Free as the wind?

I thought wind was free. So why will electric bills go up $1.50 or more a month to provide us with wind power?

That seems to be the direction Maryland is going after the Senate approved its version of offshore wind on a 30-15 vote, with Republicans providing most of the sanity. The same was true in the House, but this hot air and rhetoric still passed there 86-48. And as I read the proposed law, the $1.50 monthly limit only applies through June 30, 2016. It’s covered in Section 3, and as Section 10 states:

AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That Section 3 of this Act shall take effect June 1, 2013. It shall remain effective for a period of 3 years and 1 month and, at the end of June 30, 2016, with no further action required by the General Assembly, Section 3 of this Act shall be abrogated and of no force and effect.

A pricing schedule can always be changed, but the portfolio requirement that 2.5% of Maryland’s electricity be created by offshore wind isn’t part of that restriction. If history is any guide, the percentage will be increased in order to try and coerce the market into building this offshore boondoggle 10 to 30 miles off Ocean City.

In his usual “bull in a china shop” fashion, Delegate Pat McDonough blasted O’Malley’s scheme and made a little wager:

I know this story may be hard to believe, but the Governor wants to construct 40 wind turbines that are 80 stories high (think: Baltimore’s tallest building) and 20 miles out in the ocean. This has never been done before. The cost of this green pork scheme is currently calculated to be $2 billion. I believe that estimate is very shallow compared to the eventual real costs. Of course, the usual ATM machines, meaning the people of Maryland, will be mandated to pay for these monstrosities through another new surcharge. The surcharge will be about $2 per month for consumers and unlimited for the business community. I will purchase a free crab cake for every rate payer in the State if this project costs $2 billion or less.

Someone else can have my crab cake as I don’t care much for them – not that I expect dinner on McDonough anytime soon. A more reasoned criticism was delivered by experienced O’Malley needler Larry Hogan of Change Maryland:

It seems Martin O’Malley’s priority is to make electricity and motor fuels more expensive. He wants an increase in the gasoline tax while simultaneously pushing a wind energy policy that is not cost effective and guarantees that electricity will be more expensive for rate payers. The timing couldn’t be worse.

There are no assurances that this offshore wind proposal will not devolve into crony capitalism that reward friends of the governor and political donors.

While there may be political support for offshore wind among narrow special interest groups, 96% of Marylanders are opposed to higher taxes. And make no mistake, the Governor’s offshore wind proposal is simply a tax by another name.

This governor has raised taxes and fees 24 times, taking $2.4 billion out of the economy each year. That is likely soon to be at least 25 with top-elected officials including the Governor rigidly adhering to increasing the motor fuel tax and adding charges to consumers’ electric bills.

Actually, Larry, O’Malley’s priority seems to be that of making life itself more expensive.

It just boggles my mind that we have a governor who “can’t imagine” using proven resources and technology to drill for oil offshore or explore for natural gas under the hills of western Maryland yet wants to go into an area with limited experience and a lack of reliability. You know those howling winds we’ve had the last few days with our most recent winter storm some thought was a “second Sandy“? Wind turbines don’t work in those conditions, nor do they have a history of reliability. Who pays if one of these 400-foot behemoths tumbles over in the middle of a hurricane?

If a private investor thinks it’s a grand idea to put up a wind farm and capture the free energy thought to be blowing around out there over Davy Jones’ locker, I say knock yourself out. Just don’t make the rest of us pay for it.

If it were such a great idea, one would think they wouldn’t need the coercing force of law to make it so. Bluewater Wind failed to make it, and that should be the clue our illustrious governor buys.

Low-key event for a rising challenger

August 15, 2012 · Posted in Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · 2 Comments 

Well, they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

So perhaps it was a good way to introduce himself to those whom prospective 2014 gubernatorial candidate Blaine Young wanted to influence, as he held a meet-and-greet event in Ocean City earlier tonight. Aside from a couple signs on the wall, this was pretty much the extent of the campaign paraphernalia.

There was a handout I picked up, though – three pages of the “major accomplishments” the Frederick County Commission has achieved since Young came on board. This was likely an attempt to convince backers at the individual county level – which probably explains the timing, given that the annual Maryland Association of Counties summer gathering hit the beachfront resort this week – with the lead item on the first page titled “Budget Impacts.”

While the room was set for perhaps 100, I would say the crowd rarely exceeded half of that at any particular time as guests came and went. As I was told beforehand, this wasn’t a formal event – Young said he “will be talking to people individually as they mingle.” So he held court with an ever-changing group in the front of the room while others conversed in surrounding areas. Perhaps most notable among those circulating around was Harford County Executive David Craig, who’s also (okay, almost certainly also; I’ll leave that 1% proviso) running for governor. Craig and I actually talked a little about the recently-passed gambling legislation, though.

Speaking of gambling, Worcester County Delegate Mike McDermott was also one of the visitors. I told him I wasn’t happy with his vote on the gambling bill, but he pleaded his case as to why he was one of the five Republicans who said yes to O’Malley’s scheme. I’m expecting a more formal missive from him in the next couple days, which I’ll be happy to dissect. I did learn something interesting, though – from what I was told, a number of Delegates changed their votes to be against the bill in the final tally once the result was known. I’ll find out for sure when I do the research since it’s a vote for the monoblogue Accountability Project.

Thus far, though, I have found it interesting just how the three odds-on leaders in the Republican gubernatorial sweepstakes have conducted their campaigns:

  • David Craig has probably had his organization working the longest of the three, even including an overture to state political bloggers like me almost a year ago. As part of that event I got a thumb drive with everything I need to know about David (still have it, as a matter of fact.)
  • Larry Hogan is probably the furthest from making the official announcement that he’s in, but if Larry indeed is in the running he has a ready-made social media setup thanks to Change Maryland.
  • Meanwhile, Young is focusing more on raising both money and his profile – this event and getting 80 volunteers to come to Crisfield two years before the election have done a nice job with the latter, according to at least one veteran political observer (who I’ll leave nameless since we weren’t speaking on the record. But he was on the record here.)

So the meet-and-greet can’t necessarily be judged like other political events. Certainly I’m sure Young would have liked more people to show up, but if those who did got a favorable impression about his campaign then the event achieved its purpose. Later on, when there’s a need for money or manpower, the true measure of the event’s success would be known. And I had a good time catching up with some people I hadn’t seen in awhile while meeting a few nice new folks.

It wasn’t quite what I expected, but any time I can go to Ocean City and relax a little bit I’ll take it. Now I see why MACO does this every year.

Toll hearing July 14

I actually knew about this already, but I was reminded by an interesting source.

A postcard came to my mailbox today, addressed to me or the current resident. The sender: Congressman Andy Harris.

Printed at taxpayer expense, it revealed the hearing would take place on Thursday, July 14 at Stephen Decatur Middle School, 9815 Seahawk Road in Berlin, beginning at 5:30 p.m.  It also restated Andy’s opposition to the “massive toll hike proposal” that “will destroy jobs and hurt rural Maryland families” as well as “hurt businesses we count on for jobs in the tourism, seafood, and poultry industries.” (Yep, that’s the Eastern Shore in a nutshell.)

No question Andy is right, but I guarantee some crank is going to get his panties in a wad because Andy is using his franking privilege in such a manner. Yes, the piece states Congressman Harris’s opposition to the toll hikes, but that was made pretty plain by news reports when the toll increases were announced. So there’s no new news there. He also informs the public about an opportunity to say one’s piece – for all I know, someone who got the card may be all for jacking up the toll over threefold during the next couple years but had no idea a hearing would be held on this part of the Shore. I don’t believe this particular hearing was in the original schedule but was likely added through popular demand and the behest of the Ocean City and Worcester County tourism industry.

Therefore, this is one of the cases where the Congressman is performing his public service and using taxpayer money in a relatively prudent manner. (The card is a simple black-and-white postcard and not a fancy full-color four-page mailing. But it conveys the message just fine.)

In the meantime, it will be interesting to hear how this meeting goes. If my work schedule allows I may just drop in.

Odds and ends number 31

Once again I have a lot of little items that deserve a little bit of comment, so here goes.

Delegate Pat McDonough is at it again. The 2012 Congressional candidate has prefiled a bill called the Toll Fairness Act. It has three goals:

  • Declare a moratorium on all toll increases.
  • Mandate a General Assembly vote and Governor’s signature on all toll increases, for accountability.
  • Prohibit transfers to non-transportation accounts. Delegate McDonough claims almost $800 million has been “stolen” from transportation accounts over the last eight years.

While it’s doubtful such a bill will muster the votes to get out of the Democratic-controlled committee it will be assigned to, the fact that we have this measure prefiled shows that people can be good and angry about the situation. We will see on July 14, when a hearing on the toll increases will be held in Ocean City.

Speaking of the peoples’ voice, the petition drive to overturn SB167 through referendum may well be successful. But CASA de Maryland was granted a request to make copies of the petitions; a move Delegate Michael Smigiel of the Upper Shore found shocking.

Delegate Smigiel made a point which I wanted to amplify. It’s bad enough that a group who’s dead-set against the referendum will be allowed to take possession of these petitions, if only for a brief time. Luckily the potential for mischief is lessened since that cat was let out of the bag.

But I think back to the controversy over Proposition 8 in California (to overturn same-sex marriage) and what happened to those who contributed to that effort financially – a number of them were harassed by pro-gay marriage supporters, with threats to both boycott their businesses and harm them physically. Could pro-illegal groups and supporters use the petition information to do the same in Maryland? They’re playing for keeps; unfortunately for them a goodly number of people about these parts are armed and don’t much like harassment. Hopefully the folks at the ACLU and CASA de Maryland will keep this in mind.

Meanwhile, those who support the petition and wish to make sure the count is done fairly aren’t allowed into the process. A Board of Elections worth its salt would tell the state to go pound sand on that (since it’s simply a policy memorandum and not law.)

And that’s not all from the state of Maryland. Richard Falknor at Blue Ridge Forum discusses the new “green” graduation requirement. There’s no time for teaching critical thinking or even the three R’s, but they have time to push that “smart growth” bullshit on our kids? Since the requirement appears to be only in public schools (for now) I guess I don’t have to deprogram my girlfriend’s daughter – yet – since she attends a private school.

I also learned a new word regarding this new environmentalism. In a press release from the Competitive Enterprise Institute announcing the formation of the Resourceful Earth website, a quote from Myron Ebell, the Director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment, caught my eye. Said Ebell, “unfortunately, many major corporations are being greenmailed into supporting these assaults on jobs and prosperity.” ‘Greenmailed,’ indeed. Do you think oil companies really want to spend millions to deal with environmental groups advocating for polar bears or caribou rather than job creation and maintaining our lifestyle? They probably add a nickel per gallon to the price.

Still, pump prices have been on the decline of late. That fact makes the timing of the decision to draw 30 million barrels down from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve very curious. Granted, there will still be nearly 700 million barrels remaining in our coffers, but there was no emergency situation to merit the release. Strife in Libya is no worse than unrest in Nigeria, another major oil-producing nation, back in 2009.

Reaction has been severe from some quarters, and seems to be the correct perception of the situation. Americans for Limited Government, for example, claims savings will be meager and short-lived:

If one is generous and assumes yesterday’s $4 drop was solely because of Obama and International Energy Agency, at best it will save consumers $.10 a gallon for gasoline.  That works out to about $1.50 per fill up, or $6 for the month the additional gasoline is available.

In other words, Obama has jeopardized national security by drawing down the strategic reserves to, at best, save consumers about $1.50 per fill up when this ‘flood’ of new gasoline hits the market.  To call this irresponsible would be an understatement.

And the real experts at the American Petroleum Institute were equally underwhelmed:

The release makes little sense for American markets. Crude and gasoline inventories are above average, and crude and gasoline prices have been trending down for weeks, despite the loss of Libyan oil, which markets have already adjusted to. The SPR was intended to be used for supply emergencies. There is no supply emergency. We don’t know what impacts this might have on markets long term. But we could and should be taking steps that would increase our own production by 2 million barrels a day or more for decades, which is possible if the government would grant much greater access to America’s ample oil and natural gas reserves. This would do vastly more to help consumers, increase energy security, create jobs and deliver more revenue to our government. It’s action that would truly strengthen our energy future, not a temporary gesture that has no lasting benefits.

30 million barrels is about what our nation consumes in a day-and-a-half. 60 million barrels (the total IEA release) is well under what the world consumes in a day.

Here’s the problem I see with this release. We have a President who doesn’t mind $4 per gallon gasoline, as long as the increase is relatively steady. He also has backtracked from allowing additional oil exploration thanks to a rare but ill-timed drilling accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you assume the oil which was placed in the SPR was purchased at a relatively low market price, well, we have to make that up sometime. And if you believe their line about supplies tightening up thanks to a civil war in Libya it would be my guess that oil will be more expensive. We just added 60 million barrels to future worldwide demand, and that will likely drive prices up a little bit.

In short, this is a shell game (no pun intended) to make people believe we’re doing something about a problem better solved with more oil extraction. For example, approving one pipeline would eventually make up for about half of what the world normally gets from Libya on a daily basis. Needless to say, I don’t buy the ‘peak oil’ theory. (Thanks to Jane Van Ryan of API for the pipeline info.)

And one final item. Over the last few weeks I had a PSA for the Move America Forward Troopathon which was broadcast over the internet last Thursday. They now have their tally in and were pleased to report they raised $507,843 from their efforts – exceeding their $500,000 goal.

It wasn’t as much as previous Troopathons raised, but then again we have fewer troops in that theater. Considering that being pro-military isn’t as much in vogue as it used to be I think that total is pretty good and reflects a nation that remains in a giving mood for our men in uniform.

Wow, that did a nice job of cleaning out my e-mail box. Look for more interesting stuff to come.

Harris slates OC fundraiser

And well-timed it is, to coincide with the state GOP convention to be held in Ocean City over the weekend.

Download (PDF, 55KB)

So if you have an extra $100 laying around and wish to support a Congressman who’s doing the work of the Eastern Shore, feel free to attend.

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