Yesterday Maryland wallets got a little bit lighter as travelers over most of Maryland’s tollways had to dig a little deeper into their wallets, and those motorists unfortunate enough to need to fill up their gas tanks chipped in another forty cents or so to the state’s coffers. (My travels take me to Delaware today – guess where I’ll fill up?) And those with property in nine of Maryland’s counties? They just saw a significant property tax increase. (The exceptions are the fourteen rural counties not yet covered by the state’s new “impervious surface fee” derisively known as the “rain tax” and those property owners in Frederick County who will pay exactly one penny per piece of property.)
Needless to say, a number of state Republicans weighed in on the topic:
State GOP Chair Diana Waterman: ”This irresponsible taxation and the reckless spending it supports offers an opportunity for those of us who believe in good government. As Republicans, we are in a great position to remind our fellow Maryland residents why 2014 must be the year we send a loud message to the Democrats that it’s time to put people first.”
Maryland Young Republican Chair Brian Griffiths: “These taxes will hurt all Marylanders and huge sections of our economy as businesses are forced to raise prices to cover the costs of these new taxes, the costs of which will invariably be passed on to the consumers. At the end of the day, just these three tax increases will likely cost each Marylander over $1,000 a year that could be better spent to stimulate our economy and create job growth.”
Several other state Republican leaders were quoted on the Maryland Politics blog, part of the Baltimore Sun. Writer Michael Dresser quoted the group as calling this a “virtual downpour” of tax increases.
Candidates for Governor weren’t missing the opportunity, either.
David Craig: ”(W)e are witnessing yet another example of how the one-party monopoly in Annapolis is working for itself and not for you. With the increase in tolls and the first of multiple increases in the gas tax, Maryland families are being forced to give more of their hard earned dollars to a failing and ineffective government.”
Craig also put together a brief video with a similar message. (Shouldn’t it have an authority line, though?)
On the rain tax, David added, “Stormwater-related costs necessary to comply with EPA mandates are projected to cost county taxpayers a staggering $6.3 billion through 2025. If you wanted to open a business with a parking lot, would you want to come to Maryland and figure out this new tax?”
Ron George: “O’Malley/Brown now are stealing from your summer vacation funds. Since they robbed and misspent what was needed for transportation, they are now grabbing your money through tolls, rain and gas. As you look at the bay bridge behind me, it is an example of what is happening around Maryland. More and more people on the Eastern Shore, which has lost manufacturing jobs, have to drive to Washington and Virginia for a job, if they have a job. Less and less people on the Western shore will drive to doctors and businesses on the Eastern Shore.”
“This is not how you build an economy.”
Charles Lollar: ”To think that just a few weeks ago, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown stated that Maryland had a ‘great session’ makes me wonder what great accomplishment they had. Was it the Rain Tax that punishes citizens when it rains because of how much ‘impervious surface’ they have on their property? Was it the fee increase for tolls up to $6? Or was it the gas tax increase that pretty much goes up year after year?”
Even though he’s not a candidate, it’s no surprise that Change Maryland had some reaction as well.
Larry Hogan: “Your family trip to the beach just got a lot more expensive. Today, the second round of O’Malley toll increases took effect and the gas tax increase kicked in at the same time. While you are sitting in traffic at the Bay Bridge for the 4th of July weekend you can thank Governor O’Malley and the monopoly in Annapolis for the 140% increase in tolls, and for giving us the most expensive gas in the region.”
“Governor O’Malley says he’s ‘Moving Maryland Forward’. But if that’s moving Maryland forward, I say maybe next year, we’ll just have to take Maryland back!”
Needless to say, our governor didn’t look at it this way, placing a splashy graphic on his Facebook page:
These, of course, are numbers coming from the same guy who has “cut” billions in state spending yet whose budget has increased by 30% since taking office in 2007. At 9,500 jobs a year, he’s barely making a dent in Maryland’s chronic unemployment, nor is he accounting for the potential of job losses in various industries dependent on people having extra money, such as tourism. Just as a real-world example, it would take just over 22 years for O’Malley to get to full employment gaining 9,500 jobs a year (based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment estimate of 210,800 unemployed Maryland workers in May.) Obviously that doesn’t account for population growth, either.
But what slays me is the concept of building a “21st century transportation network” using the 19th century technology of the railroad. Granted, rail transport has its place in commerce and trade, but as currently practiced it is woefully inefficient for the needs of most commuters. (If it weren’t inefficient on an overall scale, why are such a small percentage of Maryland workers using it?) I think my concept of an improved transportation network – which could also include a widening of I-70 beyond Frederick, to avoid the usual bottleneck of merging I-270 traffic and allow smoother flow westward – is far more practical than the O’Malley/Brown vision.
The idea of a good transportation network is to get people and goods to where they need to go, not pretend that a light rail boondoggle which will cost billions is the panacea. I don’t think people would mind the additional transportation taxes and tolls as much if they were confident the money would be used to repair and improve our highways and bridges – instead, most of it seems to be earmarked for two rail lines and one toll road few will use.
Similarly, we all want a cleaner Chesapeake Bay, but the idea of a mandate from on high which affects some more than others and is to be used for a concept where fruition is a constantly-shifting set of goalposts (because it’s in the best interest for those who created the benchmarks to continue as a political entity if the problem is never solved) simply seems unfair to those saddled with paying this fee on top of their remaining tax burden.
That’s why we’re angry. But Democrats are wagering that all this will be forgotten in 17 months’ time, particularly as some of these transportation projects reach the groundbreaking stage, with its requisite photo-op.
But consider the relative lightness of your wallet when you see your local Democrat gladhanding at this photo-op. If we simply used proper prioritization for transportation funding, we wouldn’t have needed to raise the gas tax every year from here to eternity.
That’s the common sense woefully missing from state government.
It wasn’t exactly by Pony Express, but the third of three days of current Harford County Executive David Craig traveling the state and making his 2014 plans official began this morning in Salisbury at the Government Office Building. His announcement drew about 40 onlookers and various members of the media, as you’ll soon see.
Following Monday stops in Havre de Grace, Dundalk, and Hagerstown, and an itinerary yesterday which included Silver Spring, Prince Frederick, and Annapolis, the final day was opened with some pleasant weather and welcoming remarks by Wicomico County Councilman Joe Holloway.
Holloway’s welcome served as a means to introduce many of the local elected officials who were there to back this Republican effort; a group which included Central Committee members from Worcester, Somerset, and Wicomico counties as well as his fellow County Council members Bob Culver and Gail Bartkovich, Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello, and Delegates Addie Eckardt and Charles Otto.
Holloway then introduced Gail Bartkovich, who had the honor of introducing our esteemed guest.
Gail opened up her warm welcome by noting that our state government seems to think that problems are solved in just two ways: taxes and spending. “Annapolis has forgotten that Maryland government works for us,” said Bartkovich. “We deserve a choice.”
Gail went on to point out that David is unique as a man who has headed up both the Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties as mayor of Havre de Grace and Harford County Executive, respectively. She touted a number of fiscal accomplishments David has achieved as county executive, including leadership in agricultural preservation and a “buy local” campaign. Obviously in a rural county like Wicomico this was seen as appealing.
But the key points Gail wanted to bring up were Craig’s experience as a county leader and the idea David could be a credible alternative to the current policies in Annapolis which I feel only seem to enrich those who are connected. In that, she accomplished her goal and set the stage for the man who would be governor.
The audience seemed quite receptive to his message as well.
In his 16-minute statement, Craig touched on a number of key points.
Coming from a long line of Marylanders, Craig praised the state he grew up in. “I’ve been blessed to grow up in Maryland, to live here, to raise a family here, to have a career here, and to live with my grandparents and – now – our grandchildren,” he beamed.
Comparing his hometown to Salisbury and other small towns in Maryland, Craig reiterated his “faith” in the state, noting, “we can get off the mat, we don’t have to be counted out and don’t have to give in.” But our leaders were focused on the next election, not the next generation, said David.
“When they focus on their political power for too long, we see our faith starting to erode,” warned Craig. He then blasted the incumbent, stating that “politicians…seem to be more concerned about being rockstars and celebrities and (with the) headlines than they are about doing what they’re supposed to do.”
All the while, Maryland is being “outflanked” by its neighboring states. Yet, in the areas adjacent to our surrounding states, said Craig, “we are the forgotten Marylanders.” Government isn’t working for us, he continued – the “political monopoly” in Annapolis is working for itself.
David turned to the taxing legacy of Martin O’Malley, pointing out that the 40 tax increases enacted by the O’Malley/Brown administration have cost working Maryland families $3.1 billion. Yet he warned, “if we don’t offer an opportunity or a choice in 2014, by 2018 that number will be $20 billion.”
If government continues to act as it pleases, added Craig, we will continue the trend which has seen 6,500 small businesses leave the state – second worst on the East Coast – and 31,000 taxpayers who fled the state for more tax-friendly confines like Florida. As an aside, David added “it would have been better to get rid of the death tax than the death penalty,” a line which drew applause from those present.
Turning to education, David reminded the audience which had been fed the line about Maryland’s top-ranked education system that the assessment had come from a trade publication. “That has no connection with student achievement,” said David. “It’s all about how much money you spend in education, not about how well the children do and what happens with them afterward.”
Craig was also critical of the state’s transportation plans, chastising the waste and conflicts of interest in awarding contracts, along with “falsely” balancing the state budget with $1 billion from the Transportation Trust Fund.
David asked about how we “lost our balance” between the environment and agriculture, steering away from sound science principles and instead “looking at what the headlines will be” in the quest for a cleaner environment. Eventually this imbalance will force succeeding generations to leave the state.
“This is what an unbalanced government looks like,” added Craig. He then extolled his achievements in 32 years in government, including setting a financial plan for his successor as mayor of Havre de Grace which has enabled the lowering of the city’s tax rate seven years in a row. (If only Salisbury could say the same.)
But his biggest selling point may have been lost, buried in a paragraph of other remarks. “We have more jobs in Harford County now than we did before the recession started,” said David.
“I’m just a regular Maryland guy,” he continued. “I refuse to accept we are going to continue to be a one-party state…we need to give people a true choice.” And with a track record of confounding the naysayers, Craig was confident in victory. “I’m not going to be counted out,” concluded David.
He then talked to his supporters before turning his attention to the media.
There was a good bit of local media there, with a camera crew and reporter from WMDT-TV patiently watching the affair before getting their interview in, while next in line was Jennifer Shutt of the Daily Times.
As I noted in my post from early this morning, newly-minted District 38C candidate Mary Beth Carozza was also there and introduced herself to the would-be governor. I also received a little insight about her campaign as I was awaiting my chance to speak with David.
That interview I had with David Craig will be published next Tuesday as I polish off the TQT series for a day. I was the only local blogger there so you’ll get his insight on some local issues.
Yet David didn’t just jump on the bus and leave after finishing with me. Instead he investigated another local business.
Today was the final day of the Craig announcement tour, which came just as fellow Republican Ron George will formally kick off his 2014 gubernatorial campaign this evening in Annapolis and rumblings from former Lieutenant Governor and RNC Chairman Michael Steele about throwing his hat into the ring later this year. (Sounds like a former governor I know, feeling entitled to win without a campaign.)
But Craig seems to have established his place as the man to beat thus far, and it’s certain that he’ll see a lot of Salisbury in the coming months as he seeks the nomination.
Late last month the Americans for Prosperity Foundation – Maryland, along with the Sage Policy Group, released a study claiming that possibly over 1,000 jobs could be lost in Maryland if the gasoline tax is increased via either the adoption of a 3% or 6% sales tax on the product – in other words, expanding an already-existing tax to cover a product previously exempt from that avenue of taxation – or simply adding a dime per gallon to the current state tax burden of 23.5 cents per gallon.
Before I begin my take on this, though, it’s helpful to know the players. We all know AFP tends to be a group which favors low taxation and limited government; they have graced this website many times before with their message. I had never heard of the Sage Policy Group prior to this study, though, so I looked them up. It seems like a small, one-horse operation but their clientele is varied and they appear relatively apolitical. I would have to say, though, this isn’t the most in-depth study I’ve ever read – to me it’s almost like a paint-by-numbers job based on the description of the software used. (Then again, the experience to interpret the numbers has some value.)
The obvious weakness of the study, plainly stated within, is that it’s not an attempt at a cost-benefit analysis. Obviously the state would be able to derive some benefit to having a Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) stocked with more cash to do the needed repairs and construction on state transportation infrastructure, but the question on the mind of most is whether they trust a greedy governor and compliant legislators to keep their hands out of the till. We probably wouldn’t be having this discussion if our last two governors hadn’t “borrowed” over $1 billion from the TTF “pot of gold” to keep the budget in balance, rather than bearing the blame for unpopular spending cuts or more new taxes; not that the latter stopped Martin O’Malley.
Yet it’s all but inevitable the tax will be increased; after all, the Democrats have the votes and the respective ribbon-cuttings on projects would likely be timed in the few months before they face voters. Surely, they will argue, a dime or two a gallon – most of these schemes would work out to ten to twenty cents a gallon, depending on gasoline price – is a small price to pay for fixing Maryland’s roads and bringing O’Malley’s dream of expanded light rail to fruition. And perhaps it would be, if the former assumption on usage was true.
But a study by the Department of Legislative Services shows that spending on transit takes up almost half of TTF funding, up from about 1/3 twenty years ago; meanwhile, the highway construction share has declined by about the same amount, to less than a quarter per dollar spent. The drop has been most precipitous during Martin O’Malley’s tenure. Given those facts and O’Malley’s stated wish list of new mass transit projects, it’s likely that the best we can hope for would be to get back to pre-O’Malley levels of spending on highway needs if the gas tax were increased.
The Sage Policy study, though, also estimates the number of jobs lost due to the tax hike. Obviously, though, there would be some jobs gained as a number of construction projects are funded. Someone has to pave the roads, design the bridges, and provide the materials necessary for working on infrastructure. While the Sage study couches in some fashion the job losses based on a theory that money taken out of the private-sector economy results in job losses, there are legitimate needs the public sector pays for and roads are among them – hopefully to provide a net gain.
Simply put, if you figure the $4 a week lost by an average family due to this tax is computed as one latte, sure, if everyone stops buying as many lattes it will eventually result in the coffee shop laying off workers or even closing, but the construction business next door may be able to hire laborers with a higher skill level and wage thanks to the new highway projects being built. It’s a tradeoff, and we all know that a robust highway network facilitates the efficient movement of people and goods. On the other hand, light rail projects don’t contribute in the same way and generally require subsidies from the state to remain in operation. Fewer jobs are created with that spending – yet that’s my suspicion as to the real purpose of this proposed gas tax hike.
I believe Marylanders would be less reluctant to pay a gas tax increase which amounts to something no worse than an average “sticker shock” gas price jump where the cost goes up 20 cents a gallon overnight if they had confidence the money would be spent wisely and not just tossed into the void of the state’s General Fund or spent on mass transit boondoggles. Yet if we returned mass transit to its traditional level of spending we might be able to get back to fixing roads without the need to increase the gasoline tax. That seems like the logical step here before we vacuum more money from the pockets of those Marylanders who still are among the working.
As we approach the Christmas/New Year’s holiday week when news is slow, it may not be the best time to clean out my e-mail box of those items I could potentially stretch into short posts. But I tend to defy convention, so here goes.
Up in Cecil County the politics aren’t taking a holiday break. Two conservative groups are at odds over the Tier Map which was administratively approved by County Executive Tari Moore – the Cecil Campaign for Liberty considers any tier map as part of ”the most expansive taking of private property rights in Maryland state history.” But the Cecil County Patriots are on record as supporting the least restrictive map possible, warning further that not submitting a map would place the county under the most broad restrictions. (This is one early rendition of their map – note that over half the county is in Tier IV, the most restrictive tier.)
Unfortunately, the opposition we have isn’t dumb and they write laws in such a manner that localities in Maryland are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. But I’m curious how the state would react in this instance, quoting from SB236:
IF A LOCAL JURISDICTION DOES NOT ADOPT ALL OF THE TIERS AUTHORIZED UNDER THIS SECTION, THE LOCAL JURISDICTION SHALL DOCUMENT THE REASONS THE JURISDICTION IS NOT ADOPTING A PARTICULAR TIER.
Answer: We will NOT adopt Tiers III and IV. Reason: see Amendment V, United States Constitution. The law does not provide “just compensation.”
Someone really should remind Governor O’Malley and Senators Pinsky, Frosh, Madaleno, Montgomery, and Raskin (who have a COMBINED lifetime score of 32 - total, between all five of them, so an average score of 6.4 out of 100 on the monoblogue Accountability Project and who all hail from the I-95 corridor) that their home county is free to be as restrictive as it likes but counties are not just lines on a map. We may look like hicks, but we do tend to know what we’re talking about out here.
If they have to have Tier IV, the extent of it should be that of any undeveloped property owned by any Delegate, Senator, or local representative who supported this piece of garbage. Let them live with the consequences and spare us the misery.
Otherwise, you may have this sort of result (h/t Institute for Justice): an Orlando homeowner is facing fines of up to $500 per day because he chooses to have a garden in his front yard and an absentee neighbor (who rents out his house and lives in Puerto Rico) complained. But as writer Ari Bargil notes:
You know government has grown too big when it bans growing a garden in your own yard.
Interestingly enough, the Orlando homeowner has a chicken coop in his backyard but that apparently doesn’t run afoul (or is that afowl?) of city regulations.
On the Maryland economic front, my friends at Change Maryland have had quite a bit to say of late. First, Change Maryland’s Larry Hogan panned Governor O’Malley for not appointing a new Secretary of Transportation and continuing to push for a gas tax, with Hogan remarking:
Here we go again. We were successful in stopping the gas tax increase, and the sales tax on gasoline last session, but they are still trying to ram it through. And now O’Malley expects struggling Maryland families and small businesses to pay for his mistakes. They want us to forget about the hundreds of millions of dollars he robbed from transportation funds.
After raising taxes and fees 24 times and taking an additional $2.4 billion a year out of the pockets of taxpayers, we know O’Malley prefers raising taxes over leading, O’Malley must show leadership and take some responsibility on funding transportation, or he’s going to achieve the same dismal results as before with the failed gas tax schemes.
Over the last decade, both Bob Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley have collectively seized $1.1 billion from transportation to use in balancing the books. O’Malley isn’t planning on using a gas tax increase to pay back his $700 million share, though – he wants to expand the Red Line and Purple Line in suburban Washington, D.C.
Hogan was also critical of someone O’Malley did appoint, new economic development head Dominick Murray:
I am concerned that Mr. Murray’s marketing background in the media industry signals an intent to continue to focus more on press releases, slide shows and videos that only promote the governor’s national political aspirations.
Murray has a lot of work to do, as Maryland lost an additional 9,300 jobs in October, per numbers revised by the federal BLS. Non-adjusted statistics for November also suggest another 3,100 nonfarm jobs fell by the wayside, although government jobs rebounded by 900 to come off their lowest point since 2010 in October. Since O’Malley took office, though, total government employment in Maryland is up over 28,000. It continues a long-term upward trend which began in 2005. On the other hand, the only other industry with a similar upward profile is education and health services.
On a national level, unemployment among those with a high school education or less is “dismal,” according to a new study by the Center for Immigration Studies. They contend it won’t be helped with a policy of amnesty toward illegal aliens, which make up nearly half of a 27.7-million strong group of Americans who have but a high school education or less yet want to work. The high school graduate U-6 rate (which properly counts discouraged workers who have stopped looking) is over 18 percent; meanwhile just over 3 in 10 who have failed to complete high school are jobless by that standard.
While some of those who didn’t complete high school have extenuating circumstances, the far larger number have chosen their lot in life by not getting their diploma. Unfortunately, their bad choice is exacerbated by the illegal aliens here who are willing to work for less and/or under the table.
Bad choices have also been made by Republicans in Congress, argue two deficit hawks who contend economist Milton Friedman was right:
…the true burden of taxation is whatever government spends…Friedman would frequently remind Reagan and others during the early 1980s that reductions in marginal tax rates – which Friedman supported – were not real tax cuts if spending was not reduced.
Jonathan Bydlak and Corie Whalen, the two board members of the Coalition to Reduce Spending who wrote the piece, contend that Republicans who have not raised taxes but simultaneously failed to address overspending are violating the Taxpayer Protection Pledge made famous by Grover Norquist. And since the amount of revenue taken in by the government since the adoption of the Bush tax rates a decade ago has remained relatively constant when compared to spending, it seems the problem is on the spending side of the equation. Just restoring governmental spending to the level of the FY2008 budget would address most of the deficit.
Finally, it appears spending is on the minds of the Maryland Liberty PAC as they recently put out a call for candidates who would be compatible with their views on key areas of local, state, and national government – examples include not voting for tax increases or new fees, opposition to intrusive measures like red light cameras, abuse of eminent domain, and internet freedom, and economic issues such as right-to-work and nullification of Obamacare. Out of eight questions, I’d be willing to bet I’d honestly and truthfully answer all eight the correct way. But I think I’ll pass on the PAC money, since I run a very low-budget campaign consisting of the filing fee.
But if they don’t mind sharing the information, we could always use good Republican (and liberty-minded Democratic) candidates in these parts. I didn’t mind spreading their word, after all, even reminding Patrick McGrady that Central Committee members are elected in the June 24, 2014 primary and not on November 4 as their original note suggests.
Believe it or not, then, if memory from 2010 serves me correctly the first people to file for 2014 can do so on or about April 16, 2013. The day after tax day and less than a week after sine die ends the 90 Days of Terror known as the General Assembly session: how appropriate in Maryland.
I was writing something the other day as a possible addition to another venue, and in doing the research kept the link on my bookmark bar for future reference. Well, as it turns out I didn’t need the extra research for the other piece but I wanted to make my point on the subject. So here are more of my thoughts on the prospect of an additional Maryland gasoline tax – something I originally visited in January.
The two pieces I found were comparisons – one being the current gasoline tax table provided by the Tax Foundation which shows Maryland’s gasoline tax rate is currently tied for 29th among the 50 states. The second is an older comparison table that I found, and the reason I wanted it was to determine where Maryland’s gasoline tax ranked among its peers when it was adopted in 1992. (I couldn’t find 1992, but figured 1994 was close enough.)
It’s quite telling to me that back in 1994 our state had one of the highest gasoline tax rates, with only a handful of states charging more: Connecticut, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. Worse yet, only Montana, Nevada, Rhode Island, and West Virginia charged more tax on diesel fuel. In 1994 our taxes were a full 30% higher than the national average, but because states have began to add various other fees and local tariffs we remain above the average insofar as excise tax is concerned but slightly below the mean in overall taxation per gallon. Apparently 20 years is long enough and we have to break out of the pack and lead the country once again.
Since several states now add various amounts of sales tax to the price of gasoline at the pump, it’s difficult to accurately say just where Maryland would rank if gasoline prices were significantly higher or lower than they are today should they adopt Governor O’Malley’s idea of an additional sales tax phased in over three years. But it’s obvious we would be paying more at the pump regardless of the price – even if Newt Gingrich could get gasoline back down to $2.50 per gallon that’s still an extra 15 cents per gallon, or around $2-3 per fillup depending on tank size. At $4 per gallon the fee goes up to perhaps $4-5 for every tankful.
(Note that there’s also a number of alternative plans being floated around for a straight per-gallon excise tax increase, which would make the impact more easily gauged. Adding 15 cents per gallon, as one proposal advocates, would put us just a tick behind North Carolina as the highest-taxing state in terms of excise tax.)
Regardless of what proposal to increase fuel tax is adopted, when combined with the additional tolls being charged by the Maryland Transportation Authority at their facilities (including the Bay Bridge) the cost of getting around via car will certainly jump. By next summer driving across the state from Cumberland to Ocean City and back on a 12-gallon tankful of gas each way may well cost $15 extra in taxes and tolls alone from the price in 2011 – before the new tolls were adopted for the Bay Bridge and other MTA facilities.
The stated reason for the increases are quite simple: the state claims it doesn’t have enough money for road and bridge construction. Yet the MTA toll increases spared the Inter-County Connector and gasoline taxes tend to come down harder on rural residents who have to drive farther to work and shopping. In sum, they tend to serve as a wealth transfer from rural to urban dwellers, particularly in the Washington metro area because the ICC tolls did not go up. Moreover, the tendency for gasoline taxes to be spent on mass transit provides a further shift in prosperity from rural to urban; one particularly galling when a mostly empty train or bus goes by.
The main reason the state “needs” this tax increase, though, is to patch over the holes created by several administrations by raiding the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). It’s an art which has been perfected by Martin O’Malley because he wasted the $1 billion-plus raised by a series of 2007 tax increases Democrats rammed through the General Assembly on a program of further spending rather than simply addressing the vital functions the state is supposed to provide. So now he and Annapolis Democrats are coming back to the people of the state with hat in hand begging for more, and promising this time they’ll “protect” the TTF. Well, I want the protection first, and a number of bills in the General Assembly deal with this. Unfortunately, Delegate Norm “Five Dollar” Conway and Senator Edward Kasemeyer don’t seem to have much desire to move these bills. But I’ll bet they’ll move that gas tax along in a hurry.
It’s quite likely that over the next few years our gas prices will either be going up at an accelerated rate or not dropping as quickly as they could because the state of Maryland will take a larger bite from our wallet through the gas tax. Maryland doesn’t seem to want to be a national leader in anything except loony liberalism and high taxation, and the controversy over highway funding provides another perfect example.
This morning most of my usual rundown of items that, as always, don’t merit a full post but perhaps 1-3 paragraphs, concern the goings-on here in the great state of Maryland. (Note: additional update at bottom.)
I’ve heard so much over the last week about the gas tax: first it was off the table in favor of an income tax hike, and now it’s just being backed up to the end of the General Assembly session. The Senate Republican slate is still pressing the anti-gas tax website, though, also making the point that the Transportation Trust Fund is about the least trustworthy option for placing extra revenue.
And gas prices aren’t just a state issue. The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative Congressional Republicans, raises a valid argument:
Oil production on private and state-owned land – land beyond the federal government’s grip – grew 14% last year. At the exact same time, production on federal land fell 11%. Gas prices have nearly doubled since Obama’s inauguration, and energy analysts predict that more Americans than ever before will pay $5.00 per gallon this year.
The President’s response to soaring gas prices is to shrug his shoulders and say, “There’s not much we can do.” And his Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has actually called for raising gas prices to European levels. Italians currently pay about $9.00 per gallon!
This isn’t the energy policy Americans deserve. Aggressively increasing our energy production will help lower gas prices and create more jobs. To do it, we must unlock more areas for exploration, cut through the red tape that slows production, and green light common sense projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.
The smart and responsible path to American energy security is clear, and the Republican Study Committee’s Jobs Through Growth Act shows the way. We quite literally cannot afford to wait. (Emphasis mine.)
Read that first sentence again – oil exploration on private land grew, but public lands waned. And the Democrats’ response? They want to once again raid the Strategic Petroleum Reserve rather than admitting their culpability in holding up production for a decade or more – oil which could have already been on the market.
I’m a strong believer in the concept of “highest and best use” when it comes to land, although I adapt it somewhat to consider the resource value. Furthermore, I feel that recreational usage, preservation, and energy extraction need not be mutually exclusive over large tracts of land. It wouldn’t be any worse to see an oil well or fracking operation than to have a wind turbine hovering hundreds of feet in the air, either offshore or land-based, or a field full of solar panels.
As an example of how energy is becoming a national campaign issue, even in local races, I can direct you to Second District Congressional candidate Larry Smith, who both put forth his energy plan and challenged opponent Dutch Ruppersberger to” support the Keystone XL pipeline” and “stand up to President Obama and the special interest groups in Washington. It is time for him to fight for the people of his district and begin taking constructive measures to help end the pain at the pump.”
It’s good that Smith is another Maryland Republican who is taking the fight to the Democrat rather than his primary opponents. We can leave that for the other side, even when they’re correct in pointing it out.
Another race where this is occurring is the U.S. Senate race, where both the leading contenders are hammering the opponent. Dan Bongino recently called Ben Cardin the “milquetoast senator.” Bongino continued, “I like to say that Maryland is missing two senators because they just vote the party line. No reason for Maryland to get any national interest because there is no diversity of political thought.”
Richard Douglas called Maryland “desperate for leaders” and blasted the state’s junior Senator for being out of touch:
For most Americans, longevity brings wisdom. In Congress, longevity brings isolation. Isolation from the people invites tyranny. Such isolation is visible in Baghdad’s fortified ‘Green Zone,’ whose original architect was Saddam Hussein, not the American soldier. America must not tolerate creation of a Green Zone around Congress by politicians-for-life. A Senate leader who is truly concerned about the interests of his state and nation knows this. Like General Washington, he understands the critical value to the nation of a Farewell Address. He leaves on a warhorse, not a gurney.
Ben Cardin has held elected office since 1967. His time is up.
Indeed, it is time for a change, and these two gentlemen lead a group which would do a far better job representing the true interests of Marylanders.
And Free Staters could be well served without the need for tax increases, simply by adopting a more austere budget than the one proposed by Governor O’Malley. But it certainly wouldn’t be bare-bones, says Delegate Justin Ready.
Negotiations are taking place to avoid what liberal interest groups are calling a doomsday budget – one that would reduce approximately $500 million from Governor O’Malley’s proposed $36 Billion budget. A reduction of 1.4% out of the largest projected budget in Maryland history does not sound like doomsday to me, it sounds like a very good idea to get our state’s finances back on track.
It’s important to note that a cut of $500-$700 million out of Gov. O’Malley’s proposed FY2013 budget would still leave Maryland’s state government spending more than in last year’s budget. That’s not an unreasonable request to make of our government in a time when families have seen their budgets reduced dramatically.
So we would STILL spend more, but that’s not good enough for Annapolis liberals. They seem to want the whole enchilada, middle class (and everyone else not on the government teat) be damned.
But before I get to my new links, I wanted to add a quick news update: Mitt Romney won the Washington caucuses, although in truth it doesn’t mean much because the hard work of picking delegates to the national convention comes later on. Of course, I’m waiting for the Ron Paul cult to tell me that he’ll end up with all the delegates despite the fact he finished a distant second.
But there’s a simple truth at play: even if Paul got EVERY delegate from EVERY caucus, he would still be far short of the number needed for nomination. And getting 10 percent of the primary vote in a particular state isn’t going to get it.
I have one new link to share. She’s a California-based conservative who is most famous for the message below.
And to close, another sad note of passing. Fellow Maryland blogger T.J. Grogg (The Grogg Report) passed away last week. She was 68.
Update: I had to add this in because Robert Stacy McCain just destroys Sandra Fluke and her $3,000 for birth control argument.
Governor Martin O’Malley, he of the trial balloons, may have yet another one up his sleeve.
His latest (of many) tax proposals would extend the state’s 6% sales tax to purchases of gasoline, on top of the current 23.5 cents per gallon surcharge the state takes. If adopted, Maryland would join a handful of other states which use this nebulous practice of profiting off high gasoline prices.
The other states which do this are California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and New York. To see what impact this proposed tax would have on our wallets, we need to use three methods of comparison. First, here are the per-gallon gasoline taxes charged by each of these states and Maryland, ranked lowest to highest, not including sales taxes or various fees added by each state: (Source)
- Florida, 4 cents per gallon
- Georgia, 7.5 cents per gallon
- New York, 8.1 cents per gallon
- Indiana, 18 cents per gallon
- Illinois, 19 cents per gallon
- Michigan, 19 cents per gallon
- Maryland, 23.5 cents per gallon
- California, 35.7 cents per gallon
And now the sales tax rates which are (or would presumably be) applied to gasoline, also listed lowest to highest:
- California, 2.25%
- Georgia, 4%
- Maryland, 6%
- Michigan, 6%
- Illinois, 6.25%
- Indiana, 7%
- New York, 8%
- Florida, 12%
Finally, the combined bite between all taxes (federal, state, and local) impacting gasoline in the states which charge sales tax, which includes where Maryland would eventually rank. To do their calculations, API uses the average cost per gallon in each state according to AAA as of 1/1/12. For Maryland, I couldn’t find the price on the specific 1/1 date but according to the latest AAA figures, the average price one month ago from today was $3.26 and that should suffice for being roughly the price on January 1st. Again, this is lowest to highest.
- Georgia, 47.8 cents per gallon
- Florida, 53.4 cents per gallon
- Illinois, 57.3 cents per gallon
- Indiana, 57.3 cents per gallon
- Michigan, 57.8 cents per gallon
61.558.9 cents per gallon*
- California, 67 cents per gallon
- New York, 67.4 cents per gallon
If this is passed, Maryland would have the fifth-highest total gasoline tax in the country, trailing New York, California, Connecticut (also 67 cents per gallon) and Hawaii (65.5 cents per gallon.) Maryland drivers would be ceding a much higher bite out of their wallets than their neighbors in West Virginia (51.8 cents per gallon), Pennsylvania (50.7 cents per gallon), Washington D.C. (41.9 cents per gallon), Delaware (41.4 cents per gallon), and Virginia (38.2 cents per gallon.) Retailers in those states who are fortunate enough to be close to the Maryland line are probably licking their chops about now.
Of course, this doesn’t factor in the addition of some of MOM’s other trial balloons like a separate 15 cent per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax or increasing the sales tax to 7 percent. And as Todd Eberly points out at The FreeStater Blog, this could all be a feint to make a direct 15 cent additional surcharge more palatable.
As it is currently proposed, the gasoline sales tax would be phased in 2% at a time so drivers wouldn’t be hit all at once. But when they’re projecting $613 million in new annual revenue at a time when the state is over $1 billion in the hole, it will be a surprise if they don’t rush the process. It may get passed this way for now, but wait for the new, improved bill to accelerate the increase next session when money is still tight.
We’re also being told that a gas tax increase is about infrastructure jobs in fixing bridges and roads. But the Maryland Public Policy Institute does a magnificent job of not only blowing that argument out of the water but also pointing out the folly of public transportation while they’re at it. Simply put, it’s another component of the War on Rural Maryland as those of us who drive greater distances because we choose to live away from urban woes will be subsidizing those who ride the buses or light rail in more-developed areas. That group doesn’t quite comprise the 1% but they’re pretty darn close, and they don’t come close to paying their own way.
Putting private transport out of reach to the average family through higher prices also fits neatly into the goals of so-called “Smart Growth” and “sustainable development”, which strives to increase the usage of mass transit. Perhaps this is a line of thought more suited to the tinfoil hat crowd, but one can’t deny it’s much easier to control the population if their movements are controlled.
In any event, the first step in rebuilding Maryland’s crumbling transportation infrastructure needs to come from locking away the Transportation Trust Fund from greedy governors who can’t shake their spending addiction. And if we take back the half of transportation spending we waste on a tiny percentage of commuters and instead gave them a more appropriate share of a nickel per dollar, there are a lot of bridges, road widening projects, and traffic control measures which could be completed for the rest of us who get tired of sitting in traffic.
On the Eastern Shore, we already will bear a significant burden from the newly increased tolls on the Bay Bridge, so we should get a break when it comes to gasoline taxes. The state should quit using the knee-jerk reaction it always seems to have about raising taxes and instead consider spending the vast amounts already collected more wisely.
* I was also taxing the existing tax, not the actual price. Subtract out the 41.9 cents we currently pay in taxes and the sales tax is actually on $2.84 of the $3.26 per gallon.
For most, the contest to represent the Maryland Republican Party nationally as National Committeewoman has no meaning and is just another example of the “inside baseball” of party politics. But those who are astute should see the parallels between this race and the power struggle within the Republican Party on a national level.
To review, last month current state National Committeewoman (and onetime MDGOP Chair) Joyce Lyons Terhes announced she would not seek another four-year term in the post. To date two contenders have announced their intention to seek election – former YRNF Chairwoman Nicolee Ambrose and former state party Chair Audrey Scott. Anyone who’s paid attention to this space has seen me rake Audrey Scott over the coals for her participation in a rally supporting an increase in the state’s gasoline tax and, secondarily, for locking up the Transportation Trust Fund to prevent it from being raided every time Martin O’Malley needs to balance his budget. (The latter I’m fine with, but not the gas tax increase. Correctly prioritize what we have first.)
Audrey Scott, though, has a lot of backers who don’t mind that misstep with six members of the MDGOP’s executive board, six of the 24 local county Chairs, 24 of 43 Delegates, and 5 of 12 Senators on a list of endorsers Audrey has on her Facebook site devoted to the race. On the other hand, Ambrose has fewer elected officials supporting her (only Delegates Donna Stifler and LeRoy Myers, Senator J.B. Jennings, and U.S. Senate candidate Dan Bongino have expressed their support for Ambrose) but far more “likes” on her campaign’s Facebook page (143 vs. 17 for Scott.) Perhaps that’s a generational thing, but in any case the votes which will count are coming at the party’s Spring Convention April 27-28 – over three months from now.
(This upcoming state convention will also feature the election of ten Delegates and ten Alternate Delegates to the Republican National Convention. I unsuccessfully ran for this in 2008 but will take a pass in 2012 since I have something far more important to attend to that month and money enough for just one trip. We also elect a National Committeeman but thus far I’m unaware of anyone who will challenge current officeholder Louis Pope.)
Obviously this story from yesterday has gotten a little bit of play around the state because former MDGOP Chair (now National Committeewoman candidate) Audrey Scott claimed we bloggers got it wrong.
(Insofar as I know, those “bloggers” would be me. Richard Cross of Cross Purposes made the statement as part of linking to the Washington Post story on Facebook, and I just pointed to his site as a professional courtesy. To date he hasn’t weighed in on the subject on his site.)
Regardless, Scott’s contention is that she was only at the rally to support protecting the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), a position she staked out at Kevin Waterman’s Questing for Atlantis website. Apparently she also defended herself at the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee meeting, according to county Chair Mark Uncapher.
But Mark also sent along a link to the press release the Greater Baltimore Committee did regarding the rally, noting that their Chairman also served on the Blue Ribbon Commission which recommended the gas tax – along with a slew of other fee and toll increases and enactments, including “development of revenue mechanisms that are directly tied to the use of the transportation system…commonly referred to as mileage-based or vehicle miles traveled (VMT) charges” – in the first place. (Not only that, those who are up in arms about PlanMaryland should also pay attention to Issue Area III in the 32-page report.) The rally’s basic purpose was to show support to the General Assembly for raising $800 million annually in revenues for the TTF, according to the GBC release. A tax increase is also part of the GBC legislative agenda.
To be fair to Audrey, neither she nor Doug Duncan, who was also quoted in the Post article (which was a reprint of an AP story), was a featured speaker at the event. Apparently she was a face in the crowd who wanted to lend her support for the protection of the Transportation Trust Fund. Certainly I would like to see the TTF protected as well – if we have to have any gas tax, it should go to keep up roads and bridges. Mass transit should pay its own way, although the Blue Ribbon Commission believes farebox collection should only make up 35% of operating revenues. So much for building bridges and highways.
But as I said yesterday the perception of Audrey Scott, who is a symbol of the Maryland Republican Party, being at a pro-tax increase rally was something the Post would seize on to undermine the principled position Republicans in the General Assembly would stand upon that we are taxed enough already. It doesn’t necessarily matter what she actually said, for perception is often reality.
On the other hand, if we eliminate the items which aren’t germane to transportation infrastructure, like mass transit, and pass the legislation already introduced by a bipartisan coalition that would protect the TTF, we can see what can be done under the existing tax structure first.
Let me state for the record that I haven’t made up my mind in the National Committeewoman race yet. But when Audrey Scott is already infamous in some quarters for her “party over everything” statement, she’s already behind the 8-ball with a lot of Republican regulars and supporters. And I come from a muckraking county Central Committee which definitely goes against the flow the establishment attempts to create because we have a heavy TEA Party influence on our body, so Audrey already has a tough sell locally.
Now if you want to know what was said at this rally, the Greater Baltimore Committee has a YouTube channel with four videos of the January 19 event. None of them feature Audrey, so presumably the AP stringer covering the rally recognized her as someone important and got her take. But what I did hear being said was speakers who were only too happy to raise our taxes, with the TTF protection being secondary at best.
Judge for yourself whether you agree with me that her attendance wasn’t a politically wise choice.
Update: Scott has garnered a key local endorsement. District 38B Delegate Mike McDermott wrote in a note to local Central Committee members:
I ask you to give strong consideration to (Audrey Scott’s) candidacy as I know that she has everything it takes to represent the interests of Maryland and our party to the uttermost.
He also pointed out Scott’s involvement in the Ehrlich administration as Secretary of Planning. One thing in Scott’s favor: no move toward a PlanMaryland was made during her tenure there.
It seems our Chamber of Commerce types have the misguided notion that increasing the gasoline tax will allow the state to fully fund transportation projects, but I ask of them: what planet are you living on again? This is Martin O’Malley’s Maryland – we all know that the money is going to be spent on 1,001 items in the general fund and the rest will go to build more mass transit and bike paths we don’t need.
Meanwhile, the victims of the War on Rural Maryland will have to once again pay through the nose perpetually, because as proposed by one possible scheme advanced by a state commission the gas tax isn’t just going to go up a nickel each year in 2013, 2014, and 2015 – nope, it’s going to be indexed afterward to a construction cost index. So as union demands get more and more brazen and the cost of construction climbs at a dizzying rate, so will the gas tax. Nice system if you can con people into believing the roads will actually get fixed.