AAA backs Question 1. But I don’t and here’s why

Thousands of AAA members across Maryland received an e-mail blast encouraging them to vote for Question 1. In it, the group’s VP for public and governmental affairs, Catherine Rossi, writes in part:

Over the last few years Maryland elected officials have “borrowed” over $1.5 billion dollars from your gas taxes, vehicle registration fees and other sources that were intended for local transportation improvements. Unfortunately, over $1 billion was never repaid and as a result, many local transportation projects have gone unfunded.

Year after year, many of our roads and bridges have been rated poor or in sub-standard condition, as Maryland motorists face some of the worst traffic congestion in the United States. While the State has a long list of state and local projects that would help improve safety and mobility and reduce congestion, these projects could all be derailed if Maryland fails to protect the Transportation Trust Fund, which is why it is so important that you vote FOR Question 1. (Emphasis in original.)

While it’s a compelling argument and outlines the principle of the problem, where I take issue with Question 1 is the substance.

But let’s begin by looking at the other source of the road funding problem. In 2012 it was noted that mass transit takes up 48% of the highway budget, compared to 23% for roads. Simply reversing that proportion would likely have alleviated the need for the additional gas tax passed in 2013 – a gas tax which may provide less income than expected because prices have retreated below $3 a gallon for the first time in a few years. Unfortunately, powerful political interests wanted to construct some useless light rail lines so it looks like we’re going to get them.

And those powerful political interests have enough allies in the General Assembly to make a “lockbox” comprised of a 3/5 majority all but worthless. In actual numerical terms, that’s 85 House members and 29 Senators and as long as the majority party exceeds those numbers there won’t be any sort of taxpayer protection in the TTF.

I know there’s an argument that says I shouldn’t let the perfect get in the way of the good, and just having a lockbox is a good step – basically echoing the AAA contention. But to me voting no sends a message that the proposal is not good enough. We should hold out for a “lockbox” of at least 2/3 – I’d prefer it to be 3/4, meaning that at least some GOP votes would be required. If we pass it this time, the issue will never be revisited, I guarantee it.

If I could trust the majority party any farther than I can throw it, that would be one thing. But I’ve seen the definition of some things they consider “emergency” legislation and there’s potential for abuse here.

If you’re messing with the Maryland Constitution, you should at least do it right. Vote NO on Question 1.

And now a programming note. Instead of burying my forum coverage on a weekend, I’m going to look back at that Monday through Wednesday – just in time for early voting. Tomorrow I have a music review slated and Sunday I’ll detail a special event I attended Thursday night.

The truth about ‘Liberal Jim’

For several years I’ve done the monoblogue Accountability Project for this very purpose – disseminating the truth about how members of the Maryland General Assembly really vote when the rubber meets the road. There are few races with as clear-cut of a difference as the 38th District Senate race between incumbent Democrat Jim Mathias, whose mAP score as a Delegate from 2007-10 was a 15 (out of 100) and Senate lifetime score from 2011-14 has been 28 (out of 100) and Republican Delegate Mike McDermott, who replaced Mathias in the General Assembly and has a lifetime rating of 84.5 of 100. (The 2014 version of the monoblogue Accountability Project is here.)

But what does this mean in terms of issues? I went back and researched the common votes taken by both men. Since 2012, I have set up the mAP to use bills which received votes in both the House of Delegates and Senate – out of 25 votes, 22 of these would be common. (The other three were committee votes for the respective bodies.) So 66 votes over the last three years’ worth of sessions were placed in front of both men.

In 2011 I hadn’t changed the rules yet, so while I had standardized the number of votes at 25, only 9 were common. Yet of those 9 common votes, Mathias and McDermott only voted the same on two. In total, out of 75 possible votes, Mathias and McDermott differed a total of 45 times while agreeing on 27 occasions. (Mathias was absent for three votes in that time period.)

Eleven of those 45 votes of disagreement were budgetary. Year after year, Mathias has been a rubber stamp for the annual spending and debt increases put in by the state. It’s not just the operating budget but the creation of more and more state debt and all the legerdemain that goes into each year’s BRFA. The only agreement between the two: Mathias voted against the original 2012 BRFA.

But in 2011, Mathias also voted to force home care providers into paying union dues, which created an unearned estimated benefit to Big Labor of over $430,000, the crony socialism of the InvestMaryland Act where the state ate its seed corn of future receipts, state law conformity with Obamacare, and the gerrymandered Congressional districts which took effect for 2012.

Mathias also had a hand in some dreadful 2012 legislation, voting for the state health exchange that’s only enrolled about 1/3 of the expected number of people at a wasted cost of over $125 million. Some guy named Anthony Brown was taking credit for that until it tanked. On a related front, Jim also voted to establish so-called “health enterprise zones,” which was something requested by minority legislators. Wouldn’t it make more sense to lift all boats?

But that’s far from all of it. Remember that “flush tax”? Mathias voted to double it. Jim also voted to burden the nascent state natural gas industry with the presumption of guilt in well contamination, mandate expensive fire sprinkler systems in new homes, adding thousands to the cost, and punished cellular customers with an expansion of the USTF surcharge. And again, Mathias did a favor to unions by expanding their reach among state employees.

And remember the “doomsday budget”? In that 2012 special session, Mathias voted for the measure that transferred teacher pensions to the counties and forced Wicomico County to raise its income tax and maximize its property tax increase to stay eligible for a $14 million lower maintenance of effort payment. Thanks for the higher taxes, Jim.

2013 was the year with the most departure between the two, as they differed on 15 of 22 votes. Several of these were bills dealing with the state’s implementation of Obamacare – including Medicaid expansion which is purportedly covered by federal funds (for now) – but there were other differences. Mathias supported provisions permitting voting by mail and, beginning in 2016, same-day registration during early voting. Both are invitations to voter fraud.

Mathias also voted in favor of the $18 annual surcharge residential customers start paying if offshore wind becomes a reality. (This may be hundreds of dollars annually for commercial customers and thousands annually for industrial users.) Jim also allowed the Maryland Stadium Authority to fund the construction of schools in Baltimore City. I’m not sure what sort of precedent that sets, but is Somerset County any wealthier of an area? Why is Baltimore City getting this new source of debt?

Nor were Jim’s union friends left out. In 2013 he voted to enact so-called “service fees” at five state universities and statewide for public school employees.

But the most interesting vote was on the Transportation Trust Fund “lockbox.” While it’s supposedly in place to prevent the annual raid of the TTF by a governor who can’t suppress his appetite for spending, the key to unlock is laughably weak: a 3/5 majority of both houses of the General Assembly. At this point Democrats by themselves could allow the transfer with 13 House votes and 6 Senate votes to spare. Those lucky Democrats, likely in swing district’s like Jim’s, would have the pass to go against their party while knowing passage is safely in the bag. I sense that Mike McDermott knew this when he properly voted no.

(That Constitutional Amendment is on the 2014 ballot as Issue 1, and I would encourage a vote AGAINST it. Make the General Assembly come up with a real lockbox – either a blanket prohibition or a 3/4 majority, which would require at least some Republicans to buy in – 106 House votes and 36 in the Senate.)

This year’s agenda was somewhat less ambitious, but there were still major differences. Mathias dodged a bullet when the bridge-eligible assistance program he voted for proved to not be too expensive (although there was no final expense tally at the point this was updated) but he also kept adding more Obamacare provisions to state law while paying for a needle exchange program in Baltimore city.

On the educational front, Mathias supported a pre-K expansion which will be of dubious benefit (except to public school unions) and supported a workgroup of yes-men studying how to better implement Common Core, which they don’t call Common Core anymore. And not only did he once again support a bloated budget, he tacked on a $10 additional fee for pesticide registration. Granted, it’s an aggregate of about $130,000 a year but it’s yet another burden for businesses.

Aside from the budget bills, though, the supporters of Jim Mathias would probably point to the bills both voted for as evidence of his moderate stance.

In 2011, both voted against the supplemental 3% alcohol tax and in-state tuition for illegal aliens. 2012 brought several points of agreement: voting against a prohibition of arsenic in livestock feed, enactment of same-sex marriage, the “rain tax,” the Septic Bill (with a caveat as I’ll get to momentarily), and even requiring helmets for moped riders. In the first Special Session that year both voted against the income tax increase.

When I revisited the Septic Bill, though, I noticed there were two Third Reading Senate votes – one for the Senate bill and one including some changes from the House version which passed, which had to be voted on again as amendments to the Senate version. Oddly enough, on the first iteration Jim voted yes but on the final product he was a no vote. Apparently Jim was for tier maps before he was against them?

Anyway, 2013 brought a lot of disagreement but Mathias and McDermott voted alike on some key issues: the gas tax increase, death penalty repeal, driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, and the SB281 gun bill all drew their opposition. Credit Mathias with unsuccessfully trying to place a sunset date on the gun law. This year they both fought the minimum wage increase as well as prevailing wage applicability, helped to decrease the estate tax (a rare win for conservatives) and the “bathroom bill.”

One thing I noticed in my research, though, is that Mathias rarely offers any floor amendments, whereas McDermott has several per term. Obviously that stage seems to me the one point where Republicans get in their say, giving Democrats more opportunities to be on the record as opposing common sense.

So while it’s true that Jim will “stand up to his own party” on some limited instances where tax increases are too obvious, he gives the game away by voting for each budget. I suppose the question is who is really fighting for the district, and in part two of this post I’ll look into where McDermott is fighting the other side.

Ending with a whimper

It really wasn’t noticed because not many people made a big enough deal of it, but for the third time in two years a referendum petition drive failed to meet the initial hurdle of gathering about 18,500 signatures by May 31. MDPetitions.com could not get enough interest in repealing the “bathroom bill,” formally known as the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014. Thus it will take effect October 1, and the first abuse of the new law and resulting confrontation will probably take place by the 3rd of that month.

MDPetitions.com has now struck out on both the transgender bill and an effort to overturn a bill terminating the death penalty which passed in 2013. A separate group, Free State Petitions, attempted to petition an onerous gun control measure to referendum last year, but also fell short.

In this year’s version, there was a late push to gather enough signatures – netting about 6,000 – but it fell short with 17,575, according to Delegate Neil Parrott, who heads MDPetitions.com.

So many people did so much and we are very grateful for your enthusiastic support. It is difficult to come this close and then fall short, and yet we know that it was only through this effort that people became aware of the effects of this bill. The press certainly was not spreading the word. YOU did that.

Our goal at Mdpetitions.com is to listen to you and to give you a voice in your government.  People overwhelmingly asked us to petition the “Bathroom Bill”, and we did. Most people did not even know about the bill, let alone how it will impact our safety and privacy. However, when people heard about this issue, the most common response was, “Seriously?” … and they were very willing to sign. Our biggest disappointment is that word spread too slowly to make this first deadline.

In looking at county-by-county totals, it’s apparent the Eastern Shore didn’t do all that well in gathering signatures, as the nine counties only accounted for 1,079 signatures between them – Dorchester and Somerset were lowest with 40 apiece. Leading the way was Parrott’s home county of Washington with 3,688. In a nutshell, that seems to signify the problem as word indeed spread slowly.

With that failure, it appears we will only have one statewide issue on the November ballot. In 2013 the General Assembly passed a “lockbox” requirement for the Transportation Trust Fund – unfortunately, the lock is simply a 3/5 majority of both houses. It would make more of a difference if Republicans got up to the 57 in the House and 19 in the Senate which would make them more than a 2/5 minority in those respective bodies, but otherwise the lock is pretty weak.

Martin O’Malley’s (not-so) greatest hits – how about a new song?

Returning once again to a familiar role of thorn in the side and burr under the saddle, Change Maryland and Larry Hogan took the occasion of the final legislative session under Martin O’Malley to remind us of his underwhelming record of “accomplishments” over the last long eight years, wrapped up in one release. All we needed was the bow, as Change Maryland remarked that:

  • They broke promises to state workers by diverting $200,000,000 from pension funds to plug their budget gap.
  • They’ve eviscerated local arts funding to hike the film tax credit for Hollywood millionaires.
  • They raided the Transportation Trust Fund then raised gas taxes to pay for mass transit.
  • They hiked income taxes on families, small business and large employers.
  • They blew $125,000,000 of our tax dollars on a health exchange website that still doesn’t work and was never needed in the first place; today, more Marylanders lack health insurance than when O’Malley-Brown took office.
  • More than 73,000 residents have had their health insurance policies cancelled and tens of thousands more have seen massive increases in their premiums and deductibles.
  • They put the teacher union bosses that bankroll their political machine ahead of students, parents and classroom teachers.
  • They’ve badly mismanaged the education budget, as a result inner city schools are falling farther behind, state SAT scores are down and elementary school reading aptitude is flat. And, even the teacher union said their rollout of Common Core was a mismanaged “train wreck.”
  • Their job-destroying tax hikes on the so-called rich and small businesses – those individuals earning $100k or more – backfired, missing revenue projections.
  • Some entry level jobs will pay a little more but there will be fewer of them.
  • There’s a federal investigation into the Anthony Brown Health Exchange but state lawmakers aren’t issuing their findings until well after the primaries.
  • Thousands of employers are now “paying their fair share” in taxes albeit to Virginia and the Carolinas; about 6,500 companies have left Maryland taking with them more than 100,000 jobs.
  • Likewise, more than 31,000 Maryland residents left for more affordable states, taking $1.7 billion each year out of our economy; among these were thousands of seniors on fixed incomes who can no longer afford to retire near their families.
  • It costs you more when it rains and more again when you drive to the beach.

Describing the O’Malley era as one where, “(i)n nearly every quality of life measurement our state is worse off than it was seven years ago… even areas that showed modest improvement came at a horrendous financial cost due (to) Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown’s mismanagement and one-party rule in Annapolis,” it’s clear that Hogan isn’t too enamored with the last seven years.

But while Hogan strives to “get the government off our backs and out of our pockets so we can grow the private sector, put people back to work and turn our economy around,” we’re more or less supposed to take his word for it. Obviously some of these items he complains about from the outside will be ones he may well find useful when he takes over the governor’s chair. For example, he (or anyone else for that matter) will have to figure out how to backfill the pension funds, live with the increasing minimum wage (which, for all his charms, he won’t be able to get the General Assembly Democrats to rescind), and roll back taxes and fees to previous levels yet keep the budget in balance. That aspect may actually be the easiest because he would set the budget. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with Obamacare for at least the first two years of anyone’s term, and probably longer.

However, I have a prediction for you. If the budget gets smaller – or even if it’s level-funded – you will hear a howling like you’ve never heard before from the special interests, press, and Democrats (but I repeat myself) who will be out marching in the streets against the heartless Republicans. Remember why we had a Special Session a couple years ago? It was because we passed a “doomsday budget” that was “only” $700 million higher than the previous one, and despite GOP objection we ended up raising spending another $500 million. Again, that was with a budget increase! Heaven help us if we actually proposed spending less money!

So those we elect in 2014 need to be ready and be stiff of spine because those Annapolis fat cats are going to come after us. We threaten their existence on the government teat and they know it. Having a $125 million boondoggle of a health exchange isn’t helping, which is why that scandal is being swept under the rug just as fast as the broom can collect the dirt.

In this part of the state we have some opportunities to chip away at the Democrats’ overall advantage. We’ll have to wait until 2018 to win back the District 37A seat – which will be held for the time being by a woman who I predict will have the same reliably far-left voting record as her predecessor – but aside from that we can speak our piece by ejecting two members of the General Assembly who will occasionally vote the right way when they get the hall pass to do so, but can be replaced by two members who we know will stand up for our interests. We can confound the Democrats’ cynical redistricting ploys by elevating Mike McDermott to the Senate and getting the fresh new ideas of Maryland Municipal League president Carl Anderton, Jr. into the House of Delegates.

Changing the state means pulling our weight, and the Eastern Shore can do most of its part by leaving just one Democrat east of the Chesapeake for the next four years.

2014 Maryland dossier: part 9 (job creation and transportation)

Yes, I’m going to talk jobs. Some may ask why it’s only the second-most important factor and that’s because we all work to build our own wealth and maximizing control of that wealth is key. But the best way to amass wealth is through your own toil, so why not have a governor who creates the conditions to create employment?

I add the aspect of transportation into this category becaise I believe having a comprehensive and effective system of moving goods to market while allowing people the maximum freedom of movement is also important in creating employment.

And while some who dismissed this cause have already made their endorsement decision, I’m still working it out. Fourteen points are at stake here in my 100-point competition, so away we go…

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David Craig: Economic development will be a central focus of my Administration.  As Lt. Governor, Jeannie Haddaway, and my cabinet secretaries will review every regulation harming job growth.

After we fix our tax code, our state’s economic development office will refocus on its mission of bringing jobs to Maryland – recruiting everything from warehouses, to corporate headquarters, to science labs.  Our focus will be to maintain, build, and attract businesses new and old. (campaign website)

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Reducing the individual income tax is a priority because of the importance of start-up and early stage companies that are often organized as pass-through entities.  Regulations are often conflicting and duplicative among federal, state and local governments and will be the initial focus of a broader effort to overhaul the process. (Press release, October 4, 2013)

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Asked about business, Craig intended to hold quarterly business roundtables. Because it affected local businesses in advance of consumers, we knew about the recession back in 2008, said Craig, and Harford County made budgetary decisions in a proactive fashion based on that knowledge. (WCRC meeting, July 22, 2013)

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And Craig raised questions about whether the Red Line, a light-rail project in Baltimore, should be built. (Washington Post, May 31, 2013)

Ron George: Grow the tax base in Baltimore, allowing other jurisdictions to keep their money home for infrastructure and education needs. Remove burdensome regulations.

Bring back large corporate manufacturing companies to Baltimore to create entry level and mid-level jobs. Attract the import and export industry to make use of our newly expanded Port and BWI.

Bring back mid size and small manufacturing firms to the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland, and Southern Maryland small cities, towns and rural cross-roads where property taxes are lower and homes for workers more affordable.

Assist small cities such as Chestertown that have revenue saved toward broadband and other incentives, by giving them the rest of the cost they need on a pay-back basis, thus allowing these municipalities to attract small retail, IT and other businesses to areas that are more affordable to live in.

Create a true lock-box for the Transportation Trust Fund that no legislative body can draw from for other needs so all interested parties can have predictability.

Put all gas taxes toward state road and bridge creation and improvements. (note the aforementioned repeal of the 2013 gas increases and its required forced automatic increases.) (campaign website)

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“Maryland needs regional plans, for business, for economic development and for education,” said George.

He said a state grant with a payback provision makes sense, because if it spurs a local economy, it increases the tax base. If private firms aren’t stepping up, “you need a grant to close that hole,” he said. The state “awards a lot of grants we never see a payback on. The money is gone.”

At the Port of Baltimore, the city has a chance to attract import-export businesses because of improvements there. A new generation of larger cargo ships will be able to call. “They could attract import-export businesses, but they’re not doing that now,” he said.

At the same time, there must be “a different approach for the Eastern Shore, for Kent County.” (Kent County News, August 22, 2013)

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To conclude the initial portion of his remarks, Ron noted he was the Maryland Business for Responsive Government’s legislator of the year, in part for his work in capping the state’s boat excise tax, and promised that, if elected, “I will make sure (rural areas of Maryland) get their fair share.” (WCRC meeting, September 23, 2013)

Charles Lollar: Charles will promote the rebirth of construction and industry jobs through private-public investment that Maryland desperately needs – now. Charles will inspire companies to grow by creating the necessary economic and regulatory climate for companies to do so, but without hurting the state’s natural environment.

He wants to reduce the need for prisons by lowering the crime rate by creating avenues to rewarding jobs as industry and construction firms thrive and by increasing the influences of community based non-profits. (campaign website, “Platform”)

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Fix a broken system that is blocking access to opportunities with over-regulation and excessive taxes. Review all unnecessary taxes and regulations and eliminate the Rain Tax. (campaign website, “Jobs and Economy”)

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Lollar is opposed to the Purple Line, a $2.2 billion 16-mile rail project that even the richest Maryland residents are not prepared to pay for. It can only be built with substantial federal and state subsidies, as yet unappropriated: $900 million from Uncle Sam, $400 million from Maryland, and the rest from who knows where. The Purple Line is disliked by some residents because it would displace a popular walking and bike trail, but supported by developers because they think it would enhance the value of commercial property. Instead, Lollar favors small buses, which have high per-person pick-up rates. (Real Clear Markets, September 3, 2013)

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“We have something to prove. From the day I get sworn in as your governor here in Maryland, that sign that says ‘Governor Martin O’Malley’ will come down. It won’t be replaced with ‘Governor Charles Lollar,’ it will be replaced with a tagline that says ‘Maryland is open for business.’” (SUTV interview, November 13, 2013)

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So let’s look at the other side. Anthony Brown has a business plan, but it leans heavily on “forg(ing) a stronger partnership between the public and private sectors.” Under “Tax Liability” it’s worth noting a priority is that it “enables state and local government to adequately fund our shared priorities.” So taxes aren’t going down anytime soon under a Brown administration. There’s a lot of “ensuring” in his plans, which is a weasel word meaning “mandating.”

Doug Gansler is marginally better, but the problem with his approach is that it has to be the right business in the right location, with a heavy reliance on tax incentives, creating a dependence on government and their gaming of the market. Why not provide the incentives of a great location and encouraging regulatory regime instead of picking winners?

Meanwhile, Heather Mizeur would absolutely devastate job creation in the state by raising the minimum wage, instituting mandatory paid sick leave, and putting combined reporting into effect. In terms of transportation, it’s also telling that she places “investments” in public transportation – a manner of getting from place to place with the least amount of freedom – on a higher priority than fixing roads and bridges. This is exactly backwards.

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So how do the Republicans rate?

In looking at what David Craig is saying, I can’t find fault with his approach. Economic development on a state level shouldn’t be about only bringing certain, politically correct businesses. And certainly a pruning of regulations is long overdue.

While there’s been some question about Harford County’sjob creation methods, they are all within the toolbox of incentives allowed by the state.

But I’m a little leery about whether David would be swayed by politics and keep the Red Line. I really wish I knew a little more about his transportation plans, but his manufacturing plan seemed to indicate he had a pretty decent idea about how Maryland could grow. I’ll grant him 9 of 14 points.

There are two broad pieces I really like about Ron George‘s plan: it scraps the whole “One Maryland” concept put in place by the current administration, and it emphasizes manufacturing in smaller towns and cities in rural areas. My hope is that Ron takes the money he locks away for the TTF and follows through on road and bridge improvements to improve truck access.

The only quibble I might have is the grant process because if there’s a payback provision, isn’t it a loan? The other problem I have is a seeming overemphasis on Baltimore City, which is vital but not all-important. Regardless, based on the confidence business has in his voting record, I give Ron 12 of 14 points.

Once again, though, I have an issue with some items Charles Lollar supports.

First of all, the aspect of public-private partnerships that Charles is expressing his interest in usually means tolls or fees collected by the private entity, which sort of blunts the appeal of the “desperately needed” investment. Ironically, the Purple Line Lollar opposes is one such PPP. The state will pay the winning private entity back over time, so where is their risk? Chances are the performance standards won’t be too difficult to attain, depending on the political payoff to the governor at the time.

The next is my wonderment at how one can cut regulations down to size, “but without hurting the state’s natural environment.” Does that mean the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has first right of refusal? Why even put in those weasel words?

Obviously I’m for eliminating the rain tax (as are all the GOP contenders) but I’m disappointed at how vague Charles is about what he would do – for example, what defines an “unnecessary” tax? I think the corporate tax is unnecessary because it makes up a small percentage of the state budget, but would you have the courage to eliminate it?

You may replace the signs at the borders to say Maryland is “open for business” – by the way, I drove into Virginia yesterday and their signs already make that proclamation – but for someone who was charged at one time with running a “Commission for Citizens Tax Relief” this seems like only lip service. Maybe my menory is faulty, but I thought Charles had gone through the budget line by line to suggest cuts once upon a time. I would expect more in-depth issue analysis.

For these and other reasons, I can only give Charles half the points – 7 of 14.

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The final main component is taxation, which is worth 15 points. I also have a post’s worth of intangibles, which can add or subtract up to 3 points.

At that point I can assess which candidate is my favorite – at least until Larry Hogan starts spelling out his issue positions so I can compare them.

Quotable tax quotes

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.

Craig 2014 announcement tour reaches Salisbury

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.

Gas tax study: jobs could be lost

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.

Odds and ends number 66

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.

Bonus research

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.

Odds and ends number 46

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.

She’s also spoken about the Sandra Fluke imbroglio in this classic, no-holds-barred style. Her name is Kira Davis, and her website is quite interesting, so check it out.

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.

Four bits a gallon (or more) for a state gas tax?

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
  • Maryland, 61.5 58.9 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.

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    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

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    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Chris Robinson (D)

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    House District 37B

    Republican

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

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    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

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    House District 38A

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

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    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

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    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

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    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)