Dealing with facts in Senate District 38 (second of four parts)

Today’s second part of a four-part series goes over the 2016 monoblogue Accountability Project (mAP) and the votes where Mary Beth Carozza and Jim Mathias have parted company. 2016 turned out to be the final year I included committee votes in the 25 that made up the annual assessment of the Maryland General Assembly; however, Jim could have voted on a bill in his Finance Committee that the House voted through but he missed the opportunity by being excused from the vote. (It’s worth pointing out that neither Carozza nor Mathias were absent from an mAP vote this term.)

In 2016 Mary Beth Carozza reached her all-time high score of 76 on the mAP by being credited with 19 correct votes and just 6 incorrect ones. Meanwhile, in the Senate Jim Mathias plummeted to a score of 12 on the mAP by making just 3 correct votes and 21 incorrect plus the excused vote, which goes down for my record as incorrect but not penalized.

As a bit of foreshadowing, Jim’s low score is representative of his last three sessions as the partisan lines have hardened in the Maryland General Assembly – that score of 12 ties for his highest score in the last three sessions. It’s reflected in his scores over the years: while he scored out to an average of 16 in the House from 2007-10, his last three sessions there drove down a reasonably centrist average established in his first two sessions (2007 Regular and 2007 Special Session.) His initial opposition to Martin O’Malley’s radical policies melted down to compliance by the end in MOM’s first term, and Jim followed the same trend in MOM’s second: a 36 score in 2011 eroded to 34 in 2012, 24 in 2013, and 19 in 2014. (By comparison, Jim’s shotgun 2014 opponent thanks to gerrymandering of the local districts, former Delegate Mike McDermott, had respective scores in that same term of 88, 88, 82, and 80. Talk about a missed opportunity!)

In a case of blind squirrel, Jim’s three correct votes were also Mary Beth’s correct votes. And since none of the six committee votes between the two were common votes, it leaves a total of 13 votes where Mary Beth voted the right way and Jim incorrectly.

We already discussed the “travel tax” yesterday in the 2015 review, but I added the veto vote to 2016’s total. It created a bit of confusion on my chart as the SB190 designation was also given to the FY2017 budget voted on in 2016 – both voted incorrectly for the overly generous budget in that case.

One theme in 2016, though, seemed to be a partisan reining in of the executive branch. It began with a measure – sent to voters in a slightly amended form – dealing with the replacement of the Attorney General, Comptroller, or United States Senator mandating he or she represent the same party as the departed official (HB260). Voters approved the change to Attorney General and Comptroller succession in 2016, but as I noted at the time, “It’s amazing how these types of bills come up when there’s the slightest chance someone other than a Democrat could be placed in a statewide position.” If it were truly an issue, where was it in 2012 or 2014? Similarly, the two parted ways on a bill (SB973) placing a prohibition on certain types of political donations on behalf of departmental secretaries (who are appointed by the Governor.) It wasn’t an issue before Larry Hogan arrived?

A more important front on the war against Larry Hogan, though, were multiple bids to increase mandated spending. In the mAP’s case, it was requiring additional capital spending on schools with increased enrollment (HB722/SB271), expansion grants for preschools (HB668/SB584), shelter and transitional housing facilities for homeless individuals (HB1476/SB797), additional debt or a toll increase to replace the U.S. 301 bridge over the Potomac River in Charles County (SB907), college early commitment programs which duplicate private-sector efforts (SB1170), and two new programs: a new Maryland Corps program based on the federal Americorps (HB1488/SB909) that immediately secured about $2 million a year for state funding, and a second (HB1402/SB1125) that established a $7.5 million annual fund to expand school time into off-hours and the summer but required local matching grants. All these may be worthy efforts and many were already well-funded on a discretionary basis, but Jim Mathias voted to tie Larry Hogan’s hands and Mary Beth Carozza did not.

There were also environmental bills that seemed to be overly restrictive yet broad-based: a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides (SB198) that was based on a theory they were eradicating bee colonies was one such bill, while the state’s market-bending renewable energy portfolio (read: solar energy-promoting boondoggle that, in practice, fattens state coffers) came up as HB1106 – both were supported by Mathias and rightly opposed by Carozza. In the latter case, in 2017 Mathias voted to override Governor Hogan’s veto of the bill while Carozza tried to sustain it.

Businesses were basically spared in the 2016 session, but one provision the Big Labor-friendly Mathias supported over Carozza’s opposition was on significantly increased liquidated damages for employers who, in the parlance of the bill, “reasonably should have known” it was a (so-called) “prevailing” wage job (yeah, that’s a clear statement there) yet fail to pay that wage (HB689/SB1009). It was funny to see that the employee would get the wage shortfall but the state gets the damages, even though they weren’t harmed.

They always say the third year of a General Assembly term is the one that has the most ambitious agenda from members seeking election, and 2017 was no different. I’ll look at that in tomorrow’s third series installment.

Dealing with facts in Senate District 38 (first of four parts)

You’ve seen some of the flyers that have come to my mailbox: trust me, more have arrived and there’s probably more to come. But between the claims and counterclaims there’s one thing that is real – and it’s the very reason I created the monoblogue Accountability Project (mAP) eleven years ago.

Over the last four years, both Mary Beth Carozza and Jim Mathias have had the opportunity to vote on most of the 100 bills I selected to be part of one of the four editions of the mAP from 2015 to 2018. (A handful were committee votes, which seldom overlap – but did in one case in 2015.) So over the next few days I’m going to illustrate just what the differences were, beginning in this installment with the 2015 session of the Maryland General Assembly – their first as a team.

In 2015 Mary Beth Carozza received a score of 56 on the mAP by being credited with 14 correct votes but having 11 incorrect ones. Meanwhile in the Senate Jim Mathias reached his term high score of 40 on the mAP by making 10 correct votes and 15 incorrect. (Jim’s all-time high was when he scored a 53.12 rating in the 2007 Special Session, done in the days before I standardized the number of votes. That session was based on 15 total votes in the House of Delegates, where Jim served at the time.) Three of Jim’s ten correct votes, though, were at the committee level, and two were not common votes. They both voted against HB1094, Mary Beth on the House floor and Jim as part of the Senate Finance Committee.

What I’m going to drill down into are the featured floor votes where they parted company – in the case of the 2015 legislative session there are a total of 10 such votes out of the 25 I used for the mAP. Of those ten, there were eight which were correctly voted upon by Mary Beth Carozza but not Jim Mathias, and two that were voted on correctly by Mathias and not Carozza. Those two in Jim’s favor were both in the realm of civil liberties: one (SB651) was a provision to allow expungement of a crime if it’s no longer on the books (tailored for those convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana, which was on its way to becoming a civil offense as opposed to criminal) and the other (HB360) a reform of civil forfeiture laws. Yet while Jim was good on those two, he still opted to maintain the possession of small amounts of marijuana as a criminal offense rather than converting it to a civil offense (HB105). Jim was one of just three Senators saying no, even as the law did not pass in 2015.

Jim also voted badly on a number of measures that should have been left out of state law. Since health care has been a hot topic in this campaign, it should be noted that one of them (HB838/SB416) raised insurance rates significantly in order to allow a handful of same-sex couples coverage for in vitro fertilization.

Public records were a key topic in that session as well. Jim supported a measure which would allow those who undergo treatment for gender changes to also change their birth certificate without it being noted that this wasn’t an original document (HB862/SB743), but more importantly for most he also supported a $5.2 million annual fee increase for the public through court filing fees rather than allowing it to be charged to the attorneys (HB54.)

Another tax Mathias supported, even over the veto of the governor he swears he’s working with, was the so-called “travel tax” that allowed the state to collect full-rate sales tax on rooms where the rates were discounted (SB190.) And that’s not all the anti-business law Jim supported: no longer could employers and employees agree to waive certain types of paid leave (HB345) – of course, the state was kept exempt.

But perhaps the most misunderstood differences were in HB70 and HB72. HB70 was that year’s state budget, and it’s been the subject of one Mathias mailing already. So to recap: Mary Beth was fine with that budget until it was amended by the Senate and backroom dealings.

It appears the same thing happened with HB72, which was that year’s BRFA act. In order to make things work fiscally and keep a balanced budget as required by law, sometimes previous laws need to be changed, and the favored vehicle for that is generally called the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, or BRFA. In that session Carozza voted for the original House version but once the Senate got hold of it she didn’t like the changes and voted no. Meanwhile, her Senate opponent was just fine with doing as much as possible to thwart Governor Hogan’s intentions.

And to think: this is only the first of four years.

An aggressive beginning

Several months ago I told you about the “travel tax,” which has come up in the news again because Mike Miller believes he has the Senate votes to overturn Governor Hogan’s veto and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce is behind it. Indeed, there’s a post on what’s billed as Maryland’s premier conservative website regarding this but I was stymied in reading it by some scam invitation to get a free iPhone 6 – and probably all the malware I can unknowingly download. I’ll come back to that in due course; in the meantime I will fill you in on what is really happening.

My local Delegates are telling me they predict a bumper crop of legislation, and they may be correct – as of this afternoon, 180 bills had already been pre-filed, with 114 Senate bills complementing 66 in the House. (My, my, those Senators are busy beavers.) One bill I did not see among them was the Wicomico elected school board bill, which I would have liked to see pre-filed. Unfortunately, I think that time has passed.

Even with all that work stacking up it’s likely the first things the body will take up are overriding vetoes, with my interest coming from two bills I used for the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project: SB340 (voting rights for felons) and SB190, the travel tax. Both passed with veto-proof margins in the Senate but neither had a comfortable enough House win – for an override the felon bill would need to pick up three votes and the travel tax one.

That one vote for the travel tax may come down to newly-minted Delegate Elizabeth Proctor, whose late husband James died in office earlier this year. James Proctor was the lone absent Delegate when the travel tax passed 84-56. Another new Delegate, Carlo Sanchez, replaced former Delegate Will Campos, who resigned after being a “yes” vote on both bills in question. As for felon voting, Proctor was absent while Delegates Michael Jackson and C.T. Wilson ducked the vote. In both cases, should opponents hold all their votes and pick up one the vetoes will stand. (Out of our local delegation it was the only Democrat delegate, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who predictably voted in favor of both.)

You’ll notice I basically ignored the Senate in both cases because all they need is the same vote they had the first time to override both vetoes – for the record, both our local Senators voted against felon voting but both favored the travel tax. So it wasn’t really news that Miller had his votes, nor was it groundbreaking to see the state Chamber of Commerce side with big business over entrepreneurs. It’s akin to the struggle between Uber and local taxi companies; oftentimes the Chamber backs the rent-seekers.

Now about that other website: it’s so funny because I used them as an example the other day. Apparently they have chosen to cast their lot with the clickbaiters of the world in the quest for advertising dollars. Self-promotion is one thing – and Lord knows all of us would like advertisers – but the ad was such that I literally could not close it, for a site which had all the red flags of being a virus-laden website. I have to question the integrity and wisdom of a site which uses those techniques.

Perhaps I’m not the biggest or best site around, nor is it lucrative for me in a monetary sense. But just remember – I’m not the one knocking you over the head with the annoying pop-up ads. All I have is a little tip jar and an Amazon affiliation, so if you get an Amazon gift card Friday hook yourself up through me.

More importantly, after the holidays it may be a good idea to ask your legislators where they stand on the travel tax (as well as felon voting.) Contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t been all fee and toll decreases since Hogan took office – if he were a purist he would have vetoed two other House bills which increased certain court fees. But encouraging entrepreneurship and making sure felons pay their entire debt to society before regaining their franchise should be no-brainers, shouldn’t they? There’s a reason a governor has a veto pen, so let him be the check and balance to an overreaching General Assembly.

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

May 17, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A ‘loophole’ is only bad if the government thinks it’s being stiffed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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