2014 Autumn Wine Festival in pictures and text

Yet again I was found at Pemberton Historical Park for an event involving potent potables. But this one was more like work for me because I’m simply not a wine drinker – didn’t have a drop. Yet I did take a few photos.

So once the ribbon was cut by (among others) County Council members Matt Holloway, Stevie Prettyman, Gail Bartkovich, and John Hall, we were underway. I was really there for our Republican booth.

Carol Rose is a big fan of monoblogue and now she’s famous. Actually it gives me an opportunity to thank a whole crew of people who helped out for at least part of a day for the two events: Jackie Wellfonder, Shawn Jester, Carol Rose, Greg Belcher, Linda Luffman, Phil Adkins, David Warren, and Larry Dodd, who you’ll see in a little while. Jim Jester didn’t sit with us, but he was valuable for helping me to set up and take down for each event. That’s a job in and of itself.

But I wasn’t the only person helping get out the vote. Circuit Court judge candidate M.J. Caldwell had his own space.

These were the Ritz crackers with cheese. Sunday visitors got the upgrade to Triscuits.

On the other side of the aisle (literally) were our friends, the Democrats. Pete Evans was there most of the weekend, and as I noted this morning I spoke to Delegate candidate Rod Benjamin for a bit while I was there. I also saw Laura Mitchell from afar.

I was a lot closer to Mike McDermott and Chris Adams, who stopped by Saturday to try and collect votes.

As I noted, District 3 contender Larry Dodd was by on Sunday checking out my neighboring tent while helping man the table.

It’s worth pointing out that attendance between Saturday and Sunday was like night and day. While I took these from different vantage points, the time of day was pretty close between the Saturday photo on top and the Sunday one at the bottom.

Something else a little different was the use of one space. On Saturday, the top photo shows a VIP area. On Sunday it was converted to an artisan’s tent with some of their wares put out.

For a few extra dollars on Saturday, you got the nicely appointed tables, a bigscreen TV, a large sectional sofa, and private restrooms. With the exception of the tables, they kept those things on Sunday but very few were there.

Of course, the weather had a lot to do with the spotty Sunday attendance. While it was in the 70s and balmy Saturday, a chilly, cloudy morning and gusting gales on Sunday reminded me again why I call it the Autumn Wind Festival. And those gusts created havoc at the other political tents, oddly enough.

M.J. Caldwell’s tent reared up on two legs before being corralled. But as David Warren saw with his photo, the Democrats weren’t as fortunate.

You’ll notice how devoid of people this end of the festival appeared on Sunday. Unfortunately for a lot of vendors, it was that way Saturday, too. I took this about 3:45, just at the end of the peak time.

While a few were playing games and some watched the college football – granted, the television tent was a little busier on Sunday afternoon for the Ravens game – there was another place people stayed.

Bear in mind I took the next picture Sunday, with the smaller crowd.

Practically every section of this fence had a group staked out. They were close to the wine tents, lucky ones had a view of the stage, and they had their chairs for the duration. With the layout of the event, it was tough on the vendors beyond the last tent – we were lucky enough to be on the back side of it so at least we had some traffic.

If you noticed the chair Larry Dodd was sitting in, it was part of a collection from this vendor.

They have an interesting story since this couple, who I presume are married, traveled from Ohio to the AWF – apparently they do several similar shows a year around the country with the next one in Texas.

So if you wondering who the couple in the Cleveland Browns gear was, there’s your answer. And the chairs seem to be fairly comfortable based on my limited experience of sitting in one for five minutes, so why not give them a plug as thanks? Besides, at $139.95 I figure a year’s free advertising on my site is a fair trade for an air chair. (Never hurts to ask!)

Of course, my better half might prefer the Gollywobbler.

That was fairly good marketing, but not as unique as this tagline.

And since I had the hop head from last week, why not the grape guy?

Still, I favor the more traditional. I really liked the usage of the barrel.

And, of course, the more colorful the bottles in the sunshine, the more likely it is I’ll use the shot. The Winery at Olney gets that honor this year.

But as a vendor, I want to close with my two cents. For those at the south end of the festival, it was pretty brutal. One thing about the layout they use is that 80% of the people can conceivably cluster around the four large tents and the stage in the middle all day. I saw a few people who brought their lunch so they were all set aside from the bathroom breaks.

What I would suggest is a two-stage setup like the Good Beer Festival employs, because it may entice a little more churn in the crowd. Yes, you will get your campers but they may be more inclined to move during an hour break between bands than a 30-minute one.

I’m sure we’ll be back next year, even though it’s pretty much an off-year election (except for the city of Salisbury, which will be in campaign mode.) We may have a little Presidential material as well as those who may run for the Senate, but we won’t have a lot to give out. I would like a little more traffic, though.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 2: District 37

Yesterday I discussed what was said by the county-level candidates at this forum, so today I’m covering the six hopefuls who represented District 37: Addie Eckardt and Chris Robinson for the Senate seat, and Christopher Adams, Rod Benjamin, Keasha Haythe, and Johnny Mautz for District 37B.

Of the two seeking the Senate seat, Eckardt has by far the most political experience as she was elected as a Delegate in 1994, serving in the House ever since. At the eleventh hour this cycle she dropped her quest for a sixth House term and jumped into the Senate race, defeating longtime incumbent Senator Richard Colburn in a bitterly-contested primary. Robinson, on the other hand, is making his second straight bid for the Senate seat after losing to Colburn in 2010. He could be considered a perennial candidate as he’s also run unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 and 2006, twice finishing second in the First District primary. Chris was also a last-minute addition after original Democratic candidate Cheryl Everman withdrew.

Their first question had to do with the retirement climate in Maryland, which is bad, but relevant to the district as a number of retirees live along the Chesapeake Bay. Eckardt properly noted the state’s poor showing in rankings of best states to retire in, but added that we needed to look at tax policy across the board, along with addressing the “duplicative nature” of our regulatory system.

After stating that “our jurisdiction is no different than any other jurisdiction,” Robinson agreed that we had to “ratchet back” spending and not raise taxes. But on the second question about the Affordable Care Act, Chris made the case that “it hasn’t worked its way through the country,” and while the rollout of the state exchange was “botched” he thought the emphasis on preventative care was worthwhile. “Give this process a chance,” he concluded.

Eckardt told us that the “good news” about the state’s adoption of Obamacare was the Medicaid expansion, which she believed should have been done first before the exchanges. With it being done in its present manner, premiums were up and employers were dropping coverage. She believed the states needed to promote change at the federal level.

When asked about key real estate issues, Addie wanted to bring together mortgage holders and first time homebuyers by conducting an inventory of tax sales and foreclosures. Meanwhile, Robinson wished to “put points on the board” by making towns exciting and vibrant, calling on builders to create quality homes.

I found Robinson’s closing statement to be intriguing, as he said he was “inspired” by Rick Pollitt and Norm Conway. “I want to be just like them,” he said. Eckardt stressed the power of communication to solve problems, and pledged to be focused and deliberate.

To be honest, I didn’t see Robinson saying or doing anything which would suggest he’ll do much better than the 40 percent he got last time against Colburn. He tried to portray himself as a fiscal conservative, but in this region it’s tough to out-conservative the Republicans.

In contrast to the veteran presence of Eckardt and the perennial candidate in Chris Robinson for the Senate race, the House of Delegates will have two new representatives. Those representatives will have to pay attention to southern and western Wicomico County, which has felt underrepresented in the past based on the thrust of the opening question.

As it turns out, Christopher Adams is from Wicomico, so he stated the obvious: he will be a resident delegate, focusing on our municipalities and business. That business background led him to pledge that “my customers will be my constituents,” regardless of where they live in the district. But he also stressed that we have to start “winning the argument” against the Democrats.

Keasha Haythe replied that she was used to working across county lines as an economic development director, so working with Wicomico County residents wouldn’t be an issue. Similarly, Rod Benjamin pointed out the similarities between his home area in Church Creek and the area of western Wicomico County.

Johnny Mautz noted that he had spent a lot of time in Wicomico County and would work with its local and municipal governments.

This quartet got perhaps the strangest question of the night, one which asked about the effects of climate change and flooding.

Mautz indicated his belief that the state should help flood-prone landowners, but reminded us the flood insurance rates are based on federal mandates.

Benjamin also believed the flood insurance cost was “unfair.” And climate change? “Truth is, I don’t know what the truth is,” he said, noting that he’d seen some extreme tides recently.

Haythe believed we needed to be proactive about the sea level rise, stating it’s already affecting the planned Harriet Tubman visitor center.

But Chris Adams turned the question on its head, taking issue with subsidized government interference. The Eastern Shore, he said, “should be pro-growth, pro-construction.” He also objected to the federal government turning a significant part of Dorchester County into a national park, warning that it would adversely affect private property owners in the area who would lose their rights.

Adams stayed in that vein during the “realtor” question, making the case that Sussex County, Delaware was the prime beneficiary of Maryland’s mistakes, which include a prospective 64% property tax increase because of our state’s growing debt. He pledged to be business-friendly, saying “I’m about jobs.”

Haythe thought a path to success for realtors involved taking advantage of state and federal programs, and leaning on pros (like herself) who know how to create jobs.

Land use was “a large concern” to Johnny Mautz, as were taxes.

Benjamin was asked a little later on about this question, and made the case that local control of issues is preferred. He also offered that the “tier system is better than the smart growth system.” He also proposed a Startup Maryland program, based on a program Wicomico County already has in place for tax abatement.

Later, in his closing statement, Rod told us all we had homework: tell others about what was said tonight. He repeated a mantra of “reduce taxes, reduce government.”

Reducing taxes was also on the agenda of Johnny Mautz, who told us “my word is my bond.”

Keashe Haythe encouraged us to consider both her track record of results and her “human American platform.”

Finally, Christopher Adams begged Annapolis to “leave us to our Shore way of life.”

To me, this was the weakest link in the debate. The questions were relatively uninspiring and most of the answers were fairly rote. One interesting aspect of the House of Delegates discussion was that Rod Benjamin was openly trying to sound as conservative as the Republicans. (In fact, I ran into him at the Autumn Wine Festival and his tone was relatively the same.) On the other hand, Keasha Haythe wanted to make us believe that an economic development director could create jobs.

Yet I did a quick bit of research into Dorchester County’s job creation and retention since 2009, and it shows their labor force has declined by 921 people in five years, with 554 fewer unemployed but 367 fewer actually working. Since she began her job in 2008, Dorchester isn’t doing all that well and one could argue it’s state policies holding her back – policies which emanate from her party. Perhaps it’s something which a woman who’s worked in the public sector for over a decade may not understand.

On the other hand, Adams and Mautz both run businesses so they have created jobs and added value. (Both also support this local blog.)

To me, it was telling that almost all of the candidates tried to convince the crowd of their conservatism. It was much the same in District 38, although there were a disappointing number of omissions. More on that tomorrow.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices

As I noted the other day when I broached the subject, more than a dozen candidates shared the stage for a forum sponsored in part by the Coastal Association of Realtors and the Salisbury Independent newspaper. In this first part, I’ll discuss some of what the county candidates said.

First, the contenders:

For County Executive, two-term incumbent Rick Pollitt faced off with challenger County Councilman Bob Culver. Pollitt was elected in 2006 as Wicomico County’s first County Executive and narrowly won re-election over Republican Joe Ollinger in 2010. Bob Culver lost in a three-way Republican primary in 2006 for County Executive to eventual nominee Ron Alessi and B.J. Corbin before rebounding to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010.

Culver’s seat is being sought by two who join Republican Matt Holloway in attempting to win one of the two at-large County Council posts. Holloway was elected to County Council in the same 2010 election that brought Culver back; ironically those seats opened up because the two incumbents decided not to continue. One of those two was John Cannon, who unsuccessfully ran for the General Assembly in 2010 after one term on the County Council from 2006-10. Now John seeks a return after a four-year hiatus, noting that being a Council member was his “lifeblood.”

The lone Democrat seeking one of the two at-large seats is current Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell. Mitchell has served on the City Council since being elected in 2011.

(While there are 7 contenders for the five district Council seats, the forum only covered the pair of countywide posts.)

In the County Executive race, the two contenders disagree on a lot but agree that they would have “stark contrasts” in their approaches to governing. For example, when asked what the most pressing issue was, Culver was blunt: it was the loss of jobs over the last 18 months. (In the July 2013-July 2014 period, BLS statistics show Wicomico County lost 429 jobs as its labor force fell by 649.)

On the other hand, Pollitt asserted we were still in a recession and pleaded that “we have to rebuild our community.” He went on to describe how the needed to “leverage assets” like Wallops Island, Virginia, the port of Salisbury, and the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development organization. It was part of a required overall strategy for the “new normal,” added Pollitt.

When it came to whether additional tax increases would be required, Pollitt pointed out that the property tax rates had to increase just to stay even – four cents of the five cent increase this year simply brought us back to constant yield, with the other penny being allowed under the revenue cap. Four of of six Republicans voted for this tax increase, which was the “only responsible thing” to do.

Culver wasn’t one of those Republicans, though. He contended the county needed to go back to zero-based budgeting and trim the fat one step at a time. “Right now the time is not for a tax increase,” said Bob. “We have to do it from a business aspect.”

Another bone of contention came in the question about how best to assist realtors. Culver argued that dropping the county’s impact fee had resulted in 54 new homes being built in Wicomico County, and pointed out that there was only 16% of the county’s land mass which could be developed and we had just 3 percent to go.

Pollitt shot back that the impact fee change was part of the overall budget Culver opposed, restated that government needs to provide services and reminded us that five of the seven Council members had been correct in voting for the budget.

Rick closed with a familiar theme of “building community,” noting as well his role as the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition legislative chair and in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The more plain-spoken Culver repeated his assertion that “I think Wicomico County government is broken.”

If you look at it stylistically, Pollitt is a sharper debater. But the approach he’s taken over the last few years has been pragmatic by circumstance rather than by choice. And since the zero-based budgeting Pollitt did as city manager of Fruitland and promised early on doesn’t appear to be the case now – because it’s a campaign issue – and he whined early on in his tenure about the voter-installed revenue cap,  one wonders what the budget and tax rate would be if not for the recession.

Rick Pollitt often talks about what he calls “quality of life” issues. But it has to be asked whether our quality of life is better when job numbers are going the wrong way.

The County Council members were asked a different set of questions. One of them was on how to take the good things happening in downtown Salisbury and jump start the area outside the metro core and the other dealt with thoughts on the comprehensive plan.

John Cannon got first shot at the former question, and he opened by praising the “refreshing” leadership of Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. But he believed the county had the responsibility to create its own environment for growth, and Cannon wanted to bring together the major players on a quarterly basis.

As far as tier maps went, John believed it was an argument of local vs. state control and was hoping for relief with the new administration, presumably a Larry Hogan one. He also advocated for enhanced transfer of development rights and perhaps even a wastewater treatment authority. He also noted that he had pushed for a reduction in impact fees six years ago when he was on County Council.

Matt Holloway outlined some of the accomplishments the county has achieved since he came on board: decoupling the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate, phasing out the inventory tax, and making the manufacturer’s tax exemption automatic. He suggested a focus on public relations and enhancing our one-man economic development team.

Holloway also believed the comprehensive plan needed a “fresh set of eyes” with his goal being that of not impacting property values. But Matt cautioned that the state “has the trump card” under the law. They could help us with our septic issues, however.

Because she is on City Council, the initial question was right in Laura Mitchell’s wheelhouse: “That is why I’m running.” She wanted to translate Salisbury’s excitement to the county and talk about the positive things. She also thought the idea of an EDU bank, which allocates unused sewage capacity that developers donate back to the city, had merit on a countywide level.

Unfortunately, while it is “convoluted, to say the least,” Mitchell dropped the ball on even a rudimentary understanding of the tier maps. She advocated for infill development and sustainable growth, while addressing the double taxation and foreclosure issues in response to the realtors’ question.

Mitchell stressed her accounting background and budgeting experience as the key reasons to vote for her, portraying herself as sort of a budget nerd. But I found it interesting that the city budget had increased for three years in a row before finally declining this year. It’s still almost 7% higher than it was in FY2011, when she won election. (The first budget she would have approved would have been FY2012.)

And while you can’t expect expertise on every issue, her befuddlement on the tier maps was a bad sign.

It’s interesting that tier maps are an issue in this county, which now labors under the state’s default position that lots of any size can’t be subdivided into more than seven lots. Unfortunately, no county has found someone aggrieved enough by this terrible law that they could have standing to sue for the law’s nullification. (It’s doubtful the Democrats in the General Assembly would consider a repeal such as that tried in 2013.) Much as I’d love to force the state to pound sand, I’m not an injured party.

But there can be steps taken in the right direction. If we must have a tier map, the amount of land placed off-limits to development should be minimized because to do otherwise is an infringement on private property rights.

And while downtown development is indeed encouraging, the best way to replicate it isn’t to precisely duplicate it. While entertainment districts are nice, we need more industrial districts, more transportation hubs, and more encouragement of overall development. We shouldn’t shackle ourselves to one approach, either – if Chesapeake Shipbuilding, which isn’t exactly a glamorous company but a useful one that actually is seeking tradesmen, needs something to create another 150 jobs, that should take priority over yet another entertainment venue that may create 20 or 30.

Part 2 tomorrow will look at District 37 races.

2014 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

Plagued once again by poor weather on its bigger day (Saturday) nonetheless hardy beer enthusiasts from around the region gathered to sample a few swigs and generally celebrate all things beer.

Did I mention the weather was subpar? At least we salvaged one decent day, unlike last year.

Unlike last year’s effort, though, there weren’t a whole lot of new wrinkles. Coming back for another year, for example, was the home brewer’s competition and dedicated area.

Another old favorite kept around was the TV lounge, where people cheered on the Ravens and Orioles on Sunday.

Close by were the cornhole games and that maddening peg hook test of skill.

Once the skies cleared for Sunday, those in attendance could (and did) express themselves.

Those chalkboards were mounted aside the local beer garden, which had an interesting occupant.

Perhaps Backshore Brewery (from Ocean City) was here last year but I don’t recall the old VW Microbus.

They also win the monoblogue prize for the best beer name. That and $4 would have secured a pint, I guess.

Yes, I did try it and I thought it was pretty good. But their Boardwalk Blonde Ale was one of my two favorites along with the Shotgun Betty Ale from Lonerider Brewing, which I think came from North Carolina.

Perhaps pale ales weren’t this guy’s style, but it’s what I prefer. I just wanted the shot of his hat, a style I saw on a couple people over the two days. I didn’t notice anyone selling them.

Another local brewer, though, was angling for donations to a different cause.

Burley Oak is doing a Kickstarter campaign to enable the canning of its beer – as it turns out, they achieved their goal. But the coasters were a nice reminder and quite useful, since that coaster is under my drink (alas, diet Pepsi) as I sit here.

Oh, did I mention I was there for political reasons?

It wasn’t quite dripping with political types as the last time we were in a local election year (the first rendition of the GBF back in 2010) but some of the local political incumbents came to cut the ribbon Saturday.

Doing the honors in this instance were four members of County Council: Bob Culver, Matt Holloway, Stevie Prettyman, and John Hall. Culver was around on both days to press the flesh for a County Executive run, but he was pretty much the only one there.

Yet the reception at our tent was quite good and I handed out a lot of items. My emphasis, particularly with out-of-town people who were interested in Larry Hogan items, was on promoting William Campbell for Comptroller and Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. Those statewide downballot races are very important as well.

And despite the rain attendance held steady, described as just under 3,000. It’s good exposure and this year there wasn’t much obnoxious behavior. In short, a good time was had by all.

Oh, and about that top picture? I’m not averse to bartering advertising space for a monthly supply…just saying.

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.

WCRC meeting – August 2014

Safely ensconced in our new headquarters, the Wicomico County Republican Club held its first official meeting there, with the special guest speaker being State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello. Matt has the enviable position of needing one vote for another four-year term because he’s unopposed.

Before we heard from Matt, though, we had the usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, a list which included our state party Chair Diana Waterman. We also received a brief update from Larry Hogan’s regional coordinator Joe Schanno, who was pressed for time. He noted the need for volunteer help for the Hogan campaign, and pointed out the recent poll results that showed the race within the margin of error.

We also learned Larry would be here on Sunday for a series of events: the official opening of our headquarters from 2 to 4 p.m. followed by a fundraiser for District 37B hopeful Christopher Adams at Perdue Stadium from 4 to 8 and an appearance at a fundraiser for County Executive challenger Bob Culver from 5 to 9 at a private residence. There may be some other visits with local businesses added to the schedule, said Schanno.

After Joe wrapped up, we introduced Matt Maciarello. He recounted that when he took office in 2011 it was about the same time as Salisbury police chief Barbara Duncan was selected, a time when “crime was out of control.” But with Duncan and Sheriff Mike Lewis, they planned a line of attack on the spiraling situation. Matt’s areas of interest in that regard, naturally, were the district and circuit courts, although there’s also a children’s advocacy center and drug task force.

It’s the latter item which creates much of our problem, said Maciarello. He claimed that there’s “one (fatal heroin) overdose a week in Wicomico County” and surmised that the appetite for opioid drugs “fuels a lot of crime.”

In combating crime, Matt also noted he’s been an advocate on the legislative level, monitoring legislation and providing input, both as testimony and direct discussions with legislators. After a bill is passed, his office provides roll call training to street officers to make sure they understand new and revised laws.

Much of his time of late, said Matt, has been spent compiling and writing reports on a pair of recent police-involved shootings, reports he personally wrote and took the time to talk with the families of the victims about the reports if they were inclined to discuss them.

But he concluded by stating that citizens have a choice on where to live, and the perception that a place is safe is important to an area’s well-being.

Matt then answered questions, many of which queried him about gun laws. A recent profile of Sheriff Lewis as one who would refuse to enforce federal gun laws led to a discussion on nullification, which he felt was “more symbolic than anything.” On that subject, “I want to be on solid legal ground” – for example, what exactly would be nullified? So while he felt parts of the Firearm Safety Act were “clearly unconstitutional,” he believed opponents should get the advice from a Constitutional scholar before proceeding in order to pick and choose the best points for a legal counterattack.

Asked for a definition of “good and substantial” cause, Maciarello said, “I personally believe the burden should be on the state.”

He also spoke about the relationship with the local NAACP given some recent tensions, explaining that “I see my role…as a public safety job. You have to represent justice.” He’s tried to be as transparent as possible in all his office’s dealings.

Jackie Wellfonder, who had attended the previous forum with several GOP candidates, noted that “we had an interesting dialogue.” The GOP presence was “a first step.”

After I gave the treasurer’s report in the absence of our regular treasurer, Jackie gave her formal president’s report, gushing that the headquarters has done “a complete 180″ from the state it was in when we took it over. She pointed out that donations would be welcome to help defray the expenses, and volunteers to man the phones and greet visitors would be great as well once we get the ball rolling on Sunday.

She also read a thank-you card from Elizabeth Mills, one of our two WCRC scholarship recipients.

David Warren, who is in charge of the headquarters, remarked again about the “once in a lifetime chance” we have to win seats in District 38.

He gave way to Diana Waterman, who commented about the ease of operating the “very user-friendly” phone system, and urged us to “step out of your comfort zone.” She also talked up the September 27 Allen West event and announced our Super Saturday would be October 4, just before the Andy Harris Bull Roast in Queen Anne’s County.

Dave Parker gave the Central Committee report, giving more details on the Allen West Patriot’s Dinner and repeating the information on the October 4th events.

It was then time to hear from some of the candidates in attendance.

Speaking on behalf of Larry Hogan’s campaign, Ann Suthowski revealed he would have a fundraiser featuring Chris Christie in Bethesda and there would be a day for LG candidate Boyd Rutherford in this area as well as for Hogan. She was looking for sign locations and letters to the editor as well.

Jackie Wellfonder spoke again, this time on Chris Adams’s behalf. She repeated the information about his Perdue Stadium fundraiser as well as the Bob Culver gathering that will also feature Andy Harris.

County Council candidate Larry Dodd acknowledged he took a little break after the primary, but pointed out while his opponent claims to be “moderate” he was really “100 percent Democrat.”

Johnny Mautz of District 37B introduced his local campaign coordinator and promoted three events: fundraisers for him in St. Michael’s and Easton on September 20 and 21, respectively, and a Larry Hogan event at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge on September 28. The Easton event he’s holding has as a special guest author and commentator S.E. Cupp.

Carol Rose spoke on behalf of Mary Beth Carozza and announced her fundraiser would be held at Frontier Town near Ocean City on September 7. She also noted a Worcester County TEA Party event featuring Carozza along with the other three Republican District 38 candidates was “fantastic.”

Marc Kilmer was pleased to have finally met his opponent. But on a more serious note, he was ready to resume doorknocking and was looking for volunteers to help at the Sharptown Heritage Days parade on September 20.

Muir Boda wasn’t a Republican candidate anymore, but revealed he was one of a dozen applicants for the vacant Salisbury City Council position. We will probably know Wednesday who will fill the unexpired term of Terry Cohen, he said.

We also heard from the unopposed County Councilman John Hall, who said his campaign was “going just swimmingly” and received an update on the September 6 WCRC Crab Feast.

So after one piece of new business, our formal meeting was done. But many stayed around for this. (Photo by Jackie Wellfonder.)

The Ice Bucket Challenge got another “victim” and this time it was MDGOP chair Diana Waterman. I guess “water” is appropriate in this case.

I’m not sure how we’ll top this in September, but someone else will have to let you know. I get a personal day from the next meeting, and those of you who know me well will know the reason why.

Let’s get back to work

Yesterday, in my thoughts on an unrelated subject, I alluded to the massive loss of jobs in Maryland. Turns out it was worse than I thought – based on the unrevised Bureau of Labor Statistics totals, 16,286 fewer people in Maryland were working in July than June, adding 10,057 to the ranks of the unemployed.

The state compiles this data for Wicomico County as well, and I thought it would be instructive to note the June totals for the last several years. It’s worth noting that employment here normally tops out in July, with June usually a close second. The numbers are readily available for the period 2009-14, which covers the trough of the recession and the recovery.

So here are the June totals since 2009:

  • 2009 – 49,271 employed, 4,556 unemployed (8.5%)
  • 2010 – 49,548 employed, 4,856 unemployed (8.9%)
  • 2011 – 49,160 employed, 5,030 unemployed (9.3%)
  • 2012 – 49,585 employed, 4,759 unemployed (8.8%)
  • 2013 – 48,991 employed, 4,526 unemployed (8.5%)
  • 2014 – 48,760 employed, 3,964 unemployed (7.5%)

Over the five-year period, the unemployment rate went down 1 percent, but the number employed also went down by 511.

Just as a comparison to use a (generally) worst-case scenario, here are January numbers:

  • 2009 – 47,015 employed, 4,722 unemployed (9.1%)
  • 2010 – 45,526 employed, 5,669 unemployed (11.1%)
  • 2011 – 46,838 employed, 5,393 unemployed (10.3%)
  • 2012 – 46,758 employed, 5,178 unemployed (10.0%)
  • 2013 – 46,806 employed, 5,066 unemployed (9.8%)
  • 2014 – 46,711 employed, 4,338 unemployed (8.5%)

Over that five-year period in the month which is generally the nadir for local employment, we still lost 304 jobs although the rate deceased 0.6 percent.

But it’s estimated that Wicomico County gained 2,163 people between the census in April, 2010 and the 2013 estimate. So how are those people supporting themselves on 300 to 500 fewer jobs?

The title of this piece comes from a tagline and hashtag that District 38B candidate Carl Anderton, Jr. has been using during his campaign. While state numbers have fluctuated due in large part to changes at the federal level, the number of jobs in this area really doesn’t depend on the mood of the federal government. Instead, much of it is influenced by the policies at the state level and, judging by the figures, it’s pretty obvious that what’s being tried isn’t working – particularly if you’re one of those who had a job and lost it.

It’s often forgotten that the government doesn’t necessarily produce anything nor does it create value. Even in cases where infrastructure is being improved (such as the airport runway I described a few days back) the actual work is contracted out to a private company. But that private company has to follow additional rules and regulations to access that federal money, ones which may not apply in a truly private transaction – oftentimes there is a prevailing wage provision, for example. Meanwhile, we also have to pay the bureaucrats who reviewed the grant application, wrote the specifications, and so forth. The airport is receiving $5.53 million, but it may have cost taxpayers $7-8 million with the overhead involved.

Simply put, the Washington bureaucrats served as a conduit and a filter, meaning they received their cut first. Sure, this project will create a handful of construction jobs but imagine what the overhead could have done. It’s pretty much the same when Annapolis or local government is involved, since they get their cues from higher levels.

There are a number of economic drivers which this area relies on: agriculture (particularly poultry, with the feed stock being an integral part of this), tourism, and to a small extent, technology (thanks to spillover from Wallops Island.) Here’s where we really need help from the state:

  • improving transportation by using the gas tax we pay to actually build the needed bypasses and through routes to make access easier for tourists and getting goods to market more efficiently for producers;
  • leaving alone our true environmentalists, the farmers, by allowing them to use their land as they see fit and reforming the transfer of development rights to a generational term rather than perpetual;
  • creating a sales tax-free zone to allow us to compete directly with Delaware for retail sales;
  • finally, putting an end to blaming farmers for environmental problems and looking at common-sense solutions for cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. Work on the problems we know we have and put a moratorium on new regulations until we can determine how well the ones we have in place work.

Larry Hogan addresses some of the problem in his new video:

But the other side of that is reining in the Maryland Department of the Environment and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, neither of which Hogan addresses. That’s okay, though; I’d rather not telegraph those sorts of moves.

I have often seen complaints from the other side (of both the Bay and the political spectrum) that we on the Eastern Shore take more from the state than we give to them. For the sake of the argument, let’s say that’s true.

One has to ask, then, why this is the state of affairs? The people of the Eastern Shore seem like the hard-working, prideful sort who don’t like the thought of handouts. All we want is a chance to shine and do what we do best – left to our own devices, we can prosper and lead the state.

But there are those who like the Eastern Shore just as it is, preferring it remain rural and backward so they can look down on us and refer to us as the state’s “shithouse” as they fly through on the way to their beachfront Ocean City condo. Those are the people who need to be on the outside looking in politically in order for us to succeed.

Snapshots of an election

To be honest, I took these photos on Tuesday intending to add them to my coverage – then promptly forgot and posted it anyway. But it doesn’t hurt to have a second look back before moving forward. There’s really not going to be a lot of fresh news until after the Independence Day holiday anyway, plus it also proves the adage that every picture tells a story.

So I’m going to lead with this one I also posted to Facebook.

It’s interesting to see this pile of Anthony Brown signs, which as I recall were pretty much all of the Brown signs I saw. Now one person suggested that they were originally set within the 100′ limit then relocated against the tree, which is possible – but I doubt it. Instead, my thought was someone left the pile of signs earlier that day or the previous night intending to have the first volunteer at the site place them in the morning – sort of like someone decided to have a insurance exchange website intending to have the thing actually work and not waste millions of dollars.

If you don’t get the small details, the large stuff bites you in the ass.

Speaking of signage, I did not count how many signs were out there on the grounds of the Civic Center, but I would suggest the ratio was perilously close to one for every other voter. Interest seemed to be quite low.

I took that picture about 5:00 after I arrived about 4:30. (This was an election day I had to work – I couldn’t alter my schedule enough to avoid it.) There were literally three people working the polls when I got there – M.J. Caldwell’s wife Pam, a lady representing Circuit Court appointee Jimmy Sarbanes, and Jim Jester, who was doing double duty with an Andy Harris shirt and Mike McDermott sign. This is one of the busier polling places in the county, and only three people were there.

If I saw 100 people vote in the time I was there, it was a lot.

Speaking of M.J. Caldwell, the Republican voters of this county need an education. I would expect about 60-65% of Democrats to blindly support someone named Sarbanes, but 43% of Republicans? Really? Someone selected not on qualifications, but on name recognition by a political hack governor we can’t stand? Get real. That has to turn around in November.

Even the news coverage was lackadaisical. Channel 47 did a live remote, but they never came out to talk with us. They probably showed the pictures of an all-but-empty polling place to an audience which can be charitably described as second-best in the market.

In terms of poll workers, it did pick up after a time. Jackie Wellfonder came along to work this poll.

Turned out the face-to-face didn’t do either of us much good because we got about the same amount of votes, and that wasn’t enough.

Josh Hastings was unopposed in his primary, so all he had to do was await the winner on the GOP side.

His opponent will be Larry Dodd, who had someone there eventually but he wasn’t the social type.

Having worked polls a few times here, I know that after about 7:00 it’s pretty well done for the night. So there were a gaggle of people with Hastings who got to talking down the way on the Democratic side, and a few of us for the GOP. It’s not like we had voters to convince, as maybe 20 stopped by during the last hour.

At the very end, Carl Anderton dropped by to retrieve his signs as did Jim Mathias. They had a nice conversation, although I didn’t get a picture. I was even bipartisan and helped Jim pick up some of the Democrats’ signs.

I was in a group which went on to The Cellar Door to check on the returns, but it wasn’t really a good night for most of us as you now know.

There were a couple things I learned, though. First and foremost is that Facebook is worthless as a campaign aid unless you want to pay through the nose. Social media isn’t really social anymore; it’s become commercialized like everything else. I had 60 likes for my Facebook page, which isn’t much but it at least gives me insight on how my posts did. (By comparison, Jackie Wellfonder also had a similar page and got 100 likes – but about 60 fewer votes.)

I placed a total of 41 posts on the page, although there was one I shared multiple times. My total reach was 2,718 – it’s about 66 per post. Ironically, my best post insofar as Facebook is concerned is the last one I think of as my concession speech, which reached 298 people. A little late, don’t you think? But if you figure a good number of those 66 per post see my stuff time after time, it’s not all that efficient for the investment.

I didn’t have thousands of dollars laying around to get my Facebook page up to 100,000 likes as Change Maryland did, and we only know about the last 30,000 or so because the campaign paid for those – Change Maryland was close to 70,000 when Hogan made it official. So who knows how much he paid for that promotion? More than I had in my pocket.

Anyway, social media isn’t really the way to go. But what is?

The second thing I found out is that the public seems to be unmotivated to find out what people really stand for. In race after race, I saw that those who spelled out their platform in the most complete manner lost to those who were a mystery to voters but had name recognition. It also didn’t necessarily matter how hard you worked – if John Cannon or Matt Holloway went door-to-door I didn’t hear about it, but Muir Boda did and got 18% of the vote to show for it. Tyler Harwood went door-to-door with Greg Belcher (in the same group which at times featured Carl Anderton, Marc Kilmer, and Boda) and finished dead last for Central Committee (Greg was 8th.) Hard work wasn’t its own reward, and no good deed went unpunished – or so it seemed. (Nope, Marc corrected me – it was just his lit, not him.)

In short, I’m not sure I did my job very well on a local level. If I have a mission to educate voters, it looks like I have to work a little harder on it – and so I shall. I suppose the one thing about being a lame duck is that I have no election to worry about anymore, so I can speak my mind perhaps a little moreso than political correctness may dictate.

One source of relief is that I have a smaller range of people to keep up with for November. I think we could have done somewhat better coming out of this primary, but at least now I know whose feet I’ll have to keep to the fire and who I should be able to count on with a minimum of supervision.

Pork in the Park 2014 in pictures and text

May 12, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · Comments Off 

As I pointed out on Saturday, I talked about the music before the event, which was unusual for me. It was also unusual for us to go to Pork in the Park on Friday night, as I think I only have maybe one time before. But we had our reasons, and it turned out to be a good experience.

It didn’t turn out to be the rainy Saturday we all feared, but I found the crowds were much more manageable on Friday. For example, here was a shot of the food court as we arrived about 7:00.

One thing I found was that the change in date from its usual late April timeslot to Mother’s Day weekend probably affected competitor and vendor turnout. In 2013 there were over 100 competitors, but just 40 or so this year. So there were only a couple of non-local places actually selling ribs in the food court. Nothing against the locals, but I can have theirs any time.

I tried the Texas Rib Rangers on the right, which really didn’t have a line by the time we ate. Kim went with this outlet – maybe it was because Hess BBQ had all these trophies. (This photo shows about half, actually.)

I’m actually getting ahead of myself, though, because we didn’t eat until probably 8:30 or so. Initially we wandered around the grounds, getting a few photos of things we thought interesting like the rides.

They were tucked in alongside the judges’ tent, which invited business for next year.

I decided not to be too nosy and snap photos of the inside. To me it’s more appealing to wander around the competitors area with open eyes – and nostrils.

I don’t think I smelled THAT smell, though.

Some people believed they had a serious problem.

This group was an instant favorite with me, rocking the Gadsden flag.

And what barbecue festival is complete without beer?

This was in a good spot, in between the food court and the stage and not far from the porta-potties.

We walked back to get our food just in time for this spectacle.

I realize this is a shallow pond but where are their lifejackets? These guys almost capsized a couple times, but they lit the center bonfire and several other smaller ones.

So we went back and finally got our food. Here’s what I had.

Aside from the last couple, I thought the ribs were just okay and not great. The last two were done just right and I liked their sauce, but overall I have had better there – one batch from a Florida-based vendor who didn’t show and another victimized by the food court fiasco a couple years back. Now those were good North Carolina-style ribs.

By the time we finished eating, the food court was mainly deserted.

But the pond reflecting the lights was pretty. We were actually walking back to the stage to get my shots for the Weekend of Local Rock post when I took this.

My last shot hearkens back to the early days of Pork in the Park when they featured a Sunday car show. I just liked the Stingray and we were parked a few spots away. It was a good test shot for the camera.

Honestly, I’m hoping the change to May is not a permanent one because Easter will be back to its “normal” time slot for the next few years. The drastic decline in competitors has to be traceable to the later date, although the complaints about the new $7 entry fee were loud as well. There was also a VIP tent added to the mix, but I thought that was too far away from the action to be viable.

As of this writing I don’t know if the plan will be to hold it in May again next year or go back to the likelier date of April 17-19, 2015. As long as it doesn’t snow we’ll be okay.

Champions or chumps?

Apparently the Maryland State Education Association has some worries about the prospects of two of our local candidates. Almost six months out from the elections and look what I got in the mail yesterday:

Given that, out of over 150 MSEA-endorsed candidates across the state, the body only “recommended” five Republicans (including Christopher Adams locally) one can come to the conclusion the MSEA is pretty much a shill group for liberals. Although Chris is a fine candidate, the fact that the MSEA endorsed a Wicomico Republican could perhaps be traced to the ongoing fight about disassociation by the local bargaining unit. Nor was an MSEA mailing put out on his behalf, at least not that I’m aware of.

There are a couple things I can tell from this mailer: one is that it came from Board of Election records based on the fact it has my full name like my voter registration does. And it’s bipartisan, as a number of Republicans I know have reported receiving it; most likely it went to the truly consistent voters. Something tells me that various groups are going to try and convince voters that Mathias and Conway are practically the second and third comings of Ronald Reagan, but with a softer side – that’s why the MSEA is stressing how these two are backing education. That is, though, if you consider throwing money at the issue as backing education.

For example, let’s consider that first claim about “record investments in our schools.” In Conway’s case, let’s not forget that he was a prime mover back in 2012 behind legislation to circumvent Wicomico County’s revenue cap in order to increase the county’s share of education funding. (Conway was a co-sponsor of a similar House bill.) This had the potential of leaving the county $14 million short in their FY2013 budget, and directly led to an income tax increase reluctantly passed by our County Council. Norm voted for both versions of the bill in the House. (Mathias was absent when the Senate bill was voted on.) Those “record investments” had to come from somewhere and a large share came from the pockets of those in District 38 here in Wicomico County. Overturning the will of county voters? Way to be “standing up for Wicomico County,” Norm.

And then we have the aspect of pre-kindergarten. While the state’s goal seems to be cradle-to-grave control, the bill in question only expands pre-kindergarten to those who meet certain income guidelines, at an annual cost of no less than $4.3 million. Moreover, there is no guarantee that any local children would be impacted – but it provides 160 more potential MSEA union members because the bill mandates an average 1 teacher to 10 student ratio. Of course, both Conway and Mathias voted for the bill – what’s a little $4.3 million mandate in the grand scheme of things?

While it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison to some extent, the question of the effectiveness of Head Start also leads to questioning whether a formalized school setting does much good for four-year-olds. I guess we’ll spend lots of taxpayer dollars to find out.

Scrutiny is also due regarding the “larger voice in how new curriculum is implemented,” a claim based on passage of HB1164. It doesn’t matter how loud we speak, because money is talking louder – and there’s going to be a lot of it needed to enact Common Core standards and testing. This is from the fiscal note for HB1164:

Finally, the full cost to administer PARCC is still unknown. In July 2013, PARCC announced that the summative math and reading tests would cost $29.50 per student. This is a little less than the $32 per student Maryland currently spends on assessments, but it does not reflect several other formative tests PARCC is developing that Maryland may select or the technology infrastructure required in every school to handle the capacity and network requirements to administer the computer-based assessments. Many schools do not have sufficient technology infrastructure to meet these requirements. MSDE is in the process of assessing the technology readiness of Maryland’s schools. The local school systems identified over $100 million in needed technology improvements to implement PARCC online. MSDE has contracted with Education Superhighway, a consulting firm, to evaluate the technology gap to implement PARCC online by the 2016-2017 school year. Several states, most recently Georgia and Oklahoma, have recently left the PARCC consortium over cost concerns. There are also long-term budget implications for maintenance and operational costs of assessment administration upon the termination of federal RTTT grant funds to the State and to PARCC. (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, we are once again buying a pig in a poke. Note also that the phrase “Common Core” was excised from the bill after first reading because its reputation precedes it now.

Basically what this bill did was allow Martin O’Malley (and his House and Senate minions) to designate a number of “yes men” who will invariably come to the conclusion that we need more money to throw at the problem. But in reading the bill I fail to see how we in Wicomico County will get a “larger voice,” even if one of those appointed happens to be, say, a Norm Conway or Jim Mathias. It won’t help.

The mailer urges us to call Senator Mathias and Delegate Conway to “thank them for their leadership on education issues and their work to keep our public schools #1 in the country.” It’s a way of skirting the election law since they’re not openly advocating a vote on their behalf – nothing new here, as conservatives use the same method.

But how about calling them and asking why they really aren’t supporting Maryland’s school-aged children? Why didn’t they advocate for parent empowerment bills which didn’t even sniff a real committee vote (it was withdrawn in 2012) in three consecutive sessions this term? Ask them if money shouldn’t be following the child regardless of where a parent decides to send them to school, or teach them at home? And while Senator Mathias has been of assistance in the matter, we all should ask Norm Conway why he won’t stand up for true accountability and support the right of Wicomico County voters to select their own Board of Education?

Ask yourself: are they protecting the schools as the mailer says, or protecting the children by allowing parents to do their job? There truly is a difference.

Change Maryland, or pack up and go?

It seems to be the question on the minds of many people, including gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan. His campaign noted on Wednesday that:

Gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan this evening said the following of today’s Gallop (sic) poll that half of all Maryland residents would leave if they could, worse sentiment than all but two states.

“We know from Change Maryland’s Taxpayer Migration Study that under Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown, more than 6,500 businesses and 31,000 residents fled Maryland’s crushing taxes, fees, tolls and regulations.  Now, we learn that nearly half of Maryland residents would leave our state if they could.

 This tragic situation is the direct result of the failed policies of Martin O’Malley, Anthony Brown and Doug Gansler and one-party control in Annapolis.  The only way to make Maryland a state where people not only want to live but can afford to live again is to end the reckless fiscal policies of the past eight years.”

The two states cited as being ahead of Maryland in this Gallup Poll were Illinois at 50% and Connecticut with 49% – Maryland was third at 47%. None of our neighboring states made the top or bottom 10 in the survey release.

So the logical next question I had was whether people are acting on this desire to vacate our premises, and in a number of areas they are. For the most part, what they have in common is that the nine counties where I found slow to nonexistent growth – or even a decline – is that they are among Maryland’s most rural. (Baltimore City also makes this list, and it shares many of the same economic problems as its rural brethren.) This data is gleaned from Census Bureau estimates of population in both 2012 and 2013, compared with the official 2010 count.

Out of 23 counties and Baltimore City, the state’s population grew at a modest 2.7% clip between 2010 and 2013. But five counties lost population overall: Allegany and Garrett in western Maryland, and Caroline, Kent, and Somerset on the Eastern Shore. Others which lost population between 2012 and 2013, according to Census estimates, were Baltimore City and Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties on the Eastern Shore.

There was very slow growth (less than 1% between 2010 and 2013) in Carroll, Dorchester, and Worcester counties, the latter two also representing the Eastern Shore. While no county on the Eastern Shore matched Maryland’s overall growth, Wicomico came the closest at 2.2% and is now barely 1,000 citizens smaller than Cecil County, the largest of the nine Eastern Shore counties.

Perhaps it’s a little easier to see the reason if you compare unemployment data over the last several years with the growth (or loss) in population. All five counties which lost population overall have an unemployment rate persistently above state average, with most of the rest experiencing slow growth or a loss between 2012 and 2013 also suffering from above-average rates. (Carroll and Queen Anne’s counties are the two exceptions; however, other bedroom suburb counties such as Charles, Howard, and Harford counties are still growing.)

It all presents a sort of vicious cycle: people leave because they perceive a lack of opportunity, which leads to other employers closing up shop and people leaving as the economic pie shrinks yet again. It’s been my contention that the state’s onerous policies on growth and the environment, particularly in more or less undeveloped areas like the Eastern Shore, are retarding the potential of these areas to grow on their own so people look for greener pastures. Those who are raised in rural areas are either heading to the more developed areas of the state or abandoning it entirely.

One thing I haven’t heard a lot of discussion about during this gubernatorial campaign is the concept of local control. Maybe they haven’t expanded on this yet, but the range of solutions I hear from all of the candidates is one of a top-down nature. Certainly there is a place for action from the state, particularly on tax and fiscal policies. But where is the passion for restoring local control? I hear a lot about this on the educational front thanks to Common Core, but what about other areas like planning and zoning? Where is the push to let the counties be their own tiny laboratories of policy experiment such as the states were meant to be before the federal government decided to run the whole ball of wax over the last 20 to 25 years?

I know better than to expect such rhetoric from the Democratic side of the aisle, because their sole intention seems to be consolidating government at the expense of the common man, creating in average Joes the serf-like dependence on those for whom power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. So it’s up to the conservatives in the race to explain how they would have the state step aside and allow those rural counties which seem to be the biggest victims of state policy to flourish like some of their more urban counterparts.

Meanwhile, Richard Falknor at Blue Ridge Forum suggests his own bottoms-up approach.

Slings and arrows: criticizing a “timid” approach

I wasn’t sure just what I was going to write on tonight, but thanks to Charles Lollar I have some blog fodder. It’s the kind of thing that happens when the race establishes a front-runner and those who aren’t king of the mountain try and climb up the hill.

Here’s what Charles Lollar had to say regarding Larry Hogan’s comments, quoted in the Washington Post, about his plan for ”prudent” tax cuts:

All the Democrat candidates agree with Larry on this, that we should be “timid” in cutting taxes and putting government on a diet. Lt. Governor Anthony Brown has said the state “can’t afford” even a modest reduction in the corporate tax.

Ken and I believe on the contrary that the time is over for Republicans to advocate tinkering around the edges of our bloated state budget, our confiscatory tax policies, and our corrupt and inefficient state government.

It is time for bold reforms that go to the core of our problems here in Maryland. That is why Ken and I turned to Dr. Art Laffer, who helped turn around our national economy in the 1980s, to vet our plan to eliminate the state income tax.

We have looked at the numbers, and we know we can achieve this step by step over the next five years, without putting at risk the services Maryland citizens expect their state government to provide.

Government is overhead on the economy. When you tax income, you reduce economic activity. Our objective is to restore economic vitality to Maryland, so families and small businesses will want to come here, invest, and grow.

Lollar and Timmerman are also vowing to eliminate the “rain tax,” the death tax, and the latest increases in the gasoline tax. So let’s look at what is at stake.

It’s difficult to quantify what chucking the “rain tax” would actually save because it does not affect all Maryland citizens equally. Sitting in Wicomico County, I pay no “rain tax” because our county hasn’t been forced to adopt one. Annual rates for counties which were mandated to adopt the fee range from one penny to $170.84, depending on location. Of course, we could go into why we are forced to come up with this when other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed successfully fought the mandate, but that’s for another time.

As far as eliminating the “death tax” goes, according to the fiscal note for this year’s House Bill 739, which set in motion a four-year process to recouple Maryland’s estate and inheritance taxes with federal law, these two taxes combine to create approximately $200 million a year in revenue for the state – a significant amount, but barely 1/2% of the state’s FY2015 budget. In short, we could easily eliminate this as a rounding error.

The gasoline tax, however, is another matter. By the end of Lollar’s first term, the increased tax is expected to bring $685 million in annual revenue, not counting the roughly $700-800 million the existing tax has taken in annually over the last decade. The intent of increasing the tax was to build light rail in Baltimore and metro Washington – note that by FY2019, O’Malley’s budget projected the Maryland Transit Authority would be allocated nearly as much as the State Highway Administration receives (page 33 here). Currently the MTA gets about 56 cents for every dollar that goes to SHA; by FY2019 it would be 92 cents. Just keeping the MTA at its current 56 cent rate to SHA for FY2019 would save about $405.5 million; reducing them to the 25 cents per dollar MTA/SHA rate exhibited in the FY2007 budget (Bob Ehrlich’s last, see page 19) would save $752.7 million. Guess what? There’s your gas tax increase.

In looking at the two example budgets, which happen to be the final ones presented by the respective governors, it’s remarkable that income tax has remained a fairly constant portion of the revenue. Its share was 23% of Bob Ehrlich’s $29.6 billion FY2007 budget and 22% of Martin O’Malley’s $39.3 billion FY2015 proposal. (In terms of real money, though, the income tax increase is $1.999 billion, from $6.552 billion to $8.551 billion.) Over time, we have to figure out what to cut and how to grow the economy to backfill $8.551 billion in revenues if the state income tax goes away.

But let’s assume we can hold the budget where it is, rather than grow it at a 5% annual rate as Martin O’Malley has been doing for the last few years – a trend we could easily assume Anthony Brown would continue. Rather than looking at a $47.8 billion FY2019 budget, $8.5 billion higher than today’s, we would be in a position where other revenue sources could indeed grow to obviate the need for an income tax. Even as people prosper and have more income, the state would get a cut from increased sales tax revenue and perhaps even additional property taxes as housing becomes more valuable in a growing, thriving state.

Yet all of this is academic to a degree. Even if Republicans split 50-50 on all the contested races this year in the Maryland General Assembly, they would remain the minority by 91-50 in the House of Delegates and 29-18 in the Senate. Most of the Republicans who won would be replacing the centrists of the Democratic delegation, so those remaining Democrats would be farther left than ever. We would need Reaganesque leadership to shepherd tax cuts through that body, particularly after those aggrieved Democratic constituencies begin taking a haircut on the budget. (If you thought the grumbling about the “doomsday budget” from the Left was bad, the caterwauling on this would be deafening.) If Charles Lollar (or, for that matter, David Craig, who is also suggesting the elimination of the income tax) can get it done, the prospects are there for voters to further reward both them and the Republicans in general in 2018 – an important election because the winners will draw the next set of redistricting lines.

So I would prepare to be a little disappointed if you’re expecting our income taxes to magically disappear the moment Charles Lollar is sworn into office. However, he makes a good point in that we should be making bold initiatives, because being cautious isn’t really getting us anywhere. If you’re going down, go out with your guns blazing and don’t spare any bullets.

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  • More Campaign 2014

    Contested races only.

    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

    ___

    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Chris Robinson (D)

    ___

    House District 37B

    Republican

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

    ___

    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

    ___

    House District 38A

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

    ___

    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

    ___

    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

    ___

    Wicomico County

    County Executive

    Bob Culver (R)
    Rick Pollitt (D)

    ___

    County Council at-large

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

    ___

    Council District 2

    Marc Kilmer (R)
    Kirby Travers (D)

    ___

    Council District 3

    Larry Dodd (R)
    Josh Hastings (D)