The seduction of good intentions

In yesterday’s Salisbury Independent, County Councilman Marc Kilmer discussed his concerns about a tuition assistance program proposed by community leaders and supported by County Executive Bob Culver. The aim of this Wor-Wic College proposal would be to assist Wicomico County high school students by supplementing their available financial aid, with an estimated cost once the program is underway of $665,000 annually.

One of the examples cited by the backers of the Wor-Wic Economic Impact Scholarship is that of Garrett County at the far western end of Maryland, which has a similar program. I’m sure those on County Council have seen this document, but the Garrett County Commissioners have produced a (somewhat dated) report on the Garrett County Scholarship Program, which they began way back in 2006 – so the 2014 report had several years’ worth of data to evaluate its success.

A couple things to bear in mind are that Garrett County is not one of the wealthier counties in Maryland, and in terms of its economic strength it would fit in well with the rural counties of the Eastern Shore. As the report authors note, the county is in a transition “from an economy traditionally based on agriculture, forest products, and mining to a more diversified economy based on tourism, commerce, light industry, and construction.” But it is also far smaller than Wicomico County in terms of population, with just over 30,000 people – imagine the city of Salisbury (but not the outskirts and densely populated nearby incorporated and unincorporated areas) spread out in a far larger geographic area, as Garrett is the second-largest county in the state when it comes to land area. It doesn’t have a large populated area, either, as the largest towns of Mountain Lake Park and Oakland (the county seat) hover around 2,000 residents apiece.

According to the commissioners’ report, between 1/3 and 2/5 of the eligible students in the county took advantage of the program, but in raw numbers the total was less impressive: from a fall 2008 peak of 138 recipients, the number declined over the next several years to a low of 79 in the fall of 2013 (the last year detailed by the report.) Yet the program comes with a significant cost due to some of its qualities: for FY2013 the price tag was $427,365 and for FY2017 the county has budgeted $500,000. However, the county also assists students who are dual-enrolled in one of its two high schools and Garrett College as well as a handful who are enrolled in non-degree certificate programs, as well as encouraging students to take more than the minimum 12 credit hours to maintain eligibility. They pick up that tab.

While the programs as envisioned here in Wicomico County and the Garrett County program have somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison to them, I think it’s fair to say that the local proposal is probably going to cost more than envisioned. Expanding the Garrett scholarship to non-degree certificate programs, while a sound idea, is an example of the mission creep that often occurs with the government getting involved. It’s also worth pointing out a spike in costs came when Garrett College tuition increased significantly in 2009.

Unfortunately, the one relevant piece of data we don’t have is whether these scholarship recipients remained to take (or create) jobs in the Garrett County region. According to state records, though, the workforce in Garrett has actually declined from 15,666 to 14,475 over the last decade (April 2006 – April 2016) for a drop of 7.6%. Conversely, Wicomico County declined from 49,566 to 47,504 in that same period, for a decrease of 4.2% – so by that measure the Garrett County program may not be very successful. (Yet the Garrett unemployment rate has only risen from 4.7% to 5.7% in comparison to a jump from 3.7% to 6% in Wicomico.)

One way of expressing the cost of this program is to equate it to property taxes. For each penny of property tax, Wicomico County collects about $570,000 (this is assuming I am reading the budget correctly, of course. But it sounds about right based on my experience.) So this would be a little over a penny out of the 95 cents or so the county collects out of every $100 of property valuation. The owner of a house assessed at $200,000 would pay about $20 a year toward this goal. If that seems worth it to give students a break, then support the scholarship program.

But if I may make a couple suggestions: I think the total expenditure should be capped and given out on a first come, first served basis. I understand not everyone makes snap decisions well, but in order to be fiscally responsible we can’t let this mushroom beyond its small percentage of the county budget. I would also reserve a number of slots for certificate programs Wor-Wic offers, similar to that element of Garrett’s program. Since a P-TECH school is not yet in the cards for Wicomico County, this can be the next best thing if done correctly.

It’s not likely any member of my family will take advantage of the program, but Kilmer is right to be a little skeptical of it at this stage. The county did set aside the money to begin the program once the questions are answered, though, so it’s possible an upcoming high school class will be the first to have this option.

A weekend to remember, 2016 edition

May 30, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Personal stuff · Comments Off 

Once again I spent a significant portion of my Memorial Day weekend honoring both the living veterans and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Unlike last year, the vibe was quite a bit different this year due to threatening skies and an occasional rain shower. But the show went on at the eleventh annual Concert for a Random Soldier up in Long Neck, Delaware. I think this is about the eighth or ninth I’ve attended, and it seemed the threat of rain brought the attendance down a bit.

There have been several years where all the rows of picnic tables were full and another few dozen scattered around the perimeter (as Kim and I did for most of the show.) It was a shame that more weren’t there, although the silent auction still seemed to be a moneymaker.

It continues to be the case that the Chad Clifton Foundation is the presenting sponsor and the beneficiary is Guitars for Vets. Chad Clifton is the “random soldier” in question, as he was killed in Iraq in 2005.

With a lot of help, Chad’s mother Terri Clifton has spearheaded the event.

Obviously it’s a tribute to her fallen son, but she also intended the event to increase the awareness for living veterans and assist them as she could through the charity side of it. All of the food, shirts, and silent auction items were donated and the bands volunteered for the gig – many have done so for several consecutive years. (I’m going to cover the latter half of the program in an upcoming Weekend of Local Rock segment.)

But for seven hours the area around Long Neck was rocked and rolled by bands that ranged from acoustic cover artists to those performing the oldies to some heavy metal artists playing great original music. It’s certainly a different style of Memorial Day weekend tradition than the event Kim and I attended this morning.

The somber mood of this annual Wicomico County observance was matched this year by somber weather that forced the event indoors for the first time since I began attending it in 2005. The event program remained pretty much the same except for not being able to lower the colors (usually performed by members of a local JROTC unit) and the honor guard needing to step right outside the door to do the volley of arms.

As you may be able to tell from the photo, something I brought up last year still rings true: this event is being organized and coordinated by an ever-graying generation of soldiers, sailors, and airmen. For most of the last decade, our fighting forces have been the subject of budget cuts, accusations of barbaric acts from the left side of the aisle, and social engineering – all while seeing their mission change on the capricious whims of those in office. There’s still a generation that supports the military, and I don’t think we’re to the nadir of respect for the military those who returned from Vietnam endured.

Yet it’s worth considering that the clear majority of the 191 names on Wicomico County’s list of war fatalities were killed during World War II, and there are precious few of their brothers in arms remaining among us. (If you signed up the day after Pearl Harbor on your eighteenth birthday, you would be 92 years old now.) Korean War veterans are perhaps a decade younger, and those who served in Vietnam are mostly at retirement age. While the sacrifice is a burden to bear for any family that lost a loved one in combat, the simple fact that the death toll from Vietnam is roughly eightfold that of the engagements since means Memorial Day is a little less in mind for the bulk of Americans, even as much as some of us try to goad people into remembering.

So it may be that the ranks of those who are asked to stand because they lost a family member in combat get a little smaller year by year, but those who have gone generations before still deserve to be remembered as if it were yesterday. Let’s remember that for next year.

WCRC meeting – May 2016

The fact that Memorial Day occurs on a somewhat rare fifth Monday of the month this year provided the WCRC with an “extra” meeting this year, and they took advantage by scheduling something that’s becoming a tradition: the annual Legislative Wrapup. All six Republican members of our local delegation (from Districts 37 and 38) were invited – but thanks to a number of calendar conflicts, only two of them came. It was ladies’ night for the delegation as Delegate Mary Beth Carozza and Senator Addie Eckardt gave their accounts of the recently completed session. (Delegate Chris Adams made the attempt to stop by, but came just after we wrapped up.)

So once we did our usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, Eckardt got the meeting underway by praising the state’s $42 billion budget, which needed no new taxes for balance. The reason for this was that the Hogan cabinet was finding more efficiencies in their respective departments, enabling the state to become more business-friendly. One way they were doing this was through fee reduction, although Eckardt noted that some Democrats were fretting that fees were getting too low. Yet the budget allowed for a reduction in the structural deficit and did not feature a BRFA, the omnibus bill where spending mandates are often buried. This year’s spending had “full transparency,” said Addie.

But the push to reduce taxation was one goal of the Augustine Commission, explained Addie. Sadly, the broader tax reform package could not pass thanks to the question of passing a package mandating expanded paid sick leave - despite the fact changes to the earned income tax credit would have helped thousands of working Maryland families that I thought the majority party deigned to represent.

On the other side of that Augustine coin, Addie continued, was the idea of being responsive to constituents; to “change the tenor of government.” This went with a drive to bring things to the county level, as Addie noted “local control is important to me.”

One complaint Eckardt had about the session was the “crusade to get the Red Line back.” It led to the passage of what’s known as the “Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016.” (I call it the “Revenge for Not Funding the Red Line in Baltimore” Act.) While the bill overall is terrible, Eckardt noted it was amended somewhat to give local jurisdictions a little more priority.

And while she was pleased Wicomico County would be receiving an additional $8.7 million from the state for various projects, Addie was more passionate about a series of initiatives to bolster mental health and combat addiction around the state. She was also happy to see the Justice Reinvestment Act pass, which was a bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform. The state was also doing more to address mental and behavioral health, particularly since she claimed later in the evening it took someone who was addicted and incarcerated two years to re-integrate fully. This led to a discussion about what the state and local governments were doing to deal with the issue of homelessness, to which Muir Boda revealed the city of Salisbury would be embarking on a Housing First program modeled after one in the state of Utah.

Between Eckardt’s main presentation and the later discussion about mental and behavioral health issues, we heard Delegate Carozza’s perspective. She began by praising the club for being a group of workers and doers when it came to advocacy, with the optimistic view that “this is our time…Governor Hogan is turning the state around.” But that was a process which would take at least eight years, said Mary Beth. As an aside, she also believed that Kathy Szeliga was “the candidate that can win” the U.S. Senate seat, which would also lay the groundwork for Larry Hogan’s re-election campaign.

Both she and Eckardt, added Carozza, were in the position to support the budget thanks to their respective committees. They could succeed making suggestions for “walling off” funds for supplemental budget proposals, of which there were two or three each year. And while this budget allowed for what Carozza termed “a well-rounded tax package,” only a minor tax break for Northrop Grumman made it through. But the “good news” out of that was that it was making Mike Busch and Mike Miller talk about tax relief, making it a stronger possibility we may see some in 2017.

As for some of her priorities, Carozza was happy to see the bomb threat bill she sponsored make it through the General Assembly in its second try. (A similar proposal was introduced by then-Delegate Mike McDermott in 2013, said Mary Beth.) She commented about how the broad community support, combined with the “sense of urgency” provided by a series of bomb threats making the news earlier this year, allowed the bill to pass easily. Another bill she was happy to shepherd through was the ABLE bill, which allows the disabled to save money for dealing with their medical-related expenses without jeopardizing their means-tested benefits.

She also stressed that killing bad bills was a part of the job as well, citing the defeat of the poultry litter and “farmer’s rights” bills where she praised Delegates Carl Anderton and Charles Otto as they “led the charge” against those measures. Mary Beth also took the unusual step of personally testifying against the assisted suicide bill and worked to amend the sick leave bill to exempt more seasonal employees. On that bill, she predicted “we’re going to see it again next session.”

Even after hearing all that information, we had some business to do, like the treasurer’s report and Central Committee report that Dave Parker delivered. He called the recent state convention the “get over it, people” convention, noting the party seemed pretty well unified afterward. Even local radio host Don Rush had difficulty finding disunity among a group of Republicans who were his guests last Friday, Parker added. On the other hand, “Hillary can’t close the deal” on the Democratic side.

I added my two cents about the convention to his report, pointing out the National Committeeman race was perhaps the biggest bone of contention and that was relatively minor. But the Fall Convention may be interesting because we will be electing a new Chair, and the question is whether it will be someone who will work more for Larry Hogan’s re-election or to bolster the GOP numbers in the General Assembly. A Hogan win, I added, would make redistricting the key focus for the second term – personally, I think we should strive for single-member districts and Eckardt agreed based on its impact to minorities.

Shelli Neal updated us on the Greater Wicomico Republican Women, who would be holding their next meeting June 16 at Adam’s Taphouse. They had two tickets to the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield to raffle off as part of a membership meeting for the newly-christened organization.

Another fairly new creation was the Wicomico Teenage Republicans, which had “a great start of a club” according to Nate Sansom. While their next meeting was slated for this coming Friday, they planned on taking a summer break and reconvening in August once school started back up. With a group of “passionate people, happy to be involved,” Sansom believed his group would focus on statewide campaigns like Kathy Szeliga’s as well as the local We Decide Wicomico campaign for an elected school board.

Representing the statewide College Republicans, their Chair Patty Miller was hoping to reach each county Central Committee at one of their meetings over the next few months and “see what they need from us.” Her first stop will be this week in Calvert County.

Jim Jester reminded us the Crab Feast would be September 10, but stressed the need for more volunteers – particularly to handle admissions and the silent auction.

Shawn Jester pointed out the WCRC Scholarship winners had a brief story in the Daily Times. But, since the subject was volunteering, he was also looking for people to help out at Third Friday, which we missed this month because no one was available. On that note, a signup sheet was passed around. (We will also need help for upcoming events such as the Wicomico County Fair, Good Beer Festival, and Autumn Wine Festival.)

After all that discussion, and seeing that we had a legislative update where the topic wasn’t addressed, I added one thing to the conversation. General Assembly Democrats sponsored a large number of bills this year that mandated spending. To me, this is an effort to handcuff Larry Hogan when it comes to budgeting but also leaves less room for tax reform. Many of these bills may become law without Hogan’s signature, but they will be law just the same. It’s an issue that I think needs a strategy to address, perhaps a reverse BRFA to eliminate mandates.

We are going to try and get the guys who didn’t show up this month to come to our June meeting, so stay tuned. It will be June 27.

Thoughts at large

I guess you can call this a stream of consciousness post. I actually have three to four things I want to write on and a couple things I need to write about, but the mind is a little fuzzy this evening – a stroll at 3rd Friday and dinner with the family will do that. So I’m just going to begin typing and see where it takes me. (Actually I do a lot of writing like that anyway, but in this case I will admit to it.) The things I need to write about can wait until morning.

One reason I like 3rd Friday as an event is that chances are good I’ll see several people I know there. Most of them I know through my political life, so the topic tends to be on issues or candidates. So it was I had a nice discussion about the Senate race on the other side of the fence and a long conversation about why I’m dead-set against Donald Trump. Since I don’t want to get bogged down in minutia, suffice to say that I find Trump is neither conservative nor trustworthy.

There was also a bit of controversy locally about The Donald insofar as our Central Committee goes. As a body we are supposed to stay neutral, but a report on the opening of the local Trump headquarters seemed to lead some to believe our Central Committee was down with Trump, and I can guarantee you we’re not all on the Trump train. Supposedly it’s all been straightened out, but I would be willing to bet that out of nine members we have at least seven or eight different combinations of who we favor for President, U. S. Senate, and Congress.

Yet we all seem to get along – in the three terms since I was elected we only turned over members midstream three times: Bob Laun was a midterm appointee for another gentleman who moved away, we appointed two members when authorized to expand from seven members to nine about eight years back, and I was reappointed to fill a vacancy last October. Yes, that’s it in almost a decade – meanwhile, other county Central Committees seem to change on almost a weekly basis. I may not like who others support, and it may be good to remind folks that we are not a monolithic body in this primary for any candidate.

But there is something I noticed about early voting. Granted, one day is a small sample size but for all the excitement they tell me this presidential primary beings, turnout on day 1 wasn’t a whole lot better than it was in 2012, the last Presidential cycle. On day one four years ago (which was a Saturday) there was 13,512 voters, or 0.43%. The Thursday of early voting, which was the final day, had 16,408 (the highest total), for 0.52%. Overall just 2.4% of voters came out early over six days in 2012.

Yesterday, we had 36,657 voters, which is 1.07%. As a total, yes that is quite a bit larger, but I would have expected twice that given the excitement we were told was in the air. There were 326 Wicomico voters, or one about every two minutes the polls were open. I still haven’t figured out why we do this exercise, particularly now that they are letting new same-day registrants vote. (Three took advantage in Wicomico County – all Democrats.) We will have a room in the Civic Center, pay several people hundreds of dollars to sit around, and marvel that maybe 1,500 people came over the eight days. Seems a waste of time and money for something an absentee ballot can achieve.

Well, I think I got enough off my mind. I still have a couple toss-up races to decide on for endorsement so look for one Sunday.

Odds and ends number 81

It’s Leap Day, so why not use the occasion to put up the odds and ends cluttering up the mailbox? After sifting through the stuff I thought might be useful but is now pretty much irrelevant, I’ve still come up with a post’s worth of things that take a sentence to a couple paragraphs to deal with.

As you may know, here in Maryland we have passed the halfway point of the “90 days of terror” I call the General Assembly session. While several of the items I cite aren’t on the agenda, I think you can file them under the “bright idea” category, as in “don’t give them any bright ideas.”

While the first idea (one of many Daily Signal items that caught my eye) isn’t really on the table in the state, locally they are kicking around the thought of assisting local students who want to attend Wor-Wic Community College. But Louisiana’s program is breaking the state, so it may be a cautionary tale for the county.

Look, you begin with one college campus and recent high school graduates but then the folks at Salisbury University will want in, then there will be a clamor to include other groups and schools. With any government program, mission creep is a concern and this is no exception. It’s a natural lead-in to an excellent piece by James Bovard at Mises Daily (for this the hat tip goes to my friends at Americans for Limited Government.) Once we set the precedent of free tuition, will the county ever get off the hook?

“(Politicians) realize that addicting citizens to government handouts is the easiest way to breed mass docility and stretch their power,” writes Bovard, and he is absolutely correct. Why do you think I advocate so much for starving the beast? It’s the only way out of this mess we have created.

But as the Daily Signal adds in another great piece, Republicans who want limited government find it a tough sell in minority communities despite the evidence that shoveling money into the welfare system isn’t helping. Perhaps this is because conservatives are losing the battle for debunking the lies being sold to the minorities and youth, despite Dan Bongino’s best efforts to change the narrative at the Conservative Review.

Then again, when you have the dissent-free atmosphere of college campuses these days (again from the Daily Signal), it’s easier to see why the “skulls full of mush” remain in their state.

Something that is on the docket in Maryland once again is a “death with dignity” bill. But my final piece from the Daily Signal points out that if you took Oregon’s assisted suicide rate and extrapolated the numbers nationwide, 10,529 people annually would take their own lives. By comparison, in 2013 just over 33,000 people died as a result of vehicle accidents and roughly the same number perished in firearm-related deaths. But the majority of those firearm deaths were suicides, with 11,208 being homicides. (Table 18 way back in this government report.)

So what we would be doing is likely reducing the firearm death figure by a little bit, but increasing the suicide rate by giving it less of a stigma. I’m not sure I agree with this because in this day and age it’s easy for the greedy grandkids to convince their rich grandma she is bound any day to catch Alzheimer’s and struggle on for years afterward. Why not save us, uh, we mean yourself the trouble, they would ask.

I wanted to bring up one more seeming juxtaposition in Maryland politics before I switch gears. A couple weeks back there was a candidates’ debate for the Republicans seeking the U.S. Senate seat (way too) long held by Barbara Mikulski. I believe there were five candidates present of the fourteen who filed, but the most notable absentee was Delegate Kathy Szeliga. As she noted, there was a Maryland GOP event held that same night. Under the heading of “An Amazing Event!” she wrote:

Thursday night, I was able to attend an event with three great governors… Bob Ehrlich, Charlie Baker (Mass. GOP Gov.), and Larry Hogan even stopped by! These men know how to win and govern in blue states.

We will win our U.S. Senate campaign the same way – by being authentic and showing voters that we truly care about our state and nation. Our ideas work and empower people over big government.

It’s interesting she points this out since we didn’t get to hear her ideas in the debate. On the other hand, fellow candidate Richard Douglas chided Szeliga indirectly by stating:

I am delighted to be participating in the Goucher College Republican candidate’s debate for the U.S. Senate on February 18, 2016. Only a serious family emergency could keep me away. Over many weeks, College Republicans and some of Maryland’s most devoted grassroots Republican activists have devoted enormous effort to this useful event. I warmly commend them for this effort, and from the beginning, my participation was never in doubt. Service in the armed forces and with two U.S. Senate committees teaches a vital lesson: people come first. I took that lesson to heart in Iraq, on a Navy submarine, and in the U.S. Senate as it reacted to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If elected to the U.S. Senate, I will never make party or President higher priorities than the people of Maryland.

As you recall, there were a series of questions I sent out to 12 of the 14 candidates (two had bad e-mail addresses so their mail bounced.) I mention this because I received Douglas’s answers yesterday as the second response to come in – haven’t heard from Szeliga yet.

Finally, if there were a third person I would like to add to monoblogue (at least on a weekly basis) it’s this lady. Each time I read Marita Noon’s posts on the political aspects of energy I nod my head in agreement, and this one was no exception – it even ties in to the lunacy on college campuses these days because this is what some of these crackpots do after college. I give you the movement to “keep it in the ground”:

“Keep it in the ground” is the new face of environmental activism. If those who understand the role energy plays in America and our freedoms don’t engage, don’t attend meetings and send statements, and don’t vote, the policy makers have almost no choice but to think these vocal few represent the many.

For example, there’s the case of Sandoval County, New Mexico, which has potential to be a wealthier county but can’t even give permission to drill an exploratory well without angst:

In the past few years, when oil prices were higher, Encana and WPX drilled some 200 wells in the same geology, 70 of them in Sandoval County. Not one single instance of any interference, damage, or invasion of fresh water aquifers has occurred. For that matter, over the past 50 years of production in Sandoval County, even with technology and safety standards that were not as advanced or rigorous as todays, there has not been one instance of aquifer harm.

(snip)

One “small drilling well” outside of a community on the edge of Albuquerque that could create jobs and help the local and state economy could be blocked because of a few dozen agitators who could cause the county to “keep it in the ground.”

When I read this it makes me think of the short-sightedness of several regional governmental bodies that have expressed their opposition to the simple act of seismic surveying of the waters off the coast, citing harm to marine life. (This didn’t seem to be a problem in 2013 when it was done to place wind turbines, though.)

I suppose they would rather wreak havoc on the migratory bird population with wind turbines, but I think both oil platforms and wind turbines can co-exist – an “all of the above” strategy if you will. It’s just that one will prove to be a boondoggle without subsidies and one won’t.

So as we wrap up this Leap Day, here’s hoping Donald Trump is the first to take a flying leap – to where I don’t care.

Let the terror begin

For years I have dubbed the annual Maryland General Assembly session the “90 days of terror,” and with good reason: no wallet or personal liberty is safe when the statists who inhabit most of the seats therein get together. Over the eight years of the previous two terms we endured tax increases, spending boondoggles, and enough new regulations to choke a horse, not to mention three measures which were petitioned to referendum by angry citizens.

While a new broom swept the governor’s office clean last year, Larry Hogan needed to get his sea legs under him as he took the helm of the ship of state so he didn’t create a huge legislative agenda last year – in a broad sense, it was about easing some of the tax burden Marylanders had been subjected to over the O’Malley administration, including repeals of the rain tax and automatic increases in the gasoline tax. Other items Hogan focused on were charter school reform and public campaign financing, which were among the few items Hogan had passed.

So since Hogan didn’t get his tax relief last year, it’s the front and center item on his 2016 agenda that kicks off later today. Democrats, of course, believe shoveling money into a bloated public education system is more important than giving hard-working Marylanders a tax break.

Something else to keep an eye on, though, are the department-sponsored bills, which now will bear the stamp of Hogan’s departmental appointees. Just like the governor, this is their first full legislative session as well and I’ve noticed a number of interesting measures coming from various departments that have already been pre-filed.

But the tension will be thick as Hogan tries to enact the agenda he promised while Democrats strive to make sure he’s another one-term Republican governor. As of 2018, it will have been 64 years since a Republican was re-elected as Maryland governor; however, Hogan has began his term as one of the most popular governors in the country and this session will occur with the backdrop of a Presidential race in which the Democrats aren’t utterly sold on their potential nominee. (Tellingly, the previous governor couldn’t even be a “favorite son” Presidential nominee from his own state.) In a contest over pocketbook issues, Hogan may have the public on his side.

We will know quickly just how the session will go as several of Hogan’s vetoes will be up for override. This was a rarity in the previous administration, but it’s worth recalling that the Democrats didn’t give Bob Ehrlich much of a honeymoon so I expect there to be at least one Hogan veto rebuffed. Democrats want to raise taxes, give felons the right to vote before completing their full sentences, make some reforms on civil forfeiture, and decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia. Out of those four vetoes, only the civil forfeiture bill originally had enough House votes to override a veto.

On a local level, we will be very interested to see what becomes of our elected school board bill. Will this finally be the year the state relents and lets the voters of Wicomico County decide its fate?

With a projection that we will have a large increase in filings over last session, it should be a year worth watching. I suspect I will have a difficult time keeping it to just the 25 votes I use for the monoblogue Accountability Project given that the veto votes will likely be included. But with a little help from my friends I look forward to the challenge.

A look ahead: 2016 in Wicomico County

After doing this the last two years one would think I would be an expert at dissecting what will go on over the course of a year, but in this case my crystal ball is a little bit cloudy. Perhaps that’s because things are looking up for a change.

I went to the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation website and downloaded some figures which reflect great job creation news - particularly in the latter half of this year. Since June, Wicomico County employment figures are running between 1,300 and 1,800 jobs higher than the corresponding month of 2014. Conversely, in 2014 we never ran more than 753 jobs ahead of 2013 and by the end of last year we actually had fewer employed than the year prior. That downturn carried into this calendar year but by March we had turned the corner.

The growth in the latter half of the year was reminiscent of the boom period of 2004-06, when Wicomico County routinely gained 1,000 or more jobs in every month year-over-year.

So the question will be whether county revenues begin to increase. Unlike the boom of a decade ago, which was fueled by a rapid increase in property values that later translated into increased tax collections, this upturn doesn’t come with rapidly appreciating property values. And there are plenty of bills for the county to pay – two new schools with a third one now placed into the pipeline as well as new facilities for the Board of Elections, increased mandates for education spending and environmental cleanup from the state and federal governments, respectively, and a call from the city of Salisbury to assist them more with fire protection expenses through a more equitable revenue sharing. Certainly it appears that any new money has a number of hands reaching out for it.

Another question regards how well two relatively new leaders will work with each other. It’s fortunate that both County Executive Bob Culver and Salisbury Mayor Jake Day spent a little bit of time on the legislative side of things because it will help them understand the process the other has to go through to get things done. If there’s one thing we have learned from Culver, though, it’s that he’s a man of action who always seems to have a to-do list of improvements he’d like to see. It’s more autocratic than bureaucratic on the county side of the Government Office Building these days. Initial impressions of Day seem to be similar, although he’s made much less of an impact on taking office than Culver did insofar as personnel decisions are concerned.

But there are two key issues regarding education that will be out of Culver’s hands. One is the fate of the elected school board, which is now up to the Maryland General Assembly. The other is the new superintendent that will take over the county schools sometime in 2016. The Board of Education begins the selection process after the holidays – by the way, the county Republican Central Committee will be called upon to retain or replace two GOP members of that body this summer.

Getting around may become a little more difficult next fall as well, as the state will begin replacing 11 bridge decks on the U.S. 13 bypass. It’s a project that’s not supposed to impact summer traffic in 2017 but won’t be complete until 2018.

In comparison to previous years there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly contentious on the horizon - with the possible exception of the proposed large-scale chicken farms Radical Green is already up in arms against - which probably means we’re going to have an interesting year. If we can keep up the pace of job creation, though, eventually the local economy will get back to where it was a decade ago and prosperity takes care of a lot of problems.

Tomorrow I shift my focus to the state as a whole.

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.

The revenue challenge

In this day and age of ever-expanding government that desires to cater to our every whim, it takes money to grease the wheels. Unfortunately for those in the government people aren’t naturally inclined to support higher taxes or fees, so they have created more and more methods of vacuuming money out of peoples’ wallets in order to enrich themselves. One extreme case in point was the subject of a recent Institute for Justice update – it seems the small community of Pagedale, Missouri has decided that fines need to be levied for egregious offenses such as having mismatched curtains or a grill in your front yard. It’s a technique reminiscent of the notorious old “speed trap” communities like New Rome, Ohio that ended when states outlawed the practice of deriving a high percentage of a municipality’s revenues from traffic tickets.

I bring this up at the risk of giving the city of Salisbury some bright ideas when the speed cameras and rain tax bring in less revenue than predicted, but it makes a larger point: there seems to be no limit on what governmental units will consider for a “sin tax.” As one example: while those who believe in liberty gained a small victory earlier this year when Wicomico County allowed its speed camera contract to expire, the city of Salisbury isn’t giving up on its $768,000 in annual revenue that they wrest from peoples’ pockets for the simple act of exceeding the posted speed limit, even if it is set too low for the conditions or is active at a time when kids are not going to or from school. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear about Salisbury lobbying the state to expand the allowable area for these ticket producers outside their current legal restriction of school and active construction work zones.

More traditional “sin taxes” such as those on cigarettes have been a staple for years, and are often promoted for a particular purpose. Even having the states raid the coffers of the tobacco companies themselves has done little to slake their thirst – this report points out the hypocrisy of states taking tobacco settlement money but spending it on almost everything but cessation. Next in line for this treatment is marijuana – my prediction is that our kids will live to see a day where it is freely available, taxed like tobacco, and has cessation programs like tobacco does now. (The only difference is that we don’t have large-scale marijuana producers to extort settlement money from as we do tobacco companies.)

Of course, I understand that government needs money to operate, and while I may disagree about the ins and outs of particular policy decisions I understand I have to pay some taxes and fees along the way. Having said that, though, I object to the backhanded way state and local governments are trying to enrich themselves, often with no input from the public or recorded vote. (One example from Maryland: thanks to a vote from legislators two years ago, our gas tax is now indexed to inflation. It goes up without a vote; however, proposals to return it to the old system never make it out of committee.)

If government is to be properly limited, that limitation shouldn’t just be on the spending end. Excessive means of tax and fee collection as well as civil forfeitures provide more methods to confiscate the fruits of our labor for little benefit – unless you’re a well-connected crony. If you think you’re working harder and harder but have less to show for it, you may be right, but the solution isn’t going to attained easily. There are too many interested in keeping things just the way they are, so you may soon end up paying for that hole in your window screen you didn’t have time to attend to last weekend.

The consolidation of responsibility

It started out so innocently, somewhat like a warm late-summer day did almost a decade-and-a-half ago. But somehow things became so much bigger and darker.

There’s no doubt a Facebook disagreement pales ever-so-greatly in comparison to 9/11, but the reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act became yet another excuse for partisan bickering, with many of these comments criticizing the heartless Republicans. It’s certainly not hard to garner sympathy for the families of those who were affected by the fall of the Twin Towers.

Yet being the adult in the room isn’t always the most popular thing.

I have no problem with state and local funding of first responders provided they can justify the need for it. Salisbury and Wicomico County are in the process of ironing out a long-standing disagreement over the city providing fire and EMS services for outlying areas close by the city. (Due to haphazard annexation, there are significant pockets of county population completely or nearly fully surrounded by the city limits. I used to live next door to a county resident while I lived within the city limits – the city limit split our shared driveway. The house I lived in literally was the single piece of property that made that relatively large neighborhood area a county island.)

But I would like to know how it became the federal government’s responsibility to take care of these first responders to begin with. It seems to me that this act of terror was equated with an act of war and first responders were elevated to a status not unlike our veterans. And while the families of these firemen and police officers have suffered greatly as these first responders have, there should already have been a state-based workman’s compensation program in place. In short, they are deserving but it’s not the federal government’s place to pay these bills because they had no contract with Uncle Sam like veterans have. Saying so, though, makes one out to be a bad guy.

Beyond this, there is the question of what role the federal government should take.

It seems to me anymore that we assume the federal government will always be our backstop, there to cover us in the event of disaster. Because of this, we aren’t preparing ourselves for a world where the government can’t or won’t be able to help us. How many people have based their retirement dreams on the fact that Social Security and Medicare will always be there, despite the math that equates both to Ponzi schemes? I haven’t checked in several years because I had a lengthy unintentional hiatus from full-time work, but I don’t think it would take too many years for me to go through the amount I had taken out of my checks over the years for Social Security.

At some point, we need to have the cord cut. The question is whether we will have the willpower to do it ourselves or simply have the rug pulled out from under our feet without warning or a chance to prepare. Those who seem to think we can stay on the same course when it comes to the direction of our federal government are sadly deluded. Donald Trump may be the GOP frontrunner, but he has the wrong approach to entitlements. (By the way, I think I’m really doing a disservice by referring to them as “entitlements” because I would like to know exactly where in the Constitution these programs are. Would you consider yourself entitled to Donald Trump’s wealth if you did nothing to earn a portion of it? That’s what the government seems to think.)

For the families of these first responders things will turn out all right because it’s likely the provision will be placed in a must-pass appropriations bill and we will be paying for these luckless police officers and firemen until they pass away. It’s not really our federal government’s proper place, but giving out money to people we deem deserving always feels good. Things will feel great until the day the golden goose lays dead from exhaustion.

This little experiment we embarked upon almost 250 years ago was supposed to be one where government was limited, with authorization to only do a small number of tasks. Somehow we have come to a point where government is unlimited and unchecked. This 9/11 example, to me, buttresses the old adage, “A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.” The same seems to go for what we thought was a constitutional republic.

Autumn Wine Festival 2015 in pictures and text

October 18, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · Comments Off 

For the thirteenth year, Wicomico County hosted the Autumn Wine Festival on the grounds of Pemberton Manor.

There was one notable difference in this year’s event as opposed to previous ones, even at the ribbon cutting.

It was the usual assortment of politicians, but in addition to Senator Jim Mathias in the pink shirt, there were members of the Women Supporting Women group making sure we remembered October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This as if the entrance sign wasn’t enough.

Then you had this raffle table up front.

If you wanted to buy a bottle of wine, they were there.

They were selling merchandise, too.

You could even make a game of it.

Listen, I get it. When the attendance at the event appears to be 60-70% female it’s a good marketing play. But it may be a little hypocritical to use the AWF based on one recent study. Nor is there nearly the push for lung cancer or prostate cancer awareness despite their similar incidence. Just adding perspective, folks.

It seemed to me as well the crowd was a little thinner. I like taking crowd shots to watch the evolution, as the four shots from Saturday taken from about 12:30 to 3:30 show.

Today with the brisk weather and a couple spotty showers, it was fairly slow. The shot below was taken at 1:30.

By 2:45 the end tent farthest from the stage and food area was all but deserted.

At least one vendor pulled up stakes early based on this sparse gathering. There was still over an hour left at the time.

Just the couple businesses I spoke to would have liked better sales.

There were some other nice touches, though, The VIP section for the Wine Festival is much larger than the one for its beer-based counterpart.

On Sunday it becomes an artisan section where they can sell their wares.

As always, we Republicans were there too.

Like last week, we did a “corn poll,” but this time we had a different winner as Donald Trump prevailed. Participation was significantly less this week, though.

I generally have a few favorites in the marketing department and a bottle photo to conclude with. Based on the number of stickers I saw with this logo they were a hit.

St. Michael’s Winery does the Gollywobbler, the subject of the shirt below. What I didn’t know is that they’re next door to the St. Michael’s brewery. Can you say road trip?

Finally, the bottle shot brought to you by sunshine and Linganore.

Hopefully the weather will be warmer next year!

2015 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

October 13, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · Comments Off 

For six consecutive years I’ve been a part of the Good Beer Festival. After getting its legs under it and enduring a couple years of subpar weather in 2013 and 2014, the hopes were high for a banner event.

They didn’t take credit for the weather, but as always a number of local politicians crowded around the ribbon cutting. Accompanied by the fine folks of Wicomico County’s Recreation and Parks were (from left to right) County Councilman Marc Kilmer, County Council President John Cannon, County Executive Bob Culver, Senator Jim Mathias (in back), Delegates Carl Anderton (in back), Christopher Adams, and Sheree Sample-Hughes, and County Councilman John Hall.

One thing I liked was the schedule boards they added to alert those who came to the GBF to the various events going on that day. The event is focusing more and more on the home brewers, so the talks from local brewers were popular with that set.

As usual, Saturday drew the larger crowd. I took the photos at 1:30 and 3:30.

It didn’t seem quite as busy as last year, but not for lack of trying. Ever try human foosball?

Looked like fun, although it was a little cutthroat. On the other hand, the VIP tent seemed like it needed a little something – like people.

The local beer area is always a favorite, though. It features the ever-amusing chalkboards.

So went Saturday. As you may have noticed, Sunday was a clear, lovely day. But the crowd was far smaller.

Granted, I took these photos a little later in the day, but the attendance was probably half or less. Personally, I liked not having to deal with the larger crowds.

As long as they stopped by our tent…

…and participated in our corn poll.

Those who had the fullest Mason jars were Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

This was the perspective we had, as the sun was setting on another edition of the GBF.

So I close with this photo, just because I liked it.

In a few days I’ll do my look at the bands of the GBF.

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