The McDermott notes: weeks 11 and 12

Yes, I missed last week, but Mike had such a long week I didn’t have a chance to post in a Sunday slot – and I had a lot to write about anyway.

We’re now at the point in session where the hearings have pretty much ended and the House is now taking up a number of bills which have passed through the Senate. But as Mike wrote at the top of his Week 11 notes, “The news I bring you this week from Annapolis is not good.”

Some of the lowlights included the passage of a bill to further hinder Maryland’s opportunity to join in on the Marcellus Shale bonanza. “There was a significant amount of propaganda put forward by Chairman McIntosh citing many ground water contamination concerns”, wrote McDermott. “Although none of these instances has shown to have been caused by hydraulic fracturing in the process described, the chairman is a believer and is not swayed by many known facts.” But as he describes in week 12, there’s no problem with rushing offshore wind.

The beat went on, as McDermott included a list of defeated Republican amendments to the budget bills and tax increase bill which went through the House, all failing because enough majority Democrats are slaves to the party line. And he noted HB1412 because that affects a large part of his current constituency (I still consider him “my” Delegate despite the fact redistricting took me out of his district. I voted for the guy.) He chided Norm “14 Million Dollar” Conway for being a co-sponsor:

Democrats, including Del. Norm Conway, sponsored this bill which will effectively destroy a Tax Revenue Cap put into effect by the voters in counties such as Wicomico. Not only does it allow for an override of the cap (but if Maintenance of Effort isn’t met) it requires the Comptroller to withhold tax money due the county. Further, it requires the Comptroller to take the money and divert it to the local Board of Education to make up any money the county withheld from the budget. This is one incredible overreach by the state and may only serve to force some of our counties into a state of bankruptcy or never ending tax increases.

Yet Mike considered HB987 to be “perhaps the most potentially damaging legislation to the taxpayer this session.” And it will be quite a chunk of change, as the fiscal note cites the city of Salisbury (where I live) as incurring an additional $217,500 in costs yearly for this stormwater management measure. Given there are just over 11,000 households in Salisbury (although nearly half are part of multi-family units) it’s likely the city will dig another $20 to $40 annually out of our wallets. That will be a large expenditure, but will pale in comparison to what we in Wicomico County will have to face thanks to Norm “14 Million Dollar” Conway and his fellow Democrats who see counties as mere lines on a map, not distinct units of government, and voters as hicks who really don’t know better, especially when it comes to fooling them into re-election every four years.

But McDermott was just as enthused about a measure (HB576) which smacks of the cronyism in Maryland politics:

It was said to be turning the state into a “Banana Republic” where the one with the money buys the justice they desire. While many were offended by the debate, they were only offended by the truth. This bill was amended to help one particular party with a case already before the court, and, no matter how you slice it, that is just plain wrong. I was so glad to be ending my week on such high note.

That “case already before the court” would likely be the State Center project in downtown Baltimore. As the fiscal note points out, “work on State Center has largely come to a halt pending the outcome of that litigation,” which centers on whether the state followed proper competitive bidding procedures. Obviously it would be interesting to know who’s behind the LLCs involved, but that’s beyond the scope of this summary.

Week 12 got underway with more bad news, as the General Assembly perpetrated “a real waste of effort and tax dollars” by setting up a health insurance exchange” to comply with a bill which may be unconstitutional (Obamacare.) But there was a rare victory as an effort to increase hunting license fees (HB1419) died on the House floor. So the state won’t gouge hunters out of $3 million per year; unfortunately they’ll take it in the shorts along with the rest of us in the other myriad ways the state extracts its pound of flesh.

As I wrote above, the state doesn’t want to get in on the proven economic benefits (in terms of job creation and revenue, as evidenced by the results in Pennsylvania) of the Marcellus Shale formation, but is in a stampede to slap up offshore wind which can’t compete with the price per kWh that natural gas or coal can provide by creating an artificial market. McDermott concedes the bill has been amended and writes:

In fact, the industry folks say that it is financially improbable that a company would be willing to enter into an agreement with Maryland under these terms. The fact is, without significant government and ratepayer subsidies, Off Shore Big Wind is too costly. If you consider wind produced kilowatts coming in at .24 cents and natural gas generation at .07 cents, this is not rocket science. On the floor, I argued that we should join with Virginia and their announced project to allow Dominion Energy to build one such tower three miles off the coast of Cape Charles and a monitoring station so they can determine if the technology will produce the results needed to make it a viable option. They put a three year moratorium on natural gas drilling that would net billions, yet they rush forward on an unproven technology that would bind our people to higher utility rates in the future. In a word, unbelievable!

Welcome to O’Malleyland, Mike. Throw in the fact that we’ll have to pay a labor premium for the job as a sop to Martin O’Malley’s union buddies and Mike’s assessment that this is a “‘green’ shingle” to hang on O’Malley’s 2016 Presidential resume is likely correct.

Yet there is one bill I somewhat disagree with McDermott’s assessment on, and that’s the medical marijuana bill (HB15.) As he states:

I think this is a terrible idea and the bill has so many holes in it legally, I do not think it can be repaired. The big problem in the General Assembly is that we have some who want to legalize marijuana or, at least, decriminalize possession, yet they use medical marijuana for cover to try and relax laws. Well, if they want the debate on legalization, let’s have it…but let’s stop trying to come in the back door behind this ruse of medicinal marijuana. I do not want Maryland to look like California when it comes to marijuana. We already look like them when it comes to taxes and environmental laws. We did not vote on the bill, but I doubt it receives a favorable report from Judiciary next week.

Do I think such a bill is rife for abuse? Of course I do, I’m not stupid. I’ve become more and more convinced over the years though that marijuana is, in many respects, the alcohol you inhale. People get stoned and do stupid things just like they do when they get drunk, but you can go to a bar and have a couple drinks and as long as you stay below a prescribed blood alcohol limit (and/or don’t drive a vehicle) in the eyes of the law you are fine. But if you were smoking a single joint, that’s illegal?

And I know both substances have limits for tolerance, just as I know there are people addicted to both. But I can also pretty much guarantee you that you’d be surprised by how many people in all walks of life partake in Mary Jane. I don’t think it should be illegal to grow your own supply, much like some choose to brew their own beer.

I have no plans to grow my own pot, and aside from secondhand because I was in environments where it was smoked (pick any early ’80’s indoor rock concert I attended) I haven’t tried the stuff. If offered, I refused – I’m asthmatic in the first place so why would I inhale more smoke than I already am? But it makes no sense to me that one group is being singled out, particularly when government is so hypocritical as to encourage people to not drink alcohol or smoke tobacco by using the tax money they collect from people who do.

I think we should go ahead and have that debate. Mike is probably correct in saying that medical marijuana bill won’t pass because it’s been pushed a number of times over the years. Maybe this is the type of thing where we need to study how other states have fared on a number of levels. The state studies almost everything else to death, so why not this?

There are two more weeks to go in the “90 days of terror” we call the session, and a lot of damage has already occurred. We will see if there’s any good news (like somehow passing the Wicomico elected school board bill) which can be salvaged out of this disaster of a General Assembly session.