WCRC meeting – April 2012

The complaints were flying fast and furious at tonight’s meeting – not about those running the meeting or featured speaker County Councilman Bob Culver, but about a system of uncaring state government seemingly devoted to the notion of forcing us into oblivion here in the hinterlands.

After handling the normal mundane business at hand, Bob began his remarks by making light of the fact he “made the paper and Grapevine all in one week.” As he’d mentioned before, the last year-plus on County Council had been challenging and interesting at the same time, and he praised fellow Council member Gail Bartkovich for her help on picking through the budget. In fact, this Council edition has a “great dynamic,” assessed Culver.

They had been presented two budgets for FY2013: one billed by County Executive Rick Pollitt as the “doomsday” budget had around $7 million in cuts in case the state’s maintenance of effort rules would apply with no new revenue, while the other “relief” budget restored those cuts and instead grew the Board of Education by 2 percent. Culver correctly pegged these budgets, particularly the “doomsday” edition, as an “end run to remove the revenue cap” with the assistance of Delegate Norm “14 Million Dollar” Conway. (Note I made up the name for him, not Bob.) Bob also saw the income tax increase county payers will endure (from 3.1% to 3.2%) as “political blackmail” made necessary by state mandates.

And while state leaders dithered over the Prince George’s County casinos that Senate President Mike Miller wants vs. the revenue enhancements Martin O’Malley desires, we in Wicomico County are still saddled with a lot of bad legislation. Take the new residential sprinkler law which will add between $7,000 and $20,000 to the cost of a new home for example. Or consider the septic bill, which affects farmers because their property values and available credit decrease.

Moreover, the budget only works by withdrawing from the rainy day fund, of which only about $12.2 million is currently not otherwise spoken for. There is “no chance in hell” we can afford a $14 million hit, said Bob, although “we could have made $7 million.” But when the county has lost $800 million in assessed value since 2010, things get more difficult. And while new county administrator Wayne Strasburg is a “breath of fresh air,” Wayne also believes we need at least a 7 cent per $100 increase in the property tax for each of the next three years, said Culver.

In addition, Bob believed we dodged a bullet for now with the failure of the teacher pension shift that the counties lobbied against. But it was only a matter of time before that shoe dropped and Culver thought we should begin planning for that eventuality now.

When asked about the fate of the elected school board, Bob was blunt: “Mr. (Rudy) Cane killed it.” Bob was told in no uncertain terms it would not advance while Rudy was chair of the county delegation.

At this point Delegate Charles Otto got into the conversation, blasting the maintenance of effort bill as a “ridiculous, unconstitutional thing.” The only thing we’d have a special session for, continued Otto, would be to raise $500 million in taxes.

Hearing the grumbling that there wasn’t much we could do about the situation, Cathy Keim begged to differ. She pointed out that Election Integrity Maryland was training poll watchers, which we would need in various areas of the state. We could also work on the petition and referendum she was collecting signatures for.

That was echoed by Central Committee member John Palmer, who also announced that the signatures being collected were also being made into a handy database of conservative and right-leaning Marylanders which could be useful for future efforts. Regarding our County Council, Palmer assessed it as “six Republicans (with) three acting like Republicans.”

County Council member Joe Holloway chimed in that the Bennett Middle vote “decided the fate” of the 7 cent property tax increase. By voting to spend that additional money, the Council was left with no choice but to max out to the revenue cap this time around.

As it turned out, Culver was the catalyst for a wide-ranging discussion of solutions ranging from activism to prayer, as we were reminded by one observer that National Prayer Day comes a week from Thursday. “God is judging our nation,” she warned. We need “more prayer warriors.”

After engaging in a mea culpa for an error he made in his most recent Daily Times column, Dave Parker mentioned the state budget in his Central Committee report; he marveled that “uncontrollable Republicans” were being blamed for the non-passage of the budget Martin O’Malley would have preferred. O’Malley left out the inconvenient truth that Democrats in Annapolis can pass whatever they please without a single GOP vote. Martin O’Malley “wants to be Obama,” Parker believed.

But Dave was disturbed by one earmark which was passed, despite the fact he’ll receive some tangible benefit. The state wrote itself $135 million more debt so Norm Conway could brag about bringing a new library to Salisbury University. (Gee, it should be under construction just in time for Conway’s re-election campaign, you think?)

Longtime political campaign organizer Bonnie Luna announced she was at it again, as she will soon begin the local Mitt Romney campaign with a kickoff organizational meeting sometime next month. Dan Bongino also has a local coordinator in rising young political operative Shawn Jester.

But I wanted to wrap up with one final travesty in an evening that seemed to be permeated with doom and gloom for some reason.

After a number of years of trying, the Wicomico County Republican Club finally set up a scholarship to be given to a high school senior who qualifies in several different areas, including (naturally) being a registered Republican. It’s not a huge scholarship by any means, but $500 can be a help to a young student. (I know it would have helped me thirty years ago when I began college.)

We found out today that the Wicomico County Board of Education would not list it in their list of scholarships, for the stated reason that the recipient has to be a registered Republican. Now there are other stipends which are restricted for other various reasons, such as the applicant has to be a minority, female, pursue a particular career major, or even be a wrestler, but apparently those sorts of restrictions are just fine. This tends to follow the same logic which would allow a non-believer to head up a Christian school group. But the good news is the scholarship will soon be on the Delmarva Education Foundation website, which is a relief for a conservative student (including homeschooled) who would like to avoid the federal student loan scam if at all possible.

So the meeting wasn’t all bad. Hopefully in a couple months we’ll get to meet our recipient; perhaps he or she can attend our next meeting on June 25. Since the fourth Monday in May is Memorial Day we will skip May and have our next confab in June.

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