Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Put Your Finger in the Wind

A couple weeks ago, Governor O’Malley declared that wind turbines could not be constructed on state-owned land. While the Governor’s desire to protect forest land in Western Maryland is understandable, the simple truth is that his ambitious goals on limiting greenhouse gas emissions cannot be met without wind power.

The end of the last general session saw the defeat of a bill backed by the Governor that would have mandated a 25% emission reduction by 2020. At the same time, the Governor worked hard to secure a deal with Constellation Energy to recover rebates for customers and protect them from liabilities associated with shutting down the Calvert Cliffs nuclear reactor. And the Governor has a long-standing goal of limiting electricity rate increases for consumers. The only way to reduce emissions, restrain the cost of electric power for Maryland ratepayers and retire Calvert Cliffs simultaneously is to combine conservation with lots of new green power sources. That means windmills.

Longtime readers will recall the love affair some of my union members have for nuclear plants. My account may be true, but it is sometimes more complicated than that. The major problem with nuclear energy is the storage and disposal of radioactive waste. The national building trades unions have long favored construction of a waste storage site at Yucca Mountain, an hour’s drive outside of Las Vegas, but the issue strained the Southern Nevada Building Trades. Over ten years ago, at a chair-throwing, fist-brandishing meeting, the local trades voted to support the storage plan after much anguished debate. Balancing millions of man-hours against creating a nearby radioactive dump in the desert was a tough call for them.

The building trades have no ambivalence about wind power. My union pursues it with unrestrained eagerness and assigns international representatives to hunt it down. We have worked for most of the biggest wind generators in the country, including Florida Power & Light and Invenergy. Windmill construction involves laying power cables, pouring concrete pads, erecting and installing turbines and performing endless maintenance work. In Maryland, our total package is over $30 per hour, including payments for training, health and welfare and pension benefits. These jobs are as good as gold for the state.

Unfortunately, Maryland is not moving fast enough to realize this promise. In 1991, the state generated 39.9 million megawatt-hours (MWH) of electric power, of which 57% came from coal, 23% came from nuclear, 10% came from petroleum and 4% came from natural gas. Only 1.2% came from non-hydro renewables. In 2006, the state generated 49.0 million MWH of electric power, of which 60% came from coal, 28% came from nuclear, 1% came from petroleum and 4% came from natural gas. Only 1.3% came from non-hydro renewables. We are as dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear energy as we have ever been. What will happen when Calvert Cliffs, the state’s sole nuclear plant, is retired?

Wind power is becoming a more versatile source of energy with each passing year. Offshore developments are gaining traction, including this huge one planned for the British coast. Farmers are using them to supplement agricultural incomes. Some firms are even proposing roof-top windmills. But for the most part, windmills still have an important drawback: they require lots of land to produce modest amounts of power. A typical industrial wind turbine can put out anywhere from one-half to two megawatts (MW) of power, with a megawatt representing enough capacity to power 600-1,000 homes. So a development of 25 windmills on 100 acres could produce 12-50 MW. A fossil facility on a site of similar size could produce hundreds, even thousands, of megawatts. We do need land to build windmills and the Governor’s blanket prohibition does not help.

The United Steelworkers Union played a significant role in defeating the emissions bill. Their concern was that emissions restrictions would kill employment in their industries. The key to winning labor support for green energy is to tie it to the creation of lots of high-paying jobs. One way to do that would be to offer tax breaks to windmill owners (including small owners like farmers) that would only apply to windmills constructed by contractors with benefit plans and registered apprenticeship programs. The industrial facilities that employ the Steelworkers could use a cap-and-trade system to buy clean power credits from windmill owners. The state would get clean energy, residential and business consumers would have abundant electricity and less upward pressure on rates, power companies could avoid blackout risks and hundreds, maybe even thousands of Marylanders would have access to middle class jobs with training and benefits. Yes, it is possible for environmentalists and building trades guys to sit down at the same table, eating tofu and slamming cold ones, together.

So come on, Governor, stop shooting the breeze! Let’s get to work.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Doing as Well as Teaching

Blogging on my part has been light lately because I've decided to throw my hat into the ring for the Chevy Chase Town Council. It's quite a competitive race with all three incumbents running for reelection and two other newcomers also in the race. Here is the letter I sent to Town residents:

Dear Neighbors:

I am a candidate for the Town Council and wanted to introduce myself to you. Growing up in Montgomery County, I was very pleased to move back to the area in 1998, when I joined the faculty at American University where I am currently a professor of Government in the School of Public Affairs. In 2005, my partner, Eric (who also grew up in the area), and I purchased a home on Thornapple Street.

Since returning to the area, I have been very involved in community affairs: I have worked hard on campaigns for Rich Madaleno and our friend Jane Lawton, and have maintained a blog on Maryland political issues. I have volunteered many hours to the Town’s Long-Range Planning Committee tracking Bethesda development projects, meeting with developers, preparing testimony, and working to build local coalitions; and I have been an active member of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coalition fighting to protect the Capital Crescent Trail. I consider public service an honor and a serious responsibility.

Why am I running for Town Council?

To protect the Town borders from intrusive Bethesda development. As the point person on Bethesda development for the Long-Range Planning Committee, I have been amazed by the pace and scale of projects having an impact on the Town—Lots 31/31a, Woodmont East, and now Pier One. Our community needs to be vigilant in putting pressure on developers and the Planning Board to stay true to the Bethesda Sector Plan and to respect the needs of our suburban neighborhood abutting this growing urban area. I am not afraid to confront those issues which pose a threat to our community.

To protect the Capital Crescent Trail. Currently, I am on the executive board of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coalition and have been following issues of concern to the Capital Crescent Trail for years. Earlier this year, I was involved in the successful efforts to keep open the tunnel between Elm Street Park and Bethesda during the construction of the Woodmont East project. While I may be a relatively new face in Town, I am a familiar voice in the County in championing the protection of this unique resource.

To protect the special character of the Town. Tall trees, winding streets, and pocket parks are all part of what make our neighborhood so wonderful. I support the tree ordinance which was enacted several years ago as well as the simplified land-use ordinance currently before the Council.

To improve playgrounds within the Town. Both the Leland Community Center playground and the Chevy Chase Elementary School playgrounds should be renovated and made accessible for all to enjoy. On the Council, I would push County and school officials to provide the necessary funds to make these improvements happen.

To maintain the high quality of Town services without increasing property taxes. I feel lucky to live in a Town with such excellent services. I will work to maintain, and when needed to improve, these services.

To those of you who attend Town Council meetings on a regular basis, my face should be familiar as a regular attendee. To those that don’t know me, I hope to knock on your door soon so that I can have the pleasure of meeting you.

I would be honored to receive your vote and to serve as your representative on the Town Council. I’d be happy to meet and to talk with you at any time.

Most sincerely,

David Lublin


MoCo: Who Cares About Hospitals? We Want an Arena!

Washington Adventist Hospital’s impending move out of Takoma Park is the biggest development in Montgomery County’s health care system in decades. So why is the Montgomery County government’s reaction one of complete silence?

Currently located in Takoma Park, Adventist is the second-biggest hospital in Montgomery County with 294 beds. After a four-year battle with its neighbors over an expansion plan, Adventist announced it was leaving Takoma Park in 2005. While the hospital’s CEO denied that the conflict with neighbors motivated the move, he did say that its current 14-acre site was not big enough to accommodate the hospital’s long-term needs. Two years later, Adventist purchased 48 acres near US-29 and Cherry Hill Road for a new campus. Montgomery County’s Planning Board unanimously recommended a special exception for the hospital’s land use last week. The final decision on Adventist’s move will be made by the Maryland Health Care Commission and many expect Adventist to file its Certificate of Need (a required application from hospitals for major capital projects) this August.

Holy Cross Hospital is 3.6 miles up Sligo Creek Parkway from Adventist and is the county’s largest hospital (404 beds). When Adventist announced its land purchase, Holy Cross reacted with alarm. Holy Cross told the Gazette and its neighbors that it would be “overwhelmed” by former Adventist patients from Down-county, Prince George’s County and the District if Adventist were allowed to flee up US-29.

This matter is not simply a battle between hospitals. The neighborhoods around Holy Cross have been moved to militancy in recent years by the treacherous conditions at the Intersection of Death, a failed development proposal at the Forest Glen Metro station and a giant expansion planned for the Sligo Creek Golf Course. These same neighborhoods are negotiating with Holy Cross Hospital over its own 100-room expansion after going through a previous one completed in 2005. If Holy Cross is correct, Adventist’s move will plug up Georgia Avenue (including the IOD) and Sligo Creek Parkway, flood Holy Cross’s emergency room and produce enormous health care access problems for Down-county patients.

But Holy Cross may not be correct. Since it is hardly an impartial observer of Adventist’s move, its arguments should be evaluated by an independent entity. Last year, both Holy Cross and my civic association wrote to the Montgomery County Council asking them to fund a health impact study on the effect of Adventist’s move. While the Maryland Health Care Commission is a state agency, it does take into account the views of county governments in deciding on Certificates of Need. Surely, we thought, such a significant event in the county’s health care system could not pass without comment by the county government.

Council Member George Leventhal agreed with us. A year ago, the Gazette reported:

HHS [Health and Human Services Committee] Chairman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park proposed assessing the financial stability of the county’s hospitals, how moving one hospital would affect the others and how the changes would affect access to health care.

“We need to make decisions based on fact, not on the [back and forth] between hospitals. We don’t really know the effects of the move and we need to find out,” he said.
Despite Leventhal’s dogged advocacy, disagreements over the study’s scope delayed it and the county’s current budget problems ultimately killed it. And so the hospitals and their neighbors prepared for a grim showdown before the Maryland Health Care Commission, with both hospitals submitting their own Certificates of Need for their dueling capital plans and the Montgomery County government standing aside, arms folded, uninterested. Well, we thought, in bad budget times, few get what they want from the county.

And then this Gazette article crackled through the neighborhood like a midnight thunderbolt. While the county has dickered, bickered, delayed and ultimately abdicated any say on its hospitals, it has spent $150,000 (plus $50,000 of state money) on a planning study for a new indoor arena in Germantown. And the county’s Department of Economic Development is requesting $125,000 more! Put aside the merits of the arena (which my union members would no doubt love to build); does planning for an entertainment facility really take precedence over evaluating the impact of a giant hospital relocation? Apparently some believe it does!

So enjoy watching the Maryland Nighthawks play minor league basketball in the new arena! Just don’t choke on that hot dog. The ambulance may not know where to take you.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Millionaires Offered Discount to Move to Virginia

Dear readers, I promise that this is not one of my much-ridiculed spoof posts. Everything that you are about to read is 100% true.

MPW friend and occasional spoof victim Dana Beyer forwarded us an online ad posted by a Virginia real estate agent enticing MoCo millionaires to move. The ad says:

April 09, 2008

Virginia Welcomes Migration of Maryland Millionaires

New Millionaire Tax in Maryland May Cause some to Migrate to Virginia

It's mid-April. Are taxes on your mind?

If you're wealthy and live in Maryland, say hello to the first in the nation, Millionaire's Tax. Signed into law yesterday by Governor Martin O'Malley, the legislation created a new tax bracket for those who earn over $1 million per year. Approximately 6,000 Maryland households fall into this new tax bracket and are subject to a 6.25% tax rate.

According to The Baltimore Sun newspaper, more than 40 percent of these wealthy households are in Montgomery County. While Montgomery County is a great place to live and Maryland is a great state, many of those being hit with this new tax may decide to vote with their feet.

Let me be the first to WELCOME YOU TO VIRGINIA.

As you know, Virginia is just across the Potomac River from Maryland. Northern Virginia offers wonderful amenities, parks, schools, history, culture, and an easy commute to D.C. Homes in the upper brackets are plentiful throughout the area, especially in popular communities like McLean, Great Falls, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax Station, and more. Another bonus of moving to Virginia -- how about in-state tuition at some of the best public colleges and universities in the country, including University of Virginia, James Madison University, and George Mason University.

Virginia has consistently ranked as the Best State for Business by Forbes Magazine year after year.

Best of all -- Virginia does not have a Millionaire's Tax. (Virginia's highest income tax bracket is 5.75%).

Maybe it's time to contact your Maryland Realtor (I can offer some great suggestions) about selling your Maryland home and moving to Virginia.

I'd be happy to help you find a Northern Virginia home and welcome you to our side of the river.
So I emailed this agent the following inquiry:

Brian, I am disturbed about Maryland's new millionaire tax and am considering moving to Virginia. I have a few friends who are thinking along the same lines. If we all decided to move together, could we work out a discount? - Adam Pagnucco, Silver Spring, Maryland.
The agent replied:

Thanks for your e-mail. I certainly understand being disturbed by the Millionaire Tax in Maryland. We can certainly talk about a discount if you and several others decided to work with me to purchase homes in Virginia.
So what are you waiting for, country club members? I actually got a discount for you to move out. Does this mean we get to build the Purple Line now?


Unmasked: the MCDCC Member Who Voted for Jennings Over Edwards

Relying on our extensive spy network inside the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC), we have uncovered the identity of the MCDCC member who voted to send Jason Jennings and not Donna Edwards to Congress. But first some background.

Back in February, Donna Edwards defeated incumbent 4th District Congressman Al Wynn in the Democratic primary. Shortly afterwards, Wynn announced he was resigning early to accept a lobbying job. The Governor declared that there would be a special general election held on June 17th to determine who would fill the rest of Wynn’s term. There would be no special primary; instead, the party central committees in both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties would nominate a candidate to stand in the special general election. If the two central committees failed to agree, the state central committee would make the choice.

Donna Edwards, who steamrolled the eight-term incumbent, was widely expected to be MCDCC’s choice. But Jason Jennings, another Democratic challenger who lost badly to Edwards in the primary, submitted his resume to the committee as an alternative. MCDCC voted to nominate Edwards by a margin of 22 to 1. But it’s the one vote in favor of Jennings that has really made tongues wag. “Who was it?” cried out the county’s political junkies.

We gave the top-secret mission to our hardened spy corps inside MCDCC. These are the people who scale the castle walls, pick the locks, steal the bon bons and penetrate the hidden vaults of the Baroness. After numerous brushes with guards, attack dogs and angry peasants from Georgia Avenue, our spies brought back the name of the Jennings voter: Vilma P. White.

Ms. White is a Silver Spring resident who lives in Congressional District 8. She was elected as part of MCDCC’s at-large slate in 2006. The slate had no opposition apart from eternal school board candidate and MPW favorite Tommy Le. We emailed Ms. White asking for comment and she has not responded.

Let’s keep in mind the scope of Edwards’ election victory over Jennings. In the Congressional District 4 primary, Edwards finished first in the district with 78,008 votes. Jennings tied for fourth of seven candidates with 1,429 votes. In Montgomery County, the jurisdiction represented by Ms. White, Edwards received 28,781 votes compared to Jennings’ total of 609. And yet Ms. White, who does not live in Congressional District 4, was convinced that Jennings deserved to be the Democratic nominee despite the overwhelming disagreement of her constituents.

[Sigh…] I guess this is our fault. We have been overly harsh with MCDCC over the last few months. Perhaps the pressure of fending off our constant troublemaking is getting to some of them. I had dismissed the rumor that MCDCC Vice Chairman Alan Banov was seen walking down the center of Connecticut Avenue in full scuba gear, but maybe that was true after all.

So perhaps MCDCC should be given a break. We at MPW are going to start a holiday fund for them so that they can take a well-deserved vacation at Wheaton’s beautiful Brookside Gardens. In the meantime, we will recruit Kevin Gillogly, Robin Ficker, Itchy and Scratchy and Muffitt to hold down the fort.

We can only hope that none of them would vote for Jason Jennings!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Governor to MoCo: Build Your Own Schools! (Updated)

The Post is reporting that the O’Malley administration plans to allocate $46.3 million in school construction aid to Montgomery County, less than the $55 million he promised in last year’s special session. The amount of money in dispute is small. But the symbolic value of the Governor’s action is huge.

Simply put, the Governor needs Montgomery County. He needs our tax revenues. He needs our 32 votes in the legislature. He needs our votes and campaign contributions at election time. Without any of the above, his administration will fail.

But the county is not in terrible need of the Governor. No one remembers the last time the state had a governor from Montgomery County. (If you know, report it in the comments!) In administration after administration, Montgomery has received far, far less in tax dollars from the state than it has contributed. That has remained the case under Governors Ehrlich (who came from the Baltimore suburbs), Glendening (from Prince George’s), Schaefer (Baltimore City), Hughes (Eastern Shore), Mandel (Baltimore City) and possibly every other governor in the 20th Century. We would fare just as badly under another non-MoCo Democratic governor as we are under O’Malley – in truth, it would make little difference.

Our state legislators delivered tough, agonizing votes on taxes and slots in the special session for the good of the state, the good of the party and the good of Governor O’Malley. Many of them were pilloried for the tax hikes and the slots votes. Many of them are still getting hammered, one way or the other, about the millionaire tax. And as payment we are left to haggle over pennies.

For those who do not know us, we are a diverse lot in Montgomery County. Our ranks include entrepreneurs, tree huggers, union members, government employees, immigrants, the working poor and many, many more. But every single one of us agrees on one thing: WE DEMAND TO BE TREATED FAIRLY BY OUR STATE.

Governor, if you want an all-out torch-burning, pitchfork-waving revolt in this county, you are well on your way to getting one.

The Gazette is now carrying the story as well. When reading the two articles, it's important to keep in mind the sources of quotes from Montgomery County officials. County Executive Ike Leggett, County Council President Mike Knapp, Senators Rona Kramer, Rich Madaleno and Nancy King, Delegate Brian Feldman and MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast's Chief of Staff do not universally agree on many things, but they are all frustrated with the Governor. While few would dare say it in the way I did, I will bet that the vast majority of Montgomery County's politicians are saying privately what I said publicly.


MoCo State Legislators on the Millionaire Tax

Preserved for eternity, here are the published comments and the votes by state legislators from Montgomery County (as well as remarks by the County Executive and County Council President) on whether a surcharge for millionaires should replace the computer services tax. Whether you agree with David Lublin or with me, the millionaire tax emerged as a major philosophical dividing line in the county delegation.

Delegate Charles Barkley (D-39), who voted against the millionaire tax, from the Post:

"You can only hit a cash cow so many times before they say, 'We're going to take our milk somewhere else,'" said Del. Charles E. Barkley (D-Montgomery).
Delegate Kumar Barve, the House Majority Leader (D-17), who voted for the millionaire tax, from the Post:

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) defended the repeal bill, modeled on an O'Malley plan, as "a balanced compromise" that would eliminate the computer services tax before it is scheduled to take effect July 1.

"You will be preserving the place of Maryland in the high-tech sweepstakes," Barve said. "I urge you to kill this thing, right here, right now."
Delegate Brian Feldman (D-15), who voted against the millionaire tax, from the Sun:

"A majority of the Montgomery County delegation have a lot of concerns," said Feldman, who said he hopes lawmakers will consider making deeper cuts in O'Malley's spending programs before raising taxes.

"Maybe this isn't the time for new initiatives," he said.
Senator Jennie Forehand (D-17), who voted for the millionaire tax, from the Gazette:

But repealing the tax is a no-brainer to prevent computer firms from leaving the state, said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville.

"Some of the things we passed in November has a negative impact in the counties and put them in a negative situation," she said. "Unlike the millionaires who are well-grounded and are making their money in the state, they won’t leave. But tech companies who would have been affected by this tax could easily have uprooted their businesses and moved."
Delegate Bill Frick (D-16), who voted against the millionaire tax, from Maryland Moment:

Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said he is "disinclined to change the income tax brackets."

"We worked hard on them and reached what we think is an appropriate compromise in the special session," Frick said.
Senator Brian Frosh (D-16), who voted for the millionaire tax, from the Post:

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) said he thinks lawmakers should step back and consider whether raising the tax rate is good public policy, irrespective of the consequences for his county.

"I understand that people say it would hit Montgomery County harder than some other jurisdictions, but we don't get taxed by jurisdiction," Frosh said. "I don't perceive it as a geographic issue."
Delegate Hank Heller (D-19), who voted for the millionaire tax, from the Gazette:

"I don’t think we have to apologize" for fighting higher taxes, said Del. Henry B. Heller (D-Dist. 19) of Leisure World. "Montgomery County, instead of [being] a major decision-maker ... will end up either being the obstructionists or having to go along with it."

The so-called "millionaires tax" will cause Montgomery residents to move across the Potomac River to Northern Virginia, weakening the economy, Heller said.
Delegate Tom Hucker (D-20), who voted for the millionaire tax, from the Post:

"I have to represent all my constituents, not just the millionaires," said Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery). "I think those folks can afford to pay more state income taxes, especially in the wake of enormous federal income tax cuts that they have benefited from for the last six years."
Senator Nancy King (D-39), who voted for the millionaire tax, from the Sun:

…Montgomery County Democratic Sen. Nancy J. King, said she would reluctantly opt for an income tax increase, "If I had to."
Montgomery County Council President Mike Knapp from the Gazette:

The tech tax repeal will burden Montgomery County residents unfairly, said County Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown.

Of the state’s 6,150 millionaires, 41 percent live in Montgomery County; Baltimore County has the next highest number.

"Montgomery County is solving a statewide problem — again," Knapp told reporters in Rockville on Monday.
Senator Rona Kramer (D-14), who voted against the millionaire tax, from Maryland Moment:

Sen. Rona E. Kramer (D-Montgomery), who chairs the county's Senate delegation, said she wants the computer services tax repealed, but would prefer cuts in transportation spending than changes in the income tax structure.

"Montgomery County already does the yeoman's share of supporting the state budget," she said. "It's absolutely inappropriate for one jurisdiction, Montgomery County, to pick up the tab for 50 percent of one tax."
And from the Sun:

"I would not support it," Sen. Rona Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat on the budget committee, said yesterday.

O'Malley's proposal is a political mistake, she said.

"He's coming to the one jurisdiction where he's still popular and saying: 'We're going to make you compromise again,'" Kramer said. "It's going to make him look terrible."
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett from the Post:

Leggett said he favors a repeal, partly because the planned tax significantly affects the thriving technology industry in the Washington suburbs. Leggett said, however, that he opposes raising the top personal income tax rate because a large number of wealthy Marylanders live in Montgomery and that he is wary of cuts to transportation funding.

"I want to be supportive of resolving this, certainly as it relates to this computer tax, but Montgomery County cannot be the sole source of solving a statewide problem," he said.
Senator Richard Madaleno (D-18), who voted against the millionaire tax, from the Post:

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) acknowledged that the number of those who would be affected by the millionaires’ tax is small. "But this is a class of people who generate a lot of tax revenue for Maryland and Montgomery County," Madaleno said. "To create a disincentive for them to stay would be damaging to the rest of us."
And again from the Post:

"Opponents of this tax are not going to characterize it as a millionaires tax," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), a member of the budget committee. "It's going to be just another tax increase. . . . This is just more fodder for conservative talk radio."

Madaleno echoed arguments by other Montgomery officials, who have suggested that a higher income tax rate could prompt people who are creating jobs in the county to move. He suggested making cuts in transportation funding to repeal the tech tax.

Madaleno also questioned the political consequences in his county of the governor's support for the millionaires tax.

"I think it could be damaging to O'Malley in the part of the state where he probably remains the strongest," Madaleno said.
Madaleno posted an essay on this topic and others on Free State Politics.

Delegate Craig Rice (D-15), who voted against the millionaire tax, from the Sun:

"This is another ill-fated Senate move," said Rice of the Senate bill, which he criticized for not replacing the computer tax with a long-term revenue source. "We need to move forward with taxing other services."

By an 8-12 vote, [House Ways and Means] committee members also rejected a proposal from Rice that would have cut $150 million from transportation projects but eliminated the tax on millionaires.
And from the Gazette:

"I think Montgomery County has work to do," said Rice (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown. "I think as a delegation, we have got to do a better job at standing together on these things. We should not be balancing tax policy on one class of people."
Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17), who voted against the millionaire tax, from Maryland Moment:

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery) said he is frustrated to see his county become the "last refuge of unimaginative people" during budget crises.

"The tax is always imposed on us," Simmons said, adding that he thinks state leaders perceive Montgomery as a land of wealthy suburbs that is immune to the social ills that require government spending. But he said much of the county is middle-class and struggling during the economic downturn.

"I'm not trying to give you gobbledygook, but if you take a cumulative effect of these tax increases, what you will get is a migration of people out of the county," Simmons said.

"It has nothing to do with defending the millionaires," he added. "I'm not a millionaire. I'm just concerned about us taking hits on many different fronts and the confluence of those is going to hobble our economy."
Delegate Herman Taylor (D-14), who voted for the millionaire tax, from the Gazette:

"You’re exchanging one for the other," Del. Herman L. Taylor Jr. (D-Dist. 14) of Ashton said of the new income tax bracket. "I don’t know if that’s a good compromise. Just like the computer tax, we’re going to have to wait and see. Instead of hitting millionaires’ businesses, we hit millionaires directly."
Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18), who voted against the millionaire tax, from the Gazette:

"The question is how do we replace those revenues in a way that is true to our progressive values and fair to Montgomery County," said Del. Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington.
And here is Senate President Mike Miller’s assessment from the Sun:

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said lawmakers from Montgomery County held the key to breaking the deadlock, noting that they were the most adamant opponents of both the "tech tax" and the proposed levy on those earning more than $1 million annually. He said the county also receives the most in state transportation funding, leaving its representatives reluctant to redirect that money.

The county "is in the eye of the storm," he said.
That it is, Mr. Miller. That it is.

The final vote tally among Montgomery County’s state legislators is:

For replacing the computer tax with a surcharge on people making $1 million a year or more:

Senator Brian Frosh (D-16)
Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15)
Senator Nancy King (D-39)
Senator Mike Lenett (D-19)
Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)
Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39)
Delegate Kumar Barve (D-17)
Delegate Bill Bronrott (D-16)
Delegate James Gilchrist (D-17)
Delegate Hank Heller (D-19)
Delegate Sheila Hixson (D-20)
Delegate Tom Hucker (D-20)
Delegate Anne Kaiser (D-14)
Delegate Susan Lee (D-16)
Delegate Roger Manno (D-19)
Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20)
Delegate Karen Montgomery (D-14)
Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-39)
Delegate Herman Taylor (D-14)

Against replacing the computer tax with a surcharge on people making $1 million a year or more:

Senator Rona Kramer (D-14)
Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18)
Delegate Charles Barkley (D-39)
Delegate Al Carr (D-18)
Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-15)
Delegate Brian Feldman (D-15)
Delegate Bill Frick (D-16)
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18)
Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19)
Delegate Craig Rice (D-15)
Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17)
Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18)


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Valerie Ervin Issues "Call to Action" on Economic Justice

Montgomery County Council Member Valerie Ervin, who represents Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Wheaton and Kensington, wrote the following op-ed in the Gazette today. We reproduce it here for our readers.

The Gazette
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Economic justice: A call to action
by Valerie Ervin

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was assassinated while in Memphis supporting sanitation workers who were on strike to improve working conditions and low wages. For Dr. King economic inequality was an important tenet of the civil rights movement. This new focus was the convergence of racial and economic concerns and had the potential to change the course of the movement.

Forty years later many things have changed in Montgomery County, but much remains the same. In 1975, the county’s minority population was 8 percent. In 2005, census data shows the minority population had grown to 41 percent countywide and was 79 percent in some areas. However, a comprehensive discourse about race and poverty is absent.

In Montgomery County, one of the most affluent counties in Maryland, policy makers often ignore the plight of those who are struggling to make ends meet. I believe that a new conversation about poverty and race must take place.

County government officials explain that growth in the county was less than 1 percent last year. However, what does this mean for an average working family? Without a growing tax base, our roads will continue to experience gridlock and our schools will remain overcrowded. More than 5,000 public school employees must travel from as far away as West Virginia each day to teach our children.

Police officers and firefighters go to great lengths to serve our communities, yet many call other jurisdictions home. Commute times are getting longer because, for so many, the cost of living in Montgomery County is a dream that is out of reach. Montgomery County has the second highest foreclosure rate in Maryland, and we have yet to see the worst of this trend.

Each year our public school system must teach more children who arrive at our doors unable to speak English. Poverty is also an issue for our county’s children with nearly 25 percent of school children eligible for free and reduced meals.

So where do we go from here? I have traveled throughout the county and visited the homes of people who dream of simple achievements that many of us take for granted. Their voices are silent in our most critical public policy debates. What I have found is that there is a disconnect between what preoccupies policy makers and what truly troubles the majority of working people who are struggling to care for children, pay for housing and cover the ever increasing costs of utilities, fuel and groceries. The current economic downturn impacts working families disproportionately, but they are too busy trying to make a living to spend time lobbying lawmakers.

As a call to action, I propose a summit for state and local policymakers to begin a new debate — a conversation about how to achieve economic justice for all of our residents. We must focus on opportunities for the future, not artificial limitations imposed by the past.

Valerie Ervin, a Democrat from Silver Spring, represents District 5 on the Montgomery County Council.

A note from Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Ervin is touching on a theme that was explored in the recent County Council District 4 special election. In the candidate debates in that short campaign, Nancy Navarro repeatedly mentioned the plight of the people "not in the room." In contrast, my blog-brother Kevin Gillogly offered this characterization of the election in a blog post comment: "That is this race in a nutshell: Growth and Land Use Policy. Everything else is smoke screen." The debate on growth policy, poverty, jobs and pay is heating up as this county teeters on the edge of a recession and Valerie Ervin is calling that question.

If another elected leader has a different view, we will carry it for our readers in the interest of encouraging open debate.


Budget Cutbacks at MPW

Recently, we have offered frequent coverage of budget problems at both the state and county levels to our readers. This week, the Gazette reported that MCGEO – the county government employees union – submitted a list of budget savings to the county including limits on toilet paper provided to inmates. In that spirit, we at MPW are announcing a package of budget cutbacks at this blog to deal with our own financial difficulties.

1. MPW owner David Lublin has called his union contract with myself, Kevin Gillogly and Paul Gordon “unsustainable.” Apparently our provisions on catch-up pay to the bloggers on Free State Politics are excessive. So David is cutting our cost-of-living increase to zero, which should save him a lot of money. In return, he is terminating his union-avoidance consultant.

2. We will be introducing a new comment fee for our readers. Anyone posting comments of praise for our opinions, writing skills or superior good looks will be exempted from the fee. Extra charges will be assessed on anyone making more than a million dollars per year, any developers, any members of MCDCC or PGCDCC and any politicians who voted to pass the much-hated blogger tax.

3. We will no longer be employing Itchy and Scratchy as security service providers to this blog. Our readers are aware that we have occasionally criticized certain officials inside the county government. So a couple months ago, we decided to hire a security service for fear of encountering active intimidation by county government employees. But now Itchy and Scratchy will have to return to the state fundraising circuit.

4. Our much-anticipated $65,000 bathroom project with a private shower is indefinitely postponed. The reason is simple: our readers access our content from remote locations. If you are not in our physical presence, what need do we have for hygiene?

5. The saddest casualty of our budget cuts may be David’s hairless chihuahua, Muffitt. He can no longer afford to feed caviar to Muffitt on a daily basis so her fine dining needs will now be covered by donations from the Columbia Country Club.

But fear not for Muffitt! We are sending her to work on Senate President Mike Miller’s staff and, in a couple years, she will leave to pursue her fortunes as a high-priced, Miller-connected lobbyist! Muffitt’s burgeoning career in Annapolis will no doubt pay the bills for MPW (as well as David’s mortgage)!


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

MPW Banned by Federal Agency

One of our long-time readers has reported that a federal agency, the reader's employer, has blocked Maryland Politics Watch blog. The reader has asked us not to publicly name the agency for fear of potential waterboarding.

When the reader attempted to access our site, the following message came up:

This site has been blocked by the security team because it is listed by the vendor of our Web-blocking software as having one or more of the following among its content:

Web Chat Service
Web-Based E-mail Service
Pornography / Sexual Content
Gambling or Games
Illegal Activity / Drugs / Hate Propaganda / Violence
RealAudio or RealVideo Services
Hmmm... pornography, sexual content, gambling, hate propaganda, violence... Now Mr. Gillogly, have you been posting and deleting things in the middle of the night for your degenerate friends?

Which post got MPW banned? Was it our account of Itchy and Scratchy's appearance at a recent fundraiser? Those two are definitely violent enough to get banned. Was it our lampoon of Mike Miller's blogger tax? The Senate President is certainly powerful, but maybe not powerful enough to control a federal agency's Internet security team. The same goes for County Executive Ike Leggett, who probably can't wait for people to stop discussing his new bathroom. Or perhaps the feds saw Dana Beyer's hell-raising escapades outside the Bethesda Giant and judged us to be a national security threat.

I can't shake the feeling that MCDCC had something to do with this. Any comment from Alan Banov or Marc Korman?


Marriage Equality is Inevitable

Marriage equality is inevitable. It is going to happen in Maryland and it will eventually happen across the country. The reason for that is not politics, nor religion, nor even the daily tactical decisions of civil rights organizations like Equality Maryland. It is because of two forces that are infinitely more primordial: personal relationships and mathematics.

Are you a straight person? If so, do you remember your first gay friend? If you met your first openly gay friend more than fifteen years ago, as I did, there was probably a bit of novelty to it. After all, no one else you knew was gay. But after awhile, you stopped thinking about that friend in that context. You treated him or her the same as you treated other friends. But there was always one difference: that gay friend could never have a relationship that was formally sanctioned by society. It did not matter how satisfying or constructive that relationship was – it could never be recognized as marriage.

And so if you have a gay friend that you really care about, gay marriage is not a gay issue. It’s about you, your friend and your relationship with that friend. Because if you oppose gay marriage, you would have to look that friend in the eye and tell him or her that their romances and dreams were inherently inferior to yours. And if you’re like me, you could never, ever do that. It’s just not possible to do it and retain your own humanity. So it was with me as I became pro-gay marriage soon after I met my first gay friend.

Now here’s where mathematics comes in. Suppose that 5% of the population in Maryland is gay. No one knows for sure, but let’s use that number for now. That would mean roughly 275,000 gay people now live in Maryland. More than fifteen years ago, gay relationships were still taboo for the most part. So at that time, perhaps 30,000-50,000 gay people were out. They had straight friends and family members who cared about them. Many of them accepted those gay people for what they were, and they accepted their relationships. Many of them adopted my view that marriage was their fundamental right. Suppose, again, that each of those gay people had ten friends and family members who came to believe in their right to marriage. That would add up to perhaps a sixth to a fifth of the state’s population.

Over the years, more and more gay people came out. And they made more and more friends. And many of them formed families. So the numbers grew and grew. Suppose 250,000 gay people are now living as openly gay in the state today. And suppose each of them has ten friends and family members that believe in their right to marry. That would equal 2.75 million believers in marriage equality in Maryland, close to half the population. But the process does not stop there. Friends of gay people talk to their friends, some of whom do not have close relationships with gays. And so they too become converted.

What we have been witnessing is a magical virus of humanity passing from person to person. This is happening right now, in our cafeterias, our offices, our sidewalks, our living rooms and even our churches. It cannot be stopped. It cannot be controlled. It cannot be defied or suppressed. And it is taking over our culture. Conservatives are fond of emphasizing the importance of our national culture. For once, I agree with them. Person by person, our culture is producing a groundswell for marriage equality.

In the short term, Maryland’s politicians have a choice. Like Attorney General Doug Gansler, they can embrace gay marriage. Or they can squirm uncomfortably in the murky netherworld of civil unions. Or they can spit into the wind as the gusts mount. But over the long term, marriage equality is coming. And there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Transportation in a Crunch

By Marc Korman.

A recent Gazette comic, reproduced below, sums up the recent action by the General Assembly when it comes to transportation. A big loser in this year’s session, and a potential loser in future years, is the state’s transportation funding.

Coverage of the General Assembly’s repeal of the 6% computer services sales tax mostly ignored the negative effect on transportation and instead focused on the new millionaire’s surcharge, really just a new tax bracket, that taxes earnings over $1 million at 6.25%. Far less attention was paid to the $50 million cut from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund for each of the next five years. Just a few months ago, the General Assembly and the Governor received much earned praise for adding $420 million in new annual revenue for transportation.

The opponents of the computer services tax repeal proposed even deeper cuts to transportation, with Senator Madaleno proposing a $150 million annual cut to the Transportation Trust Fund. In a posting to Free State Politics and republished here at MPW, Senator Madaleno justified his proposal by noting that it would still leave in place a $300 million increase from prior to the Special Session. Senator Madaleno also stated that the projects slated to be funded were not good uses of the state’s money. Given the state’s transportation needs, I find the argument a bit curious because the idea that the local transportation projects have no validity because they will only improve “traffic flow in the immediate vicinity of these intersections” begs the question of why they are being funded at all. If Senator Madaleno’s claims are true, and these projects are of such low priority and value, then perhaps our legislators need to convince the Department of Transportation to pick better projects instead of deciding to cut funds.

But the real point for all of those proposing transportation funding cuts of any size is that the needs are real and we need more funds, not less. Even if individual legislators do not support all of the projects on the list of needs, surely each individual Senator supports a majority of these and numerous others. Some of the needs are:

1. The Inter County Connector-$2.4 billion
2. The Purple Line-$105 million to $1.685 billion (depending on the method selected)
3. Corridor Cities Transitway-$850 million estimate
4. BRAC Enhancements in Bethesda-$70 million estimate
5. Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road Crossing - Cost unknown, but I put it in to avoid the wrath of MPW’s writers.

Instead of searching for ways to meet these needs, everyone is proposing cuts. If we are not going to raise the gas tax, the least we can do is stop raiding the Transportation Trust Fund. As I said, it was only a few months ago that we were praising the $420 million increase. It was just a year before that we were criticizing Bob Ehrlich for raiding the Transportation Trust Fund. In 2010, I do not want the Democrats to be accused of the same transportation policy failures.

A Note of Concurrence from Adam Pagnucco

Marc Korman's argument is even more powerful than he originally stated. The fact is that Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is already under assault.

First, the revenues devoted to the fund are endangered by the poor economy. The major sources for the TTF are gas taxes, motor vehicle titling taxes and fees (like registrations and licenses), operating revenues (like tolls) and a portion of corporate income tax receipts. All of these revenues will probably record shortfalls in the coming year.

Second, construction material prices are soaring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national wholesale prices have skyrocketed by 31% for ready-mixed concrete, 73% for gasoline and 78% for asphalt between 2004 and 2007. The situation is exacerbated by an ever-weakening U.S. dollar and rising commodity demand from India, China and other developing countries. These price increases threaten the financial solvency of some construction contractors and will stretch already scarce dollars at MDOT.

Of the $400+ million transportation increase approved by the General Assembly’s special session, $150 million was planned for new projects such as the ones listed above by Marc. The loss of $50 million from the computer tax repeal, the slowdown of TTF revenue sources and rising commodity prices will greatly reduce the amount of money left for new projects. As a matter of fact, if the state protects tens of millions of dollars in planning money for mass transit projects (like Baltimore’s Red Line and MoCo’s Purple Line and CCT), it is entirely possible that all other new work aside from the ICC will be deferred. That means that if the legislature attempts to raid the TTF – as Governor Ehrlich did repeatedly – there may be little left to plunder.

There is another possibility. The legislature could choose to defer system maintenance, which was supposed to receive an extra $250 million per year. The state prioritized system maintenance in the wake of the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota. If the state does cut maintenance and a major infrastructure failure occurs, the political consequences will be cataclysmic.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Council District 4 Special Election by the Numbers

Many political observers inside Montgomery County are discussing the meaning of Donald Praisner’s victory in the Council District 4 special election. Our contribution to that debate focuses on mathematics. From that perspective, Mr. Praisner won because of turnout and demographics.

In the district’s total polling place results, Mr. Praisner received 3,288 votes, 348 more than Nancy Navarro (2,940). Steve Kanstoroom finished third with 804 votes and Pat Ryan trailed with 402. Overall turnout was 11.2%. But real insight requires an educated read of the precinct counts.

Council District 4 has 45 precincts. Of that number, Mr. Praisner won 22, Navarro won 21, Praisner and Navarro tied in 1 and Steve Kanstoroom won 1. (We predicted Kanstoroom’s win in Precinct 13-11 a week ago. Keep reading this blog, people!)

The precincts won by Mr. Praisner reported a combined turnout of 12.9%. Navarro’s precincts reported a combined turnout of 9.1%. That difference of 3.8 points contributed to Mr. Praisner’s margin of 348 votes.

But there’s more. Mr. Praisner won all five precincts reporting the highest turnouts, including Precincts 13-54 and 13-69 in Leisure World. Of the eight precincts reporting the lowest turnouts, Navarro won seven and tied with Praisner in the eighth.

The two Leisure World precincts had combined turnout of 20.5%, 9.3 points ahead of the district total. They reported 476 votes for Mr. Praisner (47% of their total), 323 votes for Navarro (32%), 166 votes for Kanstoroom (16%) and 45 votes for Ryan (4%). Leisure World by itself gave Mr. Praisner 44% of his victory margin.

Turnout was correlated with demographics. District 4 has seven precincts in which the Hispanic population topped 20% in the 2000 Census. Navarro won all seven. These precincts cast 267 votes for Navarro (50% of their Democratic total) and 179 for Mr. Praisner (34%). However, their turnout was only 7.6% - a full 3.6 points below the district’s total turnout.

District 4 has eleven precincts in which the black population topped 30% in the 2000 Census. Navarro won seven of these and Mr. Praisner won four. These precincts cast 583 votes for Navarro (47% of their total) and 509 for Mr. Praisner (41%). Navarro’s victory here is notable since Mr. Praisner’s biggest endorsement came from County Executive Ike Leggett, Montgomery County’s most prominent African American resident. These precincts reported a turnout of 8.4% - 2.8 points below the district’s total turnout.

District 4 has fifteen precincts outside of Leisure World in which the white population was at least 60% in 2000. Mr. Praisner won eight of these, Navarro won six and they tied in one. These precincts cast 1,016 votes for Mr. Praisner (44% of their total) and 936 votes for Navarro (40%). Turnout was 10.9%, almost equal to the district’s total turnout (11.2%). In the end, these precincts plus Leisure World accounted for 233 votes of Mr. Praisner’s 348 vote lead, or two-thirds of his margin.

Mr. Praisner’s supporters are understandably pleased at his victory, but they have cause to worry about 2010. As Mr. Praisner has said many times, he will not be on the ballot again. His supporters and potential successors should consider the following relevant facts:

1. School board member Marilyn Praisner (in 1990) and American University professor Jamie Raskin (in 2006) both required year-long campaigns to knock off long-time incumbents. Nancy Navarro came close to defeating the 17-year-incumbent Praisner family in just six weeks. As someone who saw her operation up close, I was impressed by the discipline and tactical intelligence of her campaign. Now that Navarro has survived the fire of an occasionally acrimonious and difficult election, she should be an even more formidable candidate if she runs again.

2. Most voters knew who their candidate was when they arrived at the polls on Tuesday. This reduced the importance of MCEA’s Apple Ballot. This will not be the case in 2010.

3. District 4 is a majority non-white jurisdiction and is trending even further in that direction. Navarro’s strong performance in black and Latino precincts – even against the choice of a black County Executive – swims with the demographic tide of history. And if she chooses to run again in 2010, she will have much more time to get out the vote in those precincts.

Ironically, the best hope for Navarro’s opponents among non-white voters could be Pat Ryan. His work with Action in Montgomery has brought him into contact with many black, Latino and immigrant communities in the county. His hands-on advocacy for affordable housing is a good issue with these constituencies. But Ryan was discouraged from running by the establishment officials who backed Mr. Praisner. Starved for money and deprived of endorsements, Ryan garnered just 5% of the vote and finished last in 33 of the district’s 45 precincts. If Ryan or Steve Kanstoroom, who spent $24,000 of his own money only to draw 11% of the vote, is anointed to be Mr. Praisner’s successor, will either be able to overcome such a low finish?


We can again breathe…

Written by Sharon Dooley
Sharon Dooley is the Legislative Director of Upcounty Action.

Many of us who live in the Olney area and others across the upper Montgomery County regions who could not vote in the District 4 Council race are now breathing freely again. With the Democratic primary won by Don Praisner, we are confident that the prudent fiscal and moderate growth policies voiced by Marilyn Praisner will continue to be heard in the council chambers, if he defeats the challenger, as expected in May.

Mike Knapp’s comments that the last election was not about growth were echoed by Nancy Navarro as she made the point that growth is contained here. I differ with this opinion significantly and consider it misguided, perhaps even na├»ve. Growth policy and land-use decisions are an important part of county governance whether it is for in-fill development or in redevelopment of an older neighborhood. Bad decisions made in zoning or in Master Plans can change the character of a community, so these selections must be made carefully. Growth is cyclical as well, since economies have cycles, just as communities do and we need to plan for both good times and downturns.

Our county’s future growth is most likely not going to be in areas that mimic the plans for new towns such as Clarksburg, but rather in areas where we have settled communities that are becoming more urban. As a county we are growing and will continue to grow – the concern is in which ways will we change? Important questions will have to be asked and answered. Sometimes the knowledge is held in which questions are asked. I submit that the following are some that will need clear answers soon:
• How many stories do we wish to see built for our urban apartments and/or high-rise city office buildings?
• How much development can be supported in our Metro centers?
• How does the BRAC affect our down county roads and transit?
• Will there be affordable housing for these new workers should they choose to move here?
• Where will we get the necessary infrastructure funding as the modest growth continues and tax revenues decline?
• Will we be able to hold the line on class sizes as the county changes?
• Will the transit plans for the CCT and Purple lines be a real part of the transportation futures here?
• How long will we be able to hold the preservation of the Ag reserve as we see attempts at encroachment continue?

There are 93,000 acres approximately in protection in the Agricultural Reserve at
this time; farmers want to be able to have the equity they hold in their land pay
off; several proposals regarding development rights and land trade-offs are
suggested and being studied. These decisions need to be carefully considered
by our elected officials who are tasked with maintaining a viable county into the
future. It is hoped that now we can be confident that the air will remain
breathable, that forests will grow, and agriculture will continue to be a vibrant
part of Montgomery County’s tomorrows.


The Problem with Peter Franchot

The war of words between Governor Martin O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot escalated yesterday. The Governor branded the Comptroller as a hypocrite for crusading against slots after voting for them in 2001. The Comptroller’s spokesman then referred to the Governor’s “attack” as “unusual” and “regrettable.” But what is truly regrettable is the nature of the Comptroller’s engagement in the state’s political debates.

From the start, Peter Franchot said he was not going to be your grandfather’s sort of Comptroller. He was going to be an activist, independent spokesman for Maryland taxpayers. Boy, I thought, this was going to be great. After all, activist independent spokespeople provide great fodder for bloggers!

Soon enough, the Comptroller proved good on his word. He questioned the need to hold a special session last year. He opposed the computer tax as soon as it was suggested. Senate President Mike Miller criticized Franchot and his staff for being “missing in action this entire year in terms of helping the state solve the budget crisis. ... Certainly, during the entire [22] days of the special session he was gone.” Soon after, Franchot became embroiled in an ugly battle with the Senate over his staffing practices and conduct in office. And that’s to say nothing about his opinions on slots!

Now we try to follow a tradition of constructive criticism on this blog. After our rip-roaring romps against MCDCC last year over its legislative appointment process, Paul Gordon suggested holding mid-term special elections and using a variety of ways to incorporate district resident input into MCDCC votes. When I found the Governor’s original special session package to be regressive, I laid out how to seize tax revenues from cheating employers who were costing the state millions. And when I opposed the computer tax, I suggested a package containing the Governor’s original upper-income tax rates, combined reporting and a corporate tax hike as a replacement.

It is very, very easy to criticize someone else’s ideas. It can be very, very challenging to craft a viable alternative. Franchot’s problem is not that he is an anti-slots liberal or that he butts heads with the Senate President. (After all, someone has to fight with Miller!) It’s that he does not supply us with a better way to deal with our problems. What does a progressive alternative to the things he criticizes look like? I’d really like to know, but he never tells us.

And the slots issue is becoming an excruciatingly difficult one. The latest state budget information holds that if the slots referendum is not passed, the state will face $600 million annual budget deficits forever. Regular readers know that I’m not a fan of slots. But after the legislature’s regressive special session tax package, the most likely alternative to slots money will be more sales tax increases or horrendous budget cuts, possibly to education, health care and transportation. These are really tough choices and any honest person who cares about both preventing slots and pursuing progressive economic policy is going to wrestle with them.

So what is the Comptroller’s recommendation? According to the Post:

Asked by a reporter how he would replace the revenue if the referendum is defeated, Franchot offered no specifics. He said the state should be nurturing the life sciences sector, industries that would presumably contribute more to the tax base upon its growth.
I’m sorry, Mr. Franchot. If you are going to earn my loyalty, you have to do better than that.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

State Budget Crisis Will Get Worse Before it Gets Better

Courtesy of State Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), we present a grim reality to MPW readers: the state budget situation is getting even worse.

Over the last two years, Maryland politics has been dominated by a debate over how to deal with the state’s “structural deficit.” This deficit is a long-term imbalance between revenues and spending created by income tax cuts in the 1990s and an expansion of education spending in 2002. The Ehrlich administration was able to defer the consequences of these decisions because of a strong economy and repeated diversions of transportation funds. But Governor O’Malley decided to deal with the problem head-on early in his term, leading to the deficit reduction package of last year’s special session.

The problem is the weak economy. Every time the legislature takes action to correct the deficit, the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates reports revenue shortfalls. And so the legislature must redo its work. If the shortfalls are serious enough between General Assembly sessions, the Governor will probably have to make unilateral cuts until they return to Annapolis.

Senator Madaleno brought the latest 90 Day Report, a review prepared by the State Department of Legislative Services, to our attention. The report had this to say about future state budgets:

As shown in Exhibit A-1.6, although there is a cash balance of about $226.4 million in fiscal 2009, there is a gap of about $350 million when comparing ongoing revenue to ongoing spending. As noted, action at the 2007 special session reduced the projected $1.7 billion structural deficit by about $1.4 billion through a combination of new revenues and spending reductions. Reductions adopted at the 2008 session largely offset downward revenue revisions that were received in March 2008 but did not make additional progress in reducing the structural deficit. There is a potential cash shortfall of about $243 million between revenues and current services spending projected for fiscal 2010. The shortfall is expected to widen to nearly $600 million in fiscal 2011, which mirrors the structural deficit. This is due mainly to the downward revision of revenue by BRE [Board of Revenue Estimates] in March, to an actuarial error in retirement contributions which adds nearly $70 million per year in additional spending for teachers’ retirement costs, and in the financing of health care expansion, enacted by Chapter 7 of the 2007 special session, which adds $70 million in general fund spending in fiscal 2011.

Based on the assumption that the constitutional amendment to implement video lottery terminals is approved by voters in the fall of 2008, the projected cash and structural shortfall narrows significantly by fiscal 2013. It is estimated that revenue from video lottery terminals will add nearly $500 million in revenue in fiscal 2012, increasing to an estimated $660 million in fiscal 2013. If the constitutional amendment is not successful, the structural deficit is projected to remain at the roughly -$600 million level.
Exhibit A-1.6 is reproduced below.

These numbers are by no means necessarily the ones that will be used by the General Assembly in next year’s budget decisions. The revenue numbers in particular may be adjusted more than once by then. But in general, here’s how this might play out:

1. More tax hikes are very unlikely. The bulk of the problem will be dealt with on the spending side.

2. The spending increases passed in the special session, such as the establishment of a fund to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and a health care expansion, will be especially vulnerable. Legislators will say, “We thought we had the money for those things but it turns out we don’t. So we will have to wait until the money comes in before funding them.” College tuition freezes and transportation spending will also be endangered.

3. Both the special session and the 2008 general session largely spared the counties from cuts to state aid. That may not be the case next time. The counties are especially wary of any attempt by the state to pass on obligations for teachers’ pensions. Education aid may also be at risk. If aid cuts happen, they would greatly complicate county budget problems, especially in Montgomery County.

4. Slots proponents will be sure to exploit the new data, especially the 90 Day Report’s statement that “if the constitutional amendment is not successful, the structural deficit is projected to remain at the roughly -$600 million level.” Even anti-slots legislators will shudder at the prospect of replacing that amount of money, especially as election year approaches.

5. A $243 million deficit is projected for FY 2010, which will be decided next year. But a $596 million deficit is projected for FY 2011, which will be decided in 2010 – an election year. The General Assembly is surely tired of dealing with budget crises every year and will be tempted to take a break in 2009. But if they do that, the 2010 elections will be kicked off by a truly painful debate over even more tax hikes and/or spending cuts – a teeth-chattering prospect for every politician in Annapolis.


On Political Pulse

Marvin Weinman, the President of the Montgomery County Taxpayer's League, will be on the 'Political Pulse' talk show on:

--Thursday, April 17th at 9 p.m. and
--Tuesday, April 22nd at 9:30 p.m.

to talk about the large budget deficit that Montgomery County Council is now debating. Mr. Weinman is quoted often in the Washington Post on County budget matters and recently wrote a Commentary in the Gazette. Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

MCDCC: Apply for the Ballot Questions Committee

While I am not the ideal message boy for MCDCC, we are happy to help out MPW friend Marc Korman. He forwarded this notice for our readers.

Apply for the Ballot Questions Committee

The November election is not just about the presidency. A number of important initiatives will be on the ballot on major policy issues. The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (on which I represent District 16) is currently assembling a Ballot Questions Committee to consider these issues and recommend a Democratic Party position on them for the fall. Some of the issues are well known to readers of MPW.

If the challenge to the petition signatures fails, the County will have ballot referendum on the transgender non-discrimination law. The County Council approved law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment, taxi, and cable service.

In 2006, a state court ruled early voting unconstitutional because the state constitution limits voting to one day a year in a voter’s home district. As a result, the legislature passed a constitutional amendment in 2007 to allow early voting. The electorate now must ratify or reject the amendment. If accepted, the amendment would allow the legislature to establish early voting locations around the state to improve voter access in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

Another hot button issue to be decided is the fate of slots in Maryland. During the Special Session, the General Assembly punted to the voters the question of whether slots will be allowed in five locations around the state. Technically, Maryland voters will be ratifying or rejecting a constitutional amendment authorizing legislation to implement gambling.

In addition, the Montgomery County Charter Review Commission is currently considering proposed Charter amendments that may also go on the ballot. The Commission is a bipartisan panel of eleven that recommends charter amendments to the County Council during each election year. Given recent history, it is possible that the Charter Review Commission will forward a Ficker Amendment involving County tax policy.

To get involved in the Ballot Questions Committee, take a look at the requirements set out by the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee and consider applying:

Volunteers Needed for Ballot Questions Committee

Volunteers are needed for the Ballot Questions Committee. In order to apply, please send a resume and cover letter to the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee at or fax it to the Central Committee at 301/946-1002.

Please state that you would like to serve on the Ballot Questions Committee. The deadline to receive the resume is Monday, May 1, 2008 at 5:00 pm.

All candidates will be interviewed before the Central Committee appoints he members of the Ballot Questions Committee. It is one of the goals of the Central Committee to have a Ballot Questions Advisory Committee that is geographically and ideologically balanced.

The County Democratic Party rules require that at least half of the Committee members must be precinct chairs, vice chairs, or area coordinators. The role of the Committee is to review the Ballot Questions and to review certain judicial candidates for the General Election. Please respond as soon as possible.

The estimated time commitment is 40 hours. It is anticipated that the committee will meet once a month from May to September. Additionally, the committee is expected to hold a public hearing in late August.

Once the committee has been appointed, each member of the Committee will be expected to take at least one of the ballot questions, research it thoroughly, and then prepare a one-page write-up setting out the arguments as to why the Party should support a vote "yes", why the Party should support a vote "no", and why the Party should not take a position. After the August public hearing, the committee will make a recommendation on each ballot question.

The Advisory Committee's recommendations (along with the one-page write-up on each of the three possible positions) will be sent out to all of the chartered Democratic Clubs; all of the precinct chairs, vice chairs, and area coordinators; all the members of the County Central Committee; and all of the elected Democratic officials in the county. About 2 weeks after the report is sent out, the Precinct Organization will meet and take its position on each of the questions. Following that meeting, the Central Committee will meet and take its position on each question. Where the Precinct Organization and the Central Committee are in agreement, that will be the position of the County Democratic Party. On any question that the Precinct Organization and the Central Committee are not in agreement, the County Party will be neutral on that ballot question. Since this system was put in place about 10 years ago, the Precinct Organization and the Central Committee have always agreed on the Party's positions on each ballot question.


Montgomery College Agrees to Neutrality - Or Does It?

Regular readers will recall how Montgomery College told its adjunct professors that they were "not public employees" in order to avoid allowing them a union election. Now the college is claiming to be "neutral." But is it?

Two days ago, the President of Montgomery College sent out the following memo to adjunct professors:

Office of the President
April 14, 2008


To: Part-Time Faculty
From: Brian K. Johnson, President
Subject: Service Employees International Union for Part-Time Faculty

Many of you are aware of the petition filed by SEIU Local 500, seeking to represent adjunct faculty for purposes of collective bargaining. I wanted to clarify the College's position in this matter. We are not anti union, we are neutral, and will respect the right of adjunct faculty to decide through a secret ballot vote on whether you wish to be represented by the union. Throughout this process we must perform our organizational and legal duties. This includes making sure that the unit proposed is authorized by Maryland law to do so and to make sure that the definition of the unit to be organized is sufficiently clear and appropriate so that elections can be conducted in accordance with the requirements of law. These steps followed in accordance with the requirements of Maryland law result in benefits to all concerned and eliminate tremendous legal and logistical problems in the future.

We are working with the Maryland State Commissioner of Labor and SEIU Local 500 to seek an expedited election process that will allow you to vote on this question as soon as possible. Information regarding the election procedures will be forthcoming from the Commissioner's office in the very near future.

Montgomery College has a rich history of harmonious labor relations with our employee unions. We are committed to that tradition continuing with SEIU or any other union, should they become your collective bargaining representative.
It is encouraging to hear the college proclaim its "neutrality" though I have heard such statements from anti-union employers many times over the years. The true test of neutrality is not what the college says, but what the college does.

The adjuncts are seeking an election prior to the end of the semester, which occurs in mid-May. The college states that it "must perform our organizational and legal duties," which include "making sure that the unit proposed is authorized by Maryland law to do so and to make sure that the definition of the unit to be organized is sufficiently clear and appropriate so that elections can be conducted in accordance with the requirements of law." If the college contests the definition of the bargaining unit - a common tactic used against workers who want a union - it can easily run out the clock on the semester. That would give the college all summer to plan a more aggressive campaign against the adjuncts in the fall.

If the college is genuinely neutral, it must agree to an election in the next couple weeks. Otherwise, its declaration of neutrality will be proven as baseless as its claim that the adjuncts are not public employees.


Lasting Impressions from the Special Election

Don Praisner, with Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Duchy Trachtenberg, and Phil Andrews just after the final precinct votes were released.

Here are the final photos from yesterday's election.

Thanks to Mike Benefiel, Campaign Manager for Pat Ryan, for the pictures from Leisure World.

Signs outside of 13-54, Clubhouse I.

Don Praisner and Lillis Caulton, precinct chair, 13-54.

A mid-day walk of the "gauntlet" by a voter at 13-54.

From left: Praisner voters Al Shanefelter and Claire Rupert surround precinct chair, Elaine Crutchfield, neutral, outside of Tyler Page ES (5-8).

Candy Shimming, for Praisner, outside of Kennedy HS (13-02) in the early morning cold.

Kathy Ryan, wife of candidate Pat Ryan, just after voting at Fairland Center (5-17).

Vicky Meyers, precinct vice chair and Betty Petrides, for Kanstoroom, outside of Fairland Center (5-17).

Kevin Gillogly, for Praisner, and Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, for Navarro, outside of Shriver ES (13-36).

Dr. "Z" (aka Gilberto Zelaya, Ph.D), Community Outreach Liaison Director for MoCo Board of Elections, working his Blackberry outside of Shriver ES (13-36).

Have a photo you want to share? Then post a comment and I will contact you privately.


Rich Madaleno on Taxes

In a thoughtful diary on Free State Politics, Sen. Rich Madaleno outlined changes in tax rates and the State's fiscal outlook since the special session, and why he opposed the surcharge on people with annual incomes over $1 million which passed the General Assembly. As it turns out, my past posts on this topic woefully underestimated the gap in tax rates between Maryland and Virginia for these very high-income taxpayers:

Our actual work this year began last October when Governor Martin O'Malley called the General Assembly back to Annapolis for an extraordinary special session to address the state's fiscal problems. In just four weeks of work, the General Assembly and Governor O'Malley worked out a comprehensive fiscal solution that included $600 million in spending reductions and $1.3 billion in tax increases to fund the state's general operating and transportation budgets.

The tax increases included raising the sales tax rate from 5% to 6%, raising the corporate income tax rate from 7% to 8.25%, and reconfiguring the personal income tax rates. Maryland's previous top rate was 4.75% for all income over $3,000. The new, more progressive rates result in a .25% rate increase (to 5%) for income over $150,000 and a .75% rate increase (to 5.5%) for income over $500,000. As a result of increases to the personal exemption and the new rates, people earning less than $100,000 will pay less in income taxes while people making more than $150,000 will pay more.

As you know, the General Assembly also authorized a referendum on the issue of slot machine gambling. If passed this November, the slots plan will authorize a maximum of 15,000 machines in five predetermined locations around the state. By the end of the special session, we were able to finally eliminate the state's ongoing structural deficit.

The regular session had the odd feel of a hangover after our frenetic fall session and opened with a real sense of melancholy following the unexpected deaths of three colleagues. Additionally, our new-found structural balance was not to last long as the nation's worsening economic condition began to take its toll on our projected revenues. In fact, much of the regular session's work seemed to revise, rewrite, or repeal our work from the special session.

While the governor's initial budget proposal in January was balanced to our original revenue estimates, state revenues from the income tax and sales tax both fell significantly below projections in the first quarter. These two revenue sources account for more than 80% of the state's tax revenues. When they fall, the budget quickly falls back into the red.

January's year-over-year growth in sales tax revenue alone saw the deepest decline in 15 years. This situation is not isolated as similar steep drops were seen by Virginia and the District of Columbia. As a result, the state's official revenue estimate was decreased by $330 million.

At the same time, fierce opposition to one of the new taxes passed in November began to push the legislature to repeal the expansion of the sales tax to computer services. The technology industry made a strong case that this tax would make Maryland tech firms uncompetitive especially with Virginia-based companies. However, this new tax was slated to produce $200 million in new revenue. When the decision was finally made to repeal this "tech tax," the General Assembly was faced with a $530 million shortfall.

To address this problem, I strongly advocated for a reduction in spending including a scaling back of the new spending initiatives we had enacted during the special session. These new initiatives included funding for transportation enhancements, health care expansion, Chesapeake Bay clean up, and higher education access. The General Assembly went along with the cuts to health care, bay clean up, and higher education but balked at reductions in the funding increase for transportation, which I proposed scaling back. Instead, the governor proposed another personal income tax bracket for income over $1 million. This new bracket will be 6.25% and will last for three years. When combined with the local income tax rate of 3.2% in Montgomery and Howard Counties, our new top bracket of 9.45% will be the third highest tax rate in the country and will be 75% higher than the top rate in Virginia.

It may be hard to pity the just more than 6,000 taxpayers who will be impacted by this tax. However, these few people, most of whom derive income from business ownership, account for nearly 20% of the income taxes paid to the state. In Montgomery County, where 40 percent of these taxpayers live, they account for almost 25% of the county's income tax revenue. I fear this new tax rate, which is a 30% increase over the old top rate, will seriously diminish our ability to retain or attract new businesses. Should even 500 of these taxpayers leave or simply declare residency in another state, by wintering longer in Florida for example, our state and county could see a significant reduction in tax revenues.

As a result of the deteriorating economy and last minute revisions to our tax code, I leave Annapolis this year, frankly, with a great deal of concern about our state's long-term fiscal outlook. Even with all of the difficult decisions of the past six months, we are still facing a serious fiscal situation. The economic news seems to get worse by the week. Energy prices continue to rise while home values fall. Job growth has stopped, and the stock markets are volatile. Should the slots referendum fail in November and the economy perform as anticipated; the state will once again be facing a nearly billion dollar structural deficit.

I sincerely hope this does not occur, but I believe we need to plan for the worst. That is why I proposed additional spending reductions to close our short-term deficit. During the committee debate on the tech tax repeal and income tax swap bill, I proposed an amendment to reduce General Fund support of the Transportation Trust Fund by $150 million annually. This was a cut in one-half of the sales tax revenue diversion we implemented during the special session.

My amendment would still have provided $4 billion next year for transportation operations and construction and $6 billion for construction projects over the next six years. It would also have left transportation with at least a $300 million annual enhancement. I was only proposing a reduction in the increase not a reduction in current services or projects - a modest one-third reduction in the increase.

Some of my colleagues have said they voted against my amendment due to our region's traffic problems. A review of the new projects proposed by the department to be funded with this new revenue reveals, in my opinion, few which will impact traffic in any meaningful way. For example, the only new Montgomery County road projects that will be funded by the new money allocated during the special session are intersection improvements around the Bethesda Naval Hospital to prepare for the relocation of Walter Reed, a new grade-separated interchange at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road, planning for a new interchange on I-270 at Watkins Mill Road, and planning for improvements along Georgia Avenue from Forest Glen Road to 16th Street. I would argue that none of these projects will result in any improvement to congestion except for traffic flow in the immediate vicinity of these intersections.