Friday, October 31, 2008

Sounding Off on Slots: Maryland's Constitution

Here's more from Marylanders in Fells Point. The focus of this video is whether the state's Constitution should be changed to include slots, an argument cited by conservatives who oppose the referendum.


Barack Obama and the Jewish Vote

By Marc Korman.

A recent poll found Barack Obama leading John McCain among Jewish voters 67% to 33%. This is a commanding lead, but how does it compare to previous Democratic presidential candidates?

In Maryland, 4.2% of the population is Jewish, over 235,000 people. There is also a substantial Jewish population in important swing states like Florida (over 653,000 people), Ohio (about 145,000 people), and Pennsylvania (about 285,000 people). So even though Jews make up just 2% of the national population, they could help swing the election.

Popular conception has been that Barack Obama has a problem with Jewish voters. Polling back in May indicated he could expect about 60% of Jews to support him, far less than supported John Kerry and Al Gore. The Obama campaign has taken such concerns seriously, forming Jewish outreach teams in several states, addressing a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and visiting Israel. People outside the campaign have also tackled the problem, perhaps most famously Sarah Silverman.

So how do Obama’s current numbers compare to previous Democratic nominees?

From 1928, when the Democratic nominee was New York Governor Al Smith, through all of the elections of Franklin Roosevelt, to the 1948 reelection of Harry Truman, 75% to 90% of Jews supported the Democratic candidate.

Jewish Vote For the Democratic Nominee By Year (1952-2004):


Barack Obama’s current 67% is still lower than any winning Democratic nominee’s share of the Jewish vote since World War II. But the good news is that he is doing better than expected and the number could continue to rise before Election Day. Of course, Barack Obama is doing better than Democratic nominees do in several other categories, so even if his share of the Jewish vote drops a bit, he could still have a great night next Tuesday.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Slots Study Tells The Truth of All That's False About Gambling

By Wayne Goldstein, MCCF Immediate Past President.

Last week I stated that I would tell you some of the unique gambling history of Maryland. However, the same day, the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research, located at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), released a detailed study titled: "An Analysis of the Impact of Introducing Video Lottery Terminals [VLTs/Slots] in Maryland." The researchers elaborate on the false promises being made by the state government and gambling interests and tell the truth about the negative impacts of gambling.

We have been told that slots will raise money for education. This is a false promise. The study states: "DLS [State Department of Legislative Services] has already included the Education Trust Fund (ETF) as substitutable, or fungible, dollars as they have subtracted the ETF from expenditures. Thus DLS assumes that the expenditure budget can be reduced by the $660 million ETF. This leaves a net effect of $564.6 million." What this means is that all slots dollars "dedicated" to education could result in the same amount of education dollars, now coming from other sources, instead being used for other purposes, so there could be NO increase in education funding as a result of slots.

The study describes estimates that Marylanders spend $550 million per year gambling in Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The slots revenue estimate by DLS assumes that every penny of the $550 million would instead be spent on Maryland slots and an additional $800 million would also be spent by Marylanders. As I've pointed out, these other states, some with lower income taxes and lower property taxes because of a reliance on gambling revenue, and also suffering greater poverty, will not let this happen without fighting back hard with better and more sophisticated gambling facilities to keep the loyalty of their Maryland customers.

"The Lottery Commission estimates that revenues will suffer a permanent 10 percent loss due to the presence of slots… The second effect is a substitution of dollars from other purchases to slots. "Consumers are faced with a budget constraint and thus if they increase their spending on slots, other purchases must be decreased."

This has been seen across the nation the past year as gambling revenue declined for the first time in what had been considered a recession-proof business. Furthermore, in 2004 "[Professor Earl] Grinols estimated the average losses in sales revenue given a $1,000 increase in casino revenues to be $381 for businesses within 30 miles of the casino." Not only is there a loss of tax revenue from these sales, but the businesses are harmed by this competition for customer dollars and some may go out of business as a result of this competition.

The study describes a “social benefit” in the form of the satisfaction people get from visits to slot machines. This entertainment is valued at $25 million. The study finds no job creation benefit from slots. With unemployment in Maryland averaging 4% in 2008, the authors believe any new jobs created by slots “may merely be a substitute from other employment.”

On the other hand, the social costs are considerable. The study has calculated the “Incidence of Potential Pathological & Problem Gambling in Maryland Upon the Introduction of” Slots. The authors found that 2/3rds of pathological & problem gamblers will use "abused dollars" which is "a term applied to dollars that are lost gambling that the gambler acquires through family, employers or friends under false pretense." Each gambler will create an average lifetime debt of $35,000. An average of 5% will declare bankruptcy, 5% will commit violent crimes, 5% will commit auto thefts and larceny, 20% will attempt suicide, and 28% will divorce, causing as many as 16,000 divorces. These addicted gamblers will miss an average of 9.8 hours of work per month because of gambling, about 6% of the work week.

The cost of addiction treatment is an average of $2,340 per gambler, whether or not they receive treatment and the actual cost is an average of $7,022 for those who obtain treatment. This works out to a total of $135,366,660 just for treatment of new gambling addicts who will be generated by slots coming to the state. It does not include those who are currently addicted and for whom Maryland provides no treatment dollars despite regularly earning $500 million per year from its lottery. The $6 million per year in slots revenue that would be pledged for addiction treatment will be a drop in the bucket for what will be needed. It would take almost 23 years for every newly addicted slots gambler to receive money from the state for treatment. Since the result of this addiction is that the gambler loses everything and is also likely to take money from the family and from the employer, there may be no other financial option for treatment, if existing health insurance does not cover treatment.

It is perhaps ironic that while the financial impact of gambling addiction is so high, a 1985 study found that treatment has such a high benefit cost ratio in terms of the impact on the reduction of the use of abused dollars that it made "pathological gambling one of the least costly illnesses to treat."

In 2004, Professor Grinols calculated the annual cost to society of pathological & problem gamblers as $11,630 in 2007 dollars for each pathological gambler and $3,315 for each problem gambler. According to the 1999 National Opinion Research Center (NORC) report, the "prevalence of both pathological and problem gamblers doubles when a casino opens within 50 miles (versus the 50 to 250 miles away where most other gambling venues outside of Maryland are located). As previously mentioned, we believe that the majority of Marylanders will be located within 20 miles of one of the proposed gaming sites. This means that the amount of new gamblers, both pathological and problem, in Maryland, will double. Using the NORC (1999) prevalence rates of 0.8 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, as well as the American Community Survey population estimate of 4,253,595 Maryland adults, we obtain figures of 34,029 pathological and 59,550 problem gamblers. It is important to clarify that these figures are not the total number of gamblers in Maryland, but instead represent only those current nongamblers who would develop a gambling problem upon the introduction of VLTs [slots]. Similarly, at the overall level, the social costs noted are those that would arise only when gambling was introduced."

The 1999 NORC report found "that approximately 2.5 million adults in the U.S. are pathological gamblers and that another 3 million are problem gamblers... This same study finds that pathological, problem and at-risk gambling are proportionately higher among African-Americans and other ethnic groups. It is also noted that problem and pathological gamblers are more likely than low-risk gamblers to have been on welfare, declare bankruptcy, and to have been arrested or incarcerated."

Other studies have found that "that machine or slots gamblers have a quicker transition into pathological gambling (1.09 year versus 3.58-3.89 years) compared with other forms of gambling." Grinols and David B. Mustard examined all U.S. casinos outside of Nevada in 2004, and found "that around 8 percent of crime in counties with casinos was attributable to those casinos."

"Utilizing the costs from Grinols (2004) this would total to an annual cost in 2008 dollars of $418.7 million for pathological gamblers and $208.8 million for problem gamblers. Utilizing the social costs from Walker (2004) [Professor Douglas M. Walker, a seemingly preferred consultant to the casino industry] the annual social cost is $228.3 million. This range ($228.3 to $627.5 million) is a higher bound as we estimated a large impact in the number of problem and pathological gamblers. In fact, many pathological and problem gamblers currently exist in our population but are not identified. This estimate utilizes the increased incidence at an extreme end but no other incidence estimates currently exist." Even based on Professor Walker's much lower calculation of social costs, these studies show how little additional net revenue the state will actually gain from slots, especially when the expected, aggressive, counter-response from other states takes effect. If Professor Grinols costs are correct, Maryland will actually lose money by legalizing slots.

At its regular meeting last week, MCCF voted overwhelmingly to oppose the slots constitutional amendment after learning of some of the harms of gambling addiction. A Washington Post article this week cited its recent poll showing wide support for slots. It was reported: "About one-third of voters who think slots may have negative consequences still support the plan…" It is unlikely that these voters understand the full extent of the "negative consequences" as detailed in this column and elsewhere. Unfortunately, history may be poised to repeat itself in Maryland in 2008 as happened in 1947, when slots were first proposed and accepted in this state as the solution to the financial needs of government. Next week I will explore the history of the eventually successful battle to eliminate slots from the state, despite the lure of the easy money that some local governments quickly became addicted to.

Readers can access the study here.

Note: An edited version of this column is also appearing in the Montgomery Sentinel.


Maryland’s Budget Apocalypse

In a disaster movie that never seems to end, the state’s budget is getting even worse. We use the latest documents from the state’s Department of Legislative Services (DLS) to dissect the biggest government collapse since the Weimar Republic.

In September, the state’s Board of Revenue Estimates forecast total general fund revenues for fiscal 2010 (which begins on 7/1/09) at $14.7017 billion. Just one month later, DLS estimated those revenues at $14.4135 billion – a reduction of $288.3 million. That adds to a billion-dollar deficit previously forecast over the summer.

So the Governor and the General Assembly must scrub the budget. What does it look like in broad terms? The general fund (which does not include transportation) is divided into three different categories: aid to local governments, entitlements and state agency spending. Each of those three categories has sub-components as detailed below. Pay special attention to the fourth column from the left (FY 2010), which applies to next year.

Budget cutting demands priorities. One way to do it is to decide what to protect. So suppose you preserve education funding. After all, if Maryland went from 24th to 45th among U.S. states in business tax climate in one year, perhaps we ought to maintain our human capital investments to keep whatever employers choose to remain. The problem is that combined education spending adds up to $7.6773 billion in 2010, or 49% of general fund spending. Suppose you decide to protect healthcare spending. That adds up to $4.1112 billion in 2010, or 26% of general fund spending. Or suppose you decide to protect spending on public safety. That accounts for $1.3952 billion (more if you include some county and municipal aid), or 9% of general fund spending. Suppose you decide to protect all three. Then you have exempted $13.1837 billion, or 83% of the state’s general fund spending, from cuts.

Pure and simple, the state budget pays for education, health and public safety, in that order. These are the services Marylanders expect and demand. And that is why the upcoming budget cuts will be so excruciating. There are no easy or painless cuts to make.

But cut we must. No member of the General Assembly I know, including the most liberal members, believes the legislature will pass tax hikes. And the cuts cannot be temporary – they must be permanent. Why? Because DLS forecasts that the wretched state of the economy will produce gigantic budget deficits well into the indefinite future.

In 2010, DLS estimates a deficit of $1.318 billion, rising to $1.487 billion next year. The deficits will fall to the $800 million-$1 billion range after that. In total, between 2010 and 2014, DLS expects the state to suffer a combined $5.718 billion budget deficit under current revenue and spending projections. And those numbers include revenues from slots. Without slots, the total five-year deficit would rise to $7.539 billion.

All of this leads us to advise the members of each of the following three groups to be careful what they wish for.

1. If you are a conservative, you should think twice about celebrating these spending cuts. They will go deeper than you expect and will damage even your priorities, such as the police.

2. If you are a slots opponent, you may very well rue the defeat of the referendum if the alternative is an extra $1.821 billion in cuts to education and health.

3. And if you are thinking of running for office in 2010, you may regret winning. Because if you do win, this mess will belong to you!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More on Politicians Against Slots

The next wave of slots campaign contributions are in. Here's our updated list of the politicians who contributed to one or more of the groups opposing slots.

In our earlier post, we reported these contributions from politicians to Marylanders United to Stop Slots:

Friends of Peter Franchot: $6,000 (plus $500 of personal money)
Friends for Delegate J.W. Hubbard (D-23A, Prince George’s): $1,000
Citizens for Josh Cohen (Anne Arundel County Council): $1,000
Friends of George Leventhal (Montgomery County Council): $1,000
Citizens for Paul Pinsky (Senate D-22, Prince George’s): $600
Citizens for Karen Montgomery (D-14, Montgomery): $500

Since then, the following politicians have also contributed to Marylanders United to Stop Slots:

Friends of Susan Lee (D-16, Montgomery): $500
Friends of Justin Ross (D-22, Prince George's): $500
Bill Bronrott for Delegate (D-16, Montgomery): $400
Friends of Joseline Pena Melnyk (D-21, Prince George's): $200
Friends of Eric Olson (Prince George's County Council):$150

Also, the Committee to Elect Delegate Liz Bobo (Howard, D-12B) gave $1,000 to Stop Slots Maryland and Rockville City Council Member Piotr Gajewski gave $100 of his own money to Marylanders United to Stop Slots.

As far as we can tell, the above is a complete list of all politicians who have actually donated money to one of the anti-slots groups. If I am missing anyone, please contact me through my Blogger profile.


Have a Drink for the Road!

Sound like a bad idea? Hey, if you don’t want to listen to me, then listen to your County Council Members!

I am writing this blog post from the Royal Mile Pub in Wheaton, MoCo’s best scotch bar. And why am I here? I am doing my part to finance transportation projects in the county and so are all my rowdy friends. Bring out another round, barkeep!

This blog has chronicled MoCo’s transportation woes over and over again and the situation has gotten much worse in the wake of the state’s billion-dollar transportation cut. The vast majority of the county’s transportation problems occur on state highways (like Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, Connecticut Avenue and US-29) or are connected to transit needs. Every year, the County Executive and the County Council send a letter to the state delegation outlining their highest priorities for state projects. And the projects move through the state capital program slower than frozen molasses.

Here’s one example. The stretch of Georgia Avenue between 16th Street and Forest Glen Road, commonly known as Montgomery Hills, is a blighted mess. Crumbling buildings, ugly power lines, hellish pedestrian conditions and more traffic than any other non-interstate road in the county have produced long-simmering discontent among the natives (one of whom is me). The North and West Silver Spring Master Plan contains a plan for redesigning this part of Georgia as an attractive, pedestrian-friendly boulevard and the county has made it its number one road design request to the state since 1999. This past January, the O’Malley administration included $3 million for project design funding, but that fell victim to the recent cuts. If this were left only to the state’s devices, the natives might never see any relief.

Two years ago, Council Members Steve Silverman and Nancy Floreen came up with a novel way to jumpstart state projects: they would use proceeds from bonds backed by liquor profits. Montgomery County has a wholesale monopoly on all alcohol sales and a retail monopoly on hard liquor. As with all things connected to mankind’s favorite beverage, this monopoly is hugely profitable. By leveraging future liquor profits into current capital funds, the county could get some state projects moving.

Hey barkeep – give me a refill on those Goldfishies! For you non-Wheatonites, the Royal Mile’s house bar food is Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. That’s yet another reason to come here. Give us another round of Loose Cannon too (hic)!

Where was I? Oh yeah, transportation. The County Council authorized $104 million in liquor bonds to pay for new projects, but only spent $31 million. So a joint staff panel from the Council, the County’s Department of Transportation and Park and Planning recommended a list of languishing state projects that would be started with the remaining $73 million in county money. The projects are all over the county, ranging from Montgomery Hills to design money for a new Metro entrance at the Intersection of Death to new sidewalks in Kensington to two bus-rapid-transit lines to relocating a treacherous stretch of Georgia Avenue in Brookeville. Most of the spending will finance design because $73 million won’t pay for a lot of construction. But without design acceleration, we will be waiting well past last call to get something actually built.

The council’s Transportation Committee approved the project list last Thursday, so the full council should be considering it soon. So let’s drink a toast to those Council Members! (Hey buddy... (hic) What are their names again?)


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ted Stevens Endorses Sarah Palin

Isn't it nice to remember the good times in life? When everybody was happy and no one was going to jail?


Franchot Drives Slots Opponents to Near Mutiny (Updated)

IBEW Local 26 Business Manager Chuck Graham, Chairman of Marylanders United to Stop Slots, is threatening to leave the group's leadership over the actions of Comptroller Peter Franchot. He is particularly unhappy over the entanglement of the Comptroller's disputes with the Governor with the slots issue and also with a commercial released by the anti-slots group.

Here is the ad that has so enraged Graham and divided the anti-slots movement. Note the reference to the special session's tax increase and the tagline: "Don't Let Annapolis Fool You Again. Slots Won't Fix Our Economy."

Update: Franchot is now claiming that "the leadership of the Maryland Democratic Party has become indebted to the national gambling industry." You just can't make this stuff up, folks.

Update 2: Here is Franchot's letter to the state Democrats in which he says "a few political bosses are allowing the Maryland Democratic Party to be hijacked by the national gambling industry, silencing those who believe that our progressive values are at odds with an industry that preys upon the poor and vulnerable, all in the name of excessive greed." Hmmm... I wonder what Franchot means by political bosses?


MoCo Delegation Speaks Out on Slots, Part Three

The Montgomery County Sentinel’s series on the MoCo delegation’s positions on slots concludes this week. Following are the positions of legislators from Districts 19, 20 and 39. The Sentinel did not report responses from Senators Mike Lenett (D-19) and Nancy King (D-39) and Delegates Hank Heller (D-19) and Kirill Reznik (D-39), but as we have seen, that does not necessarily mean that those legislators did not contact them. Of the legislators who are quoted in the Sentinel, Delegates Roger Manno (D-19), Sheila Hixson (D-20) and Tom Hucker (D-20) voted for the referendum and Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20) and Delegates Ben Kramer (D-19), Heather Mizeur (D-20), Charles Barkey (D-39) and Saqib Ali (D-39) voted against it.

Delegate Ben Kramer (Against):

Kramer voted against the referendum during the special session and said he has some difficulty understanding why many voted for the referendum last year and now claim they oppose it. “I question their rationale,” he said.

Kramer said he would like to see, as an alternative to slots, a repeal of a tax cut that was disapproved.
Editor’s Note: Can someone explain to us in the comments section what this alternative could be?

Delegate Roger Manno (Against):

Manno said he will vote against the slots referendum on the November ballot. “I do not believe that the slots proposal offers a stable or justifiable source of revenue, even if we assume the most generous slots revenue projections,” he said.

“As a legislator,” he continued, “my focus is to protect vulnerable populations, shore up critical infrastructure commitments, fulfill our contract with retirees who have paid into the system, and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.”

In lieu of revenue from the slots proposal, Manno said cuts and efficiencies in the range of $100 million to $200 million are “likely unavoidable. In addition, alternative revenues include cracking down on the misclassification of employees (yielding some $200 million annually in other states), and implementing combined reporting to capture revenue from corporate tax loopholes (yielding perhaps $100 million annually). If enacted, these measures would close the portion of the budget shortfall that slots revenue would assume.”
Senator Jamie Raskin (Against):

Raskin said he voted against the slots proposal in the Senate and intends to vote against it at the polls as well. “To me, it seems like a low road for the state to go down,” he said. “After so many home foreclosures, risking bankruptcies and staggering consumer debt, I cannot imagine that it’s a good idea to set up 15,000 slot machines in our state.”

He said if there was universal health care, universal accessibility and a stronger safety net, then the state could, perhaps, responsibly rely on people’s gambling losings to fund essential state services. “We don’t have a real social safety net,” he said. “Just a tight rope and it’s already shaky enough for a lot of people and kids right now. I don’t think the government should help push people off of it with the introduction of slot machines.”

Raskin said he believes there are people of good will on both sides of the issue. “Our economic problems, flowing downhill from the fiscal recklessness and out-of-control spending of the Bush Administration, are deep and will require sustained attention,” he said.

Alternatively, Raskin said he would like to see a tax on liquor and continued pruning of the state budget, including a repeal of the death penalty, which, according to the Senator, will save millions of dollars a year.
Delegate Sheila Hixon (For):

Hixson said that without slots, the budget would be very tight. “We have given the voters to choose,” she said. “If they want it, they will vote for it.”
Delegate Tom Hucker (Against):

“While there is no question that the state needs additional revenue,” Hucker said, “any significant revenue from slots won’t arrive until fiscal year 2012, too late to fix the budgets for next year or the following year.”

He said the revenue from slots is “overestimated” and will be “offset by millions of dollars that will be needed for increased bankruptcies, gambling addiction treatment, domestic violence and other crimes that typically increase in the states that legalize slots.”

Hucker said he has been an organizer and vocal advocate for a progressive state income tax for years and said he was proud to vote last year to finally make the income tax progressive. He said he also worked in 2003 and 2004 to close the Delaware corporate tax loophole, which dozens of large companies, according to him, were using to cheat Maryland out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We need to end our state tax breaks for yacht owners, gold bullion collectors and country clubs. And most important, we need to enact combined reporting to make sure multinational corporations pay taxes in Maryland just like the rest of us. Taking those steps would raise more than $500 million annually – enough to close our budget deficit next year, not years down the road.”
Editor’s Note: As we will see in an upcoming post, next year’s budget deficit is projected to be $1.3 billion. That’s a lotta gold bullion! Hey Tom – how many of those “gold bullion collectors” live in District 20?

Delegate Heather Mizeur (Against):

“Maryland is the wealthiest state in the nation for a reason,” Mizeur said. “We invest in our people, in their skills and in our communities. Our state thrives on job creation fueled by creativity, research and new technologies.”

Mizeur said slots are “a regressive throwback to 19th Century thinking.” She said that the state should focus on science and technology and not slots to help balance the budget. “Instead of betting on slots, Maryland could expand its individual and corporate tax bases by promoting economic winners like nanotechnology, renewable energy or biotechnology,” she said. “Let’s bet on science, not slots.”
Delegate Saqib Ali (Against):

Ali said that slots are a tax on the poorest members of society. “I think the detrimental aspects of slots, like addiction, ruined finances and broken homes, outweigh the fiscal benefits.”

He said he is also concerned that the gambling companies will be unjustly enriched by the referendum.

Ali said he would like to see the same budget cuts the government has made in the past. “Additionally, I see no reason why alcohol taxes in Maryland shouldn’t be raised,” he said. “They have not been raised in more than a generation.”
Delegate Charles Barkley (Against):

“I am not a fan of gambling,” he said. “We shouldn’t base our revenue on slots because too many things come with it.”

Barkley said he is afraid, like many others, that the social problems that are attached to gambling such as crime, corruption and gambling addiction will burden the state.

“Cutting certain programs and spending could help turn around the budget crisis,” he said.


District 18 Town Hall Meeting, Part Two

Senator Madaleno and Delegates Gutierrez, Waldstreicher and Carr finish responding to constituent questions as read by moderator Charles Duffy. There is news here, so read on!

What is your position on the ICC?
Delegate Carr, who argued against cuts to MARC in the Gazette, said, “Something is wrong when mass transit is cut and something like the ICC is protected.” None of the Delegates defended the road.

Throughout his political career, Senator Madaleno – a former member of the Duncan administration – has been an ICC supporter. But Madaleno is changing his mind on the issue. In September, he told the Gazette:

It seems, in transportation, we are infatuated with the mega-project, whether it be the ICC or the Purple Line, when it may be time to be rethinking the giant projects in favor of a much larger number of smaller projects that can be just as beneficial but don't lend themselves to ribbon-cuttings or groundbreakings.
In the Town Hall meeting, Madaleno went a bit further. He said that if the section of the ICC currently under construction between I-270 and Georgia Avenue was canceled, the state could face $100 million or more in contractor penalties. But if the rest of the road went unfinished, at least part of the ICC’s financing that is not tied to toll-backed bonds could be directed to other projects. (We outlined the ICC’s funding structure here.) Madaleno even said he was “in talks” with County Council Member Marc Elrich, who was present in the audience, about using ICC money to finance bus-rapid-transit throughout the county.

A combination of ICC supporter Madaleno and vehement ICC foe Elrich would be one of the strangest oddball alliances in MoCo politics. All parties on both sides of the issue should pay attention to this development.

Which Purple Line route do you prefer?
In District 18, the alignment of the Purple Line is a very sensitive issue. Most supporters of the project favor a light-rail line along the Capital Crescent Trail, but many residents of the Town of Chevy Chase prefer a bus-rapid-transit line on Jones Bridge Road, which is outside their town limits. The common perception of most political observers in this district is that few politicians challenge the wishes of Chevy Chase and survive to take their oath of office.

Senator Madaleno and Delegate Gutierrez answered the question directly, with opposite points of view. Madaleno said flatly that he “does not support” the Inner Purple Line alignment and favors more transit options outside the Beltway instead. He claimed that 80% of the Purple Line’s riders would be diverted from buses rather than cars. Gutierrez said she supports the original alignment, which would take the line on the trail, and stated, “There are so many pluses for the Purple Line. For me, it’s a no-brainer. I think it’s a model for how urban areas should be thinking.” Delegate Carr expressed concern that the planning process be inclusive but expressed no opinion on the proper alignment. Delegate Waldstreicher did not speak on the question.

Soon enough, the state will pick both an alignment and a mode for the Purple Line. At that point, every politician will have to say flatly whether they support or oppose the state’s plan. District 18 politicians will not be an exception.

Editor's Note: The green-shirted individual above is an awful sight for any MoCo politician at a public event.

What is your single biggest accomplishment in Annapolis?
Delegate Waldstreicher said he was proudest of his work in the House Judiciary Committee on a bill sponsored by late District 18 Delegate Jane Lawton that criminalized sex slavery. Prostitution is of course illegal, but the bill’s intent was to punish human traffickers who smuggle women into the state for paid (and often coerced) sex. Waldstreicher said the bill took three months of intense work to pass.

Delegate Gutierrez said she was proudest of her effort to pass a law requiring school districts to abide by a graduation rate formula established by the National Governors Association. Prior to the law, school districts were free to use their own calculations and thereby overstate their real graduation rates. Gutierrez said the State Department of Education has never implemented the law and was working to undermine it, so the fight goes on.

Senator Madaleno, a man who may very well read budget documents to his young daughter at bedtime, said he was proudest of his work to raise Maryland’s earned income tax credit. He described it as “the most successful program to help the poor pay their bills.” And he may be right about that.

Al Carr has only been in the General Assembly for one session. So how did he answer this question? “Just surviving my first session was a great accomplishment!”

Who says there are no honest politicians anymore?

Disclosure: The author is the Treasurer of the District 18 slate campaign fund.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Andy Harris Recycles--Yes, Really

The Politico reports that campaign operatives from around the nation nominated ads by Andy Harris as among the ten worst of the political season:

This one makes it on sheer laziness. We can accept the occasional campaign volunteer serving as the “man on the street” for his or her candidate. But Harris took it to a new level – recycling the same exact people — and using the same exact footage — to attack both his primary opponent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest and his general election opponent, Frank Kratovil. The cherry is the ad’s title: “What people are saying about Frank Kratovil.” “Just too liberal,” says one guy in a warehouse. “He is a big spender,” says a woman in a grocery store. Both clips are from the Gilchrest ad.
See all of the worst ads here.


District 18 Town Hall Meeting, Part One

On a chilly Thursday night, the District 18 Delegation of Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez, Jeff Waldstreicher and Al Carr converged on Holy Cross Hospital to field questions from 70 of their constituents. As your blogger lives just a couple blocks north of the meeting site and our civic association organized the meeting, I would be derelict in my duty to our readers if I did not cover the event. But this was no ordinary meeting. In answers that were at times brutally honest, the delegation made some news.

Charles Duffy, moderator of the meeting, is a genial enough fellow. But as the long-time host of Political Pulse, a resident of Chevy Chase and the moderator of the District 18 appointment forum last December, he has a knowledge of the district’s issues that is too deep for any politician to escape. Mr. Duffy relied on index cards submitted by the audience to determine most of his questions, but he occasionally subjected the legislators to merciless follow-ups. Luckily for them, all emerged with their seats intact.

As I describe the major questions asked by Mr. Duffy and the answers given by the delegation, bear in mind that I am the Treasurer of the District 18 slate campaign fund. If that causes me to be too lenient (or too critical) in my account of the meeting, I invite our many readers who attended to correct me in the comments section. Let’s start with the most contentious state issue in the current cycle.

What is your position on slots?
Delegates Waldstreicher and Carr are both opposed to slots. Waldstreicher described them as “a tax on the most vulnerable” and Carr said they would have a “corrupting impact” on state politics. Waldstreicher voted against the referendum and Carr was not in office during the special session.

Delegate Gutierrez also opposes slots and said, “There are better ways to grow the economy and to grow jobs.” She also stated that slots have “an incredibly negative impact on our society.” Despite her views, she voted in favor of the referendum. Describing intense lobbying by both Governor O’Malley and County Executive Leggett prior to the referendum vote, she admitted, “After all of the pressure, I caved.” Shaking her head, she told the crowd, “It was one of the hardest votes I ever cast. I am sorry I did cast that vote... I am working as hard as I can to get people to vote against the referendum.”

Senator Madaleno started by mentioning his votes against prior free-standing slots bills when he was in the House of Delegates. But he said the referendum was different because it was part of a “comprehensive plan to close the structural budget deficit… The only way we could cobble together enough votes to pass the entire package was to pass the referendum.” Madaleno voted for the referendum and said he continued to support it because of long-run budget problems. “It’s hard to imagine where we will go forward after 2011 without the slots revenues.”

Mr. Duffy questioned Waldstreicher about his comment in the Sentinel that “We should not be making a decision on the issue based on political agenda.” Waldstreicher clarified that the issue had “become a bit of a personality contest between the Governor and the Comptroller” and should be evaluated on its merits.

District 18 is, at the level of local Democratic Party activists, extremely hostile territory to slots. Some may not have been pleased with the answers given by Madaleno and Gutierrez. But they deserve credit for their honesty.

Would you favor additional progressivity in the income tax to finance education?
The delegation turned this question into a general discussion of budget options. Delegate Waldstreicher said he would consider higher taxes on alcohol to help deal with the upcoming billion-dollar-plus state deficit, which he estimated would bring in $25-40 million per year. He also favored combined reporting, which would prevent large companies from hiding their earnings from Maryland’s income tax in other states. Delegate Gutierrez suggested making the beneficiaries of dredging in Baltimore’s harbor pay fees for that service. Senator Madaleno noted that the vast majority of the state’s budget is spent on education and health care and is therefore very challenging to cut. He noted the hope of many in Annapolis that an Obama administration might increase state aid.

But in the eyes of your blogger, Delegate Carr stole this question by condemning tax cheating by employers who intentionally misclassify their workers as independent contractors, a practice that costs the state untold millions. We appreciate politicians who pick up good ideas and run with them.

In Part Two, we will explore the delegation’s opinions on the ICC, the Purple Line and their “greatest achievements” in Annapolis.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Adam P Tips Election to McCain

One of our "fans" sent this video to me. It seems that I am really going to have to vote now.


Friday, October 24, 2008

MPW on the Radio

Rockville Central Radio interviewed me today. Helping Rockville Central scoop our very own blog, I unwisely unveiled brand new voter registration data that I have collected for a future post and also discussed the slots issue very briefly. Start at the 35-minute mark to hear a blogger who just can't help himself!


State Legislators Cry Foul on Sentinel Coverage

Two state legislators claim that the Montgomery Sentinel has inaccurately characterized their responses on the slots issue. These are serious allegations that the Sentinel must address immediately.

In Part Two of our series reprinting the Sentinel's questions to state legislators on slots, we reported the Sentinel's statement that it did not receive return communications from Delegates Bill Bronrott and Bill Frick, both of District 16. Both Delegates claim that is untrue.

Delegate Bronrott told me, "The reporter and I traded calls a couple of times. While we did not connect in time to have a conversation before his deadline, I did leave him a message letting him know that I oppose the slots referendum." Nevertheless, Sentinel reporter Joe Slaninka wrote, "Though the Montgomery Sentinel tried repeatedly to get in contact with Bronrott, by press time he still had not returned our phone calls."

Delegate Frick received an email from Slaninka on Tuesday, October 14 at 11:56 AM saying:

Dear Delegate or Senator,

I am polling the Montgomery County Delegation about your positions on the Slots Referendum on the upcoming November ballot. I am asking for your position (either for or against) and your reasons for your position. If you are against, I am also asking what alternatives you would like to see to help fix the current budget crisis in Maryland.

I have a deadline of tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct. 15) so I would appreciate it if you could respond as soon as possible. You can respond to this email or you can call me at my office or on my cell phone (provided below). I appreciate your time and I look forward to hearing from you very soon. Thank you.
Delegate Frick emailed Slaninka four minutes later:

Joe, I am voting "no" on the referendum.
Nevertheless, Slaninka wrote, "Though the Montgomery Sentinel tried repeatedly to get in contact with Frick, by press time he still had not returned our phone calls."

This is irresponsible press coverage on multiple levels. First, given the woeful understaffing of state legislative offices when the General Assembly is out of session, it is absolutely unreasonable to give them 24 hours notice to respond to press questions. Anyone who covers Annapolis would understand this. Second, the Sentinel blatantly mischaracterized these two Delegates as unresponsive when they in fact did reach out to the reporter. In Frick's case, he did so in four minutes.

The Sentinel's editors need to investigate this and issue a retraction and an apology to these two Delegates. And they should do it yesterday.


What They Don't Want You To Know About Gambling Addiction

By Wayne Goldstein, MCCF Immediate Past President.

There is a conspiracy to conceal the truth about gambling addiction that rivals the conspiracy to conceal the truth about tobacco addiction. For decades, this nation had an endless debate about whether nicotine was addictive and whether smoking caused cancer and heart disease. We are in the early stages of a similar debate about gambling addiction.

Organizations that profit from gambling argue that gambling is legitimate entertainment, that very few recreational gamblers become addicted, that it is someone’s genetic makeup that predisposes them to become any kind of addict that may then result in gambling addiction, and, most importantly, that the findings of gambling addiction research are always inconclusive and always require further research. I have looked at dozens of abstracts of a wide range of such studies. All seem to minimally advance knowledge of gambling addiction and usually call for more study, including three published since June 2007: “It is necessary to continue prospective research on exposure and adaptation theories as potential explanations for the development of pathological gambling... Longitudinal studies are needed to clarify the relationship between gambling and health in older adults in the context of healthy aging… Future research addressing whether underlying constructs, confounding variables, or interactions exist will further specify PG [pathological gambling] risk and inform prevention and intervention efforts.”

In February 2006, two professors, Earl L. Grinols and David B. Mustard published a revised “Casinos, Crime, and Community Costs.” In it, they drew significant conclusions based on analyzing much information. They were the first to claim that casinos sometimes lowered crime in the early years through job opportunities but then increased crime after about five years as growing numbers of gambling addicts began to commit more crimes and criminals began to prey more and more on tourists and local residents in casino counties: “We find that crime increases over time in casino counties, and that casinos do not just shift crime from neighboring regions, but create crime. We estimate the crime-related social costs in casino counties at approximately $75 dollars per adult per year… Our sample covers all 3,165 US counties from 1977-96… Our empirical strategy addresses many limitations of the current research. First, by conducting the most exhaustive investigation and utilizing a comprehensive county-level data set that includes every U.S. county we eliminate sample selection concerns. Second, by analyzing crime effects over time we exploit the time series nature of our data. Third, we are the first to articulate a comprehensive theory about how casinos could increase or decrease crime. Last, we use the most exhaustive set of control variables, most of which are commonly excluded from other studies.”

In the January 2008 edition of a journal, another professor, Douglas M. Walker, responded to this study with “Do Casinos Really Cause Crime?” There was much technical discussion, but what made the biggest impression on me was this: “...Sponsors of my consulting work have included the casino industry (e.g., American Gaming Association, Nevada Resort Association, Casino Association of Indiana) as well as government/research organizations (Alberta Gaming Research Institute and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse). I assume that the industry has hired me as a consultant because my social cost methodology (welfare economics) leads to significantly lower social cost estimates than the methodologies used by other researchers, including Grinols and Mustard. Much has been made of financial ties that researchers sometimes have to industry. For example, Grinols and Mustard have questioned the validity of casino crime research that was conducted or funded by pro- or anti-casino groups (28). In other work, Grinols has cited a paper of mine (Walker 2003) as being an example of “shadow research,” or work that is “funded in the hope or expectation that it will contradict research unfavorable to the sponsoring industry.”

In the same January 2008 journal, Grinols and Mustard answered with: “Correctly Critiquing Casino-Crime Causality” where they write: “Professor Walker raises five concerns that are standard in empirical research. We addressed these concerns in the working and published versions of the paper and discussed them with the referees and editor during the review process. Some are well-known statistical issues, some are data limitations, and some are methodology issues. All of his concerns speak of potential problems. He includes no new research or statistical results to provide evidence that the potential problems are actual problems or that they are important... Because he presents no new data, no new research, and his criticisms are largely addressed in the working and published versions of our paper, we have no reasons to alter the conclusions of our existing research.”

This “Battle of the Research Professors” takes place in other fields all of the time. However, one side in such battles is usually not backed by a multi-billion industry which has put together a comprehensive research conspiracy using an array of organizations and individuals to thwart those who would tell a different story from their research findings. At the front lines of this conspiracy to legitimize gambling is Harvard University. Harvard has been a co-conspirator since the Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions accepted a research contract in 2000 from The National Center for Responsible Gaming to form the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders. “The Institute’s mission is to alleviate the individual, social, medical and economic burdens caused by pathological gambling through support of rigorous scientific research. Advancing understanding of pathological gambling and related psychiatric disorders, such as substance abuse, will lead to improved methods of diagnosis, intervention, treatment and prevention.”

A 6/16/08 article titled: “Gambling with science - Determined to defeat lawsuits over addiction, the casino industry is funding research at a Harvard-affiliated lab” tells the story of this conspiracy:

With the ugly specter of gambling addiction, of ruined lives and families, hanging over their heads, gaming advocates will bolster their cases with research from the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), a nonprofit group, associated with Harvard University, that funds most of the scientific research on gambling addiction. The research will show that only a few unfortunate souls -- those predisposed to addiction -- will get into trouble, while everyone else can gamble for entertainment with no ill effects... But there's a serious kink in the studies: The NCRG is a wing of the casinos' main trade group, the American Gaming Association, which has committed a total of $22 million to the center. To ethicists and casino critics, that relationship is a cautionary tale of science getting too close to industry. While NCRG leaders say they fund independent science, it's not a coincidence that the science aligns so well with the interests of the casinos. It's not that gambling executives are tampering with research findings, or scientists are skewing results. Rather, gaming executives are drawing extravagant conclusions from the studies. By trumpeting these conclusions, the gaming industry is helping casinos gain a legal foothold across the country -- and covering up the ways casinos profit from gambling addiction.

Between 6 million and 8 million Americans are thought to have trouble walking away from the casinos each year, with a full spectrum of consequences, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling [NCRG], an advocacy group… Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, laid out the gaming industry's lines of defense at a 1996 speech before industry bigwigs in Las Vegas. He called problem gambling the "Achilles' heel" of the industry and told the assembled executives that their "enemies" would use the issue in a "crusade to crush our livelihood."

Fahrenkopf said the issue hits home with state legislators, who could be turned against the expansion of gambling or convinced to pass restrictive regulations. (Regulations proposed in other countries include mandatory clocks on casino walls, "time out" periods after a certain amount of money is lost and maximum bet limits.) Meanwhile, media stories of gamblers who had lost everything tugged at the public heartstrings, jeopardizing support. "The growth of our industry is certainly endangered by the issue, and it is not hyperbole to say that the industry's very existence is at stake," Fahrenkopf warned.

The plan he proposed owed a debt to the tobacco industry executives who had spectacularly lost public support just a few years before, when they raised their hands before a 1994 congressional committee and testified that nicotine was not addictive. "Our industry cannot afford to make the mistake made by the tobacco industry," Fahrenkopf said. He told his colleagues that the gaming industry must not only admit that gambling addiction existed, but also lead the discussion of its origins, symptoms and social impacts.

To investigate those origins, the American Gaming Association created the NCRG, and the casinos keep it flush with money. This past September, the NCRG announced $7.6 million in new funding commitments for the next five years, including $2 million from Harrah's, $2 million from MGM Mirage and $1 million from International Game Technology, the largest slot machine manufacturer in the world. Its board of directors includes executives from MGM Mirage, Harrah's and the casino company Boyd Gaming Corp., as well as Judy Patterson, executive director of the American Gaming Association.
An example of the ways that the gambling industry simultaneously hides behind its research front groups and undermines the legitimacy of these groups is epitomized by the brochure for the upcoming 9th Annual NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction, to be held November 16-18, 2008 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada. My credulity is stretched to the maximum simply by learning that a conference to deal with gambling addiction will be held in a casino. Imagine a conference on alcohol addiction being held in a distillery. Here are some of the dubious goals of this conference: “New trends in science and society are raising provocative questions about gambling addiction. Will the definition of “pathological gambling” change in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? ...Are government-sponsored programs on gambling disorders using tax dollars wisely? How close are we to establishing a treatment standard for gambling addiction?”

I can’t help but wonder if the goal of the conference organizers is to remove the stigma of gambling addiction by removing it from the list of mental disorders and to eliminate government funding for gambling addiction because it isn’t a “real” addiction. A researcher is quoted in “Gambling with science...” as saying: "It's clear their ideal customer is the addict. They have a term, 'player extinction,' which means you lose all your money. They're talking about this as a goal!" A psychologist, “[Henry] Lesieur says that by conservative estimates, 30 percent of the profits from gambling machines come from problem gamblers.”

Furthermore, the brochure states: “The conference is designed to enhance your professional development — whether you’re in the health care sector, the gaming industry, government or academia — by providing the following [partial list]:
• A critical perspective that will help gaming regulators and public officials evaluate policies that address gambling disorders.
• Updates on litigation related to gambling disorders and CLEs [Continuing Legal Education] for attorneys.
No matter what sector you’re in, you’ll also enjoy the following benefits:
• Behind-the-scenes tour of a casino.
• Access to Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the gaming industry’s largest international trade show and conference.
• Discounted rates for combined G2E and NCRG Conference registration.”

Next week, I intend to tell you some of the unique gambling history of Maryland, which was the second state in the country, after Nevada, to allow legalized gambling, in the form of slot machines, in 1947, and which then spent the next 22 years fighting over the negative impacts of those one-armed bandits until the last of them were removed in 1969.


Robin Ficker Never Gives Up

Imagine if you tried something in 1975 and it didn’t work out. So you tried it again in 1990 and it failed. And then you did it in 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998 and 2004 – all with no success. You would stop trying, right? Well, you’re not Robin Ficker.

Say what you will of Robin Ficker, but he is a man of immense energy. After many years of heckling that would have put a two-headed jackal to shame, the Washington Wizards relocated his season seat away from visiting players. (Unusually, Ficker got the message and failed to renew.) Next, the Maryland Court of Appeals suspended Ficker’s law license, stating in a 7-0 opinion, “The hearing judge found that he exhibited incompetence, lack of diligence, failure to communicate with his client, and committed conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.” Ficker then started a “Robin Realty” brokerage, but that seems to be mainly a front for planting his notorious “Save Our Homes” signs everywhere.

All of the above pales beside his endless runs for office (County Executive, U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, State Senate and even a successful Delegate race in 1978). The signature Ficker move came in 2004, when he briefly considered challenging Governor Ehrlich in a GOP primary. His problem? No running mate. His solution? Posting this classified ad in the Baltimore Sun for a Lieutenant Governor:

Prefer female who is tax-cutting Republican, ambitious, intelligent, fearless, adventurous, hardworking and young (age 30 by 01/07) with flexible schedule to traverse Maryland.
But enough of Ficker’s illustrious career of mayhem. His latest ballot proposal, like almost all of his others, would limit Montgomery County’s ability to raise property taxes. Under current law, seven of the nine County Council Members must vote to approve any property tax increase that would exceed the rate of inflation. Ficker’s Question B would change the requirement to unanimous approval. That could give any one County Council Member absolute veto power over the entire budget – a power that not even the County Executive possesses.

Ficker cares more about minimizing his property taxes than he cares about your needs for fire, police and school services – needs that do not go away when a recession depresses county tax revenues. While his proposal differs structurally from Prince George’s County’s 30-year-old TRIM amendment (which requires voter approval of tax increases), its intention is the same: starving the government of revenues. Prince George’s Delegate Joanne Benson (D-24) recalled the battle over TRIM in a 2003 Gazette article:

Del. Joanne C. Benson (D-Dist. 24) of Landover was there in 1978 when a group of residents banded together at a meeting to pass TRIM.

“Research showed us that if we put this initiative in place, in 25 years we were going to see a devastating impact on public education and public safety, and that is exactly what has happened,” Benson said.
So there you have it. If you would like Montgomery County’s schools and police department to resemble those in Prince George’s, you should take your place alongside Robin Ficker. Otherwise, vote no on Question B.


Absolutely Frickin Hilarious


Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Footnote on Ambulance Fees

The Washington Post reports that the County Council's Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to block County Executive Ike Leggett's proposal to impose ambulance fees. Marc Korman explained the proposal in June.

The interesting point here from a strictly political viewpoint is the composition of the Public Safety Committee: Chairman Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich and Don Praisner. Council Members Andrews and Elrich were largely aligned with Mr. Leggett on growth issues in the 2006 elections. Furthermore, Mr. Andrews, Mr. Elrich and Mr. Leggett all endorsed Mr. Praisner in the 2008 special election and contributed money to his victory. And yet, Mr. Leggett was unable to advance a high-profile initiative through a committee that was stocked with his political allies. Is this an isolated event or does this hold broader meaning?

Update: My sources tell me I misinterpreted the committee's action. They say what the committee did was to postpone - not block - the ambulance fee proposal to provide more time to evaluate it. We'll see if it will indeed come up again.


MoCo Delegation Speaks Out on Slots, Part Two

The Montgomery County Sentinel's series on the MoCo delegation's positions on slots continues. This week, legislators from Districts 16, 17 and 18 reveal their views on the subject. However, only Senators Brian Frosh (D-16) and Jennie Forehand (D-17) and Delegates Susan Lee (D-16), Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18), and Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) responded to the Sentinel's questioning. The other legislators went AWOL (although who can doubt Delegate Luiz Simmons' position?). Of the ones who responded, Senator Forehand and Delegates Lee and Gutierrez voted for the referendum while Senator Frosh and Delegate Waldstreicher voted against it.

Senator Brian Frosh (Against):

From 2001 to 2003, Frosh served as co-chair of the Senate Special Committee on Gaming. He says his experience at that position convinced him that slots will burden a community. "These burdens will add to the expense of building new infrastructure to accommodate the crowds, the potential for higher crime rates, bigger crime prevention budgets and beefed up social service programs to address the problems attendant to gambling addiction," he said.

He is also concerned about the argument that the slots amendment will raise money for schools. $660 million of the revenue from slots is earmarked for education. "The state's education budget, currently $5.5 billion, is set according to formulas based on enrollment and other factors," Frosh said. "The budget won't go up because another $660 million is available. Instead, the slots money will shift existing education dollars to be spent in other areas."

"The bottom line is that we're going to have to balance the budget and pay for our schools the old fashioned way: by finding economies and making hard choices," he said. "Slots aren't the answer."
Delegate Susan Lee (Against):

Lee said gambling is an unstable source of revenue for the state. Her biggest concern is the social burden annd costs that slots bring.

"The problems it creates, such as addiction, domestic violence, burden on the criminal justice system, and damage to neighborhoods far outweigh any possible short term revenue to the state," she said.

She said the state needs to do what it has done before to help fix the current budget problem and that it has to come up with more responsible ways to raise revenue, prioritize and make cuts where there are inefficiencies. "We will have to make some very hard choices," she said. "However, slots are not the answer."
Senator Jennie Forehand (Against):

"I know the state needs money, but I plan to vote against the referendum," Forehand said.

Forehand's concern is that a lot of the revenue will go to Maryland's racing industry. "I think the public is better served and comfortable if the money goes to education and other state priorities and not the racing industry," she said. Forehand said that the racing industry does not need the $100 million that is promised to it.
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (Against):

Gutierrez says she is 100 percent against allowing slots in Maryland and is doing everything that she can to not let the referendum pass.

"I am very concerned of the social damages that come with slots," she said. "We should be finding better ways to increase a better economic base."

She said that Montgomery County is a good example of economic development and does not want to see it go in the opposing direction. "We should not be selling our soul to the devil."
Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher (Against):

Waldstreicher said slots are the wrong way to go. He also said that the revenue will not show up for several years. "Fiscal year 2009-2010 will not be affected so we will have to address the problem now," he said.

The social costs that slots bring are another of his concerns. "Crime, addiction and other social burdens will affect the state and could possibly add insult to injury," he said.

"We need to focus on the right thing to do for Maryland," he said. "We should not be making a decision on the issue based on political agenda."
We are grateful that no one imitated Delegate Craig Rice's infamous response from last week. But we do wonder what "political agenda" were referenced by Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher. Would you care to elaborate, sir?


State Police Track Environmentalists as Terrorists

The Maryland ACLU reports that the State Police entered the names of Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and Joshua Tulkin, a former Deputy Director of CCAN, into its terrorist database. The dates of the spying are unclear, but the State Police have previously stated that their spying activities stopped in October 2006.

The ACLU has not posted their press release on their website as of this writing. When we see it, we'll update this post.

We have previously reported on the ACLU's new wave of FOIAs to the State Police on behalf of 32 advocacy groups and more than 250 individuals. What on Earth are we going to learn next?

Update: Here is the ACLU's press release with the details.


Death By A Thousand Cuts

By Marc Korman.

In July, I posted two entries about Governor O’Malley’s MARC train expansion plans. Those plans seem farther away than ever now that the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has announced cuts to the existing MARC train service. A list of proposed cuts is available here. To summarize, certain trains will no longer run on the Penn and Brunswick lines, holiday service (already reduced) will end, and a discount pass for regular riders will be cancelled.

The recently announced cuts seem to be a preemptive effort by MTA to address future budget shortfalls. These cuts are unrelated to the Board of Public Works’ recent cuts and the $1.1 billion in transportation cuts announced in September. The Board of Public Works’ transportation cuts only eliminated sixty-six transportation related positions. The September cuts were for capital projects, not the services at issue here.

As a regular MARC train rider, I was quite annoyed when I originally read about these cuts. But I understand that the massive budget deficits the state is facing mean tough choices need to be made. On the other hand, MARC train ridership has increased recently and transit is how we need more people to get from point A to point B. If we cannot maintain the existing MARC system, how can we expect to expand the system as the Governor has proposed, build the Purple Line, and address other transportation needs?

Transportation funding is important for economic development and helping the environment. As Maryland works to address its budget challenges, it needs to figure out how to prioritize important needs. In the case of transportation, that could mean an increase in the gas tax or at least pegging it to inflation, as the Governor proposed before the Special Session. Alternatively, the state can drastically reduce its transportation commitments and acknowledge that it will not be supporting transportation in the way it has historically. But the current approach, which seems to be death by a thousand cuts, is not sensible. Happily, a few state legislators, including Montgomery County's own Delegate Al Carr, seem to agree.

In the meantime, if you feel strongly about the MARC train cuts there are opportunities to publicly comment in writing or in person. More information is available here.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

District 18 State Legislators Town Hall Meeting


State Senator Rich Madaleno
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez
Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher
Delegate Al Carr

Moderated by Charles Duffy, Host of Political Pulse

Time/Place: Holy Cross Hospital, Thursday Night, October 23 at 7 PM

Our state legislators would like to know what you think. Come and ask them about:

The Georgia/Forest Glen Intersection
Montgomery Hills Revitalization
Budget and Taxes
The Economy
The Environment
Or Anything Else!


On Political Pulse

Tom Perez, Maryland's Secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and former Montgomery County Councilmember (from District 5) takes on the Slots Referendum that will be on the November 4th ballot. Both sides of the Slots debate are discussed and also considerations effecting Montgomery County.

The interview will air on Thursday, October 23rd at 9:00 p.m., Tuesday, October 28th at 9:30 p.m. and Thursday, October 30th at 9:00 p.m.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


The State Delegation and the Politics of the ICC

MPW friend and staffer for Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20) Patrick T. Metz left this comment on our recent post on transportation funding:

Re: “One sentiment united every person in the meeting: an absolute disdain for the county’s statehouse delegation. NO ONE credited them for bringing back adequate infrastructure funding from the state.” [This is a quote from our previous post.]

Without speaking to the wisdom (or lack thereof) of building the ICC, it seems to me that it's a pretty substantial percentage of state transportation spending over the next decade.
Patrick’s point is a logical one and deserves some analysis. The ICC is indeed a very large project. Shouldn’t our state delegation receive credit for it from the standpoint of bringing back transportation dollars to the county?

First, let’s understand the ICC’s funding structure. The project’s total cost is budgeted at $2.4 billion. Of that amount, $1.23 billion is from toll-backed revenue bonds, $750 million is from GARVEE bonds (which are backed by future federal aid), $264.9 million is from Maryland’s general fund, $180 million is from Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and $18.5 million is from direct federal aid. That means that just $463.4 million, or 19% of the project’s cost, is coming from direct expenditures. The remainder consists of borrowed money (though some of that will draw from future federal aid).

How much of the state’s total transportation budget is taken up by the ICC? That depends on how you calculate the numbers. In the aftermath of its recent cuts, the state is spending $9.4 billion on transportation projects over the next six years. In terms of raw percentage, the ICC accounts for 26% of all state transportation spending. But remember that 81% of the project’s cost is paid for by toll and GARVEE bonds. If bond financing is set aside and only TTF, general fund and direct federal aid are counted, then the ICC’s $463.4 million would account for 6% of the state’s transportation spending.

Regardless of its percentage of state spending, it is unlikely that any of the county’s constituencies will point to the ICC as a parochial triumph of MoCo’s needs over the rest of the state. Let’s examine two contrasting points of view.

Much of the county’s business community has been supportive of the ICC. Under its former leadership, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce made the project one of its top goals. However, business does not see the ICC as merely a Montgomery project, but one that conveys economic benefits to the state as a whole. By connecting western Montgomery to Prince George’s, Howard, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore and its suburbs, their argument holds that the ICC creates more mobility of goods, services and labor all across Maryland. An analogy might be a hypothetical terminal expansion at BWI Airport. Should such a project be judged as only conveying localized benefits to northern Anne Arundel County or as an infrastructure project with broad statewide benefits? So while business may continue to support the ICC, they will not see it strictly in terms of fulfilling a narrow county-focused priority.

The civic and environmental communities increasingly view the ICC as a disaster. Destruction of homes, encouragement of greenhouse gases, damage to greenspace, increased traffic, incentives for more sprawl – all of these arguments and more combine to produce a seething stew of unrest. Silliness such as the MoCo Planning Board’s characterization of a parallel bike path as harmful to parkland only fuels the opposition. The ICC may be the least-appreciated large transportation project in the history of Maryland.

So let’s suppose a state legislator uses Patrick’s argument on skeptical constituents: you may not think we’ve received enough on transportation funding, but at least we brought you the ICC. Business will say it’s a good start, but not enough by itself. Civic and environmental activists will react like a starving man who is thrown a bucket of rotten eggs. Don’t you pity our delegation, even just a little bit?

But those who support and oppose the ICC agree on one thing: no one project will solve all of Montgomery’s transportation woes. The differing geographies of the county (especially with regard to Metro access), different levels of density and commuter pattern pressures from both inside and outside the county demand a combination of projects – and a reliable funding source for them. Who is going to step up?


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nancy Floreen Calls the Question

In a jam-packed conference room last Wednesday night, MoCo County Council Transportation Committee Chairwoman Nancy Floreen rolled out her parking space tax proposal before the county’s business community. Hey, do any of you remember the old Waylon Jennings song, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places?”

First, a few details on the Council Member’s proposal. Drawing on one of the recommendations of last year’s county-sponsored Working Group on Infrastructure Financing, Ms. Floreen suggested levying an annual $250 tax per commercial parking space. The tax would apply to both for-profit and non-profit owners and would be indexed to increase with inflation. Owners could reduce the levy by up to 50% if they had a traffic mitigation agreement that required employees to pay market parking rates and gave employees discounts for transit use and carpools. Owners who did not pay the tax would be subject to interest, penalties and possible conviction of a Class A violation. Proceeds of the tax would be dedicated to transit projects only.

Present in the room to greet the Council Member were nearly 40 people representing county employers, including GEICO, Foulger Pratt, Washington REIT, Colonial Parking and Discovery Communications. Everyone who spoke opposed the proposal on a variety of grounds. Chamber of Commerce Vice-President Lisa Fadden questioned the fairness of the tax, noting that upcounty employers would pay it but not have access to the transit projects it would fund. Foulger Pratt principal Bryant Foulger estimated that the tax could reduce county property values by up to $1 billion, thereby depressing property tax receipts. Former Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Parsons called the tax a “non-starter” and declared, “I would not go anywhere near a parking tax now or in the near future if you care about the business climate here.” Several other people called the tax an example of “double taxation” because they already pay property taxes on their lots.

But the crowd did not simply say no to all new revenues. One attendee claimed that switching to digital meters could raise extra money without raising rates. Another participant suggesting levying an infrastructure surcharge on top of the property tax, phasing it in and sunsetting it later. One wag joked about setting up toll booths on I-270 and US-29 at the county lines to snare commuters. (As a former District of Columbia resident, I can tell you that such ideas are taken seriously down there.)

Ms. Floreen and the attendees may have disagreed about this specific proposal, but all acknowledged the need for new transportation funding. And the Council Member deserves credit for calling the question. As the Chairwoman of the County Council’s Transportation Committee, her job is to build the infrastructure that the county needs. And that job has become a lot tougher with the state’s billion-dollar transportation cut, an adjustment that favors Baltimore’s Red Line over MoCo’s Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway. It would be the easiest thing in the world for Ms. Floreen to hang back, do nothing and complain about the state. Instead, she continues to look for project funding even at the risk of offering unpopular ideas.

As for the business community, they favor transportation funding. During the 2007 special session, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce called for a 6-cent increase in the state’s gas tax. During the last general session, the Chamber advocated for a $600 million revenue increase for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. Chamber CEO Georgette Godwin laid out three criteria for transportation funding that the Chamber would support:

1. The revenue source should be broad-based and raised from both business and residents.

2. The revenue should be dedicated to transportation and not diverted to other uses.

3. The financed projects should include both transit and road projects in order to address the needs of every part of the county.

One sentiment united every person in the meeting: an absolute disdain for the county’s statehouse delegation. NO ONE credited them for bringing back adequate infrastructure funding from the state. When one participant suggested that the Council “work more with the state delegation,” the room broke out with rueful smiles and shaking heads. “We have got to get our delegation on the same sheet of music,” blustered one attendee. Another captured the prevailing cynicism in the room by railing, “There is no consequence for bad behavior at the state level!”

Regardless of the reaction to Ms. Floreen’s parking tax proposal (which she has since withdrawn), this discussion hammered home a fundamental truth: Montgomery County in the broadest sense favors more transportation funding. Prior to the 2007 special session, business called for a gas tax increase. So did the County Executive. So did the County Council. Governor O’Malley proposed indexing the gas tax for inflation. But instead, the legislature chose to increase vehicle excise taxes and title certificate fees and to devote part of its sales tax hike to transportation. Those revenues are now falling short while the needs are as acute as ever.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Time to Get Rid of Steve Abrams (Updated)

The Gazette Editorial Board must not read the Gazette. If they did, they would never have endorsed incumbent school board member Steve Abrams’ bid for re-election.

Forget about the fact that Abrams was the sole opponent of a school board resolution calling for increased federal funding of No Child Left Behind requirements and opposition to vouchers for private schools. And forget about the fact that Abrams wrote the state legislature to oppose an assault weapons ban back when he was Chairman of MoCo’s Republican Central Committee. And – we know it is difficult to ask you to forget more – put aside the fact that he has been running non-stop for every office conceivable, from County Executive to County Council to Circuit Court Judge to House of Delegates to Rockville City Council to State Comptroller. (Everybody needs a hobby, although one wonders how he finds the time to do school board work.) Instead, let's discuss the fact that during the last two years, Abrams has been blazing a path of pathology through the Gazette that would make Robin Ficker recoil in outrage.

The latest blow-up occurred after Abrams’ ill-fated 2006 Republican primary run for State Comptroller, a race that saw him win just three of the state’s 24 counties. Unable to bear the thought of government without him in it, Abrams then announced his intention to join the Republican slate for Montgomery County Council. But the party already had a full slate, so Abrams bullied Adol T. Owen-Williams II into dropping out. Abrams’ tactics ultimately failed as he lost by more than 80,000 votes to the Democrats in the general election.

The story could have ended there, but with Steve Abrams, the story never really ends. Owen-Williams thought he had a “gentleman’s agreement” with Abrams for reimbursement of $5,000 in campaign expenses he had incurred before withdrawing. When Owen-Williams asked Abrams for the money after the general election, the “gentleman” erupted in fury. According to African-American Owen-Williams, Abrams called him “boy,” grabbed him by the throat and slammed his head against a wall. The two men filed assault charges against each other which were later dropped by prosecutors.

But once again, the story never ends with Steve Abrams! Abrams told the Gazette that county Republicans “conspired to set him up” for the assault charge because they were tired of dealing with his complaints. (We sympathize.) Abrams then became a Democrat and endorsed Barack Obama, prompting Montgomery County’s Republican Party Chairman to say, “He’s free to go where he wants to go... He had kind of made that threat before. As far as I can tell, no one on the Democrats want him either.”

Upon learning that Abrams had joined the Democratic Party, MCDCC Chairwoman Karen Britto gasped, “I’m speechless.” Well, I’m not going to be speechless and neither should you. There are plenty of sane, intelligent people who care about education in Montgomery County, one of whom is school board challenger Laura Berthiaume. There is no reason to tolerate bad behavior from our school board members that we would never tolerate from our students. It’s time to get rid of Steve Abrams.

Update: At the League of Women Voters Candidates Forum on October 27, Laura Berthiaume said she would not run for any other office during her four-year term and challenged Abrams to make the same commitment. Abrams, who constantly runs for office of every conceivable kind, declined. Folks, that says it all concerning what these two candidates care about.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Final Debate

By Sharon Dooley.

John McCain entered the final campaign debate of 2008 in full offensive mode. He came into the evening like an old bull ready for one last outing in the arena, ready to defeat his younger, less tested opponent. He was unprepared for the matador known as Barack Obama. At first Barack seemed surprised by this aggressive manner, but soon, he shook his head, showed a smile and crafted careful answers without even brandishing his red cape.

McCain appeared angry and seemed to frequently be in a struggle to control his emotions as his eyes blinked, his eyebrows twitched, and he frowned again and again. He charged into the debate with all of his weapons at hand: his tax policy, foreclosure scheme, healthcare policy ideas, abortion and “Joe the plumber”. He threw in ‘the tired ole terrorist – Bill Ayers’ (a man younger than he is, if facts are considered), but his punch was parried and the charge missed its target. Time and time again Obama corrected statements made during these explosive attacks, while McCain interrupted frequently and sputtered in the background. Obama countered with the occasional remarks about McCain and Bush being buddies and McCain got off one of his best lines of the evening claiming that if Obama wanted to run against Bush, he should have run 4 years ago.

The moderator, Bob Schieffer, was a bland, but effective host and did try to get the two candidates to engage, particularly over the issues of negative campaigning, and choice of running mates, without a great deal of success. McCain defended his selection of Sarah Palin in an odd manner and seemed to not understand the differences between Downs Syndrome, a congenital condition and autism, which develops later, after birth. McCain would not disavow Palins’ negative characterizations of Obama. Obama noted the strengths and appropriateness of his pick of Joe Biden and claimed the vast majority of his ads were positive.

Most telling, perhaps, was an exchange when Obama was trying to explain his vote in the Illinois legislature against a bill about late-term abortions, which was also opposed by the local medical societies as restrictive and redundant, and which did not include protections for the health of the mother. As Obama was explaining there were other laws addressing this matter that sufficed, McCain was actively interrupting, gesturing that the term ‘health of the mother’ was a false issue.

(Aside: Perhaps in the storied, overly macho world of the Top Gun pilots, pregnant women are not players, but from my health care perspective – they DO count. In a NY Times article, Cindy McCain was said to have suffered several miscarriages alone – how utterly sad that must have been.)

Throughout the evening Barack Obama seemed bemused as if to say – ‘is that the best that you can show me?’ Initially placed on the defensive, he settled in and calmly made his way through the debate, although he was thrown off track several times and neglected to make his better arguments. For McCain, the evening seemed to be surreal. The “Joe the Plumber” symbolism was a hook that by the end of the evening he was clinging to like a life-line. Far better it would seem for McCain to have reached out to women, the Madge the manicurist, Alice the waitress – women in the service economy whose wages and tips disappear in times of economic downturn. These are the women McCain seems to be trying to scare with tales of terrorists, a known Rovian tactic. These are the women, formerly loyal to Hillary, who are appearing to turn toward Obama in the closing days of the campaign. Consider the frequent mention by Obama on the campaign trail of Lilly Ledbetter, the female factory worker disdained by the current Supreme Court on an equal pay dispute. During the debate, Barack seemed to indicate that while he would have no litmus test for judges, the process could be improved. McCain – far from reaching out – seems to be falling back toward his base and reinforced his support for decisions of the current Court.

It looks to me, that by the end of the debate the old bull had stumbled, but the matador, respecting his opponent unilaterally, chose valor over vengeance and walked away from the ring.