Monday, August 31, 2009

False Choice on Slots

By Rob Annicelli.

On August 28th County Executive John R. Leopold issued a press release announcing a Countywide hiring freeze. He also used this press release to try and tie the current County’s fiscal woes to the need to pass a slots zoning bill for Arundel Mills.

County Executive Leopold is incorrect in his assertion that slots revenue will significantly alleviate this County’s fiscal woes being experienced under his leadership as County Executive. If the proposed Arundel Mills Casino were to generate the full $30 million in annual local impact grants that has been promised, these funds would represent 0.15% of the total $2 billion Anne Arundel County budget. Further, Section 9–1A–31 of Senate Bill 3, which governs how any slots revenue is to be spent, limits the expenditure of funds to the “COMMUNITIES IN IMMEDIATE PROXIMITY TO THE VIDEO LOTTERY FACILITIES.” 12,000 plus additional daily visitors to the county in an already densely developed residential area will have a substantial cost by requiring additional public services from the county, including police, fire, and traffic enhancements. To date those cost figures have not been discussed publicly by the supporters of slots at Arundel Mills, including Leopold.

Local Impact Grants are not a panacea to the County’s financial woes. But framing the public debate as having slots at Arundel Mills or no slots at all is a false choice. Adding community protections like a 1/4 mile buffer between residential areas and a slots casino, which was given to the residents of Baltimore City, would not drive down any potential revenue which might be generated for the County. That is unless you believe you absolutely must have a Casino next to the Mall's food court, Gymboree Outlet, and The Children’s Place to maximize revenue.

Executive Leopold, why won't you provide at least the same real protections to residents of Anne Arundel County as provided to the residents of Baltimore City? You might just pass a slots zoning bill if you did.

Visit for more information.

Rob Annicelli
President, Stop Slots at Arundel Mills
Hanover, MD


Saqib Ali and Nancy King Discuss Progressive Issues, Part Four

Part Four: Underage Drunk Driving and Alcopops.

By Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39).

Drunk driving has got to be one of the most wreckless activities that I can possibly imagine. It is a scourge on our society. Some of my closest friends have been killed by drunk drivers. Our County Executive Ike Leggett was recently injured by one. Unfortunately it is an epidemic in our community. I hear about friends-of-friends getting DUIs all the time. So of course when I got elected to the legislature, I planned to do everything in my power to reduce drunk driving. Especially underage drunk driving.

That's why last year when a pro-alcohol bill came up in Annapolis, I knew immediately that I would oppose it. Senate Bill 745 dealt with restrictions on sales of alcoholic beverages known as "Alco-Pops." Alco-Pops are fruity malt-beverages that are insidiously marketed towards young people.... especially young women. Alco-Pops are especially dangerous because the high alcohol content is masked by fruity flavors and attractive colorings. You've all seen them in liquor stores: drinks like Mike's Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Breezer. The problem with Alco-Pops is that they are often consumed by underage kids -- kids who sometimes then get into cars and kill themselves or others. Unfortunately kids can too easily get their hands on these drinks since they are sold cheaply and commonly.

In late 2007 Attorney General Doug Gansler issued the common-sense ruling that these drinks were actually distilled spirits, not beer. And thus like all other distilled spirits, they should be taxed at a higher rate and sold only by holders of retail liquor licenses. This ruling would reduce underage drinking by restricting access and increasing prices. But the powerful alcohol industry in Annapolis was not amused. They wanted to keep their pipeline to underage kids going. So they introduced SB 745 that would nullify Gansler's ruling. This bill was widely panned by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other public safety advocates. There was simply no good reason it should have ever seen the light of day. But it passed over the the objections of a large minority of legislators.

The Washington Post wrote: "Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has issued an opinion that, under state law, these drinks are distilled spirits and should be taxed and distributed as such. The action has prompted an end-around by state lawmakers cozy with the beer and liquor industry...Their bill, passed by the Senate yesterday and now before the House, would formally define the drinks as beer, which would keep the drinks teen-friendly. The proposed definition is blatantly dishonest...Ease of access to these sweet but loaded beverages -- which are cutely disguised as cola, lemonade, iced tea or fruit punch -- also depends on how they are classified. Distilled spirits can be sold only by holders of retail liquor licenses. When classified as beer, the alcohol-flavored beverages can be sold by any location holding a beer license -- convenience stores and other spots more likely to be frequented by young people. True, underage consumption of any alcohol is already against the law, and, yes, kids can find older buyers to get any drink. But why increase the ease of access? Maryland lawmakers should reflect on that question before the final vote on this bad bill."

I voted against this bill, of course. There is nothing the alcohol industry could have given me to change my mind. Nancy voted for it. I'm sure she had her well-considered reasons. But it's just another fundamental difference in our legislative records.


MTA, SHA "Clarify" Coverage of I-270 (Update)

The heads of the Maryland Transit Administration and the State Highway Administration wrote the following letter to the Baltimore Sun "clarifying" coverage of I-270. What will Baltimore Guy have to say about this?

August 31, 2009

The study of transit and highway improvements to the I-270 corridor has recently attracted some media attention. However, the coverage demands clarification. The state is conducting a long-range planning study that includes a variety of transportation options for the I-270 corridor; we haven't reached the point where a specific proposal will advance and others will retreat. With any comprehensive technical study, some options may prove viable in the future, while others may not. This exercise is comparable to other highway, transit and rail studies under way in regions throughout Maryland. It is important to put a range of planning concepts on the table for consideration, if we aim to address the state's serious transportation challenges.

Unfortunately, certain reports have suggested the state is simply proposing to widen the highway lanes along I-270. This suggestion does not serve the public well when, in fact, there are actually a variety of transit and highway options being examined. Transit alternatives include the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), a rapid bus or light rail system between Shady Grove and Clarksburg. The cost of the CCT ranges from $450 million to $777 million. Park and Ride improvements and improved bus service also are under study. Highway alternatives range from interchange improvements costing up to $500 million to construction of Express Toll Lanes that could potentially reach into the billions of dollars.

Contrary to the premise promoted by some, there is no multibillion-dollar decision pending. The displacement of residents is not imminent, inevitable or desired. Decisions whether to actually construct any of the alternatives are years, if not decades, away. Implementation of any alternatives would require the approval of local and regional governmental authorities and a full environmental review by regulatory agencies.

The reality is that, given the current economic environment, the state must concentrate on funding its existing transportation projects with the scarce resources available. However, while we may be financially constrained today, we must continue to plan so that every region of the state is prepared for tomorrow.

Paul J. Wiedefeld and Neil J. Pedersen
The writers are administrators of, respectively, the Maryland Transit Administration and the State Highway Administration.

Update: Baltimore Sun reporter Mike Dresser responds.


Maryland’s Administrator for Life, Part One

Suppose a local bill (a bill affecting only one county) gets the unanimous support of its local government, the unanimous support of its county delegation in Annapolis and is passed by the House of Delegates by 135-0. You would think it would be headed for the Governor’s desk, right?

Not if it’s a campaign finance reform bill and Linda Lamone get winds of it.

HB 825, a Montgomery Delegation bill originally sponsored by Delegate Susan Lee (D-16) last spring, would have allowed the Montgomery County Council to pass additional disclosure requirements for contributors to County Executive and County Council races. One such additional requirement could be disclosure of an individual contributor’s employer, as is currently required at the federal level, or of a business contributor’s parent company. This could help unlock use of the LLC loophole, which is frequently used by contributors (often developers) to avoid the state’s contribution limits. Because Montgomery County is a jurisdiction in which at-large County Council races now cost $300,000 or more and County Executive races go into the million-dollar territory, scrutiny of campaign finance is becoming more critical. Recognizing that, the County Executive, the County Council, Common Cause of Maryland, the League of Women Voters, Progressive Maryland and the Montgomery County Civic Federation all lined up behind Lee’s bill.

The only entity to oppose the bill was the State Board of Elections (SBE), represented by Administrator Linda Lamone. If Comptroller Peter Franchot is the most hated man in Annapolis, Lamone may very well be the most hated woman. Originally appointed by Governor Parris Glendening in 1997, Lamone had worked as a lobbyist in the Schaefer administration but had never headed up a local Board of Elections.

Shortly after her appointment, complaints cropped up about a flawed uniform computer system for counties and vanishing registration records. But nothing provoked more ire than SBE’s horrendous ELECTrack campaign finance reporting system. A 2001 Gazette article chronicled a litany of protests:

“I’m from the ghetto in East Baltimore,” said Del. Clarence Davis (D-Dist. 45) of Baltimore. “People don't have computers. ... My treasurer's got a computer at work, but he can't use it [to file the campaign finance report].”

Other complaints are more complex. Some treasurers simply couldn't get the software to work properly. Others found to their dismay that the new system was not compatible to the computer databases they had been using for years, making the transfer of information impossible. Others found that the software limited their ability to list or organize information they way they wanted to, whether it was by ZIP code, donation size, union affiliation or something else.

“My treasurer is a very sophisticated mathematician,” said Del. Martha S. Klima (R-Dist. 9) of Lutherville. “He's a CPA. He's been cursing the system.”

Joe Shannon, campaign treasurer to Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Dist. 28) of Waldorf, said the system burdens candidates and treasurers who are trying to meet deadlines and don't want to be embarrassed by late fees and other potential penalties.

“People who are really trying to be compliant are a bit terrorized,” he said.

Shannon said board staffers have tried to be helpful but erred by not bringing in a group of treasurers to test the software.

“You hate to say it, but it almost to some degree may prevent people from considering public service,” he said of the electronic filing requirements.
When the House of Delegates tried to require SBE to provide regular reports about new voting machines and improving campaign finance software, Lamone replied, “I don't think that the language is needed at all.” “That’s how she operates,” one of our informants told us. “Her first response is that a problem is not a problem. Her second response is that it’s somebody else’s fault.”

We’ll learn more about Lamone’s career in Part Two.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

MCGEO Takes on Whole Foods

The Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) has begun leafletting at Whole Foods stores to protest its CEO's comments against President Obama's health care initiative. MCGEO's parent organization, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), represents hundreds of thousands of grocery store workers across North America. Following is a press release from the union.

Media Contact: Amy Millar 240-876-1660


Health care activists and labor groups to take online efforts to the stores; groups provide information about CEO’s extreme position on reform to Whole Foods shoppers

Gaithersburg– In response to a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Whole Foods’ Chief Executive Officer John Mackey, activists, consumers and labor groups around the country have been organizing in opposition to his efforts to undermine meaningful health care reform.

Over the course of the next few weeks, members and staff from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) will be disseminating educational information to Whole Foods shoppers. The purpose of these efforts will be to set the record straight about health care reform and to raise serious concerns about Whole Foods CEO’s position on this critical issue. These events will be part of a series of regional educational efforts being planned for the coming weeks.

The UFCW passed out leaflets about Mackey’s position at the Whole Foods in Gaithersburg at 316 Kentlands Blvd, Gaithersburg, MD from 3:00 to 5:00 on August 25.

For UFCW members, health care reform is a top legislative priority. UFCW members around the country are organizing and mobilizing their communities in support of comprehensive health care reform.

Caption: Despite heavy police presence, shoppers on their way in and out of the Gaithersburg Whole Foods store were receptive to Local 1994's message.

# # #


Saturday, August 29, 2009

County Report: August 28


Friday, August 28, 2009

Trachtenberg Opposes Disability Budget Cuts

County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg, Chair of the council's Management and Fiscal Policy Committee, has taken a strong stand against the state's budget cuts to disability programs. Following is her press release.

Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg Warns Maryland Budget Savings Plan Could Be Devastating in Montgomery

Says Cuts Will Put Essential Family Services Such as Developmental Disability, Cancer Screening Programs at Risk

ROCKVILLE, Md., August 28, 2009—Montgomery County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) said today that the projected mid-year Fiscal Year 2010 cuts to the State of Maryland’s health and human services budget announced this week “will put essential family services, such as development disability and cancer screening programs, at risk.”

“Significant cuts to programs that meet the basic and critical needs of the most vulnerable are intolerable,” said Councilmember Trachtenberg, who is a member of the County Council’s Health and Human Services Committee and chairs the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee. “We can’t turn back the clock on modern methods of preventive health and community-based supports for those most in need just because no one can afford a media campaign to defend them. Over the course of the next few weeks, our voices must become theirs and the vulnerable must be heard in the halls of Rockville and Annapolis.”

“These highly vulnerable citizens are not strangers,” Councilmember Trachtenberg said of the individuals who will be impacted by the reductions. “They are our parents and grandparents—the neighbors, the babysitters, the students, the workers we meet every day. And they deserve our help.

“Those who serve in State and County governments are obligated to help children with developmental disabilities and provide them with resources so they can achieve their highest potential and contribute to their communities. It's at a difficult economic time like this that the vulnerable and their families depend on government for reliable assistance and unwavering support.”

Councilmember Trachtenberg is urging officials on the State and County level to also examine the “value per dollar” of investment in preventive services, specifically cancer screening and tobacco cessation programming, and the devastating impact cutting those investments can have on society as a whole. “The public health equation always puts prevention first and that means it remains a health priority not a budget concession,” said Councilmember Trachtenberg.

Councilmember Trachtenberg, herself a professional clinical therapist who specialized in adolescent addiction, has long championed mental health, public health and social services. Councilmember Trachtenberg continues to work with service providers and health consumers to achieve the best possible care and to prioritize the growing needs of the vulnerable.

# # # #


Cardin Apologizes to Constituents

Delegate Jon Cardin (D-11) sent out the following email to his constituents apologizing for his use of on-duty police officers to propose marriage. For our part, we await the Baltimore Police Department's written report.

From: Jon Cardin []
Sent: Friday, August 28, 2009 2:29 PM
Subject: On My Marriage Proposal

August 27, 2009

Dear Constituents:

I would like to apologize for my actions surrounding my marriage proposal, any confusion that my absence on a previously scheduled vacation may have contributed, and the embarrassing attention that it has engendered. What should have been a joyous time of my life became one that was instead marked by errors in judgment.

I take full responsibility for initiating this incident. I should have been sensitive enough to realize that these are extraordinarily difficult times in Baltimore, both financially and from a public safety perspective. In that context, I realize how inappropriate my request was.

I love Baltimore, it's my hometown, and I would never intentionally jeopardize our great city's reputation or resources. I certainly hope that the blame for this is placed on me, and none of it is given to any of the brave officers of the Baltimore City Police Department.

In response to my lapse in judgment, I have personally apologized to the Mayor, the Police Commissioner, and the Marine Police Unit. I have fully reimbursed the city for its expenses. As a further gesture of my contrition, I have also made a personal contribution to the city's venerable mounted police unit to help it weather the financial crisis that is now threatening its existence.

Finally, I hope that my fiancée will be able to forgive the fact that I brought this unexpected and undesired public attention to what should have been a special moment in our lives.

I pledge to you that, with your trust in me, I will take this opportunity to learn from my errors. I will not let this mistake deflect from my continued efforts for the 11th District, and I will continue to improve and develop policies concerning smart energy, health, finance, and the environment at large.


Jon S. Cardin

If you have any questions, please visit my website.


You have received this email through your subscription to this campaign's email list. If you did not subscribe, or would no longer like to receive email updates unsubscribe here.

Paid for by Elect Cardin, Cristina Lopez, Treasurer


Disability Advocates Fight Back Against Cuts

From WJLA:


The Economic Engine of Maryland, Part Eight

This series has easily been the most ambitious collection of essays we have ever attempted on Maryland Politics Watch. And all of our data points to one conclusion: the economic fate of Maryland depends on Montgomery County. And the economic competitiveness of Montgomery County depends on the quality of its public schools. That has to be a central priority for state policymakers in writing future budgets.

Consider the following facts:

In Part Two, we learned that Montgomery County accounts for one-fifth of the state’s employment and tax receipts, one-fourth of its personal income and one-third of its business profit. That last factor is especially important because business profit is necessary for job creation.

In Part Three, we learned that Montgomery County has trailed its chief competitor, Fairfax County, on every important economic growth measure over the last 25 years.

In Part Four, we learned that Montgomery County has higher tax rates in nearly all major categories except property than Fairfax.

In Part Five, we examined the close degree of competitiveness between Montgomery’s and Fairfax’s public schools.

In Part Six, our commentators agreed that the quality of the schools is necessary for attracting residents and jobs to Montgomery.

In Part Seven, we learned that the state’s aid to MCPS ranks third from the bottom among Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions in per pupil terms. Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) spending, which benefits Montgomery, is a tiny part of the total aid budget. The state’s coverage of teacher pension obligations is the one large investment that disproportionately helps Montgomery.

All of these factors are linked. Montgomery’s economic competitiveness, which is critical to the well-being of the entire state, is dependent on its public schools. If the General Assembly considers cuts in aid and teacher pension funding that have disparate impacts on Montgomery next year, they are not just damaging one county. They are damaging the Economic Engine of Maryland. And if that engine breaks down, every resident of the Free State is going to suffer in the long run.

Lords of Annapolis, beware.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Three Local Aid Questions

Here's three questions about the Governor's local aid cuts that should interest everyone who lives outside the City of Baltimore and Prince George's County.

1. Why was police aid cut by 17% in Prince George's County and by 35% everywhere else?

2. Why were highway user revenues cut by 19% in Baltimore City and by 90% everywhere else?

3. Community college aid was cut by 5% in every jurisdiction except for Baltimore City. Baltimore City Community College's costs are entirely covered by the state, an amount originally set at $42.6 million in the Governor's proposed FY 2010 budget. Was this funding also cut by 5%?

Local health aid was cut by 35% for every jurisdiction, the only category in which an equal percentage was applied everywhere.

Yesterday, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said that the Governor had been "fair in his distribution of cuts." Did his staff review this information first?


A Marriage Like Any Other

Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) argues that Maryland should recognize same-sex marriages originating in other states in the Washington Post. Senator Madaleno states that Attorney General Doug Gansler (who supports marriage equality) and Governor Martin O'Malley (who supports civil unions) could accomplish this "with the stroke of a pen."

The Governor told WTOP last month, "I think that it's very difficult to deny equal rights to people when it comes to rights that are disbursed by a government rather than a faith or a church... If the person has these rights under another state, I think we're sort of pressed to deny those rights. So, yes, we probably should respect those rights."


The Economic Engine of Maryland, Part Seven

Montgomery County, the economic engine of Maryland, depends on its public schools to compete with Fairfax County. How much does the state contribute to Montgomery’s schools?

In absolute terms, the state contributes quite a bit to Montgomery County’s schools – over a half-billion dollars in direct aid in the last fiscal year. But in relative terms, the state’s investment is quite modest. Consider the following chart comparing the state’s per-pupil aid to public schools by county in FY 2009:

The above data illustrates that the state spent $3,943 per pupil in aid to MCPS in the last fiscal year. That ranks third from the bottom among the state’s 24 jurisdictions and is only 60% of the state average. MCPS aid accounts for only 10% of the state’s school aid despite the fact that Montgomery County has one-sixth of the state’s population. That is largely driven by a wealth formula that steers money away from “wealthy” school districts. One effect of the wealth formula is that MCPS derived just 19.9% of its budget in FY 2009 from state aid. Prince George’s County schools received 54.9% of their budget from the state.

What of the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI), a state formula that gives more aid to school districts with a higher cost of education? The chart below shows (among other things) the amount of GCEI funding allocated by county in FY 2009:

For all its recent attention in the media, GCEI funding is a very small part of state aid to schools. In FY 2009, the state spent $5.3 billion on school aid. Only $75.8 million of that came from the GCEI program. Furthermore, Prince George’s County (at $23.6 million) was the biggest beneficiary of GCEI, not Montgomery (at $18.4 million). Baltimore City, by far the biggest recipient of state school aid in per-pupil terms, receives $13.0 million from GCEI.

The state does make one substantial school investment that disproportionately benefits Montgomery County: covering the cost of teacher pensions. Last September, we published the pension costs in both absolute and per capita terms by county. Montgomery led the state in total pension obligation spending ($131 million) and was third in per-capita terms behind Howard and Calvert Counties.

The reason the state spends more on Montgomery’s teacher pensions than on any other county is that Montgomery pays its teachers more than elsewhere in Maryland. Montgomery does that because of its high cost of living and its fierce competition for talent with Fairfax and other school systems. Excellence in education costs money. Montgomery figured that out long ago and has been delivering quality schools to its residents for decades.

We will conclude tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gazette Writes About Ali and King

The Gazette has reported on Delegate Saqib Ali's blog postings targeting his District 39 Senator, Nancy King. Their article contains quotes from Senators King and Rich Madaleno (D-18). Just three additions:

1. Your author has written for MPW since late 2007, but has not "run" it continuously since then.

2. Delegate Ali noted Senator King's lack of support for marriage equality and told the Gazette, "No other sitting state senator has spoken out against gay marriage." That's not true. Senator Alex Mooney (R-3), for example, once said that gay marriage "would destroy our Judeo-Christian faith that this country was founded on" and added that "we have to as a legislature stand up to the radical homosexual agenda."

3. The Ali-King series is not done yet.


On Ted Kennedy

By Marc Korman.

Last February, Ted Kennedy came to the Montgomery County Democratic Party annual brunch to speak on behalf of then-Democratic presidential primary candidate Barack Obama. He began by bellowing “Are You Glad to See Me?” which had become a familiar greeting for him at public appearances over the decades. And although the room that day was split between Clinton and Obama supporters, we were all glad to see him. It was just before his cancer diagnosis and sad, public decline. I am grateful I had the chance to see him speak in person and laugh to myself when I remember hanging around him outside the brunch, not shaking his hand or trying to get a picture with him, but just enjoying his presence.

As important as Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy are to history and the Democratic Party, Ted Kennedy is the Kennedy brother that means the most to me. He is the one I saw in action, fighting for the issues I cared about and caring for an important institution that needs to function well for our country to prosper.

I remember as a young kid being mystified that a Kennedy could still be in the Senate, since the JFK and RFK days seemed like ancient history to me. In 2002, after the disheartening midterms, my dad sent me Ted Kennedy’s 1980 concession speech to bolster my spirits. Kennedy’s tireless work for John Kerry, my favored candidate, during the 2004 primaries was a thrill to watch, as the old lion worked town halls in Iowa to help push Kerry over the top there. I recall just after the 2004 election, watching Kennedy on Meet The Press lead the charge for the Democrats in opposing President Bush’s actions in Iraq. In my view, the lion was reasserting himself as the party leader in the aftermath of the 2004 defeat. And I remember my shock when my mother decided to vote for Obama in the primary, partly because Kennedy gave him the stamp of approval.

While those political memories give me a thrill, what makes me saddest is thinking about his legislative accomplishments. Even before giving up his presidential ambitions, Kennedy championed voting rights, civil rights, and immigration reform. Following his failed 1980 campaign, Kennedy really fulfilled his legislative potential by becoming the leader in Congress on these issues, as well as healthcare, welfare, the judiciary, education, and more. It seems like for the past fifteen years, Congress could not tackle a major legislative issue without Ted Kennedy coming to the table, working, and compromising. He had a unique ability to keep faith with liberals and Democrats, while still moving the ball forward to get something done with Republicans.

In fact, that is what has struck me most about Ted Kennedy. When Republicans want to raise money, they liked to send direct mailings scaring their supporters with talk of Kennedy this and Kennedy that. But the truth is, the Kennedy boogeyman the Republicans liked to invoke would stand next to any Republican President or legislator and cut a deal in the name of good policy reform, even if it was incremental. Unfortunately, the figures on the other side of the aisle seem incapable of doing that. Democrats tar and feather our political opponents too, sending out emails or mailings warning of Tom Delay or Newt Gingrich policies and politics. But the difference is Ted Kennedy was vilified, but would continue to bring people together and compromise. The Republican Party’s Delays and Gingriches have always been content to let nothing happen and would never constructively work across party lines on major issues. Ted Kennedy stood next to President George W. Bush on at least three major occasions and gave at least his initial stamp of approval to ambitious reforms (No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and immigration reform). As it turned out, some of these were mistakes, but Kennedy kept trying because he was sent to Washington to be a Senator.

The life and death of Ted Kennedy is especially disharmonious with current events. The tone of the healthcare debate, with elected officials being shouted down and outrageous accusations from all sides, is completely disconnected from the way Ted Kennedy legislated. I do not expect Kennedy’s death to get healthcare passed or change our politics, but I hope as people scream their lies about death panels and obstruct needed reform, at least some of them think about how their actions can be contrasted with Ted Kennedy’s style of doing business.

Ted Kennedy was not a perfect man. It would be foolish to pretend he was a saint and that Chappaquiddick was not an awful event. But I hope when he is remembered people look at the totality of his life, his accomplishments, and what he stood for. I will miss him personally as a political hero, but I think we will all realize in the time ahead that we all miss him as a Senator.


Ted Kennedy: The Dream Shall Never Die


The Economic Engine of Maryland, Part Six

How important are Montgomery County’s schools to the county’s economy? We asked some of our local leaders and here is what they said.

Valerie Ervin
County Council Member, Chair of the Council’s Education Committee
Former Member, Board of Education

Many people who move to the area make a conscious decision to come to Montgomery County because of the reputation of the Montgomery County Public School System. Most residents are proud of the school system and its tradition of excellence. In the current economic downturn, we cannot afford to be short-sighted about education funding.

The Montgomery County School System helps drive the economic engine of the county and the state because its reputation for excellence translates into higher property values and its brand draws both residents and businesses to the county. The quality of the school system is especially important for middle class families who want to give their children the best education possible in a public school setting.

When competing for state dollars, Montgomery County is often portrayed as the city on the hill, where there are no challenges or issues affecting residents. Montgomery County must begin to describe the variety of issues impacting its schools and the lives of its children—we are talking about everything from students arriving at the school house door with interrupted educations, those who cannot speak English, and even those who are transferring from private to public schools because their parents can no longer carry the financial burden.

We need to continue to advocate for full funding for our schools to retain and keep our outstanding teachers, who work tirelessly for our students, and to fund school construction projects to maintain class size. Now is not the time to retreat from our obligations. As one of the main drivers of Maryland’s economic engine, the state has a stake in our continued success. Turning back the clock now hurts all of us.
Nancy Navarro
County Council Member
Former President, Board of Education

It is important that the rest of the state understands that, like County Executive Ike Leggett likes to say, Montgomery County is not an ATM machine to be accessed at will. It is important for the state to understand that an economically viable Montgomery County is in the best interest of the state as a whole. Montgomery County Public Schools is in turn the crown jewel of our county; our economic fortunes are intricately tied to the fortunes of MCPS. A distressed school system spells doom for our economy as we witness the flight of individuals, families and businesses to more education friendly jurisdictions like Fairfax County. This would affect local revenues and in turn would affect the state's collection from Montgomery County. In summary, a demand that the state maintains its fiscal obligation to Montgomery County is not self-serving - it is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do in the interest of the state of Maryland.
George Leventhal
County Council Member

I think the generally-perceived high quality of Montgomery County schools help to make the county very competitive if businesses are considering locating here versus Prince George’s County or the District of Columbia. Versus Fairfax County, not so much. Fairfax County also has a very strong school system. I personally prefer living in Montgomery County, but I am not confident that statistics would support the assertion that it is more attractive to locate a business here than Fairfax County.

Montgomery elected officials and residents need to consider very carefully whether being competitive with Fairfax in economic development is something that we want. There are certainly benefits to having a healthy tax base and job base. On the other hand, more business can translate to more traffic and construction of more housing, and those things are not popular. We seem to have contradictory impulses when it comes to attracting business. Our political culture often rewards those who are hostile to business. We may have taken for granted that Montgomery County will always be attractive to investors, and we may find that is not as true as we once thought. In the current constrained economic environment, we are finding out what “slow growth” really feels like.
Finally, one of our most intelligent (and most secretive) informants had this to say:

Both Maryland and Montgomery County are unfriendly to business interests. It’s not just that the county and state are high tax and stiff regulatory environments; those are bad enough. Worse, there is a prevailing air that business, in and of itself, is inherently suspect. In a highly regulated environment, decision-making is in the hands of a relative few, a small number of politicians and regulators. There is a wrongheaded assumption that government, simply because of who and what it is, will automatically make the best, fairest decision on behalf of the people. The more regulated an environment is, and the more decision-making is concentrated in the hands of a few, the more political the process is apt to be.

Two things keep Maryland and Montgomery County afloat: federal largesse, due to proximity to the Nation’s Capital and research funding (NIH, Hopkins, FDA, etc), and education. There is nothing else to fall back on. We’re a two-legged stool. The education level of the workforce in this area is very high and is indeed an asset to business. If that is damaged, we’re in deep trouble. Suddenly, Maryland becomes even less competitive than it already is against Virginia and others with a more friendly business environment. We’re teetering on the brink. The county and state already have damaged the business environment, and without educational support, people will rightly ask: Why should I go to an area with high cost and traffic congestion and high regulation, when there are other areas, like North Carolina, with a lower cost of living, less traffic and more openness and creativity? We need to stop thinking we’re so much smarter than everyone else and start competing more effectively.
Montgomery County is the economic engine of Maryland, and part of what enables that engine to keep up with Fairfax is the quality of our public schools. In Part Seven, we will look at how the state contributes to Montgomery’s schools.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Washington Post's John Wagner on "Political Pulse" on Channel 16 TV‏

John Wagner, who covers MD state politics in Annapolis for the Washington Post, will be on the "Political Pulse" TV Show on:

Thurs, August 27th at 9:00 p.m.;
Fri-Sun, August 28th-August 30th at 6:00 p.m.; and
Tuesday, September 1st, at 9:30 p.m.

Topics that will be discussed include the budget cuts announced by Governor O'Malley on August 25, 2009 and the 2010 Governor and Comptroller races.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Local Aid Cuts Focus Heavily on Transportation

The O'Malley administration just announced $454 million in new cuts, of which $210 million consisted of cuts in local aid. The aid cuts stripped $20.1 million from local health programs, $20.6 million from police departments, $10.5 million from community colleges and a whopping $159.5 million from highway user distributions, or local transportation aid. The transportation cuts amount to one-third of the savings.

Highway user revenues are the primary source of transportation aid distributed by the state to its 24 local jurisdictions. We explained the program in a prior blog post:

Highway user revenues (HUR) are composed of gas taxes, vehicle titling taxes, vehicle registration fees, short-term vehicle rental taxes and a small portion of corporate income taxes. Currently, 70% of HUR is dedicated to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and the remaining 30% is distributed to counties and municipalities. Baltimore City, which does not have state highways inside its borders, is guaranteed at least 11.5% of the local distribution. The remaining local distribution is divided among the jurisdictions according to a formula which relies on county shares of road miles and county shares of registered vehicles. Below is the planned distribution of HUR by county from the Governor’s original FY 2010 budget proposal:
Below is the distribution of the local aid cuts proposed by the Governor:

Baltimore City's reduction is the greatest because it receives more HUR than any other jurisdiction, and 76% of the local aid cuts are comprised of HUR.

Counties primarily spend transportation funds on system preservation, which former MDOT Secretary John Porcari said was the best way to use infrastructure spending for stimulus. The General Assembly already diverted more than $200 million in HUR to deficit reduction in March. By cutting HUR again (this time by half), the state will exert a depressing effect on the economy if the counties cut their own transportation spending, thereby at least partially offsetting federal transportation grants.

If this is the beginning of a strategy to balance the budget by cutting transportation, how can we afford to pay our share of the Red Line, the Purple Line and the CCT, especially if more than one of them goes ahead?


Saqib Ali and Nancy King Discuss Progressive Issues, Part Three

Part Three: Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes Through Combined Reporting.

By Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39).

Our State Government's revenues are in a free-fall. And the budget has been in distress for several years. We need to find ways to reduce spending and increase revenues. This is the dilemma we legislators face now. And this is the dilemma that we faced in the Special Legislative Session of November of 2007. At that time we gathered in Annapolis to find a way to fill the gaping 1.5 billion dollar budget deficit. We are living today with the decisions we made then. And in retrospect some of those decisions don't look so hot.

We were presented with a list of options to raise revenue: slots, sales tax increase, gas tax increase, etc. For me, the lowest hanging fruit was closing Maryland's existing corporate tax loopholes. In particular I'm talking about something known as "Combined Reporting" (CR).

Some background about CR is in order: Multi-state corporations exploit flaws in Maryland’s existing tax code that allow them to minimize their tax burdens by reporting their Maryland earnings in other states. For example Wal-Mart reduced its taxable profits simply by transferring funds to a trust owned by itself. CR closes this loophole by forcing these corporations to pay taxes on the profits they actually made in MD. 21 states have enacted CR laws which prevent large corporations from evading taxes in this deceptive way.

In Fall of 2007, Maryland had the opportunity to do the same. In fact, the tax package proposed by Governor O'Malley and passed by the House of Delegates included this fix. I supported closing this loophole of course. It's a no-brainer. While we were raising the sales tax on all our citizens by 20%, why wouldn't we ask the corporations to at least pay their fair share? Unfortunately the Senate's conference committee stripped CR from the final bill. They did this in the round-about-way that things are done in Annapolis: Instead of implementing CR they opted to study it.

Nancy unfortunately led the charge to kill CR. In fact she introduced Senate Bill 27 to study CR for three years (until after the next election). Even though SB 27 itself didn't pass, its contents were included in the eventual bill that Governor O'Malley signed. At the time, I questioned Nancy's logic for extending the tax loopholes that large corporations exploit. However, I never got a satisfactory explanation.

Even the Washington Post complained bitterly:

The Senate blew another air kiss to the deep-pocketed set by rejecting the governor's proposal to eliminate a major loophole through which corporations dodge Maryland taxes by artificially shifting profits to out-of-state subsidiaries. Thanks partly to this scam, more than half the largest companies doing business in the state pay no corporate income taxes whatsoever. But although 18 other states have closed this loophole, Maryland's Senate balked, referring the issue to a study that would only duplicate the voluminous research that's been done on the topic elsewhere.
Unfortunately, a year after killing CR by study, Nancy then went a step further and watered down that very study by introducing a controversial amendment to delay by 45 days the corporations' deadline to submit information. That was another favor the tax-evading corporations requested. Then just a few days ago she again doubled-down on her effort against CR by saying "It may be that [corporations] could be paying more taxes in combined reporting, but do we want to slap these businesses around with the economy the way it is? Or do we want to help them be more successful so we get more taxes anyway?"

The bottom line is that if we had passed CR in 2007, as I had hoped, we would not be in as big of a budget hole as we are today. And large companies like Wal-Mart wouldn't be walking away with hundreds of millions of dollars that rightfully belong to the people of Maryland. That's a fact.


Andrews Warns Leggett Again About Helicopters

As we previously reported (and the Examiner confirmed), the Leggett administration is proceeding with plans to acquire two helicopters for the Montgomery County Police Department despite objections from the County Council and the statehouse delegation. That has prompted a new memo from Council President Phil Andrews reiterating the council's opposition.

In the memo, Andrews cites a Delmarva Now article describing MCPD officials loading one helicopter onto a flatbed truck for transport from Princess Anne to MoCo. The article states that the helicopter's transfer has been "in the works for the past three or four months."

Andrews writes, "While I am very disappointed that you have chosen to move forward with the helicopter proposal given our extremely tight budget, I certainly hope that you will not authorize any additional expenditures until after the County has learned whether the [federal] grant has been awarded and the Council decides that matter. The County cannot afford to waste money on a new program that cannot be sustained at a time when we are forced to consider reducing or eliminating existing programs and services that are more important than a police helicopter unit to the people we represent."

Your author does not know of a single Council Member who is willing to vote for the County Executive's helicopter program and that has been the case for more than a month. Also, Phil Andrews is the Chair of the County Council's Public Safety Committee so his opinion carries extra weight on this issue.

We reproduce the Council President's memo below.


The Economic Engine of Maryland, Part Five

Montgomery County and Fairfax County, the economic engines of their respective states, have much in common. One characteristic they share is excellent schools.

Residents of Montgomery and Fairfax are virtually obsessed with their school systems. Most parents do whatever they can to get their kids into the best schools with the best programs and the best teachers. Both counties use their schools as selling points for new residents and new businesses. And the sales pitch is warranted because these two counties have some of the best public schools in America.

Consider the following benchmarks:

Newsweek Top 100 High School Ranks, 2008

55. Langley, McLean, VA
59. George Mason, Falls Church, VA
74. W.T. Woodson, Fairfax, VA
95. Lake Braddock, Burke, VA
99. McLean, McLean, VA

32. Richard Montgomery, Rockville, MD
60. Wootton, Rockville, MD
64. Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Bethesda, MD
69. Walt Whitman, Bethesda, MD
76. Walter Johnson, Bethesda, MD
98. Winston Churchill, Potomac, MD

SAT Scores, Class of 2008
Fairfax: Critical Reading 547, Math 565, Writing 542, Total 1654
Montgomery: Critical Reading 532, Math 549, Writing 536, Total 1616

Composite ACT Scores, Class of 2008
Fairfax: 23.7
Montgomery: 23.8

Total Public Schools Budget, FY 2009

Fairfax: $2,685,250,588
Montgomery: $2,543,224,621

Cost per Pupil, FY 2009
Fairfax: $13,340
Montgomery: $15,252

Percent of Graduates Continuing Education, FY 2009

Fairfax: 91.2%
Montgomery: 92.6%

Dropout Rate, FY 2009

Fairfax: 1.67%
Montgomery: 2.9%

Montgomery may not be able to compete with Fairfax on low tax rates, but it can and does compete very well on the basis of school quality. In fact, Montgomery’s high level of educational investment is one of the best things it can offer the business community. We asked a number of our leaders about the importance of the schools in attracting business. We’ll find out what they had to say in Part Six.


Monday, August 24, 2009

State Legislators Get Free E-ZPasses

Yesterday, the Post reported that 4,990 Maryland E-ZPass holders canceled their accounts due to the new fees levied by the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA). We’ll bet that none of the canceled accounts belong to members of the General Assembly. Why?

Because they can get E-ZPasses for free.

We confirmed with MdTA spokeswoman Teri Moss last week that 128 of the 188 state legislators in Maryland have “non-revenue accounts,” or free E-ZPasses. She told us, “They are allowed per our trust agreement to have non-revenue accounts to provide free passage while they are on official business.” However, she refused to provide the names of the state legislators who had the free passes due to “privacy and security issues.” We were unable to obtain any information on the legal authority by which the legislators are entitled to the free passes, the total amount in toll revenues lost as a result of their use, or the accounting controls, if any, employed on the passes.

Do the state legislators really need free E-ZPasses for official business? Of course not, for the following reasons:

1. Members of the General Assembly already receive mileage reimbursements plus a $600 annual lump-sum distribution for official travel.

2. If the above expenses were not enough, consider the locations of Maryland’s primary in-state toll facilities: I-95 between the Baltimore Beltway and the Delaware state border, the Baltimore interstate tunnels and the Bay Bridge. Only commuters from seven legislative districts (7, 8, 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38) would have to travel through those routes to get to Annapolis. So twenty-eight legislators might have a plausible claim to free E-ZPasses. What about the one hundred others who have them?

3. Many state legislators expense hotel rooms in Annapolis during session, including at least one Delegate from Anne Arundel County. Why should taxpayers subsidize both prospective commuting costs and capital hotel rooms?

4. The principal reasons many legislators travel around the state are private business trips, vacations and attendance at fundraisers. The latter is especially true for leadership and committee chairs, who are expected to criss-cross the state to help backbenchers raise money. We have no evidence that E-ZPass technology can differentiate between official business and these private trips. That’s why legislators should fill out expense reports rather than assume that all their travel should be free.

A bigger issue than the free E-ZPasses themselves is MdTA’s refusal to release information about them. We find no merit in their “privacy and security issues.” Elected officials are not entitled to any privacy when they spend public funds. As for security, we hardly believe that Osama bin Laden will launch a terror attack once he learns that Delegates X, Y and Z have free E-ZPasses. Legislators’ office expenses are available for public inspection in Annapolis (although they are unfortunately not online). Why should the use of free E-ZPasses be any different from other expenses? We also wonder if any former state legislators continue to benefit from free passes after leaving office. MdTA is begging for a Public Information request, which - of course - we are in the process of drafting.

This is just one more legislative perk to join the others, some of which include:

1. Special General Assembly license plates designed to deter speeding and parking tickets.

2. Lobbyist parties, including events held on state property.

3. Lobbyist-provided meals for General Assembly committees and county delegations.

Last year, we related an old legend about a state legislator who gained 100 pounds during a single session due to gorging and gluttony. Insiders (including some in the mainstream media) mostly shrugged off the MACO Moment because they regarded it as typical of the capital’s ancient booze-drenched culture. And the truth is that any legislator can receive a lobbyist-purchased lobster no matter how incompetent or disinterested he or she is because, after all, a vote is a vote.

And so taxes are up. Spending will be cut again and again. Budgets tighten and pain spreads. The vulnerable have taken to the streets.

Why should the perks of the powerful alone be spared?


The Economic Engine of Maryland, Part Four

Montgomery County and Fairfax County are the economic engines of their respective states. Over the last 25 years, Fairfax has passed Montgomery on nearly every economic measure. But over the last 5 years, Montgomery has fared better. Today we look at one aspect of how the two counties compete: their relative tax rates.

One fact that is not commonly acknowledged is that Montgomery charges lower property tax rates than Fairfax. Here are the rates in effect during Fiscal Year 2009:

While Montgomery’s rates are lower, the gap narrows when residential rates are compared to home values. During the 2005-07 period, Montgomery charged 0.7% of its median home value in taxes while Fairfax charged 0.8%. Few homeowners would notice such a tiny difference.

But the primary reason Montgomery’s property tax rates are lower than those in Fairfax is that Montgomery’s revenue base is much more diverse. For example, Fairfax receives no income tax. Here are a variety of other tax rates for Fiscal Year 2009:

On every other measure, Fairfax residents and businesses pay lower taxes than their counterparts in Montgomery. The biggest gap is in income tax rates, especially at the top. We do not have the comparative tax burden between the two counties, but on the state level Maryland (ranked 4th in the nation by the Tax Foundation) far exceeds Virginia (ranked 18th). There is no way that Montgomery County, a high-tax county in a high-tax state, can compete with Fairfax on the basis of low taxes.

But there is one factor on which Montgomery is intensely competitive with Fairfax: the quality of the public schools. We’ll examine this in more detail in Part Five.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Credit Card Companies Jacking Up Consumers Again

Watch CBS Videos Online


Saturday, August 22, 2009

On Lockerbie and the Death Penalty

Today, I write about the release of convicted Lockerbie terrorist Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi from two perspectives: as a death penalty opponent and as a relative of one of the victims. From both viewpoints, the Scottish government’s release of Megrahi is a desecration of justice.

I never met Robert Pagnucco, whose father was my grandfather’s first cousin. He was 51 and had a wife and two children when he died on Pan Am 103. His immediate family won a judgment of $9 million against bankrupt Pan Am, which the company, of course, fiercely contested. I still remember our family getting the phone call describing his death when I was 18. I have had a personal connection to the tragedy ever since.

But this goes far beyond my family. I have been a death penalty opponent for many years, principally because I do not have faith that our justice system can truly avoid putting innocent people to death. And so the price of protecting the innocent is to allow guilty killers to rot for the rest of their lives in jail. But they must stay in jail. They MUST, or the tradeoff is hollow.

The Scottish authorities do not see it that way. They believe Megrahi’s “humanitarian” need to spend the last three months of his life away from his prison cell outweighs the need of the victims’ families for justice. Even worse, they cynically expect us to excuse their notion that life in prison for terrorists equals something other than life in prison for terrorists.

Observe the photos of Megrahi celebrating his triumph over the victims with the son of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

If this is the “justice” faced by mass murderers in the absence of the death penalty, then perhaps we should execute the worst of them when we have the chance.


County Report: August 21


Friday, August 21, 2009

One Helluva Week

Who says August is a slow news month? This past week may have been the worst for the state’s Democrats since Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost to Bob Ehrlich.

Consider the following.

Rise of the Conservatives
Revolts at the town hall-meetings on health care have attracted plenty of attention, but they may have a more lasting effect. Remember how we said that the conservative blogosphere was stalled? Not any more. Mark Newgent’s August 12 whipping of the Baltimore Sun drew 1,101 site visits, probably a one-day record for Red Maryland. The site is on pace for more than 12,000 visits this month, its best performance since October 2008. (Remember, August is supposed to be a bad month for political blogs.) And Ellen Sauerbrey, the original queen of Maryland’s angry conservatives, has both contributed to Red Maryland and started her own blog. For the moment, right-wing blogdom is once again on the attack.

Delegate Jon Cardin Scandal
This issue has gone national with exposure at the Huffington Post, National Public Radio, CNN and countless other outlets. The focus of the outrage is Cardin’s misuse of taxpayer resources, an increasingly sensitive issue in tough budget times. Cardin has apologized, and assuming that no more embarrassing facts emerge in the police investigation, he may be on the road to recovery.

MACO Moment
Five of the ten most-visited days in the history of MPW have come this week, primarily due to the booze-drenched MACO Moment scandal. It has attracted massive attention from all over the state. Rather than facing up to the exhibitionist stupidity of his staff, Governor O’Malley appears to be using George W. Bush’s strategy of ignoring everything and admitting nothing. So long as he blows it off, the images of his wild employees celebrating right before massive budget cuts will become part of his legacy.

Developmental Disability Cuts
This is an under-rated issue and our second-ranking story this week. Advocates for the most vulnerable people imaginable, those dealing with developmental disabilities, made their case and staged a big rally protesting the destruction of the last shreds of their safety net. They snared coverage from both the Post and the Sun. Budget cuts aren’t easy when the numbers have faces attached.

So let’s add it up. Angry and energized conservatives. Clueless and hypocritical state leaders. Vulnerable people about to go under.

It’s enough to drive a Democrat to drink.


The Economic Engine of Maryland, Part Three

In Part Two, we examined Montgomery County’s role in the Maryland’s economy. The county accounts for one-fifth of the state’s employment, one-fourth of its personal income and one-third of its business profit. Those factors make the health of the county’s economy a key component of the health of the state’s economy. But Montgomery County is not invulnerable. It has a direct competitor right across the Potomac: Fairfax County, Virginia.

In many ways, Montgomery and Fairfax are twins. Both have close to a million people. Both have large private sectors fueled by substantial federal government spending. Both have populations that are increasingly diversifying. Both have quality schools. And both are economic engines for their states.

But Fairfax has been outcompeting Montgomery from an economic perspective for a long time. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, here are how the two counties stack up on seven economic indicators for the most recent 25-year period available (1971-2006):

Fairfax’s per capita personal income has grown 24% faster than Montgomery’s over the last 25 years. Fairfax’s population, total personal income and dividends, interest and rent income have grown nearly 50% faster than Montgomery’s. Fairfax’s employment, wages and salaries and proprietor income have grown roughly 2.5 times as fast as Montgomery’s. In 1971, Montgomery led on every one of these seven measures over Fairfax. In 2006, Fairfax led on six of seven.

But the story is not quite that simple. Over the most recent five-year period, Montgomery has competed much better with Fairfax. Here are our benchmarks between 2001 and 2006:

During this period, Montgomery beat Fairfax on four growth measures (population, personal income, dividends, interest and rent and proprietor income), trailed on two (employment and wages and salaries) and virtually tied on one (per capita personal income). This data does not prove that Montgomery has turned the corner. But it does show that Montgomery is still capable of competing with Fairfax in generating economic opportunity for its residents. And that provides hope for both Montgomery and the state it supports.

In Part Four, we’ll look at one aspect of how Montgomery and Fairfax match up: their comparative tax rates.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Disability Budget Protest Brings Hundreds to Annapolis

By Laura Howell, Executive Director, Maryland Association for Community Services.

This week, in the sweltering August heat, hundreds of Marylanders, including people with developmental disabilities, aging caregivers, direct support staff, and advocates, converged on Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis with one message they chanted over and over – No More Cuts.

The fear of additional budget cuts to the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was palpable. Approximately 22,000 people receive community services from DDA, and 19,000 people are still waiting for assistance, many of them in crisis.

DDA services have been under-funded for years, with one in three providers operating with a negative operating margin. Developmental disability services were included in the first round of budget cuts earlier this summer. Further cuts could be catastrophic for some people who rely on those services for everything from basic help with eating, bathing, and dressing, to employment support, job coaching, and residential services.

Speakers at this week’s rally included two parents, from Howard and Baltimore Counties, who fear the impact potential budget cuts will have on the quality of life, safety and health of their children. Another speaker, just 19, starting his adult life in Prince George’s County, spoke of his fears of never being given the opportunity to live that life to the fullest. And a direct support staff from Montgomery County spoke of working two jobs, day and night, to support his family, while caring for people with disabilities.

The faces of the people who attended the rally, and the signs they brought with them, convey the message the best.


Killing Grandma Makes Saqib Hungry

District 39 Delegate Saqib Ali is at it again. Delegate Ali entertained his legions of Facebook friends with the status below. He deleted it, but not before it was immortalized in a screenshot.

This comes on top of a rip-roaring feud with an Examiner reporter over another Facebook status.

Delegate Ali has a lot to say. We appreciate his policy statements. But unless he assumes some control over his online proclamations, his substantive positions and work on the issues will be overshadowed by the Facebook follies.


The Economic Engine of Maryland, Part Two

Montgomery County is often called the “economic engine” of Maryland. But how important is it to the state’s economy? Let’s find out.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis provides the following estimates of population and employment by Maryland county in 2006:

So Montgomery accounts for 16.5% of the state’s population and 19.3% of its employment. This is significant, although perhaps not dominant. But this is only one aspect of the county’s role. Consider personal income and total wages and salaries paid in 2006:

Montgomery accounts for 24.0% of the state’s personal income and 22.7% of its wages and salaries. This far outpaces second-ranked Baltimore County (with 14.6% of personal income) and Baltimore City (14.4% of wages and salaries). But that still understates the county’s impact. Consider dividends, interest, rent and proprietor income in 2006:

Montgomery accounts for one-third of all business income – dividends, interest, rent and proprietor income – in the state. That is roughly double the business income created in runner-up Baltimore County and more than Anne Arundel, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard and Prince George’s Counties combined.

The state’s tax base benefits immensely by the inclusion of Montgomery County. Shown below are income and sales tax receipts by county for FY07, the most recent complete year available. These two sources constitute approximately 80% of the state’s general fund revenues.

Montgomery accounts for 25.8% of the state’s income tax receipts, 13.0% of its sales tax receipts and 21.2% of combined receipts in both categories. (Corporate income taxes are not included in this data.)

Tax receipts are important, but taxes do not appear out of thin air. They depend on employment, which in turn depends on business profits. The truly critical role Montgomery County plays in the state’s economy is to act as its principal base of profit and job creation. By generating one-fifth of the state’s employment, one-fourth of its personal income and one-third of its business profit, Montgomery’s economic health directly determines the state’s well-being.

But as big and robust as it is, Montgomery County is far from invulnerable. It has a direct competitor across the Potomac River. And its ability to go head-to-head with its powerful rival has a colossal impact on Maryland’s future. More on that in Part Three.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Barney Frank Battles "Hitler" Health Care Protestor


The Economic Engine of Maryland, Part One

Barry C. Watkins, CEO and president of Fidelity & Trust Bank, 6/10/05:

Montgomery County is a powerful economic engine.
Former Governor Robert Ehrlich on Montgomery County, 5/18/02:

It's the economic engine of Maryland.
Royce Hanson, Chairman, M-NCPPC, 12/22/08:

The I-270/MD 355 Corridor has become the economic engine of Maryland, helping position Montgomery County for leadership in America’s knowledge-based economy.
Senate President Mike Miller on Montgomery County, 6/1/07:

It’s like Never Neverland for other legislators of the state.
Senator Rona Kramer (D-14), 9/22/07:

The rest of the state needs to understand that if they make Montgomery County too expensive to live, there are very comfortable alternatives right across the river in Northern Virginia where they have excellent school systems and much lower taxes… We’ve never said we don't want to help the rest of the state, but you can’t hit us so hard that we can no longer function appropriately and think we’ll remain the economic engine for the rest of the state.
The term “economic engine” has been used for Montgomery County so often that it has begun to lose its meaning. Many people say it. Few say it with any real purpose. Very few understand why the county has this role. And only a tiny handful are beginning to say in public what is really happening:

This engine is wearing down. And if it breaks, the state will stop moving.

In this series, we connect the dots for you, our readers, the current and future decision-makers of the Free State. How important is the county to the state’s economy? How does it match up against its competitors? How has it performed against them? What does it cost the state to support the county’s efforts to compete? And what happens to Maryland if Montgomery County fails?

We will begin our story in Part Two.


MACO Mushroom Cloud (Updated)

At present, about 75% of all traffic to this site consists of direct entries to "Pols Party While Budget Burns." The post has now been linked by WBAL, the Ron Smith Show, the Shari Elliker Show, the Washington Post's Maryland Moment, the Examiner, Inside Charm City, O'Malley Watch, Salisbury News and the Maryland Senate Republican Caucus. This post is on its way to being the most-viewed piece in the history of MPW.

The insiders have totally missed the boat on how huge this story really is for the O'Malley administration.

Update: Now it's on Explore Baltimore County, the Baltimore Sun Forums, Newszap Forums and the Examiner (again).

Update 2: The post peaked at 78% of our traffic and produced the most-visited day in the history of MPW on Wednesday, 8/19/09.


A Single Track to Disaster

In order to make the Red Line viable for federal funding, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) chose to single-track a one-mile tunnel under Cooks Lane in western Baltimore. MTA itself has made the case for why single-track lines compromise service, passenger capacity, future growth and operational and maintenance flexibility. Here’s what they left out: single-track tunnels are not as safe as double-track tunnels. Not by a long shot.

The above picture shows what happened in Chatsworth, California, a Los Angeles suburb, about one year ago. According to the Associated Press, a freight train collided with a passenger train near a single-track tunnel. The passenger train was supposed to wait near a siding outside the tunnel but did not. The collision occurred close to the tunnel entrance.

Wikipedia provides the following account:

The 2008 Chatsworth train collision occurred at 16:22 PDT (23:22 UTC) on Friday September 12, 2008, when a Union Pacific freight train and a Metrolink commuter train collided head-on in the Chatsworth district of Los Angeles, California, in the United States. The scene of the accident was a curved section of single track on the Metrolink Ventura County Line just east of Stoney Point.

Before the collision, the Metrolink train may have run through a red signal before entering a section of single track where the opposing freight train had been given the right of way by the train dispatcher. The Metrolink train’s engineer was near the end of a work week of long split shifts, making fatigue a subject of the investigation, along with distraction from text messages he was sending while on duty. The accident remains under investigation; meanwhile the basic circumstances have been released to the public, but the official report determining probable cause is expected to take up to a year to complete.

This mass casualty event brought a massive emergency response by both the city and county of Los Angeles, but the nature and extent of physical trauma taxed the available resources. With 25 deaths, this became the deadliest accident in Metrolink’s history. Many survivors remained hospitalized for an extended period. Lawyers quickly began filing claims against Metrolink, and in total, they are expected to exceed a US$200 million liability limit set in 1997, portending the first legal challenges to that law. Issues surrounding this accident have also initiated and reinvigorated public debate on a range of topics including public relations, safety, and emergency management, which has also resulted in regulatory and legislative actions.
USA Today reported that the collision was the deadliest in the United States since an Amtrak crash in 1993. The newspaper said this about the accident:

The collision occurred on a bend in the track just before a tunnel along the Metrolink track in the Chatsworth section of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.

The line consists of only a single track heading into the narrow tunnel in a residential area.

“Thank God it (the crash) wasn’t in the tunnel — there’d be a lot more killed,” said Lt. Cheryl MacWillie, watch commander for the coroner’s office.
Chatsworth is far from the only single-track tunnel disaster in recent times. In January 2003, a French passenger train collided with an Italian passenger train in a single-track tunnel near the two countries’ border. Two Italians died. In June 2000, two trains collided at the entrance to a single-track tunnel in Zugspitze, Germany. Fifty-seven people were injured, including one man who “was flown to a hospital by helicopter after rescue workers freed his crushed legs from the wreckage.” In August 1993, twelve people were killed when a passenger train collided with a goods train in a tunnel near Vega de Anzo, Spain. Many more crashes have occurred on single-track lines not involving tunnels, including at Pecrot, Belgium (2001); Glasgow, Scotland (1989); Dahlerau, Germany (1971); Violet Town, Australia (1969); and countless others in decades before.

In March 2003, Terje Andersen and Borre Paaske published a study comparing the safety records of single tunnels to double tunnels for international risk manager DNV Consulting. They were specifically interested in smoke levels from fires. Below is their finding for smoke levels in a double tunnel, with red marking the highest smoke levels and blue marking the lowest levels:

Below is their finding for smoke levels in a single tunnel, with red marking the highest smoke levels and blue marking the lowest levels:

When Andersen and Paaske compare the fatality risk of single and double tunnels, single tunnels FAR surpass double tunnels in all scenarios. For the longest tunnels (much longer than the one planned in Baltimore), single tunnels actually have a higher fatality risk than passenger cars.

All of the above information is easily available to transportation planners and railway engineers, not to mention the general public. The Maryland Transit Administration either knew or should have known of the dangers associated with single-track tunnels at the time they proposed one for the Red Line. If they actually construct a single-track tunnel in Baltimore, they risk a disaster that could surpass Chatsworth or WMATA and join the ranks of the deadliest rail accidents in American history.

Is it worth it?