Saturday, October 31, 2009

Democratic Women's PAC Holds Campaign Training

Following is their release.

Ten days until the training, and seats are limited! Register now for our intense and comprehensive campaign training for women candidates, potential candidates, elected officials, campaign staff, volunteers and activists.

Click here for more information and to sign up.

You can also email with any questions.

The curriculum addresses four primary themes: Fundraising, Message, Planning & Strategy, and New Media, including:

Campaign budget & finance planning
Fundraising: call time, events, donor research
Organizing your campaign
Self and opposition research
Netroots & online organizing
Elements of a campaign plan
Technical components: Organizing donors, volunteers & required financial filings
Press & Earned Media
Paid media: TV/Mail/Radio
Field: Volunteer recruitment, targeting, GOTV

Date: Saturday, November 7, 2009
Time: 9:00am – 5:15pm

Location: The Laborers’ Training Center, 3200 Wilkens Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21229

Cost: $50 per Person. Scholarships are available. See contact information below.

Please RSVP By November 1, 2009 at:

Or email with any questions or to request a sign-up form by mail.

Thank you to all our training partners:

Maryland Democratic Party & The Women’s Leadership Network
Progressive Maryland
American Federation of Teachers, Maryland
Laborers’ International Union Mid-Atlantic Region Organizing Coalition
Maryland State Educators’ Association
Teachers' Association of Baltimore County

Paid for by Democratic Women's PAC of Maryland.
Elizabeth S. Glenn, Treasurer
PO Box 6763
Towson, MD 21285


Friday, October 30, 2009

Delegate Bill Frick Comments on Credit Card Vampires

By Delegate Bill Frick (D-16).

Thank you for sharing your experience at the hands of credit card vampires with MPW readers. The situation you faced is exactly what motivated me to introduce House Bill 1048 in the 2009 legislative session.

Like you, many thousands of Americans are discovering that the major credit card companies are jacking up their interest rates to astonishing levels, often more than double the rate the customer previously enjoyed. In most instances, these increases are being made to consumers that have always behaved responsibly – like you they have not missed payments and have not engaged in risky behavior to justify these dramatic changes. Even worse, the rate increases are not limited to future charges. The increases also apply to existing balances that consumers incurred in reliance on the lower rate.

It is important to remember that credit card companies do not profit from responsible lending. With credit cards, the most credit-worthy borrowers never carry a balance and therefore never pay interest. The credit card companies make their money from those borrowers that cannot afford to eliminate their debt, and are stuck paying monthly finance charges and other fees. Not surprisingly, when the economy faltered last year and many Americans lost their jobs, credit card defaults skyrocketed. In need of cash, the card companies began jacking up rates on everyone.

My bill would have prevented many of the worst abuses. We would have required banks to live up to the terms of their deals with consumers, but preserved their right to make prospective changes to account for bona fide changes in risk. We knew that federal law would eventually catch up with the rampant abuses, but we also knew that those changes would not come until 2010, long after many Marylanders had been victimized by the card companies. To help protect our consumers, the House of Delegate passed HB 1048 by a 136-1 vote. The Maryland Senate, however, killed the bill. Based on comments from one Senator on this blog, the Committee believed the banks’ allegations about the scope of my bill and preferred to wait until July 2010 for federal protections to take effect.

I’m sorry to say that we were right on this one. After Congress passed federal legislation on this subject with a 2010 effective date, the credit card companies began raising interest rates on millions of existing cardholders. Like you, the federal rules will be too late to protect most cardholders from these abuses. Had H.B. 1048 passed, Marylanders would have been protected.

Thanks to Congress, this battle is essentially over. But I know that there are many more rampant abuses of consumers and businesses in the world of credit. For example, why do businesses pay such enormous interchange fees to Visa and Mastercard – fees that increase costs to consumers? Why do tax preparation firms like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt charge outrageous interest rates to our poorest taxpayers for access to their own tax refunds, when those loans have zero risk?

In this session and beyond, I hope to tackle some of these issues. I hope that with your support and others, we’ll be able to provide vital protections to Marylanders.


Shifting Funds

By Marc Korman.

Last week I wrote about campaign finance reports for Maryland House of Representatives candidates. I received some questions about the ability of a state candidate to transfer money to a federal account. Today I will try to address the inquiries.

The context in which I discussed the issue was Delegate Herman Taylor. He is a rumored candidate for the House of Representatives against Congresswoman Donna Edwards. Back in January, Delegate Taylor’s state campaign committee had $19,000 in the bank. I found no record of a federal account and wrote that a “federal campaign committee cannot accept funds from a nonfederal campaign account.”

My meaning was that Delegate Taylor could not transfer the whole $19,000, plus whatever he has raised since, to a new federal account. But there are some things Delegate Taylor may be able to do.

FEC regulation 110.3(d) species that transfers from a nonfederal to a federal campaign account are prohibited. However, the nonfederal committee can coordinate with the federal committee to refund the state contributions and have them donated again as federal contributions. That is exactly what is unfolding in Illinois, where State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has been refunding state donations and having them resubmitted for his US Senate campaign.

Some people also asked if Delegate Taylor could make a donation, as opposed to a transfer, from his state account to his federal account within the federal limits. I have not been able to find a definitive answer to the question.

Several people who have worked on Congressional campaigns told me that the answer was no for various reasons. One asserted that state committees could never give to federal campaigns. Another said state committees could donate to federal campaigns, but not if the committees are controlled by the same candidate. Other campaign sources said a state committee could donate to a federal committee up to the legal limit for an individual contribution. Another source said state committee could give up to $1,000 a year in the aggregate to federal candidates, including themselves. All I can say is Delegate Taylor should find a good campaign finance lawyer or spend a lot more time researching the issue than I did before donating to himself.

Incidentally, Maryland has its own rules for the reverse scenario. Federal committees cannot make transfers to state committees, but they can make donations up to the legal limit of $4,000.

If Delegate Taylor or other state legislators are serious about challenging an incumbent, the clock is ticking on getting their campaign finance house in order.


MDOT Goes Schizo on Gaithersburg West

So would the Planning Board’s proposed Gaithersburg West Master Plan be a bad idea because it would gridlock local roads and require vast sums of money to redo intersections? Or would it be a good idea because it would make a light-rail CCT cost effective? According to the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), the answer is both.

In September, we reported that two MDOT subsidiaries, the State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), wrote a letter of concern to the County Council about the Gaithersburg West plan. In language expressed in an unusually strong dialect of bureaucratese, the agencies objected to the $1.3 billion cost of rebuilding interchanges that would be necessitated by the plan. They also stated their belief that the plan’s reliance on commercial space over housing would draw in commuters from other areas, thereby increasing the strain on the regional transportation network. The implication of these arguments is that the plan’s density, currently proposed at 20 million square feet of commercial space, should be reduced.

However, there may be a positive impact of the plan’s density: it could help build the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) as light rail. In July, we reported that Gaithersburg’s current density level generated ridership that would make bus rapid transit (BRT), but not light rail, competitive under federal cost effectiveness criteria. But in a new letter that we reproduce below, MTA believes that if the CCT were re-aligned through the bulked-up Science City proposed by the Gaithersburg West plan, it would gain a 15-40% boost in ridership. Since capital costs would only go up by 11-16%, the CCT might now be viable as rail. The Gazette reported that MTA’s CCT project manager told the council that the new alignment through the dense area of the plan would have a cost effectiveness range of $18-19 per hour of user benefit, which is superior to light rail on the Purple Line. But the density proposed by the Gaithersburg West plan is required to make these numbers work.

This poses an interesting question to the County Council, which will soon decide on the density to be allowed in the Gaithersburg West plan. On the one hand, almost everyone prefers rail to BRT. The County Executive, the business community, many state legislators and Action Committee for Transit are all on the record for rail. And even though the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) Committee recommended BRT, it reserved the right to change its mind if higher densities permitted the feasibility of rail. The county’s pro-rail mindset does not apply to the CCT alone, but reflects a general sense that BRT cannot handle long-run high ridership capacities and is a “second-class” option compared to trains.

But there is also intense resistance to both the scale and the form of the Gaithersburg West plan from the civic and smart growth communities. The former will fight endlessly against a “city” in their midst while the latter has not yet acknowledged the tradeoff between density and transit mode.

How will this play out at the County Council? Let’s remember that Council Members are not planners. They are unlikely to whip out spreadsheets and plat maps and rewrite the Gaithersburg West plan wholesale. But they will adjust the density levels. The current allowable density in the plan is 20 million square feet of commercial space. The County Executive would like to see 18 million. Some on the council would like to go lower. In these sorts of situations, the natural inclination of politicians is to pick a number that everyone can live with.

But this is not a conventional split-the-difference issue. The problem is that MDOT’s schizophrenic messages reflect the actual facts on the ground. The Gaithersburg West plan would require huge infrastructure costs and it would enable a light-rail CCT. Density reductions would lower costs but might also result in BRT. Council President Phil Andrews, who represents Gaithersburg, sees this tradeoff clearly. Andrews told the Gazette, “I don’t think that light rail can be the tail that wags the dog, or is the Holy Grail here, either. It’s not the end goal. The end goal is to build a better community for everybody and to figure out what that balance is." For Andrews, that means cutting density no matter what the consequences for transit mode.

How will the rest of the council see this? We’ll find out soon enough.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Van Hollen Prods DOD on BRAC Traffic

Congressman Chris Van Hollen has inserted language in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010 calling on the Department of Defense to pursue traffic mitigation measures for the expanded Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda. The bill has been passed by the House and Senate and awaits President Obama's signature.

The relevant language exists in two sections.

First, Section 2714(a)(8) instructs the Secretary of Defense to develop and implement a master plan that:

includes a community development plan that incorporates multiple options to alleviate traffic congestion related to the expansion of the National Naval Medical Center and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, including a review of options
(A) to expand adjacent highways;
(B) improvements to nearby intersections;
(C) on-facility site queuing; and
(D) multimodal expan-sion that could include expanded support for buses and subways.
Second, Section 2714(d) contains this statement as a Sense of Congress:

Given the anticipated significant increases in local traffic in the vicinity of the National Naval Medical Center, and the unusual impact that such traffic increases will have on the surrounding community due to the planned expansion of the installation, it is the sense of Congress that--
(1) multiple methods are available to the Department of Defense to implement the defense access roads program (section 210 of title 23, United States Code) to help alleviate traffic congestion, including expansion of adjacent highways, improvements
to nearby intersections, on-base queuing options, and multi-modal expansion, including expanded support of buses and subways and other measures; and
(2) all of the efforts to alleviate the significant traffic impact need to be pursued to ensure readily available access to health care at the installation.
This is not the end of the story. The county government and the surrounding communities will still have to wrangle with the military and the state government to complete the improvements on a pretty tight schedule. The old Walter Reed facility in D.C. is scheduled to close by fall 2011 and the Bethesda expansion should be finished by then. But Van Hollen has made it clear that Congress expects this work to proceed without excuses. That's a useful statement for county officials and for residents in Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

We reprint the text of this portion of the bill below.


Low Rate Credit Card Balance Transfers Available: Save. Money. Now.

By Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39).

As an elected official, I have a unique perspective to the grinding recession facing our nation. I unfortunately get to hear from too many of my constituents who are suffering from the poor economy. Day after day after day my inbox is filled with depressingly similar stories: Down-on-their-luck families facing lost jobs, mortgages slipping into foreclosure and utilities threatening shutoff. Too often the most I can do is lend a sympathetic ear or refer them to a County/State/Federal programs that might or might not help. It's not a very satisfying feeling.

But I am aware of one easy way that my constituents can save some serious cash. And I think I owe it to your readers to share it far and wide. In advance of the stringent rules enacted by the Federal Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights, credit card companies are raising their rates. A lot. My constituents have gotten notices saying that their APR will be rising to a mind-blowing 29.9% within 30 days. These constituents have balances that cannot be readily be paid off. What can they do to avoid being hammered?

If they have good credit, they can apply for - and will likely be approved for - a platinum credit card from the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. This card offers a sweet 4.99% APR on transferred balances (not new purchases) for 24 months. The one-time balance transfer fee is 2.5% but capped at $100. They are offering generous credit lines. One happy constituent was just approved for $25,000. On a $10,000 balance, that's a savings of as much as $2,400 per year. It works for me, so it could work for you.

BTW, you needn't be a member of the military to join this credit union. Anyone can join for a measly $5 over-the-phone payment. Do it now. Call: 1-800-247-5626. They are even open late: until 1 am EST for nocturnal people like me!

- Saqib


If you are wondering, No, I'm not making a penny off of this recommendation. PFCU doesn't even know that I'm blogging about them. It's just a good little secret that I heard that I didn't think I should keep to myself. If this helps you, please post a note in the comments. Please remember to sign your full name in the body of your comment otherwise it may not be printed.


Credit Card Vampires Out for Blood

Ever think that even though the credit card companies are going after everyone else, they won’t come for you? I used to believe that too until I received the following notice in the mail. But these vampires came after the wrong blogger, and I am fighting back!

Check out the following notice that arrived in an unremarkable, non-descript envelope. I almost threw it out without looking at it.

Citibank informed me that they intended to jack up my rate to 29.99% unless I opted out. Bear in mind that I have had this credit card since 1990 and make payments on it every month, usually every two weeks. They offered me a chance to be eligible for a payback of 10% of my interest as long as I paid once a month, making the rate essentially 27%. If I turned down the terms, the card would lapse on its expiration date, which in my case is November 2010.

So I called them to opt out. Their representative informed me of the “opportunity” for the 10% interest payback, which did not sway me. Then his manager got on the line to offer me a “special” deal: a rate of 27.99% for six months, after which the 29.99% would become effective. When that didn’t work, he offered me a “super” deal: 25.99% for the first six months. None of that would make me put down the garlic.

So I asked him why I was targeted. He admitted that I was “an excellent customer” with “zero chance of default,” but claimed that Citibank’s lenders were raising their interest rates, causing the bank to pass them on to customers. So a pair of fangs is buried in Citibank’s neck, driving them to search out the tender necks of others.

Back, forces of evil! I opted out despite the “special” and “super” deals, but only because I was lucky enough to open the envelope. Otherwise I’d be a nightwalker myself.

Can’t anyone stop the relentless march of the undead?


Inside the MPW Datafile

Once again, we are releasing the results of our leading posts and search terms as measured by Statcounter. Here are the most-read stories from August 23 through October 25, which represents approximately our last 100,000 page views.

Top Stories, 8/23/09 – 10/25/09

1. Montgomery College President Wanted for Arrest in Arizona
2. Pols Party While Budget Burns
3. A Voice from the Other Half: Montgomery College Part-Time Faculty Member Speaks
4. Zina Pierre and the District 30 Dilemma
5. Hunk of the Hill Runs for Delegate
6. Johnson Arrest Warrant Case Gets Stranger
7. MoCo Primaries to Watch, Part Three
8. Gazette Makes More Cuts
9. Montgomery College Arrest Warrant Story Explodes
10. State Legislators Get Free E-ZPasses
11. How to Save Money on Your Electric Bill Right Now
12. O’Malley Cuts, Perez Slices
13. Compassion Trumps Pocketbook: Maryland Voters Support Increase in Alcohol Tax
14. Forehand Fights Back
15. Montgomery County’s Most Influential People, Part Three
16. Smoking Out Saqib Ali
17. What the Montgomery College Board of Trustees Should Do Now
18. Saqib Ali and Nancy King Discuss Progressive Issues, Part Three
19. Herman Taylor Closer to Running Against Donna Edwards
20. Fireproof Fred

Now here are the most-read stories since May 30, when our Statcounter subscription started. This period represents roughly 200,000 page views, or about one-third of the total activity on this blog.

Top Stories, 5/30/09 – 10/25/09

1. Pols Party While Budget Burns
2. Montgomery College President Wanted for Arrest in Arizona
3. A Voice from the Other Half: Montgomery College Part-Time Faculty Member Speaks
4. How to Save Money on Your Electric Bill Right Now
5. More Warnings of State Budget Apocalypse
6. Zina Pierre and the District 30 Dilemma
7. People with Developmental Disabilities at Risk of Losing Services
8. Hunk of the Hill Runs for Delegate
9. The MACO Moment
10. Is WMATA Management Starting to Crack?
11. Johnson Arrest Warrant Case Gets Stranger
12. MoCo Primaries to Watch, Part Three
13. Young Guns of MoCo, Part Two
14. Gazette Makes More Cuts
15. MACO Mushroom Cloud
16. Funniest Facebook Status of the Day
17. Saqib Ali and Nancy King Discuss Progressive Issues, Part Two
18. Eli El’s Domestic Abuse Record
19. Montgomery College Arrest Warrant Story Explodes
20. Young Guns of MoCo, Part Four

Statcounter allows us to see the search terms used by people to access this blog. We published a list of the leading terms from May 30 through August 23 in a previous post. Here are the leading terms from August 23 through October 25.

1. Montgomery
2. Brian Johnson
3. Montgomery College
4. Sligo Golf
5. Budget
6 (tie). Pagnucco
6 (tie). Taxes
8. Disabled/Disability
10. Saqib Ali
11 (tie). O’Malley
11 (tie). Electric
13. Helicopter
14. Baltimore
15. E-ZPass
16. Jeremy Rosendale
17. Facebook
18. Slots
19. WMATA/Metro
20. I-270

Once again, cyberspace sensation Saqib Ali leads all other Maryland politicians! Will he be able to maintain his spot? We’ll find out in a couple months.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

O'Malley: State Agencies Should Prioritize Transit-Oriented Development

Governor Martin O'Malley has just issued an Executive Order directing state agencies to consider proximity to transit stations as a criterion in planning their office space. In Maryland, land-use planning is a function of county governments and local agencies like M-NCPPC, so the state's ability to influence development is limited. But the Governor's action is an important way to promote transit use because state agencies can serve as anchors for bigger projects. We reprint his press release and a copy of his order below.


State agencies directed to consider the proximity of transit as a key factor when determining placement of State office space and laboratories

ANNAPOLIS, MD (October 27, 2009) – Governor Martin O’Malley today announced the issuance of an Executive Order designed to focus future development around the state’s transit facilities. The order directs state agencies to formally evaluate the potential of locating state office space and laboratories in developments adjacent to transit stations when seeking space in the future. The order outlines specific criteria that must be considered as part of the selection process.

“Transit Oriented Development is a critical component of our Smart, Green and Growing initiative aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, sprawl development and traffic congestion, while fostering economic growth,” said Governor O’Malley. “State government must lead by example. When building or leasing space for offices in the future, we will be prioritizing sites that are within walking distance of transit stations.”

Under the Executive Order, it is now a policy of the state to locate state office or laboratory space within a half-mile radius of transit stations at a TOD whenever appropriate and feasible. The order also directs the Department of General Services and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to include a transit evaluation factor in all requests for proposal to lease or purchase office or lab space. The Executive Order does include exceptions if it is determined that locating state office space or labs near transit is not appropriate.

Transit Oriented Development creates compact, walkable neighborhoods around transit stations. TOD increases transit ridership by creating destinations within a short walk of stations. It also offers residents a convenient commute to jobs, shopping and entertainment in the region. MDOT is currently focused on six TOD projects located in Baltimore City, Owings Mills, Savage, Odenton, Laurel and Wheaton. MDOT is also working with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to promote TOD at its stations.

Governor O’Malley’s Executive Order is the latest step taken by the state to make TOD a reality in Maryland. During the 2009 legislative session, the General Assembly granted local governments greater authority to use tax increment financing and special taxing districts at TODs to enable the financing of critical infrastructure for TOD projects. In 2008, the legislature declared TOD as a formal “transportation purpose.” The measure removes legal road blocks to TOD, giving MDOT greater flexibility to use its capital budget and property to support TOD projects.

A copy of Governor O’Malley’s Executive Order is attached. Additional information on the O’Malley-Brown administration’s TOD initiative can be found at the following link:



SEIU Local 500 Declares Impasse with Montgomery College

SEIU Local 500, which won a campaign to represent Montgomery College’s adjunct professors in June 2008, has reached deadlock with the administration on a new contract. That does not bode well for the new college President who replaced Brian Johnson in September.

Union organizing in the public sector is supposed to be easier than in the hard-as-nails private sector. (Disclosure: your author has tossed around a few of those nails and has also sat on a couple of them in fifteen years in the labor movement.) But SEIU’s campaign put the lie to that myth. When the adjuncts began organizing, former President Johnson brought in a union-busting consultant to spread negative propaganda about unions to their colleagues. The college also claimed that the adjuncts were not really public employees and thus were not eligible for collective bargaining. But Johnson eventually backed down and SEIU won a 365-105 vote to represent the adjuncts.

Johnson dragged his feet on a contract until various revelations prompted his ouster in September. But new interim President Hercules Pinkney has not concluded a contract with the adjuncts either, prompting a declaration of impasse by SEIU. The local told the adjuncts:

After more than a year of difficult negotiations with the Montgomery College Board of Trustees, we’re disappointed to report that we’ve reached an impasse with the college over just one issue: money.

We’ve resolved all the other points of contention. Our contract, once approved by you, will bring part-time faculty higher ESH limits and greater job security then we've ever had. It also includes a commitment from the college to work with us toward a permanent solution to pay inequity between full-time and part-time faculty for in-classroom instruction, as well as to explore health insurance options for us.

However, the college has proposed no improvements in pay for part-time faculty this year, despite the fact that the college provided pay increases and bonuses to full-time faculty and classified staff.
The pay issue was one of the most critical reasons why the adjuncts sought out SEIU for representation. Prior to the organizing campaign, adjuncts were paid $880 per credit hour, much less than the $3,038 per credit hour paid to full-time professors for the same work. That means an adjunct teaching four three-hour courses in each of two semesters would make just $21,120 per year, a poverty-level income in Montgomery County. The issue is particularly acute considering that adjuncts outnumber full-time faculty by two-to-one.

It’s intolerable that a county that emphasizes education as much as Montgomery would sanction poverty level incomes for professors who teach at its community college. The new administration must strike a deal on the contract and put this issue to rest.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Creative Campaigning

Former Delegate Cheryl Kagan (D-17), who is challenging incumbent Senator Jennie Forehand, held a contest among her supporters to craft a new drink called a "Cheryl-tini" in her honor. The drink's recipe was unveiled at her fundraiser tonight. Just tell us this isn't the most creative campaign flyer so far of the 2010 cycle.


Ben Kramer is Raising Money

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) is holding a fundraiser on November 8. So what's unusual about that? Plenty.

Kramer is a wealthy commercial property owner and developer whose family has long been a force in the county's political and business communities. His family's company, Kramer Enterprises, owns over 100 commercial properties across the region and has served as a cash cow for the family's political races. In his runs for Delegate in 2006 (which succeeded) and the County Council District 4 seat in 2009 (which did not), Ben Kramer received $220,450 from himself and just $14,326 from outside contributors.

So why is Kramer now interested in raising money? His father, Sid, the former County Executive, recently said this about the commercial real estate industry:

Sid Kramer, president of Kramer Enterprises in Silver Spring, Md., runs more than 100 commercial real estate properties throughout the region. A former county executive, Kramer took part in Berliner’s March 26 summit: He said this is the worst economy he’s seen in decades.

“I would estimate that 30 to 40 percent [of area businesses] have either closed, are on the brink of closing, or are being carried by their landlords,” meaning tenants aren’t paying rent. “It would be very helpful to both the tenant and the landlord to carry the responsible tenants through this downturn in the economy.”
Does this mean the family business is hurting and unable to finance six-digit campaign bills?

Of course, there may be another reason. Ben Kramer may be preparing to run a race that's more expensive than a Delegate contest. Like, maybe, just maybe... County Council. And maybe even At-Large.

Here's his solicitation.


Too Rich for Furloughs

As we wrote yesterday, we believe that state legislators are paid too little relative to their job duties. That threatens to shrink the pool of competent people willing to serve and it is one reason why we have not made a big deal about their giving up furlough days in line with state employees. But a few state legislators are genuinely wealthy and would not miss the money, so they have no excuse not to give their pay back to the general fund. Here are three who spent at least $50,000 on their own political campaigns but have turned up their noses at giving back any part of their salaries to the state.

Senator Edward J. Pipkin (R-36)
Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s Counties

Self-Financing, Federal Campaigns: $2,579,057
Self-Financing, State Campaigns: $573,000
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2009: 0
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2010: 0 (So far)

Few people in Maryland’s history, if any, have spent more on their own political races than E.J. Pipkin. A Wall Street trader who made millions selling junk bonds, Pipkin loaned himself $573,000 to knock out six-term Democratic Senate incumbent Walter Baker in 2002. Two years later, Pipkin contributed $1,591,057, or 70% of his receipts, to his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign against Barbara Mikulski. But Pipkin was not through trying to buy elections, giving himself another $988,000 – 92% of his receipts – to run unsuccessfully in the Congress District 1 primary against Andy Harris.

Pipkin’s ability to turn on the cash spigot is unparalleled. He once lived in a 9,792-square-foot mansion in Stevensville which he sold for $4.5 million on 9/25/06. Whether he used those proceeds to pay himself back for the race against Mikulski or to finance his race against Andy Harris – or maybe both – is unknown. But Pipkin hasn’t gone to the poorhouse. His new spread in Elkton is right next to “The Club of Patriots Glen,” described as a “must-play course” by Washington Golf Monthly.

Pipkin lives by the rules of the super-rich: do what you want, when you want. And while other legislators send their pay back to the state, Pipkin feels no such obligation. He is just too rich for furloughs.

Delegate William Anthony McConkey (R-33A)
Anne Arundel County

Self-Financing, Federal Campaigns: NA
Self-Financing, State Campaigns: $200,950
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2009: 0
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2010: 0 (So far)

Tony McConkey is a lawyer, real estate broker and property manager who spent $107,950 to get himself elected to an Anne Arundel Delegate seat in 2002. He followed up with another $93,000 in self-financing in 2006.

It’s a mystery how McConkey makes his money since he spends so much time in court as a defendant. He has been sued in 22 different cases in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel County courts since 1991. Among the parties who have sued him are the IRS, the State of Maryland and Prince George’s County, all of whom filed tax liens against him. The state’s lien totaled $12,703.54; the other amounts are not listed on the dockets.

The most infamous anti-McConkey suit was filed by Pasadena resident Teresa Milligan, who alleged that he tricked her into selling her house to him when it was threatened with foreclosure in 2006. Two years later, McConkey filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to delay his jury trial. The jury ultimately found him guilty of violating state law, but only required him to pay $10,800. A triumphant McConkey proclaimed, “I feel vindicated.” A judge later hiked the penalty to $109,000 in damages and attorneys fees.

Unlike Pipkin, McConkey may have a good excuse for not surrendering furlough pay to the state. He could very well need the money for the next lawsuit.

Senator Andy Harris (R-7)
Baltimore and Harford Counties

Self-Financing, Federal Campaigns: $0
Self-Financing, State Campaigns: $65,000
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2009: 0
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2010: 0 (So far)

Andy Harris is a three-term Senator who is an obstetric anesthesiologist by trade. He earns a comfortable living that has enabled him to make one $10,000 contribution and four different $10,000 loans to his state campaigns. Unlike Pipkin, he did not self-finance his run for the First District Congressional seat.

Harris is one of the most conservative Senators in Maryland, especially on economic issues. He has lead-sponsored bills calling for a super-majority to raise taxes, a super-majority to pass new spending and a reduction in the sales tax. He describes himself on his website as “a leading advocate for taxpayer rights” and “a fiscal conservative, fighting to keep taxes low and limit government expansion.” Besides running for Congress, Harris is best known for waging his “Porn War” against the University of Maryland.

Andy Harris is anti-spending except when the state’s money is headed into his pocket. Like Pipkin and McConkey, he has not given back furlough days to the state last year or this year.

Some legislators who have not given back furlough days say they will donate their pay to charity instead. Delegate H. Wayne Norman (R-35A) made that argument while comparing his state government to the bankrupt General Motors. There are two problems with that position. First, payment to a charity is inherently unverifiable unless the legislator produces a copy of a canceled check. Second, conservatives like Pipkin, McConkey, Harris and Norman rant endlessly about the need to reduce government spending. Paying a charity rather than returning furlough money redirects spending rather than reducing it. It’s a hollow argument with little credibility given that the legislators’ wallets are involved.

So why make excuses? Act like a conservative, give back the money and cut the budget. Otherwise, these fellows are conservatives only with regard to other people’s needs and are free-spending liberals when it comes to their own.


Monday, October 26, 2009

SHA Answers Council’s Questions on I-270

The County Council sent a list of questions to the State Highway Administration (SHA) about the I-270 project and SHA has responded. Here are the questions and answers that caught our attention.

The Alternative Analysis/Environmental Assessment stipulates that the funding strategy for the I2-70 widening would be a combination of Federal highway funds, State transportation funds, and toll revenue. What are the anticipated funding amounts from each of these revenue sources? (An estimated range for each would suffice.)

There are insufficient future federal allocations to the State of Maryland to accommodate a project of the magnitude of the entire I-270 improvements. As the CCT is funded through the next phase and the highway portion is not, the highway portion will be slightly different and proceed at a different pace. The highway portion of this multi-modal study will progress as several breakout projects once we are in a position to look at allocating funding for future phases of the project. At that time, MDOT will assess the appropriate funding sources (Federal, State, bonds, etc.) that are available to fund the various types of breakout projects, including the transit portion.

Our Take:
MDOT does not know how it would fund I-270 widening, but it plans on breaking the project up into smaller pieces. That might make it easier to schedule financing, but it will delay completion of the entire project by years.

Please identify the Federal aid programs from which funding the I-270 widening is anticipated. Which of these programs currently allow funding to be “flexed” from highways to transit and which do not?

The majority of federal highway funds can be flexed either between specific highway programs or from highway to transit. To provide one example, up to 50 percent of the National Highway System (NHS) funds can be transferred to the Surface Transportation Program (STP) category. Up to 100 percent can be transferred to the STP category if approved by the Secretary of USDOT to be in the public interest. NHS funds cannot be flexed directly to transit; however, any amount of STP funds can be flexed from highways to transit. Because of the insufficient future of funding allocations, it would be premature for MDOT to specify the programs from which funding for the project is anticipated.

Are these statements about the Transportation Trust Fund, from MDOT’s web site, still true? “All funds dedicated to the Department are deposited in the Trust Fund and disbursements for all programs and projects are made from the Trust Fund. Revenues are not earmarked for specific programs…” “The Transportation Trust Fund permits the State tremendous flexibility to meet the needs of a diverse transportation system.”

This comment is true for the State funds. Federal funds, however, are disbursed through the FHWA and FTA, independently. On the State level, while the flexibility is there, there is a limit to the funds available for highway and transit projects and how they will be distributed throughout the state. FHWA funds can be used for bus/HOV lanes where they are feasible, or for creating park and ride lots, or other Transportation System Management/Transportation Demand Management (TSM/TDM) measures. FHWA funds cannot be directly used for transit-only capital improvements on new alignments; they come under the purview of the FTA, and funds would need to be shifted at the federal level.

Our Take:
This addresses a key question: can highway money be moved dollar-for-dollar to transit projects? The answer is yes for state money. But there are restrictions on how the state can spend federal money that can only be resolved by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

If toll-backed bonds (i.e. GARVEE bonds) are used for this project, what is the anticipated debt service/interest obligation that the State will incur (expressed either as a range or absolute dollars or as a % of the total principal financed)? Will bond-financing for this project limit the ability of the State to bond-finance transit projects, and if not, what would be the impact on its bond-rating?

GARVEE bonds are backed by future federal-aid allocations to the State. State law currently caps the amount of GARVEE bonds that can be issued in Maryland to the $750 million committed to the ICC project. Because of the insufficient future of funding allocations, it would be premature for MDOT to specify the financing from which funding for the project is anticipated.

Our Take:
The General Assembly normally has no control over which transportation projects get built. But if toll-backed bonds are used to finance I-270 – a virtual certainty if the project goes forward – the legislature will have to approve a hike in the state’s debt limit. That guarantees some interesting politicking down the road.

What is your initial analysis of the cost and benefits of the all-transit alternative offered by the Action Committee for Transit (attached)?

The proposal set forth by Action Committee for Transit (ACT) is of such a magnitude as to require considerable time and effort to fully analyze costs and benefits. Our initial preliminary analysis of the all-transit alternative proposed by ACT is such that it would not benefit the full range of transportation-system users within the I-270 Multi-Modal Study project area, such as freight carriers and through route long distance travelers. It also appears that the Vision 270 plan has not been analyzed using a recent transportation and land use model that reflects future conditions, whereas the corridor alternatives in the I-270 study were analyzed using the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (MWCOG) land use and transportation models which do take into consideration future conditions.

What would be the time-delay and cost of studying this or other all-transit alternatives in comparison to the I-270 widening options?

The study team already performed a preliminary study of an all-transit alternative prior to the issuance of the DEIS. Based on capital costs and proposed ridership, none of the all-transit alternatives, other than the use of express bus on an improved I-270 linked with the Corridor Cities Transitway, provided user benefits that would meet both the cost effectiveness criteria established by the FTA and the purpose and need for the Multi-Modal Study. The results of the all-transit alternatives that were dropped from further study prior to the DEIS only provided a modest decrease in vehicle miles of travel (VMT) on I-270.

Essentially, this would re-start the NEPA process for each project, including the CCT. These projects would need to go through NEPA and each be independently developed using the FTA New Starts project planning and development process in order to receive federal transit funds. The process is time consuming to complete and can require well over a decade to get a project through planning and design, construction and initiation of operation, and would cost several millions of dollars.

Our Take:
MDOT believes ACT’s all-transit plan could not meet federal cost effectiveness criteria. Further, MDOT claims that studying that plan would delay the CCT by restarting the planning process for the entire I-270 corridor. Did anyone tell the state legislators who signed the letter advocating for the all-transit option about this?

This response gives ammunition to both supporters and opponents of the I-270 project. We reprint it in full below.


The Real Scandal of Legislative Pay

The recent talk about which state legislators are giving up part of their salaries to match state employee furlough days obscures a much, much larger issue with legislative pay. The real scandal of legislative pay is:

It’s way too low.

During this term, state legislators are paid $43,500 while the presiding officers (the Senate President and Speaker of the House) make $56,500. Here is how those salaries compare to a few other occupations in Maryland as of 2008 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Dentists: $145,060
Lawyers: $125,980
Management Occupations: $105,450
Civil Engineers: $80,540
Architects: $79,800
Registered Nurses: $74,370
Senate President/Speaker: $56,500
Electricians: $50,040
Paralegals: $48,490
Chefs and Head Cooks: $44,130
Correctional Officers: $43,890
State Legislators: $43,500
Truck Drivers, Heavy: $39,770
Hairdressers: $30,690
Security Guards: $30,430
Construction Laborers: $30,290
Retail Salespersons: $25,140
Janitors: $23,130

So state legislators are paid about as much as prison guards. And paralegals are actually paid more than the people who pass the state’s laws!

But wait – aren’t legislators part-time officials? Not really. While it’s true that the General Assembly is only in session for three months every year, many legislators spend lots of time answering emails, attending community events and holding large and small meetings all year round. Maryland’s legislators estimate that they spend 70% of the time they would devote to a full-time job to their state duties, about 30 hours per week. But because they earn pennies from the state, many of them are forced to seek outside employment to pay the bills. Those legislators have to hold down two jobs, not an easy feat when an employer has to give up three months to satisfy the demands of the General Assembly. Many bosses will not give up those months, further shrinking the employment options of legislators.

And so smart people with families and successful careers are actually deterred from seeking office. Who has the time to raise staggering amounts of political contributions, perform two demanding jobs at a high level and deal with the spouse and kids? Think about the pool of people who don’t face those sorts of constraints: the independently wealthy, the self-employed, retirees, the unemployable and the self-obsessed. Is it in our interest to give these folks an advantage over everyone else?

We do not write this essay from the perspective of coddling the politicians. Lord knows we have zapped them many, many times on this blog. But legislative pay is important for citizens who require high quality public service. It is high time that we act like employers, which is exactly what we are in relationship to our elected officials. Smart employers pay competitive salaries, have high expectations, give their workers the tools they need to perform their jobs and fire them when they don’t work out. Our current system for employing state legislators, which features low pay, low expectations and low accountability, bears no resemblance to that model.

Take it from a building trades guy: when it comes to labor, you get what you pay for. If you underpay the roofers, you’ll get a wet attic. If you underpay the plumbers, you’ll get a wet basement. If you underpay the electricians, you might get an electrical fire. And if you underpay state legislators, you will get a statehouse dominated by leadership, lobbyists and bureaucrats, which is pretty much what we have in Maryland.

And so we have not previously pressed the issue of legislators’ giving up pay to match the state employees’ furlough days. When people who are expected to sort out complicated issues, write legislation, debate it, cast informed votes, perform constituent service and put up with rogue bloggers are paid as much as prison guards, they are clearly not compensated in line with their job duties. But we are not going to let them all off the hook.

You see, there is a sub-class of legislators who are independently wealthy and don’t need their state pay at all. Three of them have spent over $50,000 of their own money on their political campaigns but don’t see fit to give back any part of their state salaries when the budget, and the state’s workforce, are in dire trouble. If anyone can afford to give up some pay, it’s these people. Tomorrow, we will reveal who they are.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Slots and Reality Still Don’t Mix

By Rob Annicelli.

In a desperate attempt to help aid the faltering Cordish bid for slots zoning approval at Arundel Mills, Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold “decried a proposal for a new site for a casino in the county as a de facto ‘prohibition’ on slot machines.”

This is a pretty incredible statement for him to make given that he helped to stop slots legislation as a state delegate for a number of years by opposing former Governor Bob Ehrlich’s attempt to locate slots at racetracks. But he then went on to make the claim that not permitting slots at the Arundel Mills Mall would cost the County $30 million dollars per year, making a flawed assumption that there will be no slots in Anne Arundel County if they are not at Arundel Mills. Well, not quite. For Leopold to be correct, one would have to suspend reality and assume no one would want to bid on the closest slots license to the Washington D.C region simply because Leopold did not get his way and slots were not permitted at his preferred site.

Slots have a long and sordid history in this state. The ‘False Choice’ of Arundel Mills or nothing being presented by some politicians is another example of the corrupting influence of gambling. Leopold was correct for the many years before he became a slots supporter, and should have never switched.

Mr. Leopold, is $30 million per year, or 1.5% of the Anne Arundel County budget, really worth all the harm in the form of increased traffic and crime it will bring to the residents of your County?

Rob Annicelli
Stop Slots at Arundel Mills


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Audrey Scott's Campaign Video for GOP Chair


Friday, October 23, 2009

MoCo Non-Profits Protest Safety Net Cuts in D.C.

A coalition of non-profits in Montgomery County has sent a letter to the Mayor and City Council in the District of Columbia protesting budget cuts targeting vulnerable people. This should be no surprise given that need knows no borders. We reprint the letter below.

October 9, 2009

Honorable Adrian Fenty
Executive Office of the Mayor
1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Suite 316
Washington, DC 20004

Honorable Vincent C. Gray
Council Chairman
1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Mr. Fenty and Mr. Gray:

As partners in service to the vulnerable, the Safety Net Coalition of Montgomery County writes to urge re-consideration of the recent serious cuts to services to the vulnerable in the District of Columbia. As part of the safety net in our community dedicated to serving the most vulnerable of our neighbors, we know there is a long list of needed services that should be funded to alleviate the challenges faced by our low income community. We also know that the District, the metropolitan region and Federal government are facing revenue challenges because of the recession.

The failing economy is being felt at every level in our community. As a neighboring jurisdiction, we are inter-related in community need and ability to respond to that need. Revenues are reduced and needs are growing. Economic pressures and anxieties make every day more difficult and dangerous for those we serve. Our fragile safety net is fraying, and we are asking you for leadership in this difficult time.

We speak as One Voice for the Vulnerable on behalf of those we serve, regardless of the street or zip code. We urge you to:

1. Protect your most vulnerable residents by prioritizing and holding harmless safety net services (such as food, clothing and shelter) as difficult budget decisions are enacted.

2. Make budget reductions in a systemic way. Consider how multiple cuts across Departments affect not only individuals but also the nonprofits, congregations and public sector agencies providing these services.

3. Consider the cumulative effects of “cuts” to the nonprofit community on their ability to leverage District dollars. Even as nonprofits offer millions of private sector and Federal dollars on an ongoing basis to the District – these dollars are shrinking also.

4. Recognize that nonprofits and congregations are prime providers of critical social services in the District of Columbia.

Too many of our neighbors are without adequate services and decent housing and the numbers are increasing. The most vulnerable in our community must not be left to compete with non-critical expenses. We recognize that the budget must address many important safety, health and education issues. However, as a compassionate and responsible community, we urge you to sustain program funding for our most vulnerable.

We appreciate your leadership and support of these important matters.

With best regards,
Rebecca Wagner
Executive Director
Interfaith Works

Sharon Friedman
Executive Director
Mental Health Association
(301) 424-0656 – Ext. 510

Sharan London
Executive Director
Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless
(301) 217-0314

Tim Wiens
Executive Director
Jubilee Association of Maryland, Inc.
(301) 949-8628 - Ext. 105

The Safety Net Coalition: One Voice for the Vulnerable
• A Wider Circle
• Abilities Network
• African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation
• Am Kolel Sanctuary
• Arc of Montgomery County
• Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center
• Bethesda Cares
• Caribbean Help Center
• Casa de Maryland
• Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington
• Center for Adoption Support and Education
• CHI, Inc.
• City of Gaithersburg
• Collaboration Council
• Community Ministries of Rockville
• Community Support Services, Inc.
• Crittenton Services of Greater Washington
• Dwelling Place
• Gandhi Brigade
• Gaithersburg HELP
• GUIDE, Inc.
• Holy Cross Hospital
• Hughes Neighborhood Housing
• Identity, Inc.
• Impact Silver Spring
• Interfaith Works
• Jewish Community Relations Council
• Jewish Council on Aging
• Jewish Foundation for Group Homes
• Jewish Social Service Agency
• Jubilee Association of Maryland
• Justice and Advocacy Council of Montgomery County, Archdiocese of Washington
• Korean Community Service Center
• Latin American Youth Center/Maryland Multicultural Youth Center
• League of Women Voters, Montgomery County
• Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute of Catholic Charities
• Liberty's Promise
• Manna Food Center
• Maryland Vietnamese Mutual Association
• Mental Health Association of Montgomery County
• Mercy Clinic
• Mobile Medical Care
• Montgomery Alliance
• Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless
• Montgomery Housing Partnership
• NAMI Montgomery County
• National Center for Children and Families
• Potomac Community Resources
• Premier Homecare
• Primary Care Coalition
• Rainbow Place
• Reginald S. Lourie Center for Infants and Young Children
• Rock Creek Foundation
• SecureCare Services
• Shepherd's Table
• Silver Spring Interfaith Housing Coalition
• St. Luke's House
• Suburban Hospital
• Threshold Services
• Women Who Care Ministries
• YMCA of Metropolitan Washington

cc: Rev. Jim Dickerson, MANNA


What I Will Teach My Kid About Politics

As every reader knows, Baby Olson Pagnucco (now known as Andres) has arrived. Now we will have to teach the next generation the way of things. That means saying please and thank you, brushing teeth, tying shoes and not repeating every bad word that comes out of Daddy’s mouth. But in my house, it also means early lessons in politics. You can never start too young! Here is what I will teach my kid about politics.

Politicians usually don’t lie. They just play “let’s make pretend” a little too much.

If a politician knocks on the door, just tell them we’re voting for Sarah Palin. They won’t stick around for long.

If a politician asks you for money, just cry until they stop asking. This works well for Daddy.

If a politician promises you a great present for your birthday, don’t be surprised if it’s just clothes. It’s not you – they do that to everybody.

If I hear you say “Purple Line,” I will know you’re spending too much time with George Leventhal.

If I hear you say, “The Devil is in the details,” I will know you’re spending too much time with Nancy Floreen.

If I hear you say, “Project area transportation review,” you won’t be going back to Marc Elrich’s house for a long time.

If you hear me say that your toy purchase habits are “unsustainable,” that means your Dad is spending too much time with Phil Andrews.

Do you see that woman who’s making those three hundred people in the yellow T-shirts clap? Yes, that’s Aunt Valerie!

You are not allowed to watch a County Council hearing in which Gino Renne testifies before Phil Andrews until you’re 17. And even then, not without parents around.

“Big Daddy” is not your Daddy after a long Sunday of football games and wings. No, it’s that nice old man from Annapolis who breaks into the house at night and sends some of your toys to Baltimore.

The only thing you need to know about the death penalty is that it’s the reason Daddy can’t take cell phone calls from politicians after 7 PM. That’s why if is he is on the phone, your job is to tell Mommy that it’s somebody from work.

Here’s what taxes are. For every four scoops of baby food you get, one scoop goes to Rockville, one scoop goes to Annapolis and two scoops go to Washington DC. The babies who live there are really big, really loud and need a lot to eat!

What is a state budget deficit? Think of it this way: the state has poopied in two billion diapers and can’t afford to buy any new ones!


Thursday, October 22, 2009

House Campaign Finance Reports (Updated)

By Marc Korman.

Campaign finance reports for the US House of Representatives have been released for the third quarter, covering July 1st to September 30th. The reports for the 1st, 4th, and 8th Congressional Districts of Maryland help set the stage for the 2010 election year.

1st Congressional District

Maryland’s most endangered incumbent is Congressman Frank Kratovil. His seat is the only one in Maryland that will receive national attention in 2010.

Kratovil raised $222,257 in the third quarter and has $691,205 cash on hand. State Senator Andy Harris was Kratovil’s opponent in 2008 and they will likely face off again in 2010. Harris raised $179,306 last quarter and has $313,055 cash on hand. In the last election, Kratovil expended almost $2 million and Harris around $3 million, though Harris had to beat an incumbent to win the primary. Their rematch will be expensive and bitter. Kratovil is off to a good start with his fundraising.

4th Congressional District

Congresswoman Donna Edwards raised only $39,191 and has just $55,742 cash on hand. She has the smallest balance of any Maryland incumbent and her fundraising has declined each quarter of 2009. She has also been spending actively, with recorded expenditures of over $227,000 during the campaign cycle so far.

The 4th Congressional District will not be going Republican any time soon, but Edwards may have a primary challenge. As Adam has highlighted, District 14 Delegate Herman Taylor may be running. Delegate Taylor does not have a federal account. In January, his state account had over $19,000 in it. But according to FEC regulations, federal campaign committees cannot accept funds from a nonfederal campaign account.

Delegate Taylor or other potential challengers should not be fooled by Congresswoman Edwards’ slow fundraising. Her donors may have been fatigued from her efforts in 2006 and 2008, but she has raised her national profile among progressives while in office and will be able to raise substantial funds if necessary. She raised almost $1.5 million for her successful 2008 campaigns.

8th Congressional District

Congressman Chris Van Hollen raised $170,926 in the third quarter, giving him $2.9 million cash on hand. Van Hollen will likely have just a token Republican opponent next year. Most of Van Hollen’s funds will go towards fellow Democrats that he is charged with protecting as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). In the 2008 campaign cycle, Van Hollen donated $715,000 to the DCCC and Maryland Democratic Party.

The other House districts in Maryland are pretty quiet. Republican Roscoe Bartlett’s potential challenger, Andrew Duck, raised under $5,000 so far this year. Maryland’s other four Democratic House members all have ample cash on hand of over half a million dollars each.

Update: One of MPW’s readers alerted me to Casey Clark, another Democratic candidate in District 6 seeking to challenge Congressman Bartlett. Mr. Clark has raised $69,529 so far this year including $18,900 in the most recent fundraising quarter.


Growth Policy Panel Discussion

The Town of Chevy Chase, Citizens Coordinating Committee for Friendship Heights, Town of Somerset, Edgemoor Citizens Association, and East Bethesda Citizens Association will host a panel discussion on "Proposed Changes to the Growth and Zoning Policies" on Monday, October 26 from 7 to 9 p.m at the Town of Chevy Chase Town Hall located in the Jane E. Lawton Center, 4301 Willow Lane.

Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson, former Planning Board member Meredith Wellington, Chamber of Commerce representative Patricia Harris, and Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board member and East Bethesda resident Ilaya Hopkins will discuss the new proposals in a public forum moderated by Charles Duffy, host of MMCTV’s Political Pulse.


Cut County Cable Montgomery

Many times, we have heard elected leaders complain that their constituents are quick to defend programs and slow to suggest cuts in times of deficit. Today, we have heard their pleas and are ready to oblige with a suggested reduction.

Cut County Cable Montgomery.

County Cable Montgomery (CCM) runs county television programming on Channel 6. Some of its work consists of live and taped recordings of County Council meetings, hearings and work sessions as well as town halls. It also produces nineteen regular shows and occasional department programs that are shown both on cable and on YouTube.

All too many of these programs seem to have a common primary purpose: making the incumbent office holders look good. Over and over again, politicians are shown prancing at press conferences, smiling to their adoring admirers and explaining why Montgomery County is such a wonderful place to live – under their leadership, of course. County Report, CCM’s flagship weekly program, is little more than a parade of such political frolicking.

Since incumbent protection is naturally the highest priority of all office holders, CCM’s budget has grown by a LOT. In FY 2007, its budget increased by 16.1%. In FY 2008, its budget grew by 13.9%. And in FY 2009, a year in which some politicians demanded cuts to employee raises, CCM’s budget soared by 22.9%. When county politicians discuss whether employee compensation increases are sustainable, why do they not also discuss whether their own televised glorification is sustainable?

Budget deficits are no obstacle to CCM’s relentless march towards bloat. In FY 2010, CCM added a new web producer position, its third employment expansion in four years. And its budget grew by $147,700, or 5.9%. That came despite the fact that the county had to close a $587 million deficit, cut overall spending for the first time since 1992 and cried poverty to the state on school funding. And while CCM’s funding was hiked again, the Cable Franchise Administration, which protects consumers from rapacious cable companies, saw its budget cut by 16% at the same time.

How bad is all of this? Compare CCM’s budget growth to that of the core functions of government. This is one way to figure out what the county leaders’ priorities REALLY are.

How large is CCM’s audience? That’s hard to say. On YouTube, it has only 82 subscribers. Its County Report show seldom gets more than a couple hundred views. Most of its other shows get a few dozen views apiece. When we embed County Report on MPW, hardly anyone watches it. This past summer, County Report’s June 19 show – which received more page views than any other CCM edition we posted – was tied for a rank of 281 in page view count on this blog. In other words, last summer there were 280 posts on MPW that received more views than the top-ranked County Report show. Is this what we have to show for a 72% budget increase over four years?

Just how many ribbon cuttings, back pattings, smile flashings and hand shakings do we have to see? CCM does not educate our kids, protect us from crime, put out fires, plan our land use or build our transportation projects. It is a luxury at a time when we can’t afford luxuries.

And so here is our message to the County Council: cut County Cable Montgomery first. Pare it down to the basics: covering council meetings and hearings, committee work sessions and town halls. Howard County, the richest county in the state, did it last year and still survives. We can survive too.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

God Joins Eli El's Campaign for Delegate

Here's a message District 20 Delegate Candidate Eli El is spreading on Facebook:

No word yet on whether God has dismissed that pesky domestic abuse judgment.


Mike Lenett's Big Stick

Senator Mike Lenett (D-19) is out with a colossal tri-fold mailer to his constituents almost a year before the primary. Have a look!

There is great balance on this extravagant and probably pricey mailer which features praise from labor, the environmental movement, a prominent health care advocate, a prominent constituent and a prominent national gun control activist.

Lenett is sending this message to anyone thinking of running against him: I have a lot of money and I will spend it early and often. I will show off my support. I will spread my message to every part of the district. And I will do whatever it takes to win.

As for the baseball bat? That is intended for anyone who fails to heed the message.


MD Attorney General Doug Gansler on "Political Pulse" on Ch. 16 TV‏

Doug Gansler, the Attorney General of Maryland, will be on the "Political Pulse" political talk show on:

Thurs, October 22nd at 9:00 p.m.;

Fri-Sun, October 23rd-25th at 6:00 p.m.; and

Tues, October 27th at 9:30 p.m.

Topics that will be discussed include:
-the NJ and VA Governor races;
-the critics of President Obama;
-the forthcoming opinion from the AG's office on whether MD should recognize gay marriages from other states;
-the AG's recent appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court;
-the AG's intentions for 2010 and the possible candidates for MD Governor's race in 2014;
-looking back at the State's Attorney's race in 1998;
-the AG's relationship with Governor O'Malley; and
-the possible impact of the recent federal district court opinion that the county employee furloughs in Prince George's County are unconstitutional.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Currie Back on the Fundraising Circuit

Embattled Senate Budget and Taxation (B&T) Chairman Ulysses Currie (D-25) is raising money again. Is that good or bad for Democrats?

Senator Currie, who has headed the B&T Committee since 2002, has been one of the Democrats' most prolific fundraisers. He has collected $919,083.76 in contributions since 1999, third in the legislature behind Senate President Mike "Big Daddy" Miller ($2,568,861.98) and Speaker of the House Mike Busch ($1,673,431.22). But Currie's take slowed down dramatically last year after his home was raided by the FBI and revelations emerged concerning his relationship with Shoppers Food & Pharmacy. In 2008, Currie collected a mere $18,173.48 (not counting any proceeds of his legal defense fund) as he and his donors largely avoided each other. But Currie is back on the rubber-chicken trail, announcing a Greenbelt fundraiser featuring tables of ten for a cool $2,500 each.

The B&T Chair is an enormous financial boon for its holder because of its jurisdiction, which includes "legislation relating to State operating and capital budgets, including revenues, expenditures, and supplementary appropriations; legislative budgetary procedures; State and county bond authorizations; taxation and property assessments; education financing; and pension and retirement matters." Anyone lobbying a tax measure must go through the Chairman. That means not having a Chairman who can raise money is a lost opportunity for state Democrats.

Why? The reason is that Currie's money has been distributed far and wide. The Senator has contributed $212,092.19 to other candidates and PACs since 1999. The biggest recipients include the Community Coalition Advocacy Slate ($25,000) - a slate for Prince George's Senators - the 25th District Team ($10,800), the Democratic State Central Committee of Maryland ($5,250), Baltimore City Council Chairwoman Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ($5,000), Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson ($4,000), Baltimore City Senator Lisa Gladden ($3,000), former Baltimore City Senator Ralph Hughes ($3,000) and Governor Martin O'Malley ($2,000). But the single largest recipient of Currie's money has been the Democratic Senatorial Committee Slate, to which Currie has contributed $155,000.

The latter slate is extremely important to Democratic Senators. It is controlled by the Senate leadership and is used to aid vulnerable incumbents, especially ones facing tough GOP challengers. It has spent $1.5 million since 1999 helping the Democrats. Among its biggest expenditures have been:

$302,248.92 on "printing and campaign materials" on 11/1/06.

$119,958.24 on "direct mailing by mail house" on 10/16/02.

$53,040.00 on "media (radio, T.V., newspaper, billboards)" on 10/25/06.

The fund also transfers large sums of money directly to Democratic candidates. Senate challenger Walter Shandrowsky received donations of $20,000 on 9/23/06 and $75,000 on 10/27/06 to help him against Bryan Simonaire in an Anne Arundel open seat race. (Simonaire still won.) Incumbent Kathy Klausmeier of Baltimore County received $45,000 on 11/1/06 to help her successfully turn back a Republican challenger. Many other Democratic candidates have received less than $10,000, often in the late stages of races.

Several Democratic Senators will face vigorous GOP challenges and more than one seat will open up next year. That means the need to leverage the B&T Chair to finance the Democratic Senatorial Committee Slate will be pressing indeed. But if Currie gets indicted and his money is spread to the slate - and thenceforth to other Democrats - will it be worth it? The Lords of Annapolis need to think long and hard about this.

Below is Currie's solicitation.