Franchot’s Bad News for Brown

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 29, 2014– OUCH! That’s the sound coming from Anthony Brown’s campaign headquarters after hearing of a $405 million drop in expected state revenue over the next 21 months.

This is bad news for the lieutenant governor’s gubernatorial drive.

The shrinking revenue forecast not only buoys Republican Larry Hogan’s campaign, it powerfully reinforces Hogan’s central theme: Maryland’s budget is out of kilter and in need of serious overhaul.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Hogan received an unexpected boost last week from Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot’s sharp critique of the state’s liberal Democratic spending policies.

At Wednesday’s Board of Revenue Estimates meeting, Franchot took to task the “What, me worry?” attitude being taken these days by Gov. Martin O’Malley and Brown when it comes to Maryland’s continuing revenue shortfalls.

Indeed, Franchot’s comments could be grist for future Hogan ads.

Ignoring Bad News

For example, the state comptroller took umbrage at the O’Malley-Brown administration’s Scarlett O’Hara approach (“tomorrow is another day”) toward bad economic news:

” . . . we need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal. It feels like we sit at these meetings every quarter, hopeful and determined that ‘next year will be the year’ when the recovery takes hold and is felt broadly throughout the economy. Yet, another year has passed, and ordinary families and small businesses haven’t even recovered to where they were before the financial collapse. . . We need to recognize that hope is not an economic strategy.”

That’s a damning criticism aimed squarely at the governor and lieutenant governor.

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Franchot laid out a few of the bleak economic numbers:

“Maryland’s 6.4 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national rate of 6.1 percent – something we’ve only experienced twice in the past three and a half decades. . . . In terms of wages – the oxygen working families need to survive – Maryland’s average wage growth was just 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014. . .

“Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing.”

This is exactly what Hogan has been saying.

 Maryland’s economy, Franchot notes, “didn’t grow at all last year – with a 0 percent GDP growth for 2013.”

That is an ominous indicator which the O’Malley-Brown team is blissfully ignoring. Why? Because it is politically unpalatable.

Hesitating to Act

Here’s the hard truth, according to Franchot:

“We simply can’t assume that we’re around the corner from returning to the way it was, and back to the decisions we could afford to make in Maryland as a result.”

Yet no one is rushing to close this new revenue gap in the state’s budget calculations and tighten up on state spending.

Brown doesn’t want to announce unpopular cutbacks during an election campaign; O’Malley would rather delay nasty decisions until he leaves office.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Brown is ignoring the reality that Maryland could face difficult budget years ahead that won’t allow for the raft of social programs he’s promising voters.

Franchot sagely put it this way:

“As state policymakers, we need to be smart in how we spend taxpayer dollars, recognizing that to invest in the things we need, we have to forego many of the things we simply want. . . “

This is what Larry Hogan has been preaching on the campaign trail, albeit in vague, superficial terms.

It is folly to assume, as Brown does, that there will be hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars available for his expensive campaign proposals. That list starts with a statewide pre-kindergarten program and tax breaks for veterans.

Neither may be affordable in the current economy.

Voters and Economics

But are voters listening? Do they understand that what Brown is promising them isn’t deliverable under the present sluggish economy Maryland confronts?

Do they understand that Maryland could face difficult times unless it reins in its borrowing and its overspending?

The public’s grasp of American economics isn’t very deep. Numbers tends to make people’s eyes glaze over. That’s what Brown is counting on.

Meanwhile, the Scarlett O’Hara approach to managing Maryland’s chronic structural deficit continues. Wishing that tomorrow will bring us blue skies and strong economic growth isn’t enough.

Franchot is right. Hope is not a viable economic strategy.

# # #

Brown Goes Negative Big-Time

By Barry Rascovar

Sept.  22, 2014 — So much for a positive, uplifting campaign for Maryland governor. Both candidates already are down in the gutter hurling mud balls at each other.

Anthony Brown is by far the worse offender, which is curious.

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

The Democratic nominee and current lieutenant governor should be enjoying the view from the top of the campaign mountain.

He’s got demographics and voter registration numbers heavily in his favor. He’s got a unified Democratic Party behind him. He’s got — or soon will have — money galore to spend on a lavish media campaign.

Brown’s Curious Tactics

In heavily Democratic Maryland, why should this candidate go negative?

Is it insecurity?

Has Brown been persuaded by campaign operatives to launch “scorched earth” attacks?

Or is the race a lot closer than the general perception?

Whatever the reason, it isn’t pretty. It reflects poorly on Brown. Is this the way he intends to govern?

His opponent, Republican Larry Hogan Jr., isn’t helping matters with his ad excoriating Brown for his weak leadership and incompetence during the botched health exchange rollout.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan Jr.

Last Thursday, he held a press conference, refuted Brown’s bombastic charges and called the lieutenant governor “a liar.”

Brown’s napalm bombs are landing but they are way off-target. They amount to a smear campaign combining half-truths and flat-out untruths.

Brown and his cohorts at the Democratic Governors Association want voters to believe Hogan has a “dangerous Republican agenda” and a “dangerous conservative ideology” that will devastate women’s abortion rights and abolish Maryland’s gun laws.

Let’s scare ‘em into voting for Brown!

Moderate Conservative

None of this is true.

Hogan isn’t a wild-eyed Tea Party radical. He stands to the left of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich on his approach toward Democratic Annapolis.

Yes, he’s conservative, but his statements on social issues have been cautious and moderate.

Abortions? Hogan, a devout Catholic, opposes them. But he stated again Thursday he will not do anything as governor to change the status quo.

Gun laws? Same thing. Hogan doesn’t like the restrictions but he’s not foolish enough to believe he could do anything to change what Democrats and voters approved to rein in illicit gun use.

Dangerous agenda? No, but it is very much a platform crafted by a businessman who believes smaller government works best, that Democrats have been too quick to raise taxes and that Maryland’s anti-business reputation has cost the state tens of thousands of jobs.

Brown repeatedly asserts Hogan wants to give $300 million in tax breaks to wealthy corporations. It’s a little more complicated than that.

Yes, Hogan eventually wants to bring down the state’s high corporate tax rate, which is one reason Virginia has an easy time gaining new businesses at Maryland’s expense.

Hogan’s Priority

But Hogan also has made it clear his top priority is ratcheting down government spending, and then see if certain taxes can be reduced.

Is Hogan against universal pre-kindergarten? Again, it’s not so simple. Hogan’s not anti-education as Brown’s ads intimate.

He just thinks Brown’s plan is unaffordable given Maryland’s continuing structural deficit and uncertain revenue outlook.

That’s not wild-eyed or radical. It even makes sense.

The last thing Maryland needs next year is a raft of new crusades and tax hikes. The state’s and the nation’s high unemployment level and high poverty rate should spur caution, not activist spending programs.

Anthony Brown

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony Brown

Brown’s irresponsible ads pounding away at Hogan’s “$300 million in tax breaks” for rich corporate owners mirrors what Brown pulled on Attorney General Doug Gansler in the Democratic primary.

Brown’s opposition to any reduction in Maryland’s corporate tax rate could have long-term, negative consequences. It sends the wrong signal about the state’s business climate.

Does this mean Governor Brown will say “no” to helping corporations even if this would bring huge numbers of jobs to Maryland?

Nevada just agreed to give Tesla Motors $1.3 billion in long-term incentives to build the world’s largest and most advanced electric-auto battery plant there — a $5 billion project resulting in 6,500 full-time jobs.

Such a deal apparently won’t happen in Maryland under Governor Brown. His campaign’s rhetoric is narrowing his economic development options.

Brown’s smear tactics leave a rank odor. It will linger. It’s a self-inflicted wound that may become a huge — and unnecessary — campaign liability.

###

Bob McDonnell’s History Lesson

Shades of Marvin Mandel

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 15, 2014 — You’ve got to pity Bob McDonnnell, former Virginia governor and recently convicted felon. He never learned from the political-corruption history of Virginia’s neighbor to the north, Maryland.

Had McDonnell familiarized himself with the trials and legal tribulations of Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel (1969-1978), he might have avoided the ethics lapses and quid pro quo exchanges of gifts and cash that did in McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

Bob and Maureen McDonnell

Bob and Maureen McDonnell

Indeed, the similarities between the McDonnell and Mandel sagas are stunning:

  • Both men were highly popular, successful governors.
  • Both were dogged by federal prosecutors pursuing complex public corruption and bribery cases.
  • Both prosecutions stemmed in large part from marital discord and payoffs to the spouses.
  • Both cases involved governors whose bank accounts were seriously depleted even as they faced ballooning expenses
  • Both cases led to humiliating, intimate public disclosures about the two governors’ personal lives and weaknesses.
  • Both involved payments of cash, fancy clothing, trips and other luxuries in exchange for government actions that would enrich their friends.
  • Both involved incredibly weak government codes of ethical conduct.
  • Both men maintained to the end their complete innocence.
  • And both cases rested on the fuzzily defined notion that the public is entitled to “loyal and honest services” from its elected leaders.

Improper Gifts

The McDonnells were convicted Sept. 4 of receiving improper gifts and loans from a Virginia businessman peddling a miracle vitamin pill. In return, the businessman gained access to state health officials and other key individuals who could help him, thanks to the McDonnells’ direct efforts.

Mandel was found guilty in 1977 of receiving from friends cash, an expensive wardrobe, jewelry for his wife, valuable waterfront land and interest in an office building in exchange for his help in gaining lucrative thoroughbred racing days.

Mandel “loved beyond his means,” as the late Mary McGrory brilliantly put it.

Marvin Mandel with second wife, Jeanne

Marvin Mandel with second wife, Jeanne

He split from his loyal wife in a highly publicized and messy move (she refused to vacate the governor’s mansion; he lived in a hotel) so he could marry his longtime paramour.

It turned out Marvin Mandel couldn’t afford the divorce settlement or his new wife’s expensive lifestyle without help from his wealthy business friends — who even connived with a Catholic religious order that lent Mandel the divorce money.

The governor’s “thank you”: He dropped his opposition to a doubling of racing days at the Marlboro track (from 16 to 32). Marlboro had just been bought (in secret) by his friends.

Mandel followed up with strenuous arm-twisting to pass legislation giving Marlboro an additional 62 days of racing. A rinky-dink harness track would suddenly morph into a major-league thoroughbred track with 94 racing dates.

‘Serious Mistakes’

To this day, Mandel denies wrongdoing. “I said then, and I say now, that I never did anything illegal as governor of Maryland,” he wrote in a book he penned at age 90.

Mandel’s appellate lawyers cleverly defined his actions as, at worst, “a non-criminal scheme of non-disclosure.”

The trial judge, Robert Taylor, disagreed. “You made some serious mistakes,” Taylor said.

Mandel went to federal prison in Florida, was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan and had his conviction later overturned on a technicality (prosecutors had stretched the legal interpretation of federal racketeering and mail fraud laws too far).

The incriminating evidence — and there was plenty of it — was never disputed.

Cash Poor Governor

This brings us back to Bob McDonnell — politically rich, but cash poor.

He couldn’t afford his daughter’s over-the-top wedding and his wife’s outrageously expensive gowns without help from an exceedingly generous businessman who befriended them in exchange for — he hoped — state endorsement of his miracle vitamin pill.

Like the Mandel trial, which exposed backstage maneuverings by friends to extricate Maryland’s governor from a strained marriage and keep him happy, the McDonnells’ courtroom drama in Richmond revolved around their family soap opera.

Maureen McDonnell was portrayed as an out-of-control shrew, demanding more and more largesse from her financially strapped, henpecked hubby. He threw her under the bus, essentially blaming her for the whole mess.

And, of course, he denied all wrongdoing.

Ethics Loopholes

Why not? Virginia’s laughable Ethics Code makes almost any gift to a public official legal as long as you disclose it.

Maryland’s Ethics Code is even more of a Swiss cheese affair. Mandel as governor issued this code of conduct, making it applicable “to all officers and employees of the executive branch.”

It made it unethical to do exactly what Mandel later carried out.

But here’s the catch: Maryland’s Ethics Code doesn’t apply to constitutionally elected officers, i.e., the governor.

So Mandel can say with a straight face he did nothing wrong under the state’s code of conduct. Let’s call it “technical deniability.”

High Public Expectations

Still, neither he nor McDonnell could evade the long arm of federal prosecutors.

In Virginia, a jury convicted McDonnell of conspiracy, bribery and extortion. He could be sent off to prison, but if so his stay almost surely will be brief compared with Mandel’s 19 months behind bars.

Neither man understood what was expected of them as elected public officials.

They were living under an old-fashioned standard of acceptable political behavior: Take whatever you can get as long as you do it quietly and don’t directly harm the public.

That’s not how citizens view public service today, or in the 1970s. They expect their leaders will act ethically. Don’t accept valuable gifts, even from close friends. Don’t do favors for your friends. Don’t grease the wheels for your friends.

It’s not hard to understand. Politicians in high office, though, sometimes forget they’re expected to be above suspicion.

McDonnell now is paying the price for his failure to pay attention. Had he studied Mandel’s political and personal downfall, he might not have ruined his life — and his reputation.

#  #  #

Diversion Tactic in MD Governor’s Race

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 10, 2014 — When you are caught with your thumb in the cherry pie, what do you say?

“Ma, look what Mikey’s doing! He’s up to no good.”

That diversionary tactic doesn’t work on moms, and Anthony Brown’s finger-pointing tactic doesn’t work, either.

Hogan's disputed Windsport

Hogan’s disputed Windsport

Brown may have a serious campaign fund-raising violation to explain to the state elections board.

So what does he say?

He accuses his Republican foe, Larry Hogan Jr., of low-balling his monthly rental fee for a recreation vehicle decked out in campaign logos.

Why, Hogan should be paying a lot more than $683.77 a month to fully reflect the cost of operating this mobile campaign headquarters, Brown’s operatives complain.

What a bunch of malarkey.

What Is Reasonable?

A state elections official has already said covering the full monthly payments on Hogan’s bus — which Hogan owns and is renting to the campaign — qualifies as a “reasonable” standard.

What it costs to fill up this gas-guzzling Windsport daily and oil, grease and repair the recreation vehicle for heavy-duty operation through Nov. 4 isn’t part of the rental agreement. That’s something the Hogan campaign must cover anyway.

So in effect, Hogan’s operatives are already paying “fair market value.”

Brown’s ploy is a canard, a decoy designed to shift media focus from the serious complaint Hogan lodged against the Democrat — coordinating fund-raising efforts of his campaign with that of a labor-supported, independent Super-PAC (Political Action Committee).

That’s illegal, according to the Supreme Court. The Maryland elections board already has said campaigns cannot share with independent Super-PACS “campaign material, strategy or information.”

Coordinating Efforts

The problem for Brown is that one of his top chief fund-raisers, Colleen Martin-Lauer, is also the fund-raising coordinator for the supposedly independent labor Super-PAC that is designed to boost Brown. Hogan’s folks maintain it is “simply impossible” for Martin-Lauer and a second joint fund-raiser not to coordinate their solicitation efforts.

Brown did the same thing (overlapping fund-raisers) in the primary election and got away with it. But what if he runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s difficult-to-enforce edict? It could impair his ability to raise as much money as he had hoped.

Millions could be at stake in that complaint. Thousands could be at stake in Brown’s penny-ante subterfuge against Hogan.

It is just another sign of the insipid tactics being employed in this campaign, especially by Brown’s team, which has not hesitated to smear Hogan with blatantly false accusations.

###

Sparrows Point Gold?

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 8, 2014 — Today, it’s a forlorn hulk, a remnant of what once was the world’s largest steel-making plant, stretching four miles end-to-end on the Sparrows Point peninsula.

Abandoned Sparrows Point steel plant

Labor Day used to be special for the 30,000 people who worked at the Bethlehem Steel complex at its peak. They churned out cables for the George Washington Bridge, girders for the Golden Gate Bridge and steel for machinery and equipment that helped win World War II.

Then after 124 years of operation, it was over. The blast furnaces closed for good in June 2012, the property sold for a pittance to a liquidator.

Now there is reason for optimism “The Point” once again might be turned into economic gold.

Baltimore County and the Port of Baltimore have come up with pragmatic plans to redevelop this vast acreage — 5.3 square miles — into a major jobs generator.

Sparrows Point plant in good times

Sparrows Point plant in good times

Even better, an investment group with deep pockets and strong local connections is negotiating to buy most of the Bethlehem Steel land in southeastern Baltimore County.

Jim Davis heads Redwood Capital Investment, which wants to become the new property owner. Davis’ name isn’t as familiar to readers as his cousin, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.

The two co-founded a job-staffing service in the 1980s, Aerotek, which morphed into the country’s largest privately held international staffing company — a $10 billion giant called Allegis Group with 12,000 employees and 120,000 contract workers. Its headquarters are in Hanover, not far from Arundel Mills.

Davis went on to purchase Erickson Retirement senior living communities and a host of other real estate and financial investments through Redwood. Now he is seeking most of the Sparrows Point acreage.

The Point’s Potential

If Davis follows the path laid out by a county task force and the Port of Baltimore, The Point some day will be humming with maritime crews, manufacturing and assembly workers, energy operators and distribution and freight employees.

It could be the most promising economic development story for Maryland in decades.

Nowhere in the Northeast is there such an enormous chunk of land already zoned for industrial use.

While 600 acres is heavily contaminated after a century of steel-making, some 2,400 acres won’t need much work to be placed on the market.

A good part of it overlooks the Chesapeake Bay — six linear miles of deep-water frontage perfectly suited for the port’s expansion needs.

Sparrows Point redevelopment area

Sparrows Point redevelopment area

If Baltimore is to take full advantage of a widened Panama Canal in 2016, it needs additional berths for the giant “post-Panamax” container ships (more than three football fields long) that require 50-foot channels and extra-long cranes.

Sparrows Point already has a 45-foot iron ore pier that could handle roll-on, roll-off cargo like automobiles and farm equipment; a second pier ideal for barges and smaller vessels; a short-line railroad that links to both CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks, and lots and lots of cargo storage space.

Dredge Deposit Site

There’s also Coke Point, where port officials want to deposit tons of dredged harbor muck over the next decade or two. Once filled in, this “de-watered” land can be prepared for use as a state-of-the-art, deepwater super-cargo berth similar to Seagirt Marine Terminal, built on dredged material from construction of the Fort McHenry Tunnel.

That’s just the start of the good news.

The task force, appointed by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, thinks some of the the peninsula is well suited for an energy park containing a natural gas plant, solar and wind farms, a biomass energy plant and a landfill gas plant.

This makes enormous sense. Central Maryland pays heavily to import electric power from out of state. It lacks sufficient transmission lines, too.

Neat Fit for Clean Energy

But The Point already has heavy-duty transmission lines that fed electricity to Beth Steel’s blast furnaces. Clean-energy production would be a nice fit, especially since the facilities wouldn’t be close to residential neighborhoods.

Other uses pinpointed by the task force include innovative manufacturing and value-added assembly for rail cars, ships, marine vehicles, specialty machinery and electric equipment; distribution and logistics parks, and “freight villages” offering warehouse space and service and equipment support.

Additionally, the task force noted a 400-acre quarry on the property soon will be ending its useful life. This opens the way for another “extraordinary vacant land-mass opportunity.”

Part of Beth Steel property

Part of Beth Steel property

It’s almost too good to be true.

And it may be. Davis has to finalize his group’s land purchase. Then he must negotiate terms with the state for the waterfront property. His company will be juggling many development balls simultaneously.

Of course, there’s the overhanging environmental concerns that first must be resolved.

Eventually, though, The Point might make a surprisingly strong comeback.

You couldn’t ask for a better located 5.3 square miles of land — much of it fronting deep water, practically on top of I-95 and the Baltimore Beltway, already connected to major railroads, a short drive from BWI Marshall Airport and at the mid-point of the East Coast’s massive megalopolis.

The State’s Role

It will take major investments from the state to give the Port of Baltimore these long-lasting advantages over other Atlantic ports of call. It’s not clear if the state’s next administration will be up to the task or if politics will intrude as the Transportation Department tries to find the money for this expensive project in its already stretched budget.

Given the recent debacle in finding a freight transfer site for CSX near the port, the MPA’s Sparrows Point expansion takes on heightened significance.

Environmental cleanups will cost someone a small fortune, though. It’s a key sticking point that must be resolved.

The county will play a role in smoothing the way for interested companies who see the vast potential of Sparrows Point. Baltimore City will have to make accommodations, too, especially in finding space to build a full interstate interchange at Broening Highway.

It’s too great an opportunity to let slip away, though.

For over 100 years, from 1889 until 2012, Sparrows Point was a beacon of jobs and success for the Greater Baltimore region. It can happen again — if there’s the will to make it happen.

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Horseshoe Arrives in Baltimore

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 2, 2014–Baltimore’s first and only casino is open — a decade later than anticipated by city officials.

Horseshoe Baltimore, run by Caesar’s Entertainment, is a bright, cheery and decidedly friendly facility a short walk from Ravens stadium. It’s got a giant parking structure that allows direct access to the casino without venturing on to city streets.

Horseshoe Baltimore

Horseshoe Baltimore

With 2,500 brand-new slot machines, 122 gaming tables and 25 poker tables, the $442-million Horseshoe Baltimore fulfills the wishes of city leaders, though it should have happened years ago.

Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke had a deal with then-Gov. Parris Glendening in the late 1990s to allow a Baltimore casino for a struggling urban city in need of an economic boost.

But Glendening reneged and went on a moralistic anti-slots campaign. It may have been good politics for the governor but Schmoke regarded it as a stab in the back. Baltimore desperately needed the revenue and stimulus.

It still does.

New City Revenue

Granted, Horseshoe isn’t the answer to Baltimore’s woes. But proceeds from the casino will help Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake slowly lower sky-high property taxes, make infrastructure improvements and eventually pour millions it now doesn’t have into community upgrades.

The current squabble over using some of the casino revenue to re-locate a stream pipeline serving downtown Baltimore businesses deflects from the fact that Baltimore should receive more than $10 million in the current fiscal year from Horseshoe operations, $15.5 million or more next year and $22.5 million in fiscal 2017.

That is a gift sorely needed by City Hall to help accelerate the downtown-living renaissance, deal with a serious crime problem and finally start to attack a glut of vacant housing.

For Baltimore, Horseshoe’s arrival is a ringer, a home run, a winner.

Horseshoe Baltimore casino

With 1,700 jobs — many filled by tax-paying city residents — Horseshoe is a new economic engine. Its location near the baseball and football stadiums means huge before-and-after crowds on game days and added revenue both for the casino and for Baltimore.

Under terms of the state casino law, Baltimore will split with Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties 5.5 percent of the winning proceeds from their three gambling facilities — Horseshoe, Maryland Live! at Arundel Mills and MGM National Harbor now under construction.

This local impact revenue is a godsend for Baltimore.

It is a new, ongoing money source that will allow City Hall to undertake projects on the back burner for years (or decades) and to balance the annual budget without draconian cuts.

It’s no panacea, but it gives city officials breathing room.

Late Entry

Baltimore is late to the casino party, but probably not too late.

Gambling — legal or illegal — always has been popular in Charm City. A single casino will probably do well for years to come, even with a glut of gambling sites in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Horseshoe also provides a much-needed boost for local tourism and for Baltimore’s downtown hotels. It gives visitors another reason to extend their stay or to come to Baltimore in the first place. It’s a decided plus for drawing conventions, too.

Part of Horseshoe’s success will come at the expense of David Cordish’s highly profitable Maryland Live! casino.  But Horseshoe will draw a more urban clientele versus the suburbanites flocking to Maryland Live!

Maryland Live

Both casinos, though, will feel the squeeze when MGM National Harbor opens in a couple of years. It will translate into smaller profit margins for both, but  National Harbor’s main draw will be for gambling patrons south of the Potomac River in Virginia.

Six casinos in Maryland seems about the right number — three in rural locations and three in the Baltimore-Washington megalopolis.

Casinos are becoming established, middle-class entertainment options that offer substantial benefits for state and local governments for their relatively stable revenue — as long as the gambling is tightly regulated and the sites are limited in number.

#  #  #

Needed in MD: Truth-in-Campaigning

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 25, 2014–Do Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates in the November election take voters for fools?

Do they really think they can con the electorate with promises of vast spending programs (Democrat Anthony Brown) eclipsing $1 billion a year or sweeping tax cuts and givebacks (Republican Larry Hogan Jr.) also topping ten figures?

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

What’s lacking from each nominee is truth-in-campaigning.

The only thing in doubt is which nominee is being more deceptive with voters.

At the moment, Hogan has the lead, though Brown isn’t far behind.

The Republican nominee for governor pledged at an event at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville to drop all state income taxes on pensions. (He already had said he’d do the same for police pensions and for veterans.)

Cheers from the seniors.

How’s he going to pay for this?

Silence.

Transportation Promises

A few days earlier, Hogan pledged to county officials meeting in Ocean City he would immediately restore $350 million in transportation funding to subdivisions once in office.

Cheers.

Which transportation programs will be stripped of $350 million to make that happen?

Silence.

Brown, of course, felt he had to match – or come close to – Hogan’s outrageousness at the Ocean City meeting. So he told county officials he’d also restore the lost Highway User Revenue – but it would occur gradually.

No Funding Plan

Does Brown have a plan for stripping state transportation programs of $350 million to pay for this fund transfer or for hiking driving fees?

Silence.

Irresponsible might be the kindest way to describe the performance of these two politicians. They keep promising the impossible, as though voters take what they say as gospel.

Any citizen who believes promises of massive tax cuts or giant new spending is living in a fool’s paradise.

Government Spending

It’s not going to happen.

Seniors already receive big tax breaks from Maryland: Their Social Security checks are free of state taxation (but not federal tax).

They also get an extra $1,000 personal exemption on their state income tax return each year.

And if their Social Security amounts to less than $27,800 a year, their other pension income is exempt up to that level.

Lots of bills have been proposed by Republicans and Democrats in recent years to expand these retirement exemptions, but none has gotten out of committee.

Why? The enormous cost involved.

Pulling It Off

With the state of Maryland facing a minimum of $400 million in revenue shortfalls, how is Hogan going to pull off this prestidigitation?

Well, he’ll cut the shreds out of state spending like any good Republican.

But wait a minute – isn’t the vast bulk of state expenses mandated by statute?

Yes, indeed.

So slashing state taxes by a billion or so isn’t realistic – certainly not for a Republican governor in a state where liberal Democrats have a stranglehold on the Maryland legislature.

Tax Cuts

Nor is Brown’s pledge of a countless new program spending any more realistic.

The lieutenant governor, for instance, claims he can pay for $108 million in affordable housing appropriations through budget cuts suggested by state employees.

Is he serious? A hundred million in savings via the suggestion box?

If he’s lucky, these ideas might lead to savings of one-one-hundredth of that amount. Or maybe an optimist might aim for one-tenth of Brown’s wild-guess of what employee-prompted savings would bring in.

Wonderland

It’s all an adventure in fantasy budgeting.

Let’s call it, “Larry and Anthony in Wonderland.”

If a conservative Republican governor like Bob Ehrlich couldn’t rein in state spending by billions of dollars, how is a more moderate Larry Hogan Jr. going to pull that off in a solidly Democratic state?

Bob Ehrlich (left) and Hogan

Bob Ehrlich (left) and Hogan

And if a liberal Democratic governor like Martin O’Malley couldn’t find the means to launch massive new spending initiatives – despite raising taxes over 40 times – how is Anthony Brown going to carry out a far more ambitious agenda?

Neither candidate is leveling with the Maryland public.

The state’s economic recovery remains uneven. State finances are falling short of projections due to federal spending hold-downs and weak job growth.

Unrealistic?

Both Hogan and Brown are setting up supporters for bitter disappointment. Neither candidate can deliver on their sweeping promises.

At best, the November winner will muddle along pretty much the way Ehrlich and O’Malley did in far more difficult economic times.

Ehrlich moderated state spending growth during his term and left a fat surplus,  but he failed to achieve permanent government downsizing.

O’Malley will leave office in January having raised lots of taxes and raided a variety of funding sources to keep social programs intact during the worst recession in 80 years. He failed, though, to dramatically expand government social services affecting working families.

Brown (left) and Martin O'Malley

Brown (left) and Martin O’Malley

Neither governor proved a miracle worker.

Brown and Hogan aren’t political magicians, either.

It’s time for them to start speaking the truth to Maryland’s electorate.

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