Category Archives: Government

O’Malley Pitches, Hogan Receives, Gansler Swings

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 19, 2014 — My, how the wheel turns — for Gov. Martin O’Malley, Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr. and outgoing Attorney General Doug Gansler.

O’Malley Pitches

The lame-duck governor is in fund-raising mode. He’s all but officially running for president (despite guffaws from the home folks), which takes lots of moola. So it was off to New York to impress prospective donors.

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley

Thursday, O’Malley hosts a songfest with musician Steven Stills. It was originally scheduled to be held in a lounge at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, with tickets ranging up to $10,000 for the O Say Can You See Committee, the front group for O’Malley’s presidential ambitions.

It also was also conceived as a post-election celebration after the sweeping gubernatorial win of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Oops.

A funny thing happened on the  way to Victory Lane — Brown got clobbered, Republicans in Maryland staged a remarkable recovery and O’Malley drew voters’ ire for an endless string of tax increases and outsized spending.

The Stills event now has been moved to a large tent at the home of major O’Malley supporter Martin Knott.

One longtime Democratic donor was inundated with solicitations. Would he buy a $5,000 ticket? As the event drew closer, he was asked, how about a $1,000 ticket? Days later, the request came down to a $500 ticket. Finally, he was told, “Oh, what the heck. Just come. We’ll let you in.”

Roughly 100 supporters are expected to attend.

The ever-energetic O’Malley also has a fund-raiser planned Friday night at the home of federal lobbyist Terry Lierman. He will be celebrating his daughter’s election to the Maryland House of Delegates from Baltimore as well as toasting O’Malley.

Meanwhile, O’Malley is bolstering his liberal environmental record by cracking down, through tough regulations, on use of phosphorus fertilizers, especially on poultry farms. The cost could be devastating for small farmers, but O’Malley is thinking about his own political future, not the future of Eastern Shore farm families.

He’s also issuing frequent press releases from the governor’s office on such issues as climate change and the Keystone heavy-oil pipeline, siding with the environmentalists he wants to romance nationally.

As for governing Maryland, that’s less of a priority. O’Malley’s thoughts are turning to making national news all the time.

Hogan Receives

While O’Malley is struggling to draw fund-raising crowds, Governor-elect Hogan has no such problem. He held a small soiree for VIP supporters and raised $250,000 for the state GOP. He’s now a very popular guy. He’ll have no trouble wiping out the $500,000 loan he made to his own campaign.

That won’t be the case for the guy Hogan defeated, Anthony Brown. He borrowed $500,000 from a local labor union and failed to raise enough money to pay back the loan on time. Even with this last-minute loan, Brown ran short of funds and failed to keep pounding away with TV commercials in the final days of the campaign.

Now he may be pounding hard to find donors willing to help a defeated candidate pay off this giant IOU before 2018. If he doesn’t, Brown will have to repay the loan himself.

Gansler Swings

Attorney General Gansler didn’t expect to lose the gubernatorial primary to Brown, but he ran into a united front from Democratic Party big shots determined to elevate Brown. He also discovered that a third candidate, Heather Mizeur, chipped away at his liberal support.

Gansler didn’t have a backup plan. For him, failure wasn’t an option — but it happened nonetheless.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Faced with having to find a job as a lawyer after 16 years in public service, Gansler was flooded with enticing offers. He chose a relatively new firm that quickly has gained status in legal circles for its work helping businesses, BuckleySandler. It’s a Washington firm with offices in the Big Apple, San Francisco, Chicago and (how nice) London.

Don’t expect Gansler to disappear from the Maryland political scene, though. He’s going to wind up on a slew of non-profit boards and is continuing to work vigorously to grow his inner-city lacrosse league in Baltimore.

With no obvious front-runner among Democrats to take on Hogan in four years, Gansler may make another stab. Once you’ve been bitten by the political bug, it’s hard to let go.

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For more columns, click on www.politicalmaryland.com

 

 

MD’s New Normal

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 17, 2014–The outlook for the Maryland state government Larry Hogan Jr. starts running in January is grim: A sea of red ink far into the future.

Forget about major tax cuts or other campaign promises. That was a hope more than a firm commitment. Hogan said as much to voters. His first priority then and now: getting Maryland’s financial house in order.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

How bad is it?

Spending is running roughly $400 million ahead of revenues this fiscal year – and the same gap is projected for next year and the following 12 months.

Maryland’s estimated structural deficit during that time is nearly $1.2 billion.

Over the next six years, the total structural deficit is projected at close to $4.3 billion.

Whiz Kid

No wonder Hogan announced that fiscal whiz Bobby Neall would be plotting a budget triage plan by year’s end. It will be a Herculean task.

Neall has the credentials.

He sensibly downsized Anne Arundel County government as county executive. He was a strong advocate of cautious, common sense spending as a leader of the House and Senate budget committees. He’s been a voice in the wilderness on the Spending Affordability Committee crying out for far-reaching fiscal reforms – usually rejected by legislative liberals and the “progressive” O’Malley-Brown administration.

Bobby Neall

Fiscal Whiz Bobby Neall

Neall correctly pointed out last week that one of the main trouble spots is the soaring cost of debt payments. Too many state bonds were issued in recent years. The proverbial chickens are coming home to roost.

Unless something is changed, debt service will triple from two years ago — to $268 million. By 2019-2020, debt service will hit $559 million.

Even worse, there’s only one realistic way to curb that rising expense — a step Hogan definitely won’t take: Raise the state property tax rate.

Difficult Cuts

Other big spending-growth areas also will be difficult, if not impossible, to cut.

Education aid to the counties is set to rise by $304 million next year, higher education by $225 million and public safety by $175 million. Most of this is due to mandated increases.

Unexpected expenses related to the expansion of Medical Assistance under Obamacare adds a whopping $410 million next year as well.

The overall problem is easy to identify.

Too much spending by liberal Gov. Martin O’Malley; a weakened state economy that isn’t recovering as expected.

Not enough coming in; too much going out.

Welcome to the New Normal.

False Assumptions

O’Malley and other liberals always assumed that Maryland would rebound strongly from the Great Recession. It never happened.

Job creation has remained uneven. It’s been flat for the past six months. Republicans in Washington have stalled growth in the federal bureaucracy that employs so many Maryland residents. Contractors in Maryland who are dependent on the federal government are seeing a definite slowdown that will continue with the GOP taking full control of Congress.

Adapting to a smaller federal government could be painful for Maryland. Yet that is part of today’s reality.

Budget balancing

The New Normal means Maryland government will have to shrink, too. It means less money flowing back to local governments as well.

Capital spending will be affected. In the past, a small state real estate tax was sufficient to pay debt service on general obligation bonds. But property values took a sharp plunge in 2008 and have yet to recover fully. That trend may persist for the rest of the decade.

This year, O’Malley for the first time dipped into the state’s general funds to pay for debt service. With housing prices stalled, Hogan is facing far larger debt service payments coming from the general fund starting next year.

Diverting Bond Proceeds

The situation was made worse by O’Malley’s decision to pay some on-going budget expenses with proceeds from state bonds. This diversion has taken nearly $2.5 billion out of the state’s construction program and has increased debt service markedly.

It’s an ugly aspect of the New Normal.

On the campaign trail, Hogan made cutting state spending sound easy. It’s not.

For starters, 58 percent of the growth in Maryland’s budget next year is required by law or by legislative mandates enacted in 2014. This is untouchable without assent from the liberal General Assembly.

Local aid will be hard to cut, too. Eight-six percent of that money goes to schools. Touching this ever-growing pot could be next to impossible given the popularity of education among voters.

Why not slash the bureaucracy? Amazingly, the size of the state’s work force is virtually the same as it was in 2002. There might not be as much “fat” on the bone as Hogan indicated during the campaign.

Unpleasant Options

Hogan may have to settle for incremental reductions throughout government. He may have to take some distasteful steps, too, perhaps nudging up the state property tax slightly. He’ll almost surely have to lower aid to the counties – another unpleasant task that won’t win him friends in counties that supported him.

He won’t win fans by shrinking the school construction program, either. But it has to be done to restore a sense of fiscal equilibrium.

What a mess O’Malley is leaving behind. He let spending spin out of control. He ignored clear signs that growth in state revenue was slowing and that federal hiring and contracting were shrinking. These are long-term trends.

Budget issues will dominate Hogan’s first four months in the State House. He will need cooperation from Democratic legislators to get Maryland out of this fiscal bind.

Gridlock is not an option.

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Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com

Missing: Democratic Moderates in MD

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 14, 2014 — Hardly noticed in the Nov. 4 election that saw Anthony Brown wiped out in an embarrassing avalanche of rejection was the obliteration of the Democratic Party’s moderate-conservative wing in Annapolis.

Missing Democratic Moderate: Sen. Roy Dyson

Defeated Sen. Roy Dyson

Gone is Southern Maryland Sen. Roy Dyson. Gone is half-century veteran Baltimore County Sen. Norman Stone (retirement). Gone is a Howard County fixture, Sen. Jim Robey (retirement).

Also out of luck, conservative Western Maryland Del. Kevin Kelly, moderate Western Maryland Del. John Donoghue, conservative Baltimore County Delegates Mike Weir, Jimmy Malone (retirement), Steve DeBoy (retirement) and Sonny Minnick (retirement), moderate-conservative Del. Emmett Burns of Baltimore County (retirement), Eastern Shore Committee Chairman Del. Norm Conway, Cecil County Del. David Randolph, Southern Maryland Delegates John Bohanan and Johnny Wood (retirement), Harford County Del. Mary-Dulany James, and Frederick County Del. Galen Clagett (retirement).

The Democratic Party’s fulcrum in the State House now is dangerously weighted to the strident left. The party’s center-right legislators have shrunk to a handful.

It’s tough even coming up with who you’d place in that category in the House of Delegates once you get beyond House Speaker Mike Busch.  You can count less than ten moderates still left in the Senate, including President Mike Miller — Charles County’s Mac Middleton, Frederick’s Ron Young, Anne Arundel’s John Astle and Ed DeGrange, Ocean City’s Jim Mathias, Baltimore County’s Jim Brochin and Kathy Klausmeier.

Miller’s Leverage

Miller’s problem is much less severe than Busch’s.

The smaller Senate chamber gives the Senate president extensive leverage to impose moderation on Democrats. Senators there know that if you’re picked for a leadership slot, you’d better follow Miller’s cautious lead.

But in the 141-member House, riding herd on an overwhelmingly liberal Democratic Caucus could prove Mission Impossible.

Simply finding a leadership group willing to move toward the middle might be a challenge for Busch.

Even more daunting may be convincing leftist Democrats to cooperate with the new conservative governor, Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Already some of the left-wingers are talking ominously about fighting a partisan war rather than smoking a peace pipe with Hogan.

Busch and Miller don’t want a repeat of the dreadful gridlock and bitterness of the Ehrlich years. Neither does Hogan, who lived through that frustrating era as the governor’s appointments secretary.

But what will the two sides compromise on? And will their disagreements wind up poisoning the well of cooperation?

This will be the focus of attention as Hogan starts putting his administration together and formulates a brief agenda for the legislative session that starts in just two months.

Room for Agreement

Busch and Miller signaled in the last General Assembly session their agreement with Hogan that the O’Malley administration had neglected business development. Maryland must become more accommodating to companies. That’s a clear area where partial agreement is possible.

Ironically, Republican gains in the General Assembly could make it more difficult for Hogan to govern effectively.

The dearth of moderate-conservative Democrats in the State House robs him of potential allies. He still needs lots of Democratic votes to pass his agenda. Dealing with a ultra-liberal Democratic corps of lawmakers could prove perilous. It could force the governor-elect to take a go-slow approach in his reform plans.

Many of the newly elected Democrats may choose to join Miller and Busch in playing centrist politics with Hogan. After all, it is the best way to get things done and avoid the thing voters most detest — gridlock.

Yet without a counter-balancing Democratic center-right wing, the party caucuses in Annapolis could keep moving farther and farther to the left, ceding the center that voters admire to Hogan.

That would be foolish politics — but it could happen.

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Edgar Silver: Political MD’s Unsung Hero

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 11, 2014–For well over half a century, Edgar P. Silver was the “unsung hero” of Maryland politics. Few in the public knew the name, but the politicos sure did.

Edgar P. Silver

Edgar P. Silver

consigliere to elected leaders. Trusted adviser to politicians — left, right and center. A  judge’s judge. A friend to the end.

Known simply as “The Judge” to his legion of acquaintances, Silver, died today at the age of 91.

He mastered two long-forgotten arts — schmoozing and working the phones.

Silver’s Rolodex contained just about every important Maryland politician’s personal phone number. His days were spent with a phone to his ear and nary a stitch of paper on his desk.

Wealth of Knowledge

Politicians loved Edgar Silver, with good reason.

He was a fount of valuable advice and political know-how. You could confide in him your worst secrets knowing he’d keep it private. He would listen, commiserate and then offer comforting, practical guidance.

You could trust “The Judge.” He had rock-solid integrity. He respected your viewpoint. All he wanted to do was help you succeed.

He grew up poor near Druid Hill Park, his mother from Russia, his tailor father from Austria. Eighty years later he still recalled the anguish of accompanying his mother in the dark Depression days to a bank on Pennsylvania Avenue that held the family’s life savings — only to discover the bank could only pay out 10 cents on the dollar.

Young Edgar ran errands for folks on Eden Street. He made himself available to help neighbors in need. He liked people, and politicians. He started manning the polls at 15.

No wonder he won his first race for public office – defeating an unknown William Donald Schaefer. Three terms later, Silver was appointed to the bench (after he let reporters know he might run for the state Senate).

Judge Edgar Silver

Judge Edgar Silver

Silver’s Baltimore courtroom gained a reputation as the place where defendants got a fair shake, where they were treated kindly and respectfully. He’d even read the guilty parties that day’s menu at the City Jail so they’d know what to expect.

One time, he sentenced a robber to prison, then spotted the robber’s young brother. Silver had the lad sit on his lap while he explained what was going on. He didn’t want the child to think badly of judges or the criminal justice system.

What a guy.

Silver handled politicians the same way – with exquisite kindness and understanding. He knew how to use his extensive contacts to smooth over difficult situations, to play intermediary between officials, to offer solid advice.

Governors craved his insights. Senate President Mike Miller became a longtime family friend. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski reveled in his sagacious suggestions. Elijah Cummings treated him almost like a second father.

On and on the list goes. Silver extended a helping hand and discerning suggestions to a wide range of friends – Peter Angelos, Lou Kousouris, Joe and Karin De Francis, Alan Rifkin, Judge Bob Steinberg, Judge Joe Murphy, and even occasionally to Cardinal William Keeler.

Civil Rights Champion

He also was the “unsung hero” of black lawyers seeking judgeships. Silver played a behind-the-scenes role in getting literally dozens of African Americans on the bench. Baltimore’s first black police commissioner got the job largely because of Silver’s intervention. He was a one-man civil rights movement.

When a young legislative aide to Schaefer, Alan Rifkin, started his own law firm, Silver agreed to assist – very briefly as a partner and then as “of counsel” Wise Man of what is now Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan and Silver. He lent the firm credibility and integrity.

“The best is yet to come.”

That was Edgar Silver’s oft-repeated motto. He never looked on the dark side of a problem. He only saw brightness in people and in situations. And he knew how to laugh. He didn’t take anything too seriously for long.

Delegate Edgar Silver

Delegate Edgar Silver

He certainly played a big role in my life. After The Baltimore Sun cut its staff and offered me a buyout, I became a stateless person in search of a new career.

In stepped The Judge with suggestions and ideas. He and Rifkin gave me a desk and a computer while I figured out how to run a one-man communications/writing consulting firm.

Best of all, I got to chat at length each day with Edgar Silver, about politics and politicians and about life. This office dialogue went on for 12 years, and then continued with friendly lunches and phone conversations.

Once in a great while, an individual influences your life. His advice stays with you for eternity. It becomes a guiding light. Such was the case with Edgar Silver in my life – and in the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of others in Maryland.

What a difference he made.

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Barry Rascovar’s blog is politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

How Brown Blew a Sure Thing

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 7, 2014 — Yes, Republican Larry Hogan Jr. ran a smart, tightly focused campaign that helped him pull off a surprisingly strong upset in the race for Maryland governor. But the major reason he’s the next chief executive is that Democrat Anthony Brown blew a sure thing.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Here’s how Brown turned almost certain victory into a humiliating defeat:

He Blew An 8-Year Head Start 

Brown had two terms as lieutenant governor to put down deep roots in all the right places throughout Maryland. It never happened. Instead, he traveled constantly giving written speeches and then driving off to the next staged event.

He never bothered to familiarize himself with the people of Maryland; instead he limited his circle to elected officials and receptive civic groups.

He failed to jump in and learn about what wasn’t working in the counties — and then help local leaders find a fix.

He didn’t spend his vacations walking the Ocean City boardwalk meeting and talking with common folk.

He didn’t spend his time in Western Maryland getting to understand the unique problems of this isolated, mountain region in chronic need of a helping hand from Annapolis.

He didn’t tour Baltimore City and its vast suburbs to find out what was on people’s minds. He was as alien to them on Tuesday as he was eight years ago.

He Took the Summer Off

Brown started with a huge lead and everything in his favor. He breezed to an easy primary victory. Then he disappeared for the entire summer.

That’s when he should have cemented his relationship with local Democrats, hit every carnival, parade, crab feast and bull roast in sight. Preaching at Sunday services isn’t enough. You’ve got to show your face everywhere  and press the flesh. You’ve got to work up a sweat and convince people you’d make a great next-door neighbor. That’s what Hogan did.

By delaying his campaign till the fall, Brown lost his momentum.

He should have used the summer to organize a statewide tour featuring the full Democratic team — Brian Frosh running for attorney general and Peter Franchot running for comptroller.

He also needed to turn the losing primary candidates, Doug Gansler and Heather Mizeur, into surrogate campaigners. Brown never gained the trust of Gansler and Mizeur voters because he didn’t bother to try.

He Gave Hogan Free Advertising

Hogan emerged from the Republican primary with little money and low name recognition. But no matter, Brown rode to the rescue by giving Hogan millions of dollars worth of free advertising.

Instead of ignoring Hogan — and letting him struggle to gain visibility — Brown spent most of his advertising budget denouncing Hogan as a “dangerous Republican.” Hogan’s face was plastered on TV ads.

When it turned out that Brown’s charges were bogus and inherently dishonest, this sleazy tactic backfired. Brown ended up wasting his ad dollars, offending voters and promoting Hogan while not telling voters anything about himself.

Negative Attacks Aren’t Enough

The first job was to tell the electorate about Anthony Brown — in his own words. Repeatedly. With emotion and real feelings.

Instead, Brown bombarded the air waves with ruthlessly hostile, negative ads — flagrantly false — about Hogan. The Republican got all the attention, not Brown, who continued to remain a mystery even to Democratic voters.

When Hogan turned out not to be Darth Vader but instead a friendly, mild-mannered Rotarian, Brown’s attack ads lost all credibility. They were unethical. This turned off Democrats and independents. It was a gigantic mistake.

Where Was Martin? 

Brown badly needed Gov. Martin O’Malley on the campaign trail from June through October. Yet Brown never capitalized on O’Malley’s magnetic personality and hands-on approach to campaigning.

Is O'Malley's presidential bid for real?

Gov. Martin O’Malley

Since Brown proved unwilling or unable to articulate what the two had achieved in eight years, what better spokesman for the O’Malley era than the governor himself?

But once again, it never happened. O’Malley was the invisible man in the campaign. Brown got hammered on O’Malley’s record yet there was no one mounting a persuasive defense.

Where Was Heather? 

The surprise of the primary election was Democrat Heather Mizeur. Young and progressive voters flocked to her ultra-liberal crusade. After she lost, she volunteered to campaign for Brown — only to receive a polite snub.

Her supporters lost interest. Many didn’t bother to vote in November. The opportunity to spark interest in the Brown campaign among young progressives was lost.

Isolation Booth Campaigning is a Dud 

Brown let his campaign gurus call the shots — even when the moves made no sense. They isolated Brown from the common folk, from the media and from any human contact that wasn’t carefully scripted.

Brown is a Harvard grad with 16 years of political experience. Yet he was muzzled and insulated from the retail side of campaigning. That’s where a candidate reveals his human side. Voters need to glimpse a candidate’s humanity.

He compounded this sin by excluding his own voice from nearly all campaign ads. He never got the chance in his ads to personally address voters with genuine, heart-felt words.

The Big 3 Isn’t Enough

Brown’s strategy was to win big in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. He largely ignored everywhere else.

Yet he needed to spend lots of time impressing Democrats and independents in all the outlier counties where Republicans dominate. When he failed to pay attention to them, they drifted over to Hogan — or didn’t vote. He lost precious support not only in rural counties but also big jurisdictions like Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties. Hogan won there by giant margins in part because Brown was a no-show in those counties.

No Coordination with Local Democrats 

Just as Brown snubbed Mizeur, he also snubbed local Democrats badly in need of help in their local campaigns.

Other politicians and Democratic supporters pleaded with Brown’s camp to set up small-scale events in their districts to generate enthusiasm and energize local voters. They, too, were rebuffed.

Brown ran a one-man campaign focused on No. 1. As a result, many local pols didn’t go the extra mile to help Brown.

Policy Does Count

To this day, we’re still not sure what Brown specifically wanted to do as governor. He spent his time attacking Hogan rather than laying out a coherent, compelling visions for the next four years.

Hogan was very clear: reduce spending, cut taxes and regulations, support business growth that creates more jobs.

Brown told voters lots of reasons — most of them fallacious — why they shouldn’t vote for Hogan but precious few reasons why they should vote for him.

Voters Saw Through Brown’s Façade

Voters know the office of Maryland lieutenant governor is a worthless job. You shouldn’t put it on your resume, but Brown did. He needed instead to give voters plausible reasons to continue the reforms O’Malley started. He needed to explain what they had accomplished rather than stress his military background and service as light guv.

Brown was content as lieutenant governor to play a figurehead role on commissions and committees (such as the health-care exchange) and relentlessly read prepared texts to safe groups around the state.

When asked during the campaign, what he’d done since 2006 to justify election as governor, Brown couldn’t give a satisfactory answer.

The Media Matters

People get much of their political insights through media outlets. Denying reporters access to a candidate is dangerously counter-productive.

Brown at times ran from reporters. When asked an unexpected question, he looked like a deer caught in headlights.

Hogan stayed behind following the three debates, joked with reporters and responded to their queries. Brown quickly headed toward his chauffeured SUV and drove off.

Like it or not, politicians must romance the media.

Reporters write nicer stories if they get to know and like the candidate. Editorial page editors write kinder opinion pieces about a candidate who is open, friendly and a frequent presence.

That describes Larry Hogan, not Anthony Brown. Guess who won?

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Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com. 

Junk the ‘Lockbox’ Amendment

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 21, 2015 — Marylanders are being sold a bill of goods under the guise of fiscal accountability.

Voters ought to think twice before approving a constitutional amendment giving transportation priority status over social programs when the economy turns sour.

Conservatives — especially those who are staunch advocates of road-building — want to embed in the Maryland Constitution a high wall preventing the governor from dipping into the Transportation Trust Fund when the next recession creates a budget crisis.

If this amendment passes, it would be extraordinarily difficult for a governor to draw on transportation dollars to avert recession cuts in money flowing to local governments for schools, health care and social services. State workers’ jobs, pay and pensions would be at risk.

Once the transportation “lockbox” is approved, environmentalists will demand the same iron-clad protection for an array of “green” funds.

lockbox

We’re getting our priorities confused.

Is the No. 1 goal of state government protecting highway funds, even in the midst of a damaging recession?

Is that our top priority when state tax revenues dry up and the governor desperately seeks ways to avoid layoffs and deep cuts to schools, colleges and public assistance?

During the Great Recession, Gov. Martin O’Malley repeatedly took money from the Maryland Department of Transportation to keep important social programs afloat without imposing cuts that would hurt the poor and low-middle class.

Conservatives view this as theft. They want to stop governors from draining the transportation fund when recessions lead to deep budget holes.

O’Malley’s Mistake

Part of the problem is that O’Malley went overboard in shifting hundreds of millions from transportation to support other budget priorities.

He didn’t want to repay MDOT and he continually returned to this large source to pay for non-transportation expenses.

As a result, O’Malley ended up short-changing MDOT by refusing until late in his second term to address MDOT’s unmet financing needs.

Yet the extent of this problem has been greatly magnified by road-building advocates.

30 Year Trend

Over the past 30 years, a total of $574 million has been shifted from the transportation trust fund by governors during hard times to cover more important necessities. Over $325 million of that has been re-paid, with another payment due next year.

The problem with the lockbox amendment is that it ties the hands of future governors at the precise moment financial flexibility is essential.

Lock

Putting together a $40 billion budget is like solving a massive three-dimensional puzzle. There are thousands of moving parts.

Protecting government’s core services requires enormous fiscal dexterity in bad times.

The more maneuvering room a governor has, the easier it is to develop a recession-era budget that meets essential needs without creating hardships.

Recession Options

Sometimes that might mean borrowing from MDOT or from environmental programs set up to purchase green space or preserve farmland.

Or it might mean issuing general obligation bonds to free up cash sitting in a transportation or natural resources account.

The lockbox amendment dramatically limits a governor’s ability to meet future budget crises without imposing hurtful budget cuts.

It goes like this: If the governor cannot transfer $200 million from transportation accounts in the next deep recession to balance his budget, he’s got to take unpalatable steps — cutting aid to community colleges and private universities, local health departments and local school systems, medical assistance, pension programs and environmental funds.

Or he’s got to chop tens of millions of dollars from every state agency and dozens of local programs. Or he’s got to reduce support for state universities, which likely means a big jump in tuition. Or he’s got to fire thousands of state workers and eliminate services.

Strait Jacket for Governor

If the lockbox amendment is approved by voters, the governor’s options would be dramatically reduced.

Getting legislative approval to tap into the transportation fund (it would require a “super-majority” vote) could prove near-impossible in the decades ahead.

The governor might be forced to eliminate part of Maryland’s social safety net in the next recession, or make heartbreaking cuts to education and health care that damage people’s lives.

Segregating tax revenue in separate accounts that are virtually untouchable for other uses during economic downturns is unsound public policy.

It’s also poor public policy to plant this ticking time bomb in the state constitution, where it cannot be easily or rapidly removed.

Negative Consequences

At this late stage, though, the lockbox amendment has momentum on its side.

The idea sounds sensible — until you start examining the consequences that could result during hard times.

Chief executives in the public sector — and in the private sector — need a full financial toolbox when revenues plunge and the bills come due.

Creating a transportation lockbox robs Maryland’s governor of a vital tool.

It could make matters much worse in a future recession.

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Was Anyone Watching?

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 20, 2014–It was the best of the three gubernatorial debates, but who’s at home on a Saturday night?

And who’s going to turn to an hour-long program where two politicians sling angry, unfounded charges at one another?

The format and the questions this time were effective. Kudos to Jason Newton and WBAL-TV. Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican Larry Hogan Jr. were asked hard questions.

Watching the debate between Larry Hogan and Anthony Brown

Larry Hogan (left) and Anthony Brown

But when they wanted to, they played dodge-ball.

Brown and Hogan have their campaign scripts committed to memory.

Hogan: time for a change, cut taxes, cut spending. Brown: I’m  fighting for working families, let’s keep the momentum going.

Hogan never went beyond the superficial economic themes he harps on. That’s unfortunate.

It raises the question: Is there any meat on the bone?

He won’t tell us.

Occasional Insights

Brown displayed a bit of his policy wonk side and it was welcome. Yet he couldn’t resist reverting to a string of flagrantly false allegations against Hogan. Shame on him.

Thank goodness there were a few moments of insight into their political mindset.

On transportation, Hogan all but said he’d kill the Red Line and the Purple Line and dump transportation cash into roads, not mass transit. This plays to his base — rural voters, who were watching Saturday’s debate.

Brown repeated his emphasis on career education for kids not going on the college.

Hogan championed charter schools over more public school funding; Brown made a strong pitch for voluntary pre-kindergarten.

Brown gave an in-depth response on how he’d close the achievement gap; Hogan mentioned the gap was growing, then failed to give a plan of action.

Both favored a balanced approach on environmental and agricultural issues. Hogan tried to win Eastern Shore votes by attacking sweeping phosphorus management regulations.

Differing from O’Malley

Brown parted ways with his boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley, on the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) issue, calling it a “tremendous economic opportunity” he’d allow if it can be done without “disturbing the rural legacy” of Western Maryland.

Hogan called fracking an “economic gold mine,” which dramatically overstates the case. (Only two small counties would benefit and the returns for land owners could be modest.) He rightly condemned O’Malley’s intentional foot-dragging to appease environmental zealots who want a ban on fracking in Maryland.

Is anyone watching the debate?

Brown, for the first time, said his “No. 1 strategic goal” would be improving Maryland’s business climate – another significant break with O’Malley. But then he hammered Hogan again for daring to seek a corporate income tax cut that would level the playing field with Virginia in the competitive quest for jobs.

Hogan called the Brown-led health exchange rollout every name in the book – “unmitigated disaster,” “the worst in the United States” and “the biggest boondoggle in state history.” All true, but we still aren’t sure how he’d approach health care for the under-insured and uninsured while at the same time making $2 billion in budget cuts.

Campaign Positions

Brown gave specifics for dealing with the state’s heroin epidemic; Hogan merely said he’d call a summit to draw up a plan. Brown responded there already was a statewide confab on the crisis in June.

Both candidates did a good job laying out their campaign positions. But they failed to address Maryland’s economic and fiscal situation honestly and forthrightly.

The next governor isn’t going to have it easy.

The lingering effects of the recession and the federal budget slowdown will make it tough just to balance future state budgets without taking painful, unpopular steps.

Hogan makes spending cuts and tax reductions sound easy; Brown says things are rosier than they are.

They’re both wrong.

Yet one of them is going to wind up running the state of Maryland. The third debate didn’t give us enough clarity as to how they’d do it.

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Debate No. 2 Goes To Brown

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 15, 2014 — Chalk one up – a big one – for Anthony Brown.

In a campaign marked by wild accusations and harsh, over-the-top negativity, the Democratic candidate for Maryland governor finally started talking policy in the second televised debate.

Larry Hogan Jr., left, and Anthony Brown, Debate No. 2

Larry Hogan Jr., left, and Anthony Brown

Two down, one to go.

Brown still focused too much on slamming his opponent with charges that are patently false. But he also started giving voters a clearer picture of how he’d govern Maryland over the next four years.

Sadly, Republican Larry Hogan Jr. didn’t deliver much more than what the Washington Post called his usual “mush.” Hogan missed a prime opportunity to gain ground.

That’s important because Hogan remains stuck somewhere between 3 and 10 points behind in the polls. While that’s surprisingly close for a Republican in Maryland, it’s not good enough.

Few Specifics

Hogan repeatedly failed to offer specifics on key questions: How he’d clean up the Chesapeake Bay; how he’d deal with gun laws he opposes; how he’d attempt to jump-start the state’s economy, and how he’d improve education while at the same time cutting spending.

Hogan completely avoided answering questions about his private meeting with gun advocates and what, if anything he promised them.

He refused to say if he told gun advocates that he intended to name a new State Police Superintendent so he’d make it easier to obtain a concealed weapon permit.

Details didn’t seem to concern Hogan in this debate. He repeated the same campaign fluff he’s been spouting for months.

He offered little beyond his distaste for past tax increases, his pessimistic view of Maryland’s economy and his wish to create more jobs.

Fill in the Blanks

That worked for Hogan in the Republican primary but he’s got to fill in the blanks if he wants to win over Democratic and independent voters in suburban Baltimore and Washington.

During the debate, Hogan offered no concrete examples of how he’d cut state spending or how as governor he would pump up Maryland’s economy.

He left viewers pondering this question: Where’s the beef?

There was no meat to chew on.

Brown, at least, stopped finger-pointing long enough to give a hint of how he’d run things.

He provided a brief but cogent explanation of the botched health exchange rollout and a defense of Obamacare, i.e., giving 400,000 more Marylanders health insurance.

Brown’s Pledges

He far outdistanced Hogan in his response to protecting Maryland waterways against stormwater pollution.

He repeated his pledge to use tax credits and tax cuts to spur small business development.

He defended his call for universal pre-kindergarten through a phased-in program. (Paying for it remains unanswered.)

He committed to mass transit expansions in the Baltimore and Washington regions that Hogan wants stopped.

He placed emphasis on career and technical education (the old vocational-tech courses) to make high school students job-ready if they’re not college-bound.

We heard little of such substance from Hogan other than his usual grand themes.

In contrast, Brown finally started turning to the specifics voters crave. He came across as competent and knowledgeable. It was his best performance to date.

For Brown, it was Mission Accomplished.

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Lying to MD Voters

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 13, 2014 — Whoever is elected Maryland governor on Nov. 4 will have some s’plain’ to do to the state’s citizens.

Why have you been lying to us?

Why did you make wild allegations out of whole cloth?

Why did you deceive us?

Both Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican Larry Hogan Jr. are guilty as charged, though Brown is by far the worse offender.

Democratic candidate Anthony Brown

Democratic Candidate Anthony Brown

He not only manufactured false charges against Hogan on abortion, gun control and school construction, his campaign has kept screaming those invalid accusations in a propaganda blitz dominated by “Big Lie” tactics.

Debate Deception

Brown continued his campaign of falsehoods at the first TV debate last week.

Out of the blue he accused Hogan of pledging to cut $450 million from school construction funds. That is patently false. Hogan never said any such thing.

Hogan had issued an error-filled list of “examples,” culled from audit reports, of “waste, fraud and abuse” in state government, including school construction, to show how cost-savings could be achieved.

Republican Candidate Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican Candidate Larry Hogan Jr.

Brown’s advisers turned that into “he’s against education” allegations. Then Brown repeated the bogus charge in the debate. Talk about a leap of logic. . .

The Maryland Democratic Party’s campaign’s motto seems to be “smear Hogan. . . and then smear him again.”

Inflammatory Environment

Even more shameful: Brown got both the state teachers’ union and House Speaker Mike Busch to condemn a budget-cut promise by Hogan that he never made.

Busch and the union know better. They are contributing to a dangerous, inflammatory campaign environment in which truth is the casualty.

Instead of setting a positive tone in the debate and detailing his positions, Brown stuck to his advisers’ script: go negative, denounce Hogan, keep him on the defensive — even if the charges aren’t true.

What an appalling way to win an election.

‘Big Lie’ Precedent

It’s the worst “Big Lie” campaign in Maryland since John Marshall Butler defeated longtime Sen. Millard Tydings in 1950 — during the height of the Red Scare era — by distributing a doctored, composite photo showing Tydings with the leader of the American Communist Party.

Fake photo Tydings-Browder

Fake Photo of Sen. Millard Tydings with Community Party Chief Earl Browder

This end-justifies-the-means mentality is deeply offensive in a democratic arena. It may work on the battlefield, but Army Colonel Brown knows it is totally inappropriate in an American political campaign.

Not that Hogan’s antics deserve a silver star.

His much-ballyhooed attack on the Democratic administration’s “40 tax increases” is wildly inflated. His $1.75 billion listing of “waste, fraud and abuse” is irresponsibly inaccurate and filled with stunning errors. His misleading attacks on the “rain tax” perpetuate a Republican fiction. His data to prove Maryland’s economic decline badly overstates reality.

Finger-Pointing

What’s lacking from both candidates is a compelling, detailed argument for why they should be governor. Instead, we get finger-pointing and shrill, over-the-top charges of extremism.

This campaign has been about extremism — extreme name-calling. And it’s worth reiterating that Brown is doing far more than Hogan to put this campaign in Maryland’s Political Hall of Shame.

Recently, Brown issued his own cost-cutting, “government efficiency” program, making sure it was released on a football Sunday, guaranteeing that few paid attention.

Flight of Fantasy

It’s a disgraceful document, nearly as bad as Hogan’s much-discredited budget-cutting plan.

It assumes future savings that may never materialize. It makes giant leaps of faith that aren’t supported by any credible documentation.

It incorrectly counts savings by local governments as state budget savings. It makes wild assumptions that employee suggestions will save tens of millions of dollars each year. It attributes huge savings to decriminalizing marijuana — a flight of fantasy lacking in hard evidence.

Given all the fraudulent assertions by each candidate, neither deserves to move into the governor’s mansion.

But that’s not an option for voters.

We’re left picking between the lesser of two evils. What a sad commentary on the current state of Maryland politics.

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Barry Rascovar’s commentaries can be found at www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

A Debatable Debate in MD

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 8, 2014 — This is the best we’ve got?

It was a painfully thin performance by both Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican Larry Hogan Jr. in Maryland’s first gubernatorial debate of the month Tuesday night.

They followed their handlers’ terribly misguided advice to trash one another. They went out of their way to go negative and too often repeated their trite attack lines and glaringly erroneous accusations.

The result: Neither candidate presented a compelling argument for becoming governor.

“Vote for Me”

Instead, they all but proclaimed to voters: “If you don’t like what the other guy stands, then vote for me.” What a horrible way to waste an hour of valuable debate time on statewide TV.

Brown clearly bested Hogan on the environmental question of the night.

He gave a detailed and cogent explanation of efforts to protect and clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Hogan’s response — delaying bay cleanup efforts while he sues Pennsylvania and New York to force upstream sediment removal in the Susquehanna River — was an evasive and weak answer to the question.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr. - Debate in MD

Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Hogan had by far the better response on crime.

He zeroed in on Maryland’s heroin epidemic, summarized the crisis and called for a summit to find answers.

Brown rattled off past successes against crime, which rang hollow given the state’s continuing struggle to stem the violence.

The saddest part of the evening may have been each candidate’s exaggerations to the  point of fabrication.

Each used budget-saving ideas and fiscal numbers based mainly on hot air.

As for the biggest mistake of the evening, that belongs to Anthony Brown’s. “There will be no new taxes under the Brown-Ulman administration,” he said.

Brown will rue the day he made that campaign promise.

There’s no way he can govern eight years without increasing the state’s revenue base.

It was another of what Hogan correctly called Brown’s “phony promises” that ignore Maryland’s $405 million deficit, recent dips in revenue collections and the state’s ballooning expenses over the next four or five years.

Moving the Economy

Both candidates overpromised when it came to reviving Maryland’s economy.

No governor has the ability to do that, though a governor can nudge things in the right direction long-term with wise tax reforms.

Brown’s closing remarks were pathetically weak (the “American dream” shtick). Hogan’s closing was far superior in making the case for change.

Still, the bottom line is that Brown didn’t mess up in Debate No. 1.

As the Democratic candidate, he’s got a built-in advantage in deeply blue Maryland.

The race remains his to lose.

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Barry Rascovar has been reporting on Maryland politics for over 40 years. His columns can be found at www.politicalmaryland.com.