Tag Archives: Bob Ehrlich

Stormwater tax unpopular but necessary

By Barry Rascovar / Community Times | July 10, 2013

WHEN YOUR PROPERTY TAX bill arrived by mail last week, you may not have noticed a slight addition: an extra $21, $32 or $39 — depending on your type of residence — for “Stormwater Remediation.”

This is overdue recognition that stormwater pouring from roofs and parking pads pollutes the Chesapeake Bay, promotes flooding and soil erosion and leads to drinking water contamination.

Embarking on fixes takes money.

It’s similar to another charge, $60, on the same bill for the Bay Restoration Fund. This is better known as the “flush tax” promoted by Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich.

That money is spent on costly sewage treatment plant upgrades to remove nitrogen and other pollutants before the cleansed water is dumped into streams, rivers and the Chesapeake.

They are necessary expenses if we care about our environment.

None of us like to pay taxes. That’s been true since the American Revolution — remember the original Tea Party in Boston and other colonial cities?

But delivering government services and preserving our valuable natural resources can’t be done for free.

In Baltimore County, the fee to deal with stormwater runoff pays for such services as street sweeping, storm drain cleaning, maintenance and improvements, shoreline stabilization, tree planting and reforestation, among other things.

The county’s charge is $21 for a townhouse, $32 for a condo and $39 for a single-family home. This is far cheaper than Baltimore City, between $40 and $120 per residence, and generally less than Howard County, $15 to $90.

Anne Arundel County is phasing in its stormwater fee, $34 to $85, over three years and Harford County has a 10-year phase-in of its $125 fee while a task force studies other options.

The fee is mandated by state law affecting 10 jurisdictions that contribute the most to stormwater pollution of the bay.

A few counties refused to take the state mandate — required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency — seriously. They could face hefty fines or a whopping cleanup tab down the road.

Carroll County’s staunchly conservative commissioners aren’t imposing any fee and will pay for cleanup projects out of the county’s annual budget. Frederick County’s even more conservative commissioners imposed a $1 per residence fee and dared the EPA and Maryland to object.

Meanwhile, a Baltimore County Republican known for his grandstanding is leading a drive to repeal the so-called “rain tax.” Del. Pat McDonough has as much chance of succeeding as stopping the rain from falling on roofs and other impervious surfaces.

When you think about it, this fee and Ehrlich’s “flush tax” are cost-effective ways to show our support for clean water. For less than $100 a year every resident in Baltimore County contributes to a greener environment that makes it safer to swim in our rivers and bay, drink water from our taps and preserve this state’s greatest treasure, the Chesapeake.

 Barry Rascovar is a political columnist whose writings can be viewed as www.politicalmaryland.com. His email address is brascovar@hotmail.com.

Maryland’s New Taxes: Why Now?

By Barry Rascovar / July 2, 2013

TAXES ON GASOLINE in Maryland went up 3.5 cents on Monday; crossing toll bridges and tunnels got a lot more expensive, especially for truckers. Fees to combat stormwater pollution kicked in as well in the greater Baltimore-Washington area.

Higher gas taxesIt’s a big pill to swallow, even in a state whose leaders have felt no compunction about raising over 40 taxes, especially on businesses and the well-too-do, during the O’Malley-Brown reign in Annapolis.

Yes, the fees and taxes that commenced July 1 are necessary over the long run. We may not like it, but progress comes with a price.

Land of Toxic Living?

Would we rather watch bridges collapse, beltway congestion mushroom and pollution of streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay turn Maryland into the “Land of Toxic Living”?

It’s the timing and the size of these tax increases that are so terrible.

The burden imposed on businesses and non-profits is harmful and counter-productive. Critics have a right to mock the state’s chief executive by cynically shouting: “Pile high the taxes, Martin!”

Wait Till Later

Even worse, the first stage of the gasoline tax in Maryland pales compared with future increases dictated under the new law that could total 65 cents. The cries of anguish and anger will dog the next administration in Annapolis — a gift from the departing governor.

It didn’t have to play out this way.

A thoughtful, practical and courageous approach by political leaders in the Maryland State House would have led to action much sooner. That would have meant smaller levies phased in over time and two decades of transportation and environmental upgrades.

A Better  Way

It’s no surprise that more must be spent today to stem pollution caused by stormwater runoff. If Maryland had acted sooner, the fees would have been more modest and the remediation would have been cheaper.

Instead, O’Malley & Co. waited . . . and waited . . . and waited until the Environmental Protection Agency strong-armed Maryland and other nearby states to commit to big pollution cleanups.

It also was no surprise Maryland needed more money to repair dilapidated bridges and highways. Yet no governor and no legislature in the last 20 years had the courage to do the right thing..

Gone With The Wind

Instead, they took the Scarlett O’Hara approach: They put off difficult decisions until Maryland faced a transportation crisis and construction costs had soared.

As a result, Marylanders face a raft of gas tax increases that eventually will make this state one of the costliest in the nation at the pump. The new tolls for some truckers are so severe it may put their businesses in jeopardy.

Governors and legislators also dramatically raised the cost for fixing transportation and environmental shortcomings by waiting.

Parris Didn’t Get It

Had Gov. Parris Glendening overcome his political trepidation and acted in the best, long-term interests of Maryland he would have insisted in the 1990s on a gas tax increase tied to inflation. He also would have imposed modest fees to stem sewage plant and stormwater pollution of the Chesapeake.

The same can be said of Bob Ehrlich, who jacked up transportation licensing fees instead of biting the bullet with a far larger tax increase at the pump. He deserves credit, though, for imposing an unpopular “flush tax” to modernize sewage treatment plants. It didn’t win him points with conservatives — and hurt his reelection chances — but it was the right thing to do.

O’Malley failed to seize his moment (“carpe diem”) in 2007 when he had a golden chance to ram through a gas tax increase along with slots legalization. A small environmental cleanup fee could have been tacked on at that time, too.

So Many Missed Opportunities

We could have averted the current round of tax hikes but no one in the State House took the high road. They worried about re-electability instead of Maryland’s long-term viability.

We would have had better roads and bridges, too, and a cleaner Chesapeake Bay had our political leaders acted wisely in the past. Two decades of progress in transportation and the environment were lost.

Our leaders haven’t been very courageous. We’re paying the price for that today.

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The Odds: Md’s Republican Governor Candidates

By Barry Rascovar / June 25, 2013

YOU HAVE GOT TO WONDER what makes grown Republicans scramble and jostle for the right to play David to the Democrat’s Goliath in next year’s Maryland governor’s race.

Republican Party symbolOnly once in the past 10 state elections has the GOP candidate gained enough votes to live in Government House across from the Maryland State House in Annapolis.

Republicans have held the Free State’s top job for just six of the last 50 years.

Given daunting voter registration figures – 2 million Democrats vs. 900,000 Republicans and 600,000 independents – it’s hard to see a bright future for the party’s nominee.

Yet today there are more Republican than Democratic politicians looking at a run for Maryland chief executive. Amazing.

Let’s look at the contenders and handicap their chances. Remember, we’re still a year removed from the primary next June:

Leader of the Pack

David Craig. He’s finishing his second term as Harford County Executive after serving as a state senator, state delegate, Havre de Grace mayor and councilman and public school teacher and principal. In other words, he’s battle-tested and a winner.

As an executive, Craig have played the role of fiscal conservative with a social conscience. He’s the most practical politician of the group, which may not be a positive in an era of Tea Party absolutism within the GOP.

Establishment Republicans favor Craig because he’s got the best shot at pulling an upset. But will that be enough to win a summer primary where ideologues and hard-liners turn out and the rank and file tend to stay home?

Odds of winning the nomination: 3-1

Name From The Past

Michael Steele. He’s a conservative TV analyst (MSNBC), columnist and public speaker who served one term as Maryland lieutenant governor and a controversial term as Republican National Committee chair.

He ran for U.S. Senate in 2006, losing to Democrat Ben Cardin by nearly 180,000 votes.

Steele brings statewide name recognition and the ability to attract national donors. But he’s not been part of the Maryland dialogue on issues for a long time.

He might appeal to urban and rural conservatives in the party as someone who has been in the news for a decade and doesn’t stray from GOP orthodoxies. He’ll pick up votes from the party’s small band of black voters, too.

Odds of winning the primary: 6-1

Businessman’s Special

Larry Hogan Jr. He’s an Annapolis real estate broker who runs a group of real estate companies. His chief claim to GOP fame is founding Change Maryland, a lobbying group that has loudly criticized Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley for his anti-business, anti-growth actions.

He’s also the namesake son of the former Republican Prince George’s County congressman (1968-1974) and county executive (1978-1982).

Hogan’s only government service was appointments secretary under Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich. He was getting ready to file for governor himself in 2010 before Ehrlich tried to re-claim the job he once held.

Back in 1992, Hogan ran Congress and came close to upsetting Democrat Steny Hoyer.

Hogan’s high-profile, well-documented broadsides against O’Malley’s spending practices appeal to conservative voters. He’s positioned as the non-politician who wants to run government like a business.

Odds of winning the primary: 8-1

The Jeweler

Ron George. He owns a well-known Main Street gem store in Annapolis and is concluding his second term in the Maryland House of Delegates.

His chances for a third term in 2014 vanished when Democrats gerrymandered his district. Thus, running for governor looks like a graceful political exit while reaching for the state party’s brass ring.

George is a strict fiscal conservative opposed to almost every tax on the books. He’s counting on a huge vote in Anne Arundel County, home to the third largest number of Republican.

Will that be enough?

Odds of winning the primary: 10-1.

The Mouth

Blaine Young. He’s the one-term president of the Frederick County Commissioners, former Frederick city alderman, radio personality, taxicab and limo company owner and mobile van advertising operator who likes to stir things up.

Young’s Tea Party outbursts, grandstanding and outspoken nature thrill party hardliners.

Yet translating his appeal beyond Frederick’s borders (where his Democratic parents and brother all hold elective office) could prove difficult without lots moolah.

He may opt to forgo the governor’s race and run instead for the new post of Frederick county executive next year.

Odds of winning the primary: 12-1

Impossible Dream

Charles Lollar. He is a Southern Maryland businessman (Cintas) who wanted to file for governor in 2010 but couldn’t because he hadn’t been registered to vote over a five-year period.

Instead, he ran for Congress against Democrat Hoyer, winning 35 percent of the vote.

Now finishing up his Marine Corps reserves tour at the Pentagon as a major, Lollar is all but officially running. He’s proud of never having held elective office and thinks that gives him an advantage with GOP voters. But with Steele in the governor’s race, Lollar has little chance. They will split the party’s small but important  African-American vote.

Without wads of cash and a collapse by the frontrunners, Lollar will be just another vocal conservative voice at candidate forums across the state.

Odds of winning the primary: 50-1.

[Do you disagree? Agree? Feel free to respond with a comment about Maryland’s Republican Governor candidates.]

Maryland’s Political Prison Puzzle

Corrections Dept.By Barry Rascovar / June 11, 2013

THERE IS NO WAY Gov. Martin O’Malley can make Maryland’s prison embarrassment disappear. Lord knows he’d like to. If he’s serious about running for President, O’Malley must explain why he was so slow to respond to the growing influence of street gangs within state prisons over the past seven years.

He can’t blame this one on his Republican predecessor, Bob Ehrlich. The problem started to build back then but there were clear signs early in O’Malley’s first term gangs had become dangerously powerful inside prison walls.

He can’t blame all his tardiness on the FBI, which took two long years to finish its investigation at the Baltimore City jail. Yes, that stymied efforts to remove suspect prisoners and guards. But there were plenty of other steps — much-needed additional training, rotation of guards not under investigation and a review of the leadership team’s skills, abilities and honesty.

An outside audit earlier this year revealed a shocking lack of attention by the O’Malley administration to the basics: filthy cells, no standard security checks, antiquated security gates and guards ignorant of an inmate’s rights. Part of this is due to budget cuts during the Great Recession and the chronic under-funding of prison programs by government.

However, the audit also revealed a top-heavy, inefficient management structure. How could O’Malley’s highly touted State Stat gurus miss this? Why wasn’t this costly, ineffective administrative excess done away with during the state’s deep recession?

It’s a dilemma for the governor and a headache for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who may have made a mistake with his early announcement of candidacy to succeed O’Malley.

Brown is in the uncomfortable posture of explaining the prison scandal on his watch. Attorney General Doug Gansler’s shot across O’Malley’s bow in asking for an independent inquiry is just the beginning of the political broadsides.

Yet O’Malley has got a right to be angry at the way federal investigators trumpeted their indictments. Instead of holding a joint press conference and sharing credit with state leaders, who had requested the investigation after all, the FBI and U.S. Attorney for Maryland decided to grandstand. They left the clear impression O’Malley and his underlings were asleep at the switch.

That may win federal officials in Maryland gold stars from their Washington bosses but it soured future relations with Annapolis.

Digging out of this mess won’t be easy, as House Speaker Mike Busch noted. One legislative hearing is the beginning of public discussions, not the end.

There are serious mid-level management weaknesses. Those can be corrected by prisions secretary Gary Maynard. He can institute tough new security measures to eliminate most contraband cell phones and drugs. Downsizing the prison bureaucracy is essential. A little money from the governor can make the Baltimore jail cleaner and safer.

Getting rid of dishonest guards at the Baltimore City Detention Center is a must but it brings up an equally serious problem: how to replace them? The pool of guard applicants in Baltimore City who are drug-free and have clean records is small, especially among males. Most applicants come from the same neighborhoods as the inmates. That’s not a healthy situation.

Female applicants in Baltimore City, meanwhile, tend to have self-confidence problems and are susceptible to the amorous sweet-talk of manipulative inmates. Recruiting better guard applicants won’t be easy and won’t happen quickly.

O’Malley erred several times by not personally taking control of the situation and setting the record straight as to who started this investigation, his earlier steps to attack the gang issue and his determination to continue the effort. He could have done this after he returned from his economic development trip to Israel or at last week’s legislative hearing.

Instead, he chose to govern through press releases. It didn’t work.

On this one he needs to lead the crusade. If not, he’ll be dogged by prison scandal questions at every campaign stop across the country — and his preferred successor will be bogged down trying to explain what went so wrong that it left Maryland in an embarrassing national spotlight.

 

 

Political Dimensions of Jim Smith’s New Job

Jim Smith

By Barry Rascovar / June 2, 2013

BY CHOOSING former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith as Maryland’s new transportation secretary, Gov. Martin O’Malley solved multiple problems, especially for his governor-in-waiting, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

O’Malley left the top MDOT post vacant for nearly a year. Smith, apparently, had been the governor’s choice but never accepted until after the governor did the heavy lifting in pushing a multi-year gas tax increase through the General Assembly, After all, what fun would it be to serve as MDOT secretary without $$$ to upgrade Maryland’s transportation network?

Smith has modest experience dealing with state legislative issues outside of Baltimore County delegation matters. He has minimal background in the inner workings of the statewide transportation program and its political underpinnings. He would have been of little use to O’Malley in lining up votes for a hefty gas tax increase.

Now it’s a different story. The gas tax rises by four cents a gallon on July 1 and there’s much more to come in future years. There will be a steady flow of construction announcements and ribbon cuttings. It’s a great time to be Maryland’s transportation boss.

Smith brings administrative skills to the job. He’s also a fiscal conservative, which means projects that bring the biggest bang for the buck will take priority. And he’s a first-rate political operator who knows how to massage egos and quietly seek common ground.

It’s an ideal landing spot for Smith, who sorely missed public service. It’s one of the most important posts in Maryland.

In selecting Smith, O’Malley did a big favor for his lieutenant governor. Smith might have ended up running on Attorney General Doug Gansler’s ticket next year, which would have aided Gansler in the Baltimore suburbs on election day.

But now Smith is locked into the O’Malley-Brown administration. If he wants to keep his job after 2014, Smith knows he’s got to working tirelessly to elect Brown. That could prove pivotal in Baltimore County, which often decides state elections. Smith also has a good chunk of campaign cash lying around, which might help Brown gain name recognition.

O’Malley owed Smith big-time, Without Smith’s hard work and vocal support for the Baltimore mayor, O’Malley might have lost in 2006 to incumbent Gov. Bob Ehrlich. In that election, Smith managed to hold Ehrlich to a draw in his home county, which locked up the race for O’Malley.

The governor has re-paid Smith with perhaps the biggest plum in state government. For at least the next 18 months, Jim Smith will be a big wheel in Annapolis.