Tag Archives: Garrett County

Education Politics

By Barry Rascovar

Dec. 14, 2015 – He masks it well, but Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. plays a good game of partisan politics. Behind that smile and friendly voice is a fierce Republican eager to further the conservative cause.

Education is a prime example of Hogan’s conservative partisanship trumping over sound public policy.

First, he needlessly nixed $68 million in education aid to 14 high-cost subdivisions, basing his action on the false premise that this money was needed to bolster the state’s pension fund. (The money instead sat unused in the state treasury.)

He tossed a bunch of moderate non-partisans off the Baltimore County school board and named one replacement who is an outspoken social conservative with views on public education that are far from mainstream.

Then he announced a surprise gift of $5.6 million to three Republican-voting counties to help them with their loss of state funds due to shrinking enrollment.

That announcement was bogus, too.

No Done Deal

Hogan is talking as though he can write a check to the three counties – Carroll, Garrett and Kent. He can’t.

In reality, he’s only putting a request for this appropriation in his next budget, due in January. It will be up to the Democratic General Assembly to determine if Hogan’s “gift” to three of 24 school systems is warranted.

It’s highly unlikely Hogan’s maneuver to aid just the three Republican counties will be approved as submitted.

Moreover, this funding from Hogan is only a temporary, one-year sop to the three Republican counties. It does nothing to solve their long-range education budget woes caused by too many school buildings and a dwindling number of students.

But the governor got raves from some Republican politicians and angry parents in Carroll County, who have been waging a concerted effort to keep three schools open, despite the fact that flat migration and slowing birthrates has led to a 7 percent drop in school enrollment, with more losses expected over the next five years.

Education Politics

Declining enrollment in Carroll County schools poses dilemma.

Hogan’s aid plan merely kicks the proverbial can down the road – the very same tactic Candidate Hogan railed against when attacking the O’Malley-Brown administration during last year’s campaign.

Carroll’s Conundrum

Following lengthy studies and deliberations, Carroll’s school superintendent recommended closing three under-capacity schools next fall and possibly two more later. This would save at least $5.2 million. He wants to address $14 million in unmet needs within the school system caused by the county leadership’s refusal to raise more local tax dollars for education.

Hogan is pandering to a few of Carroll’s Republican legislators, who want the state to bail them out of this education dilemma of their own making. The cold, hard reality is that maintaining a quality school system is a costly proposition for local governments.

The option they sought to avoid: Closing no-longer-needed schools, which are expensive to maintain. Such a move is intensely unpopular with those that are affected – parents and their children.

But Carroll’s school board refused to take Hogan’s bait. Members recognized they were being offered fool’s gold. They understood this would only add to the anguish and costs.

A true conservative wouldn’t play this type of political game.

Instead, a true conservative would let the downsizing (or “right-sizing”) commence so the school system spends its limited dollars more wisely and efficiently.

Isn’t the conservative approach espoused by Hogan all about eliminating wasteful government spending?

Longer-range Perspective

Rather than taking a partisan, piecemeal and temporary approach to this problem, why not examine the need to make long-range changes in Maryland’s school-aid formula?

Schools with declining enrollments shouldn’t suffer such immediate and deep aid cuts. That’s a flaw in the state’s education formula. Garrett County, impoverished and isolated, is a prime example of how this portion of the formula unfairly harms jurisdictions most in need.

At the same time, other parts of the formula need fixing. Baltimore City is being penalized because its property wealth grew last year due to waterfront developments. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into more local money for schools.

There’s an even bigger question not being discussed.

With the state likely to show a huge surplus in January, isn’t it time to take a bipartisan look at possibly raising Maryland’s per-pupil spending as the state’s economy gains momentum?

A panel is studying changes in the school-aid formula, with its final report due next fall. Republicans need to open their minds to supporting a future increase in state funding if they truly want to help schools in Republican counties.

Partisanship won’t disappear, though. We can expect a major tug of war on this issue starting in January and extending through the next gubernatorial election.

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Garrett County’s Isolation — Responses

By Barry Rascovar

May 4, 2014 — Who woulda thunk it? A column on Garrett County’s isolation in mountainous, far Western Maryland produced a tsunami of responses — both pro and con — including one from an offended gubernatorial wannabe’s staffer and another from an offended O’Malley administration.

And here I thought I was saying something nice for a change!

Garrett County

A few local residents felt I was too kind in my admiration; others appreciated that someone from the big city three hours away noticed there’s more out to Garrett than state forests, ski lifts and a man-made lake.

The governor’s folks didn’t like being accused of “benign neglect” when it comes to promoting and aiding the state’s most decidedly Republican county. The administration’s opus, though, inadvertently proved my point.

The letter noted that O’Malley has poured $70 million into Garrett’s roads since 2007. There’s another $10 million coming this year, too — nearly all of it to improve state highways in the county.

The Rest of the Story

Here are some facts left out of the O’Malley administration’s letter: Garrett received 20 percent less in local transportation aid, 15 percent less in recreation and natural resources aid, 4 percent less in library aid and 2 percent less in education aid from Annapolis this year — even as the overall state budget grew by 4.3 percent.

So much for the O’Malley-Brown administration’s claim of putting Garrett County on its priority list.

Indeed, there’s scant evidence either O’Malley or Brown have thought much about helping Garrett boost its economic potential as a recreation wonderland.

Ever hear about the governor or lieutenant governor making news by vacationing at Deep Creek Lake or at the Wisp ski resort?

Deep Creek Lake

Deep Creek Lake

Ever catch O’Malley or Brown cutting commercials that promote Garrett as a retreat for families who like outdoor activities?

To them, it’s a forgotten, Republican part of Maryland not worth their time.

Wisp ski resort

Meanwhile, a spokesman for businessman Larry Hogan Jr. wrote to protest the column’s assertion that no candidate for governor cares about Garrett County.

“Western MD is absolutely a priority for Hogan,” says Adam Dubitsky of the Republican candidate’s campaign staff, “which is why he visited shortly after announcing and will be back again. . . .  Larry has repeatedly criticized Annapolis elites for ignoring Marylanders who live west of Frederick City and especially those who reside west of Sideling Hill.”

Fracking Can Be Fractious

Other readers took issue with the column’s concern that overly strict state regulations could doom hopes for an economic boost tied to drilling for natural gas in Garrett County using hydraulic fracturing techniques, better known as “fracking.”

One resident wrote, “I live in Garrett county and do not want fracking here. Don’t be too quick to judge.”

Here’s another: “Thank you so much for your article about Garrett County. . .  in most areas you ‘hit the nail on the head’.  However, many in the county do not want fracking, many are concerned about the impact on our tourist industries including the lake and the many local state parks. . . .  noise and water pollution are the major concerns.  Fracking is a big, noisy business with big trucks and constant disruption.  I know that simplifies a problem. . .  but it is a concern, as well as a drop in the property values.  After living near a natural gas storage pumping site for 25 years. . .  the traffic and noise are an impact on daily living and enjoyment of property, or small acreage.  Just sayin’. . . Thank you for ‘listening!’ ”

A resident of Lonaconing wrote: “Very interesting article, although a couple minor errors, plus, I wanted to give you a little additional insight. . .

“First, Garrett Co is not the only county that will benefit from fracking. . . . Allegany County will also. . . western Allegany County (the George’s Creek valley) also sits over the Marcellus Shale reserve.

“Secondly, as far as gubernatorial candidates. . . when [Doug] Gansler did his Western Maryland tour, he only went as far as Cumberland (Allegany Co.). . . He never touched Garrett. . . Hogan is the only candidate I know of that’s gone to Garrett for a political visit. . .

“Other than that, nice article. . . nice to get a little focus up this way.”

Community College Guarantee

Here’s another response concerning Garrett County’s guarantee of a community college education for its high school graduates:

“As a Western Marylander, I appreciated this column. I thought you would be interested to know that, inspired in part by the Garrett County Commissioners’ decision to pay for community college for Garrett students, the Allegany County Commissioners have dedicated most of the revenue they receive from the new Rocky Gap Casino to paying for local students to attend Allegany College of Maryland and Frostburg State University. In discussions I heard, they talked about both the economic development benefit of having a better-educated populace, as well as the ability to keep our young people from having to leave the county for opportunity.”

From the president of Garrett College, Rick MacLennan, came this comment:

“Thank you for your recognition of the County/College partnership.  Existence of the County scholarship program was a significant variable in my decision to accept the presidency (and yank my family across the country from the state of Washington) in 2010.

“It was very nice meeting you—come back and see us again.”

 

Garrett Co. MD

Garrett County (in pink)

 

Others didn’t see it that way. Here’s a correspondence from Grantsville:

“I liked reading it, but I think you drank the Cool-Aid a bit too heavily! I have only lived out here for 6 years, so I hardly qualify as a resident let alone a local. I am a retired software engineer and teach at Garrett College (one course in computer science).  Some observations that I have gleaned:

  1. The average Garrett Scholarship student is ill-prepared for much of anything out of high school.  90% going to Garrett College have to take remedial math and English! . . . It may be that those going to other institutions are better-prepared, but I suspect it is self-selection rather than ability.
  2. Of my students, I have lost about 20% after the first week, 60% by the mid-terms, and 20% will pass. . . I am extremely lenient with no dings for late homework, open book and unlimited time for tests, etc. and still see only a couple of students get through the semester with good grades!
  3. The primary school system does not seem to adequately provide for vocational training. . . I suspect a lot of students should be pushed toward building trades, communications, wind turbine maintenance, etc.
  4. A lot of Garrett’s problems are self-inflicted.  There is a lot of NIMBYism that is often misplaced.  For instance, the objections to zoning prevent any useful regulation of land use including fracking, wind turbines, suburban sprawl, etc. . . .

“On the positive side:

  1. The roads are incredibly well-maintained, especially in the winter.
  2. The temperatures are about 10F lower than certainly Baltimore and even Cumberland (more like 8F there).
  3. Services are adequate and Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Morgantown, or Altoona (or even Frederick, D.C., or Baltimore) are a reasonable distance.
  4. Arts are OK — I . . . travel back to Frederick weekly to play in the Frederick Symphony because there is nothing close even at Frostburg University. We do have some arts at Frostburg, Cumberland, GLAF [Garrett Lake Arts Festival], and Music at Penn Alps. . . .
  5. The fall is fantastic!  Winter is a real winter (if you like that — if not, don’t come out here!)”

Missing Key Points

Here’s a different perspective from a Garrett resident:

“The article totally misses several key facts . . .

“Garrett County (GC) residents are partially responsible for their political isolation. They lean so far right that ordinary (above and below middle class citizens) hardly ever speak out regarding their concerns about important issues. . . . .

“The lack of public outcry has caused a severe excommunication of area residents. Since they don’t raise their voice, it leaves only wealthy business owners to push political ideas. This has turned Garrett County into a mecca for minimum wage. Our leaders complain that families don’t stay in the area, yet college educated people are left working at Lowe’s or Wisp, for a scant $ 7.25 per hour, because our local government has done nothing to address wage inequality. . . .

“While the state has certainly been unfair to the county, county government has done nothing but benefit a few select business owners, while largely ignoring the struggling working population.”

That’s a portion of the responses to my rather mild column.

Folks speak their mind in Garrett County, though they do so with extreme politeness. I found it a neighborly place that isn’t given sufficient attention by the powers in Annapolis. The citizens of that remote mountain county deserve better.

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The Political Isolation of Garrett County MD

By Barry Rascovar

April 21, 2014–There is nowhere in Maryland more isolated and cut off from the rest of the state than Garrett County.

Distance (200 miles uphill from Baltimore) and the Alleghany Mountains present formidable barriers for the hardy souls who inhabit the state’s western-most county.

Garrett County-map of state                                                       Isolated Garrett County (in red)

It is a large, forested county with prime tourist attractions in the summer (Deep Creek Lake) and winter (Wisp ski resort).

But its tiny population, not surprisingly, is shrinking. Help from Annapolis has been modest at best.

Only Pittsburgh TV News

Here’s how bad the situation is for Garrett residents: They are considered part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan census area rather than the Cumberland census tract. The only news they get from cable TV is from Pittsburgh.

They see plenty of TV ads about Pennsylvania’s heated race for governor but not a peep about Maryland’s coming elections.

Only the recent intervention of the internet had allowed Garrett citizens to keep in touch with news from Baltimore and Annapolis on a timely basis.

Adding to the county’s isolation is a political reality: Garrett is overwhelmingly Republican. Democrats are outnumbered 2-1. The mountain politics practiced there are decidedly conservative and at odds with the ruling liberal Democratic majority in the megalopolis far to the east.

Speaking “Out West”

I ventured “out west” this past week to address the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce. Due to a late-arriving bout of laryngitis, those packed into a conference room at Wisp had to listen to my croaking, cracking voice. Their patience and tolerance were impressive.

Democratic (and Republican) voters in this county of 30,000 souls will be casting their ballots with scant information about the statewide candidates. No Democratic candidate for attorney general or governor is going to devote limited resources and time to educate Garrett voters.

So these mountain voters are pretty much on their own learning about the candidates. Of the three Democrats running for governor, only Attorney General Doug Gansler seems to offer a ray of political moderation. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown knows little about the county and will continue the beneign neglect policy followed by the O’Malley administration toward this small, conservative, Republican county.

On the Republican side, neither Harford County Executive David Craig nor businessman Larry Hogan Jr. of Anne Arundel County are targeting Garrett as a priority. How voters gather data for an informed election-day decision is a bit baffling.

Garrett County

Despite its isolation from the rest of the state, Garrett has much to teach those living on the other side of the Eastern Continental Divide.

Only in conservative Garrett have elected officials taken the lead in making sure their children receive a college education.

Every Garrett high school graduate knows the county will pick up the cost (after grants and scholarships have been applied) to guarantee college study or training at Garrett’s community college.

Garrett College Offerings

That small institution, with a main campus and three outreach centers, has developed a reputation for its programs in “Adventure Sports;” natural resources and wildlife technology, and business and information technology.

This is an aggressive, pro-active plan other Maryland counties should emulate. Government ensures full tuition payment for any Garrett high school graduate. In Maryland, that’s revolutionary.

Garrett’s leaders are providing their youth with skill sets needed to man tomorrow’s plants and offices. Government is playing a pivotal role in developing a local workforce that makes economic development appealing.

Garrett County map

That may not fit the mold of a “conservative” government, but it is a practical, real-life recognition that government is there to help people, not erect barriers to their success.

That same mind-set is evident in the kinds of individuals Garrett sends to Annapolis. Yes, these are conservative thinkers. Yes, they are rock-ribbed Republicans. But Garrett’s mountain life adds a bit of cooperative pragmatism to the mix.

Both Del. Wendell Beitzel and Sen. George Edwards are hard-core conservatives. They also are realists. They understand they are vastly outnumbered by Democrats and that taking rigidly ideological positions in total opposition to the Democratic majority will get them nowhere.

They are willing to collaborate and compromise on many issues. They understand their county’s many needs. They also understand that Annapolis works best when delegates and senators try to bridge the political gap through dialogue and finding common cause.

Collaboration Pays Off

Edwards and Beitzel work with Democrats. It pays off in small ways that mean much back home. In the most recent legislative session, Garrett took home an extra $464,000 for its schools, which suffer unfairly from a state aid formula that penalizes counties with shrinking school populations.

That’s a victory for common sense and the two legislators’ ability to show their colleagues that a real need exists for extra school assistance.

On other issues, Garrett’s politicians are simply outnumbered. Garrett is the one county that could benefit substantially from shale-oil hydraulic fracturing. But the O’Malley administration seems ready to impose the toughest “fracking” regulations in the country. That may be overkill.

The net result will be to scare off drilling companies, which already have flooded into Pennsylvania and Ohio. Garrett’s natural resources will be left untapped and its landowners will be denied an economic benefit that could give the county a much-needed economic boost.

Where’s O’Malley?

The O’Malley administration’s hostility toward fracking and other business development programs that involve environmental issues has left Garrett in a precarious position. Its economic issues aren’t being addressed by the governor.

There is scant attention paid to finding ways to reunite Garrett citizens with the rest of Maryland. Garrett’s economic needs just aren’t high on O’Malley’s priority list.

Maybe things will change with a new administration in Annapolis. But don’t count on it.

What Garrett could use is another William Donald Schaefer in the governor’s mansion, a chief executive who identifies with the state’s most isolated and needy jurisdictions and who comes into office with a “do it now” attitude.

Sadly, politicians like Schaefer don’t come along often. Then again, perhaps the next governor will seize the moment to show that he understands the importance of lending more of a helping hand to Maryland’s western-most county.

Barry Rascovar can be reached through his blog-site, www.politicalmaryland.com, or at brascovar@hotmail.com.

Maryland’s Nullification Craze

Sheriff CorleyBy Barry Rascovar / June 6, 2013

LET’S SEE IF I’ve got this straight:

—Garrett County’s elected sheriff (see photo) says he won’t enforce Maryland’s new gun registration law because he believes it is unconstitutional. In three other rural counties, elected leaders pass resolutions proclaiming defiance and denouncing the law.

—Baltimore’s City Council unanimously approves a bill requiring city building contractors to hire locally, even though the city solicitor says this is such a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution it is “legally indefensible.”

—Frederick County’s commissioners mock the state’s stormwater remediation fee — the so-called “rain tax” — by setting a penny-a-year charge on residents, thus netting $487 for watershed improvements. It’s their way of “complying” with the law.

In each case, rebellion is afoot, a form of modern-day nullification.

No court has ever upheld the legal theory of nullification, which essentially says if you don’t like a law you simply declare it null and void — the ultimate in libertarian individualism.

Under the guise of nullification, some Maryland politicians recently took it upon themselves to interpret the law the way they want it.

Sheriff Rob Corley announced he would decide for himself when he’ll enforce the state’s new gun law. The 14-year veteran of isolated Garrett County’s police department declared the law unconstitutional — apparently based on the fine legal training he received as an undergraduate at West Virginia’s Fairmont State College.

This raises the obvious question: What laws will Corley enforce? Does he get to pick and choose? Who made him arbiter?

The good news is Corley will play no role in carrying out the new gun registration law. The Maryland State Police can handle this chore without the sheriff’s offer of non-assistance, thank you.

The bad news is that citizens of Garrett County must be wondering what kind of sheriff they elected. He’s only going to enforce some of the laws? Since he’s the sheriff he must think he can make things up as he goes along. So much for a state legislature, governor and the courts.

Meanwhile in Baltimore City the nullification farce took a different tack. Instead of obeying the U.S. Constitution, City Council President Jack Young and his equally hapless colleagues passed a local hiring ordinance that snubs the Supreme Court. So what if this law is unconstitutional? We want a local hiring mandate!

Not one member had the integrity to disagree with this farce. Even the mayor ducked: She said the bill would become law without her signature. What a portrait of courage!

To rub in the insult, Council President Young submitted a bill seeking an “independent” legal adviser for the council. He didn’t like the city Law Department’s ruling so he wants to hire his own lawyer, whose job will depend on pleasing the Council president. Nice way to squander taxpayer dollars.

Finally in Frederick County, the tea party commissioners came as close as they dared to declare the “rain tax” null and void. One dissenting commissioner compared passage of a penny-a-year fee to a child throwing “a tantrum on the floor in the middle of a department store.”

That’s par for the course for the ring-leader, Commissioner Blaine Young, who wants to be governor. It was widely viewed as a political stunt, one of many by Young. Yet if this defiance persists Frederick is still obligated to finance $112 million worth of watershed cleanup. $487 a year won’t cut it. One day the cleanup bill will come due — only it will be much more expensive by then.

So nullification lives on in Maryland, from both the far left and the far right, in the urban core and the Appalachian mountains. The land of the free and the home of the brave!