Tag Archives: mass transit

Mizeur’s Promises, Dirty Tricks and more

By Barry Rascovar

THE BIDDING RACE is on. Democratic candidates for governor are seeking to one-up each other on new programs and tax cuts.

All of them ignore the fact Maryland’s finances are unsteady and could continue that way. The next governor is likely to face a structural deficit exceeding a half-billion dollars.

Yet none of the Democratic candidates wants to face that reality.

Instead, they pander to voters.

Mizeur’s Promises

Del. Heather Mizeur leads the pack as far as spending on feel-good projects with money the state doesn’t have .

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

That’s not surprising, since Mizeur is on the far left of the Democratic spectrum.

Take pre-kindergarten. Both Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown want to expand it to more four-year-olds. They would dip into casino revenue to pay for it.

What they don’t say is that this will come at the cost of other education programs dependent on the same revenue stream — or the next governor will have to renege on a pact with Maryland’s horse owners and breeders to use a portion of casino tax receipts to resurrect the state’s troubled racing industry.

Mizeur, meanwhile, goes a step further. She wants pre-kindergarten for three-year-olds, at a cost of a whopping $279 million.

She neglects to say how she will pay for this while overcoming a half-billion-dollar structural deficit.

She also wants to boost teacher pensions and salaries through a “Thornton 2.0” commission. The first commission boosted education spending by billions without worrying about how to pay for it.

That seems to be Mizeur’s recipe, too.

She does want to soak the rich — a millionaire’s tax and combined reporting for multi-state corporations. Neither is a giant money-raiser, and combined reporting turns into a money-loser during recessionary times.

Tax Breaks For Nearly Everyone

What really sets her apart, and represents her most preposterous proposal, is her plan to give 90 percent of Marylanders (originally billed as 99 percent) a tax break.

This idea places her firmly in the Heather-in-Wonderland camp.

She will cut the income tax for 9 out of every 10 Marylanders by $112 million.

How will she pay for it? Through the new millionaire’s tax.

It sounds great except for one thing — her millionaire’s tax nets Maryland only $10 million. She’s woefully short of paying for her election-year giveaway.

She also proposes a tax break for small businesses, a vast expansion of the state’s existing $250 million a year school construction program — without listing a funding source — more money spent on job training and massive new transportation projects.

The funds will come from heaven, apparently, like snow flakes.

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MIZEUR ALSO made headlines by choosing a running mate with absolutely no government or elective experience.

It’s the worst lieutenant governor selection since former Ambassador Bill Shepard picked his wife, Lois, as his ticket partner in 1990. *

Once again, Mizeur identified herself as an issues candidate who isn’t serious about getting elected. The vast majority of voters have never heard of her running mate (quick quiz: can you give me his full name?). **

It’s a sign of desperation or a sign Mizeur is running as the gay-rights, super-liberal who simply wants to send a message.

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MIKE PANTELIDES, a former newspaper ad salesman, is the next mayor of Annapolis. To say he is unprepared for the job is an understatement.

Mike Patelides

Mike Patelides

It might not matter.

His predecessor, and loser by 59 votes in this month’s election, Josh Cohen, has done a fine job turning around a dysfunctional, deep-in-debt city government and putting it on solid financial footing.

All that progress came at a cost. Cohen rubbed too many Annapolis traditionalists the wrong way. Too many tax increases. Too many progressive changes.

Cohen actually wanted to rejuvenate the Annapolis harbor area. He wanted to allow a continuing care community to locate in the capital city.

But progress in Annapolis is usually resisted. Longtime residents fight change and protest the slightest alteration to the status quo.

No Progress on Key Issues

They would rather continue Main Street’s decline as a sad collection of tee-shirt and souvenir shops, the town’s terrible traffic and parking headaches and its lack of a coherent plan for the future.

So they dumped an experienced elected official for a 30-year-old neophyte. He’ll ride on the coattails of Cohen’s successes, avoid controversies and reduce city government’s reach.

Downtown Annapolis will continue its regression and residents will continue to insist that nothing change.

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BOO OF THE MONTH goes to the Maryland State Republican Party for reaching a new low during the Frederick town election this month.

The state GOP paid for a round of robocalls to Frederick voters castigating one Democratic candidate for failing to pay her property taxes.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What Happened to Accuracy?

Nobody at the state GOP bothered to do any fact-checking. A phone call from the brother of a Republican candidate running for town council was enough to prompt the robocalls.

A newspaper story in May reported the unpaid property taxes, which was enough to spur the Democratic candidate to pay her overdue bill on July 5.

But since no one at the state GOP worries about truthfulness, the robocalls went out wrongly accusing the Democratic candidate of being unable to pay her taxes. (She still won.)

Let’s not allow facts to stand in the way of a good slur. Dirty politics survives in Maryland, thanks to the state GOP.

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LESS THAN ADMIRABLE tactics are surfacing in the governor’s race, too.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has a video intimidator stalking every move of Attorney General Doug Gansler.

The Brown folks chalk it up to “everybody does it” in today’s politics.

Jeff Moring 'tracking' Doug Gansler

Jeff Moring ‘tracking’ Doug Gansler for Brown campaign

That’s not correct, which is beside the point: It’s inappropriate and smacks of harassment.

It also points to a “win at all costs” philosophy within Brown’s camp.

This is the equivalent of paparazzi stalking actor Alec Baldwin and intrusively sticking cameras in his face until he explodes with a barrage of x-rated language.

You’ve got to wonder if Brown intends to employ similar tactics as governor.

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GANSLER DOESN’T WIN a blue ribbon, either, for his shoddy effort to knock down a Brown proposal exempting most veterans from paying state income taxes.

It’s another tax cut Maryland cannot afford, and that’s how Gansler should have attacked this proposal.

Instead, he issued a statement blaming Brown for long delays in processing disability claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office in Baltimore .

Gansler intimated that Brown — a state official — has a magic wand for fixing problems at the federal level. And then Gansler said as governor he could fix it!

Now there’s a whopper.

The statement smacked of desperation on Gansler’s part. It certainly didn’t get his stumbling campaign headed in the right direction.

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*Republicans Bill and Lois Shepard got 40 percent of the vote in the 1990 general election against William Donald Schaefer.

**For readers who didn’t cheat by googling the answer, Heather Mizeur’s lieutenant governor running mate is Delman Coates, pastor of a Clinton, Md., mega-church.

Read more columns from Barry Rascovar at www.politicalmaryland.com.

Smart Growth, Dumb State (Guess Which One)

owings mills metro centreBy Barry Rascovar / June 19, 2013

THE STATE OF Maryland boasts mightily about its Transit Oriented Development (TOD) programs. Just don’t bother looking for much in the way of tangible results.

“Maryland has great TOD potential” brags the state on its transportation website. Dig a little deeper, though, and it turns into wishful thinking, not boots-on-the-ground achievements.

TODs are the ultimate in Smart Growth.

They turn transit stations into job-centered areas of dense, walkable neighborhoods in both cities and suburbs. Other towns, like Seattle and Denver, offer examples of how to do it. (For more on the potential of “transit villages” in Maryland, see my 2006 Goldseker Foundation report – “Five Years, Fifty Thousand Jobs,” page 13.)

The Baltimore-Washington region, unfortunately, offers examples of how to draw up great plans and watch them fall apart or gather dust.

That thought came to mind at a ribbon-cutting Monday for the state’s one true TOD – Owings Mills Metro Centre.

Brand New Neighborhood

What you see along Grand Central Avenue (see photo above) is a long row of apartment buildings on one side of a broad boulevard and a six-story, library-community college building on the other side flanked by a massive garage — soon to be doubled in size — and an office high-rise under construction.

All of this sits beside the Metro station that connects to downtown Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Hospital. On the east side of the tracks is a huge parking lot. This eventually will become part of the mixed-use TOD.

A brand-new neighborhood is being created where none existed before.

The rail station, library and community college are the draws. A short walk up the hill is a multiplex cinema, townhouses and an aging mall that, if reimagined properly, could extend the scope of this TOD. Just down the road is a large retail development in progress, centered around a Wegmans supermarket.

This TOD will boast a residential population of 2,500 with many more office workers populating the area during the work week. Shops and restaurants will occupy ground floor space. Over 11,000 community college students a year are expected to take day and night courses at the new Community College of Baltimore County campus, sharing facilities with the already popular library branch (the largest in the county at 54,000 square feet).

Persistence Pays Off

What made this a reality was the unwavering commitment of county officials, from Dutch Ruppersberger to Jim Smith to Kevin Kamenetz. They not only funded key infrastructure, they stuck to the vision of making the Owings Mills TOD primarily a residential community.

Instead of transplanting a state agency to a transit station – the state’s feeble stab at the New Carrollton TOD in Prince George’s County – Baltimore County insisted on a library and a community college. These are the sort of amenities people want to live near.

(Had officials taken the same approach at the stalled and deeply flawed State Center TOD in Baltimore – by turning the property into a large mid-town residential neighborhood with appealing attractions – there might have been only token opposition.)

The path to the Owings Mills ribbon cutting wasn’t easy. It proved long (well over a decade) and arduous, especially during the dark days of the Great Recession.

But the county persisted. Officials continued their dialogue with developer Howard Brown until the economics worked.

You can see the future emerging at the Owings Mills Metro. It’s what every TOD should look like.

It’s just a shame Maryland has been so slow catching on to what works, and doesn’t work, in making this valuable Smart Growth tool a success.

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O’Malley’s success echoes Mandel’s 1972 triumph

Monumental victories 4 decades apart show how MD’s politics, demographics have changed

By Barry Rascovar

April 11, 2013 / The Baltimore Sun

Forty-one years ago, Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel pulled off a series of staggering triumphs that The Sun compared to winning the Triple Crown: Maryland’s first gun-control law; a unique, state-run auto insurance agency; and a higher gasoline tax to support Baltimore’s first rapid rail line.

He achieved this in the face of ferocious opposition from the National Rifle Association and the insurance and trucking industries. It took Mr. Mandel’s enormous persuasive skills — including arm-twisting and deal-making — to win those monumental battles.

Fast-forward to this week’s legislative wrap-up. To quote Yogi Berra, it was “déjà vu all over again.” Despite intense resistance, Gov. Martin O’Malley captured his own Triple Crown: a more restrictive gun-control statute, a package of gasoline tax increases and abolition of the death penalty.

Raising the gas tax this session was more difficult, and unpopular, than in 1972, when a gallon of petrol cost 55 cents. Abolishing capital punishment required an enormous number of one-on-one discussions to convince lawmakers this ultimate penalty no longer made sense. It was the kind of determined dialogue Mr. Mandel thrived on.

Thanks to the Newtown school massacre in December, which coalesced public opinion behind firearms restrictions, this year’s gun-control battle in Annapolis was loud but less intense that the 1972 showdown.

Two governors celebrated monumental victories four decades apart. They did it in vastly different ways, though, reflecting a sea change in Maryland since the days of the Nixon-Agnew presidency.

Mr. Mandel’s power came from his unrivaled mastery of the General Assembly. He recruited a lobbying team of irregulars that included a railroad engineer from Cecil County (who kept rural legislators in line), two slick Baltimore attorneys (who dealt with the area’s old-style politicos) and a scion of a South Baltimore political machine. They were the governor’s hammer.

For important bills, Mr. Mandel added the genteel lobbying of his lieutenant governor, Blair Lee III (to woo Montgomery County compatriots); his secretary of state, Fred Wineland (a force in Prince George’s County politics) and the state’s first transportation secretary (and future governor), Harry Hughes.

Rural and suburban conservatives held far more power back then, making Mr. Mandel’s task harder than Mr. O’Malley’s. Sometimes he secured votes by backing a lawmaker’s pet project, generously dispensing race track passes, or dangling the prospect of patronage jobs.

During the 1972 session, entire county delegations would march off the House floor and up the marble stairs to the governor’s office for a reminder of what was at stake.

Mr. Mandel knew how to win over lawmakers. He also excelled at obfuscation — seemingly indicating support for a legislator’s wishes while never fully committing to the specifics. In 10 years as governor, he rarely suffered a defeat.

Mr. O’Malley hasn’t been as fortunate. He was deeply embarrassed by the General Assembly’s failure last year to pass the state budget on time. It took two special sessions to straighten out the mess, followed by a nasty referendum battle involving four O’Malley-passed bills.

The governor’s luck changed this year. He got big assists from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who stopped feuding and started cooperating. The veteran presiding officers were at the top of their game — revising unpopular aspects of the governor’s bills and then lining up the necessary votes.

Mr. O’Malley chipped in by staying at home and getting actively involved in lobbying. That differed from last year, when he spent much time campaigning out of state for President Barack Obama.

Sharp population changes in the past four decades provided Mr. O’Malley with a winning edge in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Legislative power now resides in the populous urban-inner suburbs where minorities and liberal voters dominate: Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the Baltimore region. It made his job much easier.

O’Malley and his allies (the NAACP, gun-control groups and the business community) used persuasive arguments, not arm-twisting. Then the governor locked in the support he needed by agreeing to help Prince George’s build a new hospital, Baltimore build new schools and Montgomery build a new Metro line. Obviously, the quid pro quo continues its role a useful political tool.

His victories this session mark a high point for Mr. O’Malley’s administration. He made it happen in his seventh year as governor through hard work, close cooperation with Messrs. Miller and Busch and an improved grasp of legislative dynamics.

It was an updated version of Mr. Mandel’s 1972 triumphs and sets Mr. O’Malley apart from most of his predecessors.

Barry Rascovar, a former deputy editorial page editor at The Sun, covered the 1972 General Assembly session for the paper and has been a commentator on state politics and government ever since. His email is brascovar@hotmail.com.

Looking back at the General Assembly

By Barry Rascovar / The Community Times / April 17, 2013

While we await this spring’s locust and stinkbug invasions, let’s be grateful for the disappearance of another pest — the Maryland General Assembly.

After deliberating for three months, state lawmakers finished their work having done little damage and possibly even some good.

Sure, the cost of gasoline jumps by four cents a gallon in July but we’re so used to seeing daily pump prices fluctuate that the extra tax bite could go largely unnoticed.

On the positive side, this tax increase paves the way for more bridge and state highway work and a new rapid rail line from Woodlawn to downtown.

The gun-control bill that passed contains the same sort of good news, bad news. It will be much tougher for budding criminals and unstable individuals to purchase a gun. Ammunition clips of more than 10 rounds will be banned along with most assault-style weapons.

Hunters won’t be impacted by the new law; anyone with a clean record can still buy an unlimited supply of firearms. But in seeking to crack down on the ability of ‘bad guys’ to buy heavy firepower weapons, the legislature restricted gun sales and put an arm of government – the State Police – in charge of determining whose applications get rejected.

New restrictions also make it costly to chat on your cell phone while driving. Delegates and senators gave police the right to fine drivers seen holding a cell phone to their ear. Only when stopped at a light or stalled in traffic will it be legal to do so.

Another bill approved by the General Assembly will make it easier to cast early ballots next year. There will be three or four new early-voting sites in Baltimore County, perhaps even one in Owings Mills. Two more days of early voting were added — for a total of eight — and these sites will be open 12 hours a day. Anything that makes voting convenient improves representative democracy. On this bill, lawmakers did us a big favor.

There’s also a chance Baltimore County will adopt the approach to school construction Baltimore City successfully advocated in the State House this year: A joint state-city funding program that permits outdated schools to be rapidly replaced over the next decade. Playing copycat would make sense for the county.

Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to reverse a misguided decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals regarding pit bulls, which it labeled “inherently dangerous.” This makes pit bull owners and even apartment operators who rent to tenants with these dogs vulnerable to liability lawsuits.

That could lead to heartbreak as pit bull owners and their children are forced to give up their animals or face eviction. It’s a situation that should have been fixed by legislators but the powerful trial lawyers won on this one — and the dog owners lost.

Barry Rascovar is a writer and communications consultant living in Reisterstown. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.

Gas tax unpopular yet necessary

By Barry Rascovar / The Community Times / April 3, 2013

No one likes it, which is why Marylanders haven’t seen a gas-tax increase in over 20 years. That’s about to change.

With final passage last Friday of a transportation revenue bill, state legislators set in motion a four-cent jump in gasoline prices come July. This will be followed by increases in later years so that by 2016 we’ll be paying 13 cents to 20 cents more per gallon.”

We’ve gotten used to sudden leaps in fuel prices. Those increases, though, fattened profits for Big Oil companies and OPEC nations. At least this time the money will stay in Maryland.

The revenue raised – $4.4 billion over six years – will revive the state’s depleted transportation construction program. That means more dollars for interstate improvements, bridge repairs and the Red Line mass-transit extension from Woodlawn to Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

This $2 billion rapid rail line will be the linchpin of Baltimore’s disorganized rapid rail system. The Red Line will give county residents on the west side – Randallstown homeowners take note – a quick, hassle-free way to travel into the city for business and pleasure.

Dundalk and Essex residents, meanwhile, will have a short drive to the Bayview rail terminus for downtown or westside commutes.

The big bonus is that this east-west transit line will tie together both the Light Rail Line and the existing Owings Mills-to-Johns Hopkins Medical Center Metro.

This means Owings Mills and Pikesville residents can commute by rail to their jobs at Social Security headquarters in Woodlawn or to the nearby Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It means city residents can hop on the Red Line, transfer to the Light Rail Line and wind up at work in Hunt Valley.

It means much easier travel options to Orioles and Ravens games, entertainment venues and downtown dining spots.

Without the gas-tax increase, none of this is possible. Maryland politicians consistently ran away from a gas-tax vote. This is the first time in two decades there has been enough support to pay for transportation improvements.

What made the difference?

Time was running out to prove to federal officials that Maryland would put up its share of the money to build the Red Line and the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. Without a commitment this year, both projects would have been shelved.

Legislators also weren’t about to vote to raise the gas tax in 2014, an election year. So this was Gov. Martin O’Malley’s last chance to solve the state’s worsening transportation situation before leaving office.

The price of progress is never easy to accept when it’s coming out of your own pocket. For now, this move is quite unpopular. The good news is that the benefits will become obvious in coming years.

Barry Rascovar is a writer and communications consultant living in Reisterstown. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.