Will Hogan Stand By as Republicans Destroy Health Care in Maryland?

By Adam Pagnucco.

President-Elect Donald Trump and the new Republican-controlled Congress are proceeding rapidly to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The law, a complicated amalgam of policy and funding requirements, has helped 20 million Americans gain health care coverage and has cut uninsured rates dramatically across many racial and ethnic groups.  Its repeal threatens to throw millions of Americans out of health care coverage, including hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.  And so far, Governor Larry Hogan is standing by silently and letting it happen.

The ACA has expanded health insurance coverage in two primary ways: setting up government-run health care exchanges and expanding Medicaid, the federal/state health insurance program for low-income people.  In Maryland, 146,808 people are currently enrolled for coverage through the state’s exchange, Maryland Health Connection.  The latter entity reports that roughly 278,000 more people are covered by the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid.  All told, more than 420,000 Marylanders have obtained health coverage through the ACA and two more weeks remain in the enrollment period.

Marylanders in every county are enrolled in the state’s health exchange.

Maryland Health Connection Enrollment 2017

Under the ACA, the federal government has invested a lot of money in increasing enrollment.  Maryland Health Connection reports that Maryland health care exchange participants receive about $225 million in annual federal tax credits to subsidize their individual health insurance premiums.  The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the federal government spent $5.7 billion on Medicaid in Maryland in Fiscal Year 2015.  These funding sources are now at risk.

Since it is a federal law, some changes to the ACA must pass a 60-vote hurdle to overcome filibusters in the U.S. Senate, where the GOP has just 52 seats.  But budget items are not subject to filibusters.  That means part or all of the above federal funding to support ACA enrollment could be eliminated in a budget passed solely with Republican votes and signed by President Trump.  If that happens, millions of Americans and possibly hundreds of thousands of Marylanders could lose their health coverage.

That’s not all.  The federal tax credits and Medicaid funding under the ACA support lots of jobs and income in the health care industry, and through the multiplier effect, the broader economy as well.  A new study from George Washington University estimates that if the ACA’s tax credits and Medicaid funding are repealed, Maryland will lose 52,000 jobs by 2019.  The study projects that Maryland will also lose $49 billion in business output and $982 million in state and local tax revenues from 2019 to 2023.  All of this would be on top of any federal agency cuts that Trump and the Republican Congress might include in their next budget.

Any Governor would be expected to jump up and down about the prospect of losing tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in tax revenues as well as having hundreds of thousands of constituents lose health care coverage.  But not Larry Hogan.  He has stayed silent as Donald Trump and his Republican colleagues in Washington plan to destroy health care in Maryland.  Hogan bristles at questions from reporters about anything going on in Washington, telling one of them that he was tired of “stupid questions about the Trump administration.”  And yet, the Trump administration’s actions will have gigantic negative impacts on his state that he declines to oppose.

All of this begs the question.  Is Larry Hogan with Donald Trump and anti-health care zealots in the Republican Party?  Or is he with the rest of us?

 

Leventhal Continues Soft Executive Announcement

Councilmember George Leventhal (D-AL) has not announced formally for county executive but has all but done so. First, he allowed local Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) leader Saqib Ali to launch a website promoting him for County Executive.

Now, Leventhal has started raising money under Montgomery County’s new public financing system using the fundraising limits in place for the position of county executive. He sent an email blast out the other day to supporters.

Leventhal touts that, thus far, he is the “only candidate to opt into the system” and reiterates the message “There is only one!” in red with an arrow pointing to his name.

LevClean

While technically true, Leventhal is the “only” candidate in the system simply because he is the first to set up an account. Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-AL) also plans to run for County Executive and has made very clear that he too plans to opt into the system.

Unlike Leventhal, Elrich has refused contributions from developers in the past and run much less expensive campaigns in the past. Focus on campaign spending is a new tactic for Leventhal.

Other potential candidates, such as Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-1) and Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-18) may also participate in the system. I imagine that wealthy businessman David Trone would not if he jumps into the race since he spent an extraordinary amount on his unsuccessful congressional bid.

So Leventhal heavily implies that he has a uniquely clean approach to politics while never actually stating anything that is factually untrue. The fundraising email contains no other message about past accomplishments or future goals.

David Trone Polling for County Executive Race

By Adam Pagnucco.

Total Wine co-owner and former Eighth Congressional District Candidate David Trone launched a poll this week on a potential race for Montgomery County Executive.  Following is a description of the poll’s questions from a resident who was called.

*****

Favorable/Unfavorable
David Trone
Roger Berliner
Mike Knapp
George Leventhal
Nancy Floreen
Marc Elrich
Rich Madaleno
Craig Rice
Ben Kramer

Rate Doug Duncan as County Executive

Ike Leggett is ineligible.  So, for whom would you vote if the primary was held today… (see above list).

Who would be your 2nd choice.

Who would be your 3rd choice.

Who would be your 4th choice.

How seriously would you consider voting for (see above list)? Very – Not at all seriously.

ISSUES: Very concerned, etc.
Transportation, Roads and Traffic
Available affordable housing
Special interests in government
Taxes
Education
Jobs

What kind of candidate would you prefer?
Take time to get people to work together for solutions / Someone who takes charge to get things done quickly.

Montgomery County needs to grow / Too much growth right now.

A candidate who accepts public financing / A candidate who funds his own campaign.

Career politician / Businessman new to politics.

Make some changes / Shake things up.

Three statements about David Trone:  Very persuasive, somewhat persuasive…not at all persuasive.
Grew up on farm that went broke, Wharton, Total Wine.

Montgomery County potential wasted by insider politics and politicians interested in helping their friends.

In business, David Trone has focused on practical issues and solutions while politicians argue about politics.

Takes no money from corporations and would accept no donation of more than $500 per person.

Final ballot (names from above list).

Planning Board Approves Highest Tower Ever for Bethesda

The Montgomery County Planning Board has approved a 295 foot tower in Bethesda for the location of the current Apex Building at the corners of Wisconsin Ave. and Elm St. The building sits atop the proposed Purple Line stop and until recently was mainly known as the home of a movie theater.

This tower will be the highest building in Bethesda and far higher than the buildings currently atop the Red Line stop.

  • New Tower, 295 ft.
  • National Naval Medical Center, 264 ft.
  • Chevy Chase Bank East and West Towers, 250 ft.
  • Clark Building, 215 ft.
  • Air Rights Center, 149 ft.

The second highest building, National Naval Medical, isn’t even in downtown Bethesda but part of the Walter Reed campus near the Medical Center Metro stop.

Putting the new building in the broader DC context, it will be taller than the U.S. Capitol and just short of the National Cathedral.

Hogan’s Campaign Against Public Schools

By Adam Pagnucco.

Governor Larry Hogan is the most dedicated opponent of Maryland public schools in recent memory.  And now, new rankings of states in a respected education publication show how effective he has been.

Education Week, which ranks public school systems by state, rated Maryland’s public schools as fifth in the nation as of 2017.  That’s a decent rank, except when you consider that the publication rated Maryland number one every year from 2009 through 2013.  Maryland scored particularly low on its achievement gap between low-income and high-income students, ranked as 42nd in the country.

The decline in the state’s ranking is no surprise since it’s perfectly consistent with Governor Hogan’s record on public schools.  Consider what he has done in his first two years in office.

  1. He cut public school funding in his first budget.

The Governor of Maryland has enormous budgetary powers under the state’s constitution.  When he submits an operating budget to the General Assembly, the state legislators generally cannot add spending to it – they can only set aside spending for particular purposes or cut it.  Over the years, the General Assembly has established funding formulas for certain spending items in state law, and that includes most state aid programs for K-12 education.  But the Governor identified one program that was not protected by state law – a program that sent extra money to school systems with higher costs of educating students.  The Governor cut half of that money, a total of $68 million, in his very first budget.  Here are the counties that were affected and their dollar losses:

Prince George’s: $20 million

Montgomery: $18 million

Baltimore City: $12 million

Anne Arundel: $5 million

Frederick: $3 million

Baltimore County: $3 million

Howard: $3 million

Others: $4 million

Note that almost three-quarters of the cuts applied to three jurisdictions: Prince George’s, Montgomery and the City.  What do they have in common?  You guessed it: they all voted against Hogan by large margins.

Hogan resisted calls from the General Assembly to restore the cuts, so they passed a law making the program mandatory.  Hogan waved the white flag of surrender, admitting that he did not have the votes to sustain a veto.  If he had gotten them, those cuts would have continued every single year.

  1. He withheld teacher pension aid for counties in his second budget.

Since FY2013, counties have been responsible for paying part of the cost of teacher pension funding, with the remainder covered by the state.  After passage of his second budget, Hogan withheld $19 million in state aid the General Assembly set aside to help counties pay for teacher pensions, a move that threatened their credit ratings.  Here are the counties that were affected and their dollar losses:

Montgomery: $6 million

Howard: $2 million

Baltimore County: $2 million

Anne Arundel: $2 million

Prince George’s: $1 million

Frederick: $1 million

Others: $5 million

Ultimately, Hogan agreed to release the money but only when the General Assembly agreed to provide an equal amount in corporate welfare to Northrop Grumman, one of Hogan’s top policy priorities.  What kind of Governor plays games with school funding in order to get more money for corporate welfare?

  1. He is jamming public school boards with public school skeptics.

As Governor, Hogan has the power to appoint members of the State Board of Education as well as numerous local school boards.  He has used that prerogative to stack these boards with skeptics of public schools.  The President and Vice-President of the State Board of Education, both Hogan appointees, are nationally-known promoters of charter schoolsOther State Board appointees are a religious school principal and “a consultant who works on charter school conversions.”  It is no coincidence that the State Board is now considering an expansion of vouchers for private schools.  Another Hogan appointee is Ann Miller of the Baltimore County school board, who has a history of criticizing LGBT people and immigrants.  Another Baltimore County school board appointee, retired private school teacher and non-voter June Eaton, was asked by the Baltimore Sun “if she had any public school issues that needed to be addressed.”  Eaton replied, “I really haven’t given it much thought. This is all new to me.”

  1. He is pushing hard for tax dollars to be sent to private schools.

At the same time that Hogan has been trying to cut funding for public schools, he is doing everything in his power to send tax dollars to private schools.  Last year, he got the General Assembly to agree to $5 million in funding for vouchers.  Now, he is pushing to expand the program to $10 million.  The Governor continues to support a corporate tax credit for businesses contributing to private schools and introduced a bill that would have allowed charter schools to compete for state public school construction funding.

Hogan’s behavior is straight out of the playbook of Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos: starve public schools and send the money to the private sector.  Hogan even put his own twist on it by using public school money as a bargaining chip to get corporate welfare for defense behemoth Northrop Grumman.  The Governor’s intentions are beyond doubt.  Only one question remains.

Can he be stopped?

Is Larry Hogan Capable of Telling the Truth?

By Adam Pagnucco.

What’s the old saying about lying and telling the truth?  There are lots of variations, but most of them go something like this:

It’s easier to tell the truth than it is to lie.  That’s because when you tell the truth, there’s only one version to remember.  But when you lie, you have to keep all the details straight and say it the same way every time.  Otherwise, you’ll get caught!

Governor Larry Hogan has probably never heard of this.

As we have noted before, the Governor is waging an all-out campaign to repeal the General Assembly’s transportation project scoring law.  The law requires the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to score every major state transportation project on a variety of criteria, but gives the administration ultimate authority to fund projects of its choice regardless of their scores.  The Governor despises the law because it creates potential for embarrassment – he would have to publicly defend any decisions to fund low-scoring projects.  So he has falsely claimed that the law requires him to kill projects and said falsely that it was passed without hearings.  The Governor even released a list of projects that the law would allegedly kill even though the plain language of the law contradicts him.

One of the projects the Governor says will be killed is the widening of I-81 in Washington County.  His kill list describes it as “I-81 Reconstruction from West Virginia line to Pennsylvania line.”

A week after saying that I-81 and dozens of other projects would be killed, the Governor showed up in Hagerstown to announce funding for – you guessed it – I-81 widening.  The Hagerstown Herald-Mail reported:

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan came to Hagerstown bearing gifts on Thursday, announcing more than $115 million in funding commitments for local and regional projects.

The largest chunk, $105 million, is for the first phase of widening of Interstate 81, which recently got underway to widen the heavily-traveled interstate to six lanes from the West Virginia line to Md. 63 near Williamsport.

The first phase of work is from U.S. 11 in West Virginia to Md. 63, including the Potomac River bridges in between…

Another $5 million has been budgeted for design work for the second phase of I-81 widening, Hogan said, allowing the project to progress north to the Interstate 70 interchange.

The Governor’s office issued a press statement reiterating that work on I-81 would proceed.  Neither the Herald-Mail article nor the press statement noted that the Governor had already said that I-81 would be killed by the transportation scoring law.  There were no caveats in the article or the press statement such as “I-81 will proceed so long as the scoring law is repealed.”  Let’s note that the project kill list and the press statement about I-81 were issued only EIGHT DAYS APART.

In which of two alternate realities does the Governor live?  The one in which a major transportation project is killed by a new law?  Or the one in which the project proceeds without obstruction?  It seems to vary by the day.

This is no longer about transportation policy, folks.  You can’t rant and rave at a press conference that a project is going to be killed and then show up a week later like Santa Claus to announce that it’s going to be built.  Reasonable, sane and trustworthy people don’t behave like that regardless of their political beliefs.  That raises a critical question.

Is Larry Hogan capable of telling the truth?

Assembly to Investigate Hogan Administration’s War on Christmas

Looks like the War on Christmas finally has its first casualties: ordinary workers who failed to receive the full pay that they earned due to incompetence by the Hogan Administration. Let’s hope cheating workers wasn’t the business sense that Hogan promised to bring to Annapolis.

The following is a press release from the Office of Senate President Mike Miller:

Joint Committee Announced to Investigate Shorted Employee Paychecks
State’s Failed Computer System has deprived employees of full paychecks before the Holiday season

Annapolis, MD – Today, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-28, Charles County), and House Appropriations Chairman Delegate Maggie McIntosh announced the creation of a joint legislative panel to address the mishandling of State employee paychecks in Maryland.

In a hearing before the Finance Committee in mid-December, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services cited over 1,100 emails from employees about the alarming mishandling of the employee payroll.

While the Department admits to have received over 1000 complaints, they have not released information regarding the size and scope of the problems with the system despite employees who have come forward about paychecks with missing overtime pay, base pay, and a lack of promotional pay. State employees who have brought the matter to the attention of the General Assembly testified about an inability to make their mortgage, health, and other critical payments due to the administration’s irresponsible oversight.

“What has happened here under this Administration is unconscionable,” stated Chairman Middleton. “The Administration was warned that the system was not ready and for two months, employees have been receiving partial paychecks even as we are approaching the holiday season. Some have been forced into terrible situations with many employees getting high interest loans just to make it through something that is squarely the fault of the Governor and his Administration, who have been insensitive as to how important a paycheck is to these public servants.”

The workgroup is similar to a review conducted by the legislature in 2014 around the technology failure of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

“In an effort to save a few dollars, the Hogan administration ignored repeated warnings and put a payroll system in place that is cheating corrections officers and their families out of their pay during the holidays,” said Chairwoman McIntosh. “The administration’s response to this crisis has been to stonewall requests for information, insult the corrections officer’s union and deny the true size and scope of the problem. We are going to get to the bottom of this.”

Members of the workgroup will be announced next week.

BREAKING: Brookeville to Open Montgomery’s First Casino

brookeville-acadBrookeville Academy

Comptroller Peter Franchot’s discovery that the Town of Brookeville owes $7.2 million to the State of Maryland due to his office’s miscalculation of municipal tax receipts for many years placed the Town in quite a bind, as the municipality of just 134 souls had no idea how it could repay the debt.

Today, Brookeville Commission President Katherine Farquhar announced that, after working on the issue with the County and the State, Brookeville will open a casino in historic Brookeville Academy (pictured above), which is owned by the Town, to raise monies to pay off the debt to the State.

Franchot praised the decision, stating that he “appreciates the Town’s gratitude to my office for finding the errors” and plans to award the Town the Comptroller’s Medal for its “creative solution” to the Town’s financial difficulties.

Members of the County Council had initially expressed concerns regarding the project. But Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) has now announced that the casino will be the first recipient of the microloan program he has advertised on Facebook in anticipation of his 2018 County Executive bid.

In a press release, Berliner said “I’m so pleased that the microloan program will make the casino possible. It will help jump start Federal Realty’s development of the outbuildings for future expansion, showing the importance of partnerships like these.”

After initial opposition, Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-5) came on board once the Town agreed to hire MCGEO workers transferred from county liquor stores. “They know as much about gaming as beer, wine and liquor, so this is a great opportunity,” said MCGEO President Gino Renne.

Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gigi Godwin agreed with the union president, as she commended the County for brushing aside development concerns with the adoption of a special Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) over the objection of the Civic Federation. “We need the County to take a more proactive approach on business.”

Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-AL) also applauded the project, saying that he was happy to learn that Brookeville “is open to serving craft beers” that an official taskforce determined were crucial to revitalizing nightlife in the County.

The sole casino opponent, Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-AL), pointed out that Georgia Ave. is already a parking lot and that the development violated County traffic tests. His statement was interrupted by George Leventhal, who brusquely asked Elrich “Why do you care about people coming from Howard County? Haven’t you figured out we ignore you yet?”

In contrast, Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-AL) expressed optimism regarding transportation: “SafeTrack has been such a success. We should use the projected savings on Metro to initiate a study on extending the Purple Line to Brookeville.”

The casino will have a War of 1812 theme, reflecting Brookeville’s role as the “U.S. Capital for a Day” in 1814 during the British occupation of Washington. The building’s exterior will be preserved as the interior is redesigned in a “modern Madisionian” style.

(P.S. I think most have figured out by now, but yes, this is satire. Happy New Year.)

Maryland Politics Watch

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