All posts by David Lublin

Can Waldstreicher Nail Down the D18 Open Senate Seat?

Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) has acted fast to lock down the open senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-18), who is running for governor. Jeff is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and thus this very safe blue district, but openings nevertheless remain for the right candidate.

Advantages

Jeff has a solid advantage in name recognition. He has won three terms to the House. More voters begin to recognize state legislators, who often remain obscure to their constituents, after three campaigns and ballot appearances.

No one I know is more tenacious or focused when it comes to campaigns. Jeff won his first election in 2006 against a very tough field with just one open seat. Besides successful fundraising, Jeff won the endorsement of MCEA, in part by arguing convincingly that he was going to win and they should back him.

Jeff is also fortunate in having an extremely supportive family. In past races, they have had his back not only financially but also doing whatever they can to help out from cheering him on at debates to volunteering on the campaign.

Jeff possesses enviable fundraising skills. I have never met anyone more relentless in pursuing a campaign donation and the results show in his impressive bank account balance of $165,491 according to his last campaign finance report. This sort of war chest not only aids victory but deters potential opponents.

Jeff has already secured and vocally touted the valuable endorsement of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8), a local progressive icon. No doubt he is also pursuing the endorsement of Sen. Chris Van Hollen, which he has received in the past for the House.

Interest groups are likely to back Jeff, if only because he is an incumbent with a record they can assess. They also tend to want to back the winner to avoid alienating a future senator and will naturally perceive him as the heavy favorite. Jeff will not be afraid to pressure any groups that may hesitate.

Potential Openings for Challengers

For all of these advantages, Jeff has vulnerabilities that could tempt a well-funded candidate.

Jeff does not have an especially strong political base in the district. While he has easily gained reelection as part of the D18 team, I have yet to identify groups within the district who passionately support him and see him as their champion.

The perception that Jeff is unwilling to take firm stands on controversial issues hinders his ability to win avid supporters. Politicians naturally desire to avoid offending voters, but taking stands in tough fights is precisely how many politicians gain supporters who stand by them through thick and thin.

The same problem plagues Jeff’s relationships within the General Assembly. Even in a business known for back-stabbing, inhabitants of Annapolis-land are astonishingly willing to volunteer privately their lack of trust, and even dislike. They see Jeff as very transactional and attentive to his own ambitions but not especially hardworking or responsive to his colleague’s needs.

These weaknesses, however, give opponents less of an opening than may appear. Challenging a legislator on the basis of his effectiveness, rather than issues, is a proven way to lose a campaign. Moreover, regardless of their opinion, viewing him as the probable winner, his colleagues will likely line up to offer support and give a friendly quote for the press.

Like all politicians, Jeff is good at touting his support for popular positions and claiming credit on having voted for broadly supported bills passed by the General Assembly from marriage equality to additional funding for school construction. Occasionally, however, he takes it a bit far. Jeff routinely boasts that he is “fiscally responsible” because he “voted for a balanced budget.” Jeff never had the opportunity to do otherwise because the Maryland Constitution mandates balanced budgets. While this sort of false piety grates, opponents will only be able to use to their advantage if they can find a way to use it to feed into a larger portrait of Jeff as yet another inauthentic long-term politician.

Moreover, as a three-term legislator, Jeff has a couple of substantive achievements under his belt. His website mentions that he was the lead sponsor on legislation making possession of child porn a felony, and a ban on texting while driving. Both are easily understood, popular positions, and thus highly amenable to quick, effective campaign communication.

I asked Jeff last week via email how he got interested in these issues and to detail the leadership he showed in passing these bills, or on other issues not mentioned on the website, but did not receive any written answers for quotation.

Though I don’t think campaign websites matter a heck of a lot, his current website could nevertheless punch up his message, as it now highlights banal boilerplate that is about as convincing as ersatz coffee such as “As a father, husband, and life-long resident of Montgomery County, I am committed to the safety of our neighborhoods. I will continue to be a strong advocate for our families.” – Jeff on Safety.

Potential Opponents

Dana Beyer is the obvious candidate. She is seriously considering entering the race and rumor has it that she is trying to put together a slate.

A former eye surgeon and aide to one term Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, Dana has been hungry to win a seat in the General Assembly, seeking appointment twice and running three times. In 2014, Dana challenged Sen. Rich Madaleno and lost with 41.7% of the vote after spending in excess of $350,000 on her campaign.

Dana is one candidate who could easily bring to bear more money than Jeff. Like Jeff, she’s also smart, hardworking and extremely determined. While she has not won election, she has been on the ballot a number of times and built name recognition. She has gained valuable experience in running past campaigns.

On the other hand, though Dana has tried to build ties with left-wing progressives, she does not have a personal base of supporters in the district and has difficulty in recruiting or working with allies. She would also have a lot of fences to mend with Madaleno supporters. A decisive and opinionated person, she needs to articulate an authentic voice while at the same time remembering that voters want to be heard and not lectured—a skill that Jeff already possesses . In short, she’d have to figure out how to grow her support.

Of course, a candidate who is not currently on my radar could still emerge. The best bet for someone else to challenge Jeff is a candidate with very deep pockets who wants to run as a fresh, authentic face and argue that we need new ideas and new leadership in Annapolis. Even if it would likely remain an uphill battle to defeat Jeff, I could imagine such a candidate gaining traction and making him sweat to win the seat.

The bottom line is Jeff is well positioned to become District 18’s next senator. That doesn’t mean he won’t have to fight for it. However, if his luck continues, it may even occur with ease, as when Rich Madaleno won in 2006 without opposition.

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Elrich Slams Berliner on Minimum Wage

The following is by Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At Large):

Earlier this week, the Council’s HHS committee voted 2-1 (Berliner and Rice vs Leventhal) to delay the full implementation of the minimum wage by two years for BOTH large and small businesses. (My bill cosponsored by 4 of my colleagues would raise the minimum wage 2020 for businesses with more than 25 employees and 2022 for those under 25.) While everyone acknowledges that there will be some impact on some small businesses, yet again no evidence was presented that demonstrated that it would be a significant impact.  While there are numerous studies, the meta-analysis of those studies show slight to no impacts on employment.[1] Statements should be supported by data or analysis.  The absence of data is part of what made the PFM study so bad, because their original massive job loss assertions, and even their second lower revised figure, did not reflect the data from anywhere (as this blog and others have documented[2]).  On the other side of the scale, studies clearly show the devastating impacts of poverty on children and families. I taught for 17 years at a high poverty school, and I saw up close the impact of poverty on students.

We have an opportunity to move toward a decent standard of living for these workers who have been working hard at low wages. Councilmember Berliner’s amendment to delay large businesses by two years to 2022 puts us two years behind Target’s stated nationwide plan. That is particularly inappropriate given that our county is one of the wealthiest in the entire country.

Councilmember Berliner argued for the delay using Minneapolis as the model and said that Montgomery County should use the same timing as they had. Using Minneapolis’ implementation schedule as a model would assume that it is a comparable jurisdiction. But it is not. Below I compare the living wage in the two jurisdictions. There are some big differences.

This table compares the living wage NEEDED TODAY in each jurisdiction.

Living Wage Minneapolis Montgomery County
Single adult $11.36 $15.80
1 adult 1 child $24.68 $29.82
1 adult 2 children $31.04 $34.87
2 adults 2 children $16.85* $18.72*

*This number is per adult in the two-adult family
(Source: Living Wage Calculator, MIT)

In every case, more than $15 an hour is needed TODAY in Montgomery County, but the cost difference between living here versus Minneapolis is the equivalent of $4 an hour, or $2 an hour if 2 adults are working.

However, the most important factor in cost of living differences is housing. Housing costs are what drives the cost of living and necessitate a particular wage. Here is a comparison of housing costs:

Jurisdiction 1br  yr/mo 2br  yr/mo 3br  yr/mo
Minneapolis $7824/ 652 $12635/1075 $17967/1497
Montgomery $15684/1307 $19476/1645 $25728/2144
Difference – or how much higher it is MoCo $7860/655 $6841/570 $7761/646

(Source: Living Wage Calculator, MIT)

A MoCo resident would need between $570-655/month more than a Minneapolis resident to pay the difference in housing costs. For all other expenses combined, Montgomery County is a few hundred dollars per year more costly to live in than Minneapolis, but annual housing costs are between $6841 and $7860 higher for Montgomery County. To suggest that a wage in Minneapolis, or a schedule for raising wages, should be replicated in Montgomery County ignores the enormous cost difference between the two jurisdictions which leaves our working poor deeply mired in poverty. We are simply prolonging an untenable situation for tens of thousands of families.

Finally, there is one last incorrect assumption in delaying the implementation date, and that is that Minneapolis is noticeably more gentle to small business. It’s been said that the proposed rate of increase is too fast. However, the facts show a different story.

Here is the pace of increase in the two jurisdictions:

Jurisdiction Small business increase # of years Cost/year Large business

increase

# of years Cost/year
Minneapolis $7.25 7 $1.03 $5.50 5 $1.10
Montgomery County $3.50 5 $.70 $3.50 3 $1.16

In other words, the impact in Minneapolis on small businesses is greater in terms of total increase than Montgomery County ($7.25 vs $3.50) and greater as a per-year expense ($1.03 vs .70) For large businesses, the difference in total increase in Minneapolis is also greater than MoCo ($5.50 vs $3.50) but is slightly less per year ($1.10 vs $1.16).

So for small businesses, if the issue is pace, then the Minneapolis schedule is worse for their small business than what I’ve proposed, and for large businesses our target is 2020, no different than what Target has committed to nationally for 2020.

In short, Minneapolis is so different regarding affordability for its citizens that the impact of raising the minimum wage, and the urgency for raising the minimum wage, is simply not the same. Our residents are far more rent burdened and have far less disposable income. And if you’re worried about small employers, our steps are smaller, only 2/3 of the average annual increases that Minneapolis is implementing.

For one last comparison, I looked at Flagstaff, Arizona, which is also raising its minimum wage to $15.  Their living costs are slightly higher than Minneapolis but still much lower than Montgomery County.  And housing costs in particular are slightly higher than in Minneapolis, but about $6,000 a year lower than those costs in Montgomery County.  Yet they are raising their minimum wage for all businesses from $8.05 in November 2016, to $11.00 in January 2018, and then up to $15 an hour in January 2021.  So they are increasing by $7 per hour over just 5 years – a rate of increase that exceeds anything proposed in Montgomery County.

The minimum wage needs to reflect the costs that people have to bear in order to sustain themselves.  Prolonging the implementation simply erodes the value of the wage.  Frankly, in a perfect world we’d be close to $15 today and then let it rise with inflation.  Even my bill, with 2020 and 2022 implementation dates will mean that when $15 is reached it will be worth less than $15 today, and I wish we could do better, but the proposed delay just makes things worse and is completely divorced from the reality that low-income families face.

[1] http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/the-minimum-wage-increase-and-the-cbos-job-loss-estimate/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JaredBernstein+%28Jared+Bernstein%29 and https://www.hendrix.edu/news/news.aspx?id=64671

[2] http://www.epi.org/blog/the-montgomery-county-minimum-wage-impact-study-is-absurd-junk-science/

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Valerie Ervin for County Executive?

A reliable source tells me that former County Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-5) is planning to jump into the race for Montgomery County Executive. I’ve reached out to her for comment but have not yet received a response.

Valerie Ervin won election to the School Board in 2004 prior to winning the District 5 Council seat in 2006–the seat now held by Tom Hucker. A past President and Vice President of the County Council, she stepped down in the year before her term ended in 2014 to take a job with the non-profit Center for Working Families.

Ervin briefly sought the nomination for the Eighth Congressional District in 2016 before pulling out of the race, which she explained was due to the challenge of raising the enormous sums of money required to be competitive.

The new public financing system would likely make it easier for to run a competitive campaign for county executive without raising the huge sums required for a congressional contest. Still, she would need to act fast to catch up with other candidates.

If she enters the contest, Ervin will be the only woman, African-American, or nonwhite candidate in the race. As Montgomery County is now 19.5%  black and only 44.7% non-Hispanic white according to Census estimates from 2016, this could prove an advantage. African Americans likely punch above their weight in the Democratic primary, as a disproportionate share are Democrats and vote compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

Democratic primaries are also disproportionately female, with women regularly comprising around 60% of the electorate, and sometimes even higher. Still, Montgomery voters have shown that they vote based on a variety of factors. Being from the same group as a voter may help get a candidate in the door but concrete issues and reasons are needed to gain a vote.

As I’ve mentioned previously, while in office, Councilmember Ervin had the knack for being well-liked by both labor and business, though the bloom was definitely off the rose in her relationship with labor by the time she left office. Her recent work for the Center for Working Families, however, has burnished her progressive credentials–helpful in a year when many are still energized by Bernie Sanders or angry about Donald Trump.

On other hand, many remain disquieted that Ervin left her Council seat early. In 2016, she endorsed Donna Edwards for Senate over Chris Van Hollen, who remains extremely popular in Montgomery and won handily here in the primary.

Interestingly, if she runs, Ervin would be running against her former boss, Councilmember George Leventhal. Both are officials who have eclectic sets of supporters in the past but would be trying to appeal to the progressive vote in this election.

Consequently, an Ervin candidacy would not help Leventhal’s prospects. It also could well provide an alternative to some Elrich voters, particularly those who would welcome a nonwhite candidate or our first woman as county executive.

At the same time, I imagine Marc Elrich would not be shy about pointing out occasions where he and Valerie diverged on business or social justice issues. Labor unions with long memories, especially MCGEO and the Police union, might enjoy exacting revenge. Ervin had good relations with SEIU but it might also join other unions in backing Elrich.

At any rate, Ervin’s entry would sure shake up an already interesting race. Will she take the plunge?

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Maryland Universities Mixed Commitment to Free Speech

Free speech is essential to academic inquiry not just by faculty but to students. Limits on free speech inhibit the open discussion and debate that exposes students to new ideas, challenges their existing beliefs, and their ability to argue and to analyze.

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, keeps tabs on free speech rights at over 400 colleges and universities around the country? How did institutions in Maryland rated by FIRE fare?

FIRE Rating System

A “red light” institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A “yellow light” institution is one whose policies restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. If a college or university’s policies do not seriously imperil speech, that college or university receives a “green light.”

Green Light Institution

University of Maryland–College Park

Freedom of expression and an open environment to pursue scholarly inquiry and for sharing of information are encouraged, supported, and protected at the University of Maryland. These values lie at the core of our academic community. Censorship is not compatible with the tradition and goals of the university. Source: Policy on the Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources.

Yellow Light Institutions

Frostburg State University

Fliers that will NOT be approved for posting: … Fliers containing content that would be considered offensive to the reasonable person (e.g. nudity, obscenities, etc.) Source: Residence Hall Posting Guidelines.

Three areas of the campus have been designated as “public forum” areas for use by approved student groups, off-campus organizations and individuals: 1) the area of the clock tower, 2) the University Drive triangle between Chesapeake Dining Hall and Annapolis Hall, and 3) the library quad. No other areas may be used for gatherings, speeches or distribution of literature unless first approved by the Office of the President. Source: Policy on Communication of Information.

Verbal/Written Assault includes verbal or written acts, including social media sites, which place a person in personal fear or which have the effect of harassing or intimidating a person. Source: Harassment Policies.

Towson University

To foster a safe and inclusive campus, the University will investigate all incidents motivated by bias. In order to prompt an investigation, the incident must be reported. . . .  [Bias incidents include] inflicting mental or emotional distress upon a person through a course of conduct involving abuse or disparagement of that person’s actual or perceived identity or group membership(s). Source: Reporting Hate Crimes and Bias Incidents.

Each user must accept the responsibility for his/her actions and agree to: … Use appropriate language, behavior and style. Source: Guidelines for Responsible Computing.

Chalking that includes discriminatory, threatening, harassing, lewd and/or obscene language is not allowed. The university reserves the right to remove anything that violates these guidelines and to bill the responsible individual or group. Source: Chalking Procedures.

Offensive items or language shall not be displayed on a door (i.e., room, suite, quad, or apartment) or be viewable from outside a room, quad, suite, or apartment. Source: University Housing Policies.

Red Light Institution

Johns Hopkins University

Rude, disrespectful behavior is unwelcome and will not be tolerated. Source: Principles for Ensuring Equity, Civility and Respect for All.

Unacceptable use of IT Resources includes, but is not limited to: Intentional, non-incidental acquisition, storage, and/or display of sexually explicit images, except for acknowledged, legitimate medical, scholarly, educational, or forensic purposes. Exposure and/or display of such material may be offensive, constitute sexual harassment or create a hostile work environment. Source: Information Technology Use Policies.

On the more positive side:

Our university is committed to the steadfast protection of the right to academic freedom. This commitment emerges from the university’s time-honored role in the creation of knowledge and the sifting and winnowing of ideas. Without full and vigorous protection of this principle, the university’s capacity to discharge its hallowed mission would be compromised. Source: Academic Freedom at Johns Hopkins University.

Unrated Institutions

FIRE doesn’t rate Mt. St. Mary’s. Here is some information from the Student Conduct Code:

Mount St. Mary’s University, believing in [freedom of expression], will protect the freedom of action and freedom of speech for students, so long as their speech and actions are not of an inflammatory or demeaning nature, are truthful and accurate, and do not interfere with the students’ living and study conditions.

Students may invite and hear speakers of their choice on subjects of their choice, subject to the limitation that the University may withhold approval of an event or a speaker if holding such an event or providing a forum for the speaker is determined to be contrary to the mission of the University.

University Policies
R. Posting and Solicitation
a. Posting without approval of a University administration or staff member;
b. Posting on exterior of buildings, trees, lamp posts, stretched or hung across hallways, doors, ceilings, slipped under doors, or posting anywhere in residence halls without approval from Residence Life; . . .
d. Unapproved canvassing and other promotional activities; . . .
f. Posting or display of any material which goes against the Freedom of Expression statement.
g. Display of lewd, indecent, or obscene material.

Morgan State University

I also checked out Morgan State University’s guidelines but did not find any statements that would appear to limit student free speech rights in my quick scan of the Code of Student Conduct.

The Faculty Handbook states the following:

It is essential also that faculty members be granted the right to express their views in a responsible manner without fear of censorship, reprisal or penalty. In the academy, administrators, faculty, staff and students bear a mutual responsibility to exercise professional competence and to extend to each other the trust and mutual respect which foster an environment for the exercise of academic freedom as well as collegiality.

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Marc Elrich on Hogan’s Road Plan

The following post by Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At Large) continues Seventh State’s series on reactions to Gov. Larry Hogan’s road proposal by candidates for county executive. It appeared previously on Maryland Matters.

Recently, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced his $9 billion proposal to add toll lanes to I-270, I-495 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. While a number of people have initially enthusiastically supported his proposal, I think it bears a lot more scrutiny.

The best thing about it is that the governor shows a willingness to invest in infrastructure, though how much is state money and how much is user tolls is not known.

One of the problems is that he’s proposing a sledge hammer for a project that needs a scalpel. The scope of the proposed solutions for I-270 and I-495 are overly grandiose and unnecessary. On I-270 a more sensible approach would be two reversible lanes from the county line to the Beltway, which is what the County Council proposed several years ago. There isn’t room for four lanes, and it’s an unnecessary expense, because the congestion on I-270 is directional – meaning from north to south in the morning and the reverse in the evening. (It is also known as peak direction.)

Neither side of the road needs these lanes outside of the peak direction at rush hour. Reversible lanes are the most efficient use of money and space. These lanes should be for express bus and high-occupancy vehicles only.

On I-495 there are serious space constraints, particularly between New Hampshire Avenue and 355. Not only are there many houses close and a major hospital almost immediately adjacent to the highway, but there are also legal constraints regarding encroachments on Rock Creek. Multiple lanes would be an environmental disaster for Rock Creek.

Additionally, large sections of the Montgomery County portion would be astoundingly expensive – remember the overpass bridges don’t have enough room for four lanes of new highway. Instead, a single reversible lane might fit within the existing width of the highway. Engineering data would be needed to confirm this, but there seem to be at least some places wide enough to add a lane now using the inside shoulder service lane. It may be possible to add two lanes past 355 going to Virginia – reversible lanes should be used there as well. Why build what you don’t need?

Gov. Hogan is missing two bigger picture problems: transit in general and Metro in particular. If money is available for highway expansion, then money is available for Metro. Metro cannot fail – in fact, it needs to improve and absorb more riders from the roads. A Metro fail would devolve into a widespread road disaster because most people would use local roads, not the highways, to get around.

Because no highway goes into Washington, D.C., a Metro failure adds thousands of cars on Georgia, Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues. Those additional cars would flood the commute to the city as well as make a mess for those commuters trying to access the job centers along 355.

The second overarching problem is that the governor is not looking at the big picture. The Beltway and I-270 have congestion problems, but what happens when exiting these roads is equally problematic. Even if, for example, cars on the Beltway arrive quickly to Georgia Avenue at rush hour, they would face a long queue simply to exit the Beltway and then a slow slog on Georgia. In other words, the local road network is already overwhelmed and no amount of highway lanes can change that situation. So even if cars spend less time on 495 getting to an exit and then they are stuck on the exit ramp or on the road, where are the savings?

The realities of the commutes necessitate a commitment to local transit. Local transit is the only way to clear enough space off the roads so that people can get to their destinations in a reasonable amount of time.

Because building new local road lanes won’t work, increasing transit usage on the local road network is central to any solution.

The whole point of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network that I proposed was to increase mobility on local roads and take a load off the already overwhelmed road network. (I first proposed the BRT network in 2008 and it is slowly developing.) BRT built right and desirable to use will provide actual congestion relief – just imagine what the roads would function like without a Metro and if those passengers returned to their cars.

Any plan that doesn’t integrate the local roads and the highways is simply not going to work. The governor should look more carefully at what is needed, rather than just declaring the addition of four lanes to the highway at great public expense, whether four lanes are needed or not. A more strategic assessment would free up capital that could go toward a more comprehensive, successful solution.

And, there are two other things to consider. A public private partnership, or P3, may be the most expensive way to fund a project and that is going to reverberate in tolls. Essentially, people with money to spend get a better highway experience and those without the means, remain in a poor experience. If money is the ticket to the new lanes, then you’re disincentivizing car pools, van pools and buses.

We need to get cars off the road, rather than finding extravagant ways to keep them on the road. This is a huge public expenditure with no accompanying analysis of what the state won’t be able to fund as a result – I’m worried about education, transit funding, and other critical infrastructure. Since none of us believes that there’s an infinite well of money, an expenditure like this on three roads may well mean that other critical projects don’t get done.

Another unknown is the impact of increased telecommuting. If we could get 15-20 percent of the workforce telecommuting each work day, we’d be dealing with a far less expensive problem to solve and probably have a much better travel environment.

I know the governor’s announcement makes a great news splash, and it certainly allows Gov. Hogan to say “I’m committed,” but it’s not very well thought out beyond that. I’d like to take the actual state dollars he’s offering and then have a real conversation about a comprehensive solution to the problem that actually makes better connections where trips start and where they end. And transit must be the central part of that conversation.

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Bill Frick on Hogan’s Road Plan

The following post by Del. Bill Frick (D-16) continues Seventh State’s series on reactions to Gov. Larry Hogan’s road proposal by candidates for county executive:

Traffic congestion is possibly the biggest challenge to Montgomery County’s quality of life and its economy, so I am pleased that Governor Hogan is talking about taking bold steps to deal with this problem.  That said, what little we know of Hogan’s strategy raises many questions that must be answered.

Will we really be able to accomplish all he has outlined with private dollars?< Will there be any work to remedy clogged arterial streets and the bottleneck at the American Legion Bridge?

Would an all-toll solution provide enough capacity that it benefits non-toll drivers?   

Will Hogan address Metro’s problems with seriousness and collaboration with DC, VA and the Federal Government?

Will Hogan include – and fund- the Corridor Cities Transitway as part of the I-270 strategy?

These are merely some of the policy questions.  This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the practical and logistical issues that the proposal presents.

I hope that Governor Hogan is committed to real solutions to a real big problem.  Press conferences are not enough.  We need leaders to devote serious work, provide adequate resources, and bring stakeholders together across party and jurisdictional lines to get this county moving again.

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Trump-Ryan Tax Plan Screws Marylanders, Especially in Anne Arundel, HoCo & MoCo

We only know so much about the Republican tax cut plan. As now seems to be the Republican way from healthcare to widening I-495, I-270 and the BW Parkway, plans have only gauzy outlines. However, the little presented is enough to know that tax “reform” would screw many Marylanders. Big Time.

The central idea of tax reform is that the elimination of various special interest tax breaks allows for a reduction in rates without reducing revenue. This plan reduces income tax rates, primarily at the top end, along with corporate tax rates but does virtually nothing to attack special interest tax breaks, so it will result in a massive reduction in revenue. It’s a yuge tax cut for the wealthy being presented in the guise of tax reform.

Indeed, the only eliminated tax break is the state and local tax deduction for taxpayers that itemize. This change is transparently designed to screw blue states that provide high levels of services and thus have higher state and local taxes, as this chart from the Wall St. Journal reveals:

Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery Counties will be among the biggest losers. Upper-middle class households that earn more than $100,000 are more likely to itemize because the current tax code makes it worth the bother. In 2015, over one-half of households earned more than $110,000 in Howard, $98,000 in Montgomery, $90,000 in Anne Arundel, and $75,000 in Maryland as a whole. These figures are even higher now.

As a result, Maryland, especially Anne Arundel, Howard, and Montgomery Counties, will take a big hit. Indeed, many upper-middle class taxpayers may well end up paying more in taxes under the Trump-Ryan plan than they do now because the elimination of this deduction will wipe out any gains that they would otherwise make.

There are some “good” nuggets of news in Trump-Ryan tax plan. While the administration is employing its standard tactic of the big lie by saying that this plan will not help the wealthy, including Donald Trump. Since Donald Trump said “believe me” when making this case, we know from experience that it’s extra big lie.

And indeed, it is. If you’re among the most extremely wealthy, you’ll make out very well. Trump wants to eliminate the estate tax, so that he—oops Freudian slip—other very wealthy people can leave massive money to their heirs tax free. Annually, only around 5000 estates are subject to the estate tax in any year but Maryland probably has more than its fair share as the most affluent state in the country.

Other prominent features in the proposal will also aid the wealthy enormously, especially the reduction in the top income tax bracket and pass-through S-corporations. The graph presented at the top of this post, developed by the Tax Policy Center, shows just how much the top 1%, and especially the top 0.1%, will gain.

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George Leventhal on Hogan’s Road Plan

I had the chance to speak with George Leventhal about Gov. Hogan’s road proposal. He explained that the proposal was a complete surprise to local officials because just days earlier Hogan’s Department of Transportation had presented their proposal to spend $100 million to improve mobility on I-270.

As for Hogan’s new proposal, created without any consultation with Montgomery officials, George said “It isn’t possible to be for it or against it because we don’t really know what it is.” In particular, he he emphasized the lack of any information on whether the proposal would include the American Legion Bridge.

The following is by Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At Large):

We need a lot more information about Governor Hogan’s announcement yesterday, but I am glad to see him paying attention to Montgomery County’s traffic congestion problems. I have been calling for expanded capacity on I-270 and the American Legion Bridge for a long time, and until yesterday, the governor had offered only a good, but insufficient, proposal for I-270, to improve technology and signalization, totaling $100 million. It will be interesting to learn how his new proposal is to be integrated with that earlier proposal.

The County Council has called for two additional reversible lanes on I-270, and it will be worth discussing with the state whether that would be sufficient, and obviate the need for four new lanes. Also, I would like to see a dedicated transitway as part of any plan for I-270 and the American Legion Bridge.

When it comes to I-495 east of the I-270 spur, I don’t understand how lanes could be added without significant adverse consequences to homes, businesses, watersheds, and Rock Creek, Sligo Creek and Northwest Branch Parks.

The governor’s attention to our transportation problems is welcome, but it would have been nice to see closer consultation with local officials before the announcement was made. Fortunately, it’s just a broad outline at this point and I hope that he and his team will now work with local government to figure out the details.

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