All posts by David Lublin

Planning Board Chairman casey anderson calls county exec. Marc elrich’s idea “Dumb”

Though he doesn’t say his name, Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson disparaged County Executive Marc Elrich at the Board’s Thrive Montgomery meeting, saying it was a “dumb idea” for Elrich to suggest that the Purple Line be single tracked under Wisconsin Ave. to save money. Just to make it extra clear who he is thinking isn’t too bright, Anderson references an Elrich proposal from 2009.

Only the discussion doesn’t make clear that the idea now is simply to single track under Wisconsin Ave.–a distance of 900 feet–to save money rather than all the way from Bethesda to around Connecticut Ave. as in the idea from over a decade ago. [Note: The Purple Line was originally planned as entirely single track.]

No discussion of the merits of the idea occurs. Nor does the Planning Board Chairman suggest a means to fund this expensive project. Anderson’s comments would likely have been even worse if a planning board staffer had not cut him off in the midst of another negative comment.

When asked for comment, Chairman Anderson said:

Well, I said it, and if I had it to do over again I might say it’s a bad idea, or even a terrible idea, but whatever word is used to describe it the fact is that It was suggested in 2009 and rejected for reasons that were pretty obvious at the time and I don’t think it has improved with age.

Not exactly an apology. Even worse, it reiterates the false claim that this is the same as the 2009 proposal. It’s not. The 2009 proposal planned for single-tracking over a much longer distance, so I queried: “Except that Elrich’s proposal in 2009 had a single track to CT—not just under Wisconsin—so that’s not true, right?” Anderson texted back:

It’s pretty obvious that it creates the same problem – single tracking limits the ability to improve frequency of service because it limits the number of trains you can run. In places where it’s been tried the result has been to come back later and make expensive fixes to add back the second track.

Except that what’s more far obvious is that single-tracking over a very short distance at the end of the line could well have quite different effects than doing the same over a much longer distance. It’s a very strong, unsupported assumption in service to his preferences. More to the point, repeatedly stating that the two proposals are the same is not playing straight with the public.

Around the same time as I heard back from Anderson, I also received a comment from County Executive Elrich:

Not quite sure what Casey’s referring to but when it was first suggested, the single track went all the way to the country club. We’re talking about pulling into and out of the station on a single track. It’s nine hundred feet – a fraction of the distance to the country club. And the trains have to switch tracks over there any way because the train entering on the westbound track has to leave on the eastbound track.

At the headway’s the system uses, there’s no way that two trains would conflict and there would be no bottleneck or degradation in service. It would save $50 million that could be spent on other important things. And without a second track you get a nice wide path.

Of course, the state would have to study it, I can’t mandate it, so we’ll see if it works. And if it does, why would a sane person say no. In the meantime his policies of developer giveaways is wrecking our ability to build the capital projects we need. Which schools, libraries, or public facilities should we kill to spend $50 million on a 500 ft tunnel if you can solve the problem and get the project done faster for far less cost. I’m trying to get it done quickly, without damaging our budget.

I don’t think many would contest that the two-track tunnel would be better. The question that Elrich raises is whether it’s worth studying the alternative in light of other pressing needs demanding the county’s scarce capital dollars. He also points out, correctly, that we’d get a much better bike path and trail through the tunnel.

Bottom Line: The public contempt by the Planning Board Chairman for an idea proposed by the County Executive to deal with the decline in projected capital funds is irresponsible and inappropriate for an official chairing a public meeting. Indeed, it’s the sort of remark that the Council reacted to sharply when Elrich said something similarly tactless–and, unlike Elrich, Anderson knew he was being taped.

What’s even worse, however, is intentionally misleading the public into believing that Elrich’s current proposal for single tracking just under Wisconsin had been studied when he could have simply said that he didn’t think it is a good idea. The Planning Board Chair should not misrepresent facts. It undermines the public trust.

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Friedson’s Tax Cuts Come Back to Bite Him

Adam Pagnucco wrote a lengthy post about how Councilmember Andrew Friedson (D-1) is upset that the County Executive is proposing single-tracking the Purple Line to accommodate the Capital Crescent Trail in the other tunnel. It is indeed less ideal.

Except that Friedson is now reaping the results of his own actions. Earlier this year, Friedson vehemently supported legislation sponsored by Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-AL) to provide corporate welfare in the form of tax breaks for developments on Metro properties.

As County Executive Marc Elrich explained in his veto message, the property tax subsidies proposed for Grosvenor-Strathmore alone cost the county over $100 million in revenue. And that’s just one project and the start of the giveaway bonanza the Council insisted upon when it overrode Elrich’s veto.

Moreover, this is likely the first step, as ideas for providing similar subsidies on private property around Metro have been bandied about by both councilmembers and the Planning Board. Yet the Council seems much happier contemplating additions than subtractions to the budget.

The Council has also been busy reducing impact tax fees that go directly into the capital budget as part of its “no developer left behind during a pandemic” program. They may call it social justice but it sure looks like a giveaway to connected, wealthy interests known for generous campaign contributions.

It’s too bad that Friedson wasn’t around during the days of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Post Office. Its members had two core beliefs: (1) stamp prices should never rise, and (2) the wages of postal workers should always go up.

I sympathize with Friedson’s desire for a two-track Purple Line and a separate tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail. I just wish someone touted so often as a financial wizard would pay greater attention to the budgetary impact of his desire to engage in tax giveaways to developers on the Council’s other priorities.

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Untangling vaccine confusion

As we roll out the big effort to vaccinate everyone, there has been some confusion. Here’s some information that will hopefully help you sort out what’s going on and why.

State Announcement Jumped the Gun

Governor Larry Hogan announced that people 75 and older in Priority Group 1B would be eligible to receive the vaccine beginning this past Monday. Hogan notified the counties around two hours before the announcement.

The problem, however, is that many counties have not finished vaccinating the people in Priority Group 1A, which includes healthcare providers who could easily become vectors of spreading the virus. As Adam detailed yesterday, Montgomery has received comparatively little vaccine but been vaccinating at a high rate.

Each group is also divided into three tiers. In 1B, Tier 1 includes people 75 and over. Some thought that everyone in Tier 1B would become eligible at once but the county is starting with Tier 1. If you are a Montgomery resident in this tier, you can now preregister for an appointment.

The Governor’s announcement has preceded availability here in Montgomery. This naturally created confusion and unhappiness among some that residents over 75 who thought that they could get the vaccine or even cannot be legally barred from receiving it.

Appointment Software SNAFU

The State has mandated that all county governments use the same appointment software, which was originally designed for the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine is usually plentiful, but we unfortunately have to ration COVID-19 vaccine and have eligibility requirements.

Designed for a situation with plenty of vaccine and the desire to vaccinate as fast as possible, the state-mandated software spits out offers for appointments as soon as they are available and doesn’t take into account eligibility.

This has resulted in people in 1B who thought they were eligible making appointments and then getting turned away because they weren’t. Even though Montgomery is still trying to finish vaccinating 1A, the county began on Thursday to allow anyone who is 75 and over (i.e. Tier 1 of 1B) and showed up for an appointment to get the vaccine.

Councilmember Email Blasts Exacerbated Confusion

Email blasts from some county councilmembers compounded the problem created by the Governor’s announcement by indicating that the county was moving to 1B now and urging people to sign up in all tiers.

Hospitals v. County Vaccination Centers

For whatever reason, 40-50% of people working in hospitals have decided not to get the vaccine. As a result, hospitals have extra. Rather than let it go to waste, they have sensibly been vaccinating people 75 and over, so hospitals have operated differently from county centers.

Ready for More Vaccine

I have heard that vaccination centers have far more people ready to do the vaccinations than people to receive it. While this may seem bizarre, it’s good news because it means that Montgomery may be better prepared for mass vaccinations as more vaccine becomes available.

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Did Andy Harris Commit Voter Fraud?

Republican Rep. Andy Harris endorsed serious allegations regarding fraud in the presidential election. But by his own standards, his own election was far more fraud prone than the presidential contest in either Georgia or Pennsylvania.

Applying the Harris standard, it is clear that there are grave questions surrounding his election.

  • Mail ballots applications were mailed out statewide in Maryland but neither in Georgia nor Pennsylvania.
  • There were signature checks on all mail ballots in Georgia and Pennsylvania but none in Maryland, where the law prohibits this ballot-security measure.
  • The election in the First District was overseen by partisan Republican county governments. Though there is no evidence of bias and vote rigging, Harris didn’t provide any when he cast suspicion on vote counting in Philadelphia.
  • Maryland accepted mail-in ballots after election day—and not just from the armed forces or people living abroad.
  • Maryland took a very long time to finalize its count.

Harris needs to step down until a lengthy investigation can take place and we review the process. No matter how many recounts we conduct, I know he understands that we cannot trust the results based on his stance on the Georgia electoral votes. The voters deserve answers. We can hold a special election sometime late in 2022.

Or we could just acknowledge that this is all hogwash. Rather like Harris’s specious challenges to the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory that attacked our democracy and stoked violence at the Capitol resulting in the death of five people, including the murder of a police officer.

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Mike Miller Has Passed Away

Statement from the Miller Family

At 4:25PM this afternoon, Maryland Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. passed away peacefully at his home, surrounded by loved ones. He was 78 years old. 

He’s survived by his wife, Patti, son Tommy, daughters, Amanda, Michelle, Melissa, and Melanie, sisters Susan, Cynthia, Melinda, Nancy, and Kim, brothers, Jonathan, David, and Mark, and his fifteen grandchildren, and was predeceased by his sister Judith.

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Andy Harris Skips Out on Voting on Impeachment

Andy Harris seems to have a penchant for going full-blown Trump but always doing it a slightly different way. If he had a tinfoil hat, he’d fold it using a different origami pattern. At any rate, he issued a sanctimonious statement about why he didn’t deign to vote on impeaching Trump after the insurrection at the White House:

The imperative of being in the operating room rings hollow because, thanks to COVID-19, the House is currently allowing members to cast proxy votes. If you watched the proceedings yesterday, you would have seen that many members on both sides of the aisle did just that. Perhaps Harris didn’t want to be there because this mask-skeptic physician would have had to wear one.

Notice that, even as he issues the now standard drive-by call for unity after months of claiming that Biden stole the election, Harris has to insult the Democrats and cannot bring himself to even use “Democratic majority” in place of the childishly denigrating “Democrat majority.”

While he condemns the Democrats, he says nothing about the violent mob, Trump’s encouragement of it, and failure to act to suppress it once it got out of control. Nor have his press releases included a word of criticism for Trump. Instead, Harris followed him in equating this attempt to overthrow the government and kill public officials with this past summer’s protests.

One might contrast Harris’s lack of concern over violent white supremacist seditious Republicans and condemnation of a “hasty” impeachment as “politically motivated” with his support for endless investigations into the facially absurd idea that Hillary Clinton wanted American diplomats dead in Benghazi and his willingness to support rushing through the appointment of Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court.

While Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford stood firm for democracy even as the crisis unfolded, Rep. Andy Harris has joined Del. Dan Cox in the sedition caucus.

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Free DC

The District of Columbia owes its existence to fear that a Jacobin mob might overwhelm the federal government and that a state government might be unwilling to protect it. Pennsylvania’s failure to act during against a mutiny by soldiers who wanted more pay propelled the creation of the federal enclave.

For all their efforts to prevent against authoritarianism though the separation of powers and robust federalism, the Founders never anticipated that the true danger might come from a president seeking to exert authority over Congress. Until Wednesday, it had never happened in the history of our country.

The encouragement by the president of this insurrection and attack on the federal legislature and then his failure to act protect Congress against this attack upended the narrative with the District, Maryland and Virginia coming to the aid of the besieged Capitol. America is fortunate the leaders of the District and neighboring states are committed small-d democrats and small-r republicans.

No people or place should have to earn their freedom. But the District surely did once again in coming to Congress’s aid. It’s time to end the bizarre situation in which the roughly 700,000 citizens in the District are denied democratic representation. The Maryland General Assembly should pass a resolution relinquishing its claim to the District, and Congress should admit the state of New Columbia to the Union.

Republican dress up their objections in a variety of cloaks but they all boil down to opposing statehood because its citizens vote Democratic. The even less appetizing rationale is that too many District citizens are Black. Either way, it’s an extension of the unacceptable efforts of voter suppression that we’ve seen around the country.

Republicans might also remember that partisan shifts can occur quickly. Hawaii was expected to be a Republican bastion when admitted to the Union. California and West Virginia both altered their partisan allegiances more recently.

All other federations that have emulated the U.S. in establishing federal enclaves give them representation. It’s time we up our democratic game and do the same.

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Maryland Rep. Andy Harris Incites Violence on U.S. House Floor

After a day in which a mob of domestic terrorists committed insurrection at the behest of the sitting president, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) attempted unsuccessfully to start a brawl on the floor of the U.S. House chamber according to the AP pool reporter:

Maryland Republicans must expel Harris and other proud sedition caucus members from their party if they want to align themselves with Larry Hogan and Boyd Rutherford rather than anti-democratic insurrectionists like Donald Trump and Andy Harris.

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