Independent Transit Authority Proposed for MoCo

At the request of Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, the County’s legislative delegation has filed a bill (MC 24-15) to allow the County to create a new, independent Transit Authority. The bill is already generating controversy and an online petition against it on change.org (or, in this case, don’t change.org).

If passed, the bill would permit (read again: permit, not require) Montgomery County to create a Transit Authority. The new authority could potentially run anything from the current Ride-On system to a new BRT (bus-rapid transit) system to parking lots and roads around the County.

The County Executive would appoint the members of the Transit Authority board subject to confirmation by the County Council. This independent body would then carry out independently a transit program as passed by the Council. This program could be relatively narrow (e.g. take over the existing Ride-On system) or broader (e.g. construct and operate a new BRT system).

Taxes and Finances

As written, the bill would allow (again: allow, not mandate) the County to pass a property tax that is designated to raise funds specifically for the Transit Authority. These monies would not count toward the County Charter limit.

Additionally, if transportation expenditures (e.g. Ride-On) are moved over from the County budget, the County could reduce taxes  or spend the money on other needs because they would no longer be counted as within the Charter limit.

Less Different Than You Think

The County already has the power to do much of this through special taxing districts that have the power to construct transit (i.e. make capital expenditures) and raise funds outside the Charter limit. However, special taxing districts cannot operate transit.

Though the Transit Authority might spend monies on building and operating new systems, it would also likely realize some savings elsewhere. For example, a new transit line would likely result in needing to spend less on Ride-On buses.

Advantages

The clear advantage of this proposal is that it would allow Montgomery to take greater control its transportation future. Monies raised in Montgomery would stay in Montgomery. The County could choose to build projects that the State is not ready or able to fund. Ideally, the County would adopt a program that would help reduce traffic and help Montgomery grow.

Ironically, it might conceivably save money at the State level by reducing the need to construct another project elsewhere in the State in order to build the political support needed. Unlike the Montgomery-Prince George’s Purple Line and the Baltimore Red Line, Transit Authority projects would not need to move in tandem with other projects to gain support.

Disadvantages

No one likes seeing their taxes go up. While some would be willing to pay to see the money spent here in Montgomery on transportation, other will undoubtedly oppose anything that allows the County to increase its taxation authority.

Other may view the Transit Authority’s greatest strength–its ability to operate more insulated from politics–as its greatest weakness, perceiving it as less accountable to the public. Tradeoffs like these often exist in government. The Federal Reserve Board operates infinitely better for being independent of Congress and the President but it is also less responsive to the vicissitudes of public opinion.

County Executive and Council influence over transportation would simultaneously increase and decline. It would increase because they could fund and mandate new projects, giving the County much more muscular authority over transit. But the independent authority would be more independent once a funding mechanism is in place and a program adopted.

To Build What

A new Transit Authority would likely be able to move forward with the widely supported Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) and additional bus-rapid transit lines gradually for the County. BRT is much less costly than light rail (Purple Line) or heavy rail (Metro).

It would almost certainly not be enough to move forward with the Purple Line because that project is just so expensive ($2.4 billion and rising). I am hearing that the Transit Authority would not be intended to build the Purple Line but to move forward with the CCT and other transit improvements.

Of course, I’d like to see numbers so I could figure out what is possible and what is not. This is impossible for the simple reason that the taxation rates and general program of any Transit Authority would be up to the County Council.

Preliminary Thoughts

My initial reaction is that the Transit Authority may well be a good idea. Montgomery County has major transportation needs that should be more broadly addressed. The Authority would provide both the means and the opportunity to do so. Councilmember Nancy Floreen, a former Council President, said that the idea had “a certain amount of sense” when I spoke with her.

People certainly should be interested and make their views known regarding the proposal. But I am concerned that the petition and emails circulating suggest large tax increases that simply are not realistically in the cards. This is a critical issue and we should use the bill as an opportunity to discuss our future–not dismiss it out of hand.

The proposed Transit Authority may well allow Montgomery to  tackle its transportation needs much as similar tax increases in northern Virginia have aided road and transit construction south of the Potomac. No doubt people will want more information. The County Executive should tell us more about why he requested that this bill be filed. At the same time, there is a limit on what can be provided as the County has not begun to debate publicly if and how it would use its new power.

Israeli Election 2015: Guide for the Perplexed

Monty Python on Israeli Politics

I don’t know much about the current highly interesting politics of the Montgomery County School Board. (Fortunately, Lou Peck over at Bethesda Magazine does). However, Israeli politics are famously fractious and complex, so I thought it could be useful to present this guide to the lists competing in March’s Knesset elections. (Note: as with everything involving Israel, someone invariably with vehemently disagree. This is my take.)

The System

Israelis elect MKs (Members of the Knesset) off of closed party lists within a single national district by the d’Hondt method of proportional representation. Parties must receive 3.25% of the vote to qualify for seats–up from 2% at the time of the last election. Put another way, seats are distributed proportionally to parties above the threshold, though d’Hondt (called Bader-Ofer in Israel) has a  bias toward larger parties.

Left-Wing Zionist

The major left-wing Zionist parties favor the two-state solution and fall on the secular side of the secular/religious divide. Their other key commonality is that none would join a Netanyahu government, even though all but Meretz have in the past.

A coalition of Labor and Hatnuah, Zionist Union is the major mainstream left list. Labor was Israeli’s dominant party for decades after independence in 1948. No more. It came in third in the 2013 elections. Labor continues its struggle to reinvent itself, mainly by focusing on bread-and-butter economic issues. Appealing to Sephardim remains a problem for this party identified with its historically Ashkenazi leadership.

Hatnuah (The Movement) has an unintentionally ironic name as the party is really Tzipi Livni’s one woman show. Originally a member of Likud and then centrist Kadima, Livni continues her hegira to the left by forming an alliance with Labor. Hatnuah is most closely identified with support for peace negotiations and the two-state solution.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) was traditional flash in the pan success story in 2013–Israeli elections nearly always feature one–and is expected to lose roughly one-half of its MKs in March. While favoring the two-state solution, this center left party (i.e. to Labor’s right) is more known for its strident support of secularism and focus on economic issues.

Strongly dovish and secular, Meretz (Vigor or Energy) is the most clearly left-wing primarily Jewish party. Heavily Ashkenazi, Meretz has had trouble broadening its support.

Right-Wing Zionist

These parties range from center right (Kulanu) to the extreme right (Bayit Yehudi). Excepting Kulanu, none would join a coalition led by Labor/Zionist Camp.

The leader of the mainstream right, Likud (Unity) has moved steadily rightward. Mirroring the RINO phenomenon in the US, the party has dumped party stalwarts like Dan Meridor–someone hardly identified with the left–for more right-wing candidates. As a result, Netanyahu now is among the most left-wing Likud MKs. Historically, Likud has received more support from Sephardim.

Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) is a very successful extreme right party that favors settlements and opposes the two-state solution. This religious (but not Haredi) nationalist party has experienced growing success under tech businessman Naftali Bennett, whose ambition is to displace his former boss–Netanyahu–as PM.

Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) is led by Avigdor Lieberman and appeals foremost to Russian immigrants. Lieberman is well-known for his anti-Arab comments and hawkish views. However, he has taken a new tack in this election in suggesting that it could be time for Netanyahu to go and that Israeli needs a peace deal. Mired in a corruption scandal, Yisrael Beitenu will lose seats this year.

A former Likud minister best known for having brought down cell phone costs, Moshe Kahlon founded Kulanu (All of Us) for the 2015 election. Expected to be this year’s flash in the pan party, the polls suggest that Kulanu is steadily losing support, though it should still enter the Knesset. Much like Yesh Atid, it focuses on middle class concerns and leans secular.

Religious Parties

The religious parties are most keenly interested in funding for their school systems and religious observance (e.g. preventing El Al from flying on Shabbat). They bitterly opposed the narrowing of draft exemptions for yeshiva students.

Shas is the major Sephardic religious party but has now split into two parts due to the defection of former leader Eli Yishai. The party is now led by Aryeh Deri, who suffered recent embarrassment upon the release of tapes showing Shas’ spiritual leader, the now deceased Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, criticizing him. Deri served time in prison for corruption while he was Interior Minister. Shas has usually taken a more right-wing stand on the conflict but seems more open to aligning with the left under Deri’s leadership.

Ha’am Itanu (The Nation is with Us) is Eli Yishai’s new party. Unlike Shas, it would only join a right-wing coalition. At this point, it’s unclear if the party can pass Israel’s new, higher 3.25% threshold to enter the Knesset.

United Torah Judaism (UTJ), the Ashkenazi religious party, unites two Haredi (i.e. very strictly Orthodox) parties, Degel HaTorah (Torah Flag) and Agudat Israel (Union of Israel). While Agudat gains its support from Hasidic Jews, Degel HaTorah receives support from non-Hasidic Haredi Jews associated with the Lithuanian yeshivas.

Arab Parties

The new 3.25% threshold has forced the three major Arab lists to unite in order to evade the possibility that one of more of them might fall short of the necessary share of the vote. United Arab List encompasses Hadash, Balad (National Democratic Assembly), and Ra’am-Ta’al (the eponymous United Arab List).

Hadash is rooted in the Communist Party and claims to be the only bicommunal party. Balad supports the two-state solution with Israel being a binational state. United Arab List brings together the Islamic Ra’am with Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al.

Next Up: To Bibi or Not to Bibi.

 

Hogan Stops Pollution Regulation Critical to Public Health

One of Governor Hogan’s very first decisions has been to rescind a pending air-quality regulation that would have curtailed emissions from existing coal fired power plants.  This regulation had been extensively vetted by industry, the public and the Maryland Department of the Environment. The Maryland Air Quality Control Advisory Council (AQCAC) concurred unanimously with the proposed regulation in October 2014. Note that the AQCAC:

consists of 15 members appointed by the Secretary of the Department. Members include representatives from industry, labor, professional associations, local and regional government organizations, academia, farming, the medical community and the general public.

Indeed, AQCAC is currently chaired by a BGE employee–John Quinn.

According the the Baltimore Sun,

Hogan has ordered a comprehensive review of all pending regulations, opening them up for further “public input, public hearing and full due process” before they can be finalized.

But that due process has already occurred. These sorts of regulations go through truly extensive vetting before they get published in the Maryland Register. The unanimous approval by all AQCAC members present on October 6, 2014 is testament to the success of the vetting process.

These environmental regulations will have an important impact on public health in Maryland. MIT published a study in 2013 showing that air pollution is the source of 200,000 excess deaths annually in the US.  On the east coast, a substantial share of the air pollution is due to electricity generation by coal  fired power plants.  Among the types of fossil fuels used to produce electricity, coal is far and away the greatest source of air pollution.  And guess which city has the highest mortality rate in the country due to air pollution:

The researchers also mapped local emissions in 5,695 U.S. cities, finding the highest emissions-related mortality rate in Baltimore, where 130 out of every 100,000 residents likely die in a given year due to long-term exposure to air pollution.

Among the many regulations that Gov. Hogan vetoed or delayed, this should not have been one of them. It had extensive review with unanimous concurrence by the full spectrum of stakeholders. The regulation was key part of the effort to address directly the root cause of the multi-year failure of the greater Baltimore metro area to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards, and reduce the associated cost of pollution to public health.

Regulations are often onerous with some having less merit than others. Environmental regulations, however, are critical because they force businesses to pay a cost–either in terms of public health or cleanup–that they otherwise would dump on the public. Open for business is great but not at the cost of the well-being of Maryland’s citizens.

Fosselman Continues as Deputy Secretary of State

In a surprising move, Governor Larry Hogan has allowed and Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman has agreed to continue in his job as Deputy Secretary of State:

fossellman

Pete was an early and very active supporter of Anthony Brown’s campaign for governor, as well as closely linked to Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration. So this is a somewhat out of the box decision by all concerned.

Congratulations, Pete.

Johnny Tremain is Calling. Will You Answer?

The Baltimore Sun reports that a majority of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee (CCRCC) has now grudgingly agreed to appoint additional names beyond the ever controversial Robin Frazier’s for the vacancy created by Sen. Joe Getty’s planned move to the Hogan administration once Getty resigns from the Senate.

This is becoming epic as Frazier’s most ardent Facebook supporter is calling for all “Sons and Daughters of Liberty” (politically correct even!) to flight against “the tyrant in Annapolis.”

Otto

Getty Staying Put? Robin Frazier Not Going to Annapolis

To the grave disappointment of Maryland bloggers but the relief of more sensible folk, it looks like wingnut Republican Robin Frazier will not be taking up a Senate seat any time soon. The Carroll County Republican Central Committee (CCRCC) bowed to Gov. Hogan’s will to nominate additional candidates when taking up the appointment of a vacant delegate seat in Carroll but declined to revisit the nomination of Robin Frazier:

Members of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee voted 5-4 Thursday to submit three names for their second open state legislative seat at the request of officials from Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration. They did not, however, reconsider former County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier’s nomination for Sen. Joe Getty’s seat.
So, despite accommodating the governor on the delegate nomination, there is a standoff in Carroll County between Governor Hogan and the incumbent Sen. Joe Getty on one side and the CCRCC on the other. That being the case, Sen. Joe Getty looks to stay in the Senate for the time being:
The governor’s office said this afternoon that Getty had decided to stay in the Senate for a while longer to finish some initiatives.

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings of Baltimore County said he still expects Getty to join the administration but knows he still has some local bills pending that he’s very interested in.

Yes, um, very interested.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the Republican activists who showed up at the meeting along with several members of the CCRCC are mad at the governor either for how the process was handled or the attempt to shove Robin Frazier aside, as George Otto and JoAnn Nichols, two Frazier supporters explained:
otto
Wow. Just two days into his administration, Larry Hogan has already been declared a tyrant. And people are seeing Democratic plots in the heart of the new Republican administration.
This is a textbook case of how to lose friends and influence over people. Carroll County Republicans have managed to keep their senator out of the heart of a new Republican administration in order to push for the nomination of walking embarrassment Robin Frazier to replace him while undoubtedly teeing off the new governor who they overwhelmingly supported and created a public spectacle.

Facebook for Frazier

Well, the honeymoon for Gov. Larry Hogan–with Republicans, not Democrats–was short. Republican activists are already accusing Gov. Hogan of usurpation of the Maryland Constitution on Facebook:

frazier1.5

Otto attacks the Left too:

frazier1.7

Uh oh, he’s on to us. Opposition to Frazier is all a part of the global plot to get the Carroll County Republican Central Committee to choose a socialist to fill Getty’s seat.

frazier1.8

How Kotmair explains Frazier’s spanking in the Republican primary in her bid for renomination to her seat on the commission is unclear. More left-wing fraud? Or is it pinko infiltration?

Finally, we also have good old-fashioned passive aggressive:

Frazier2

Good news, JoAnn. It’s definitely you.

 

Joe Getty Hasn’t Resigned

Sen. Joe Getty (R-Carroll) is slated to take up a new position in the Hogan administration. However, a quick call to the Senate President’s office revealed that while Sen. Chris Shank (R-Washington), another Hogan appointee, stepped down with Hogan’s inauguration, Getty has not.

Getty’s continuance in office is likely not because he is especially slow off the dime or wants to hold on to his senate seat as long as possible but because of the kerfuffle surrounding the Carroll County Republican Central Committee’s (CCRC) strange decision to nominate walking political disaster Robin Frazier to the vacancy.

Democrats salivate at the thought of a Frazier appointment. She is guaranteed to generate endless bad press for the GOP. Needless to say, Hogan is less than thrilled. As Len Lazarick reported, he has demanded that the CCRC send up three names to him (read: someone other than Robin Frazier) in what I imagine is the desire to avoid tying his party or sharing the media cycle with this millstone. However, the CCRC website continues to announce Robin Frazier’s nomination.

Can Hogan get the CCRC to change its mind? That hasn’t occurred so far and neither has Getty’s resignation.

However, Facebook reports that the CCRC is going to meet tonight. Should be quite a show.

Del. Al Carr’s Address to the House on MLK Day

mlkI heard that Del. Carr’s speech was very well received and thought that I would post it here. You can also listen to his speech here (starts at 3:19).

Thank you Mr. Speaker.

Good evening distinguished colleagues and guests

Before I begin, Please give a warm welcome to my family.

My wife Barrie and my sons Miles, Toby and Oliver and our friend Doris are in the gallery.

It is a dream come true for me to be able to serve in this chamber with all of you and to represent my constituents.

I want to acknowledge all of the friends, family, and supporters over the years who helped me achieve my dream.

We are going honor Dr. King tonight by listening to him in his own words and song.

This past summer while sifting through family possessions visiting my mother in Ohio, I stumbled on a cassette tape.

My late grandmother Dorothy Douglass had served as the assistant principal at Addison Junior High School in Cleveland.

I had heard that she had met Dr. King and recorded his remarks on the occasion when he visited her school and spoke to the assembled 7th, 8th and 9th grade students.

I had been told that she sent the original tape to the King Center archives in Atlanta. But I did not know that she had kept a copy.

I made a Facebook posting about my finding this 50-year old time capsule. My friend, audio engineer Brian Whitney told me “Don’t play it! Bring it to me!” And I thank him for digitizing, preserving and enhancing the sound quality of the tape.

No recording of this event is available on the internet. The only places it has been heard is at a few small gatherings of people where I have shared it.

I learned that this school assembly on October 22, 1964 was Dr. King’s very first public appearance after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Lyndon B. Johnson had been sworn in as president less than a year ago and was on the ballot in the presidential election set for twelve days later.

Dr. King and LBJ had partnered on the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 which had been signed into law just a few months earlier.

King’s role in Ohio was that of a barnstorming campaigner working to get out the vote in the largest swing state to ensure their continued partnership.

Events a few months later including those in Selma, Alabama culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

King would return to Cleveland the following year to help elect Carl Stokes, the first African American Mayor of a large US City.

To better understand why my grandmother prized the recording you should know a little bit about her life.

Geraldine Dorothy Gordon was born in 1911 to George and his wife Mary. George was an African American who grew up near Hagerstown. Mary was white, a Canadian immigrant of Scottish descent.

dorothyAs an interracial family, they were part of the black community. Their marriage was legal in Ohio but not in many states including George’s home state of Maryland.

Dorothy was the first person in our family to earn a college education. At Kent State University during the Great Depression, she and the other black students were excluded from living on campus because of their race.

After earning a degree in education, she found work as an elevator operator until landing a substitute teaching gig.

Teachers in the Cleveland Public Schools were not allowed to be married, so her career was interrupted when she wed my grandfather Carl Douglass, an African American entrepreneur.

She resumed her career after my grandfather’s passing, and went on to become a distinguished educator serving as a teacher, counselor and assistant principal.

The highlight of Dorothy’s career was her work as an administrator of a Ford Foundation program and Project Manager of Transitions helping seventh grade students labeled as troubled. Her peers were amazed at the results she achieved when the students’ performance exceeded that of eighth and ninth graders.

As her grandchildren, my sisters and I benefited from Dorothy’s high expectations and her willingness to give her time, her presence and her encouragement. But her generosity extended to many other lives that she touched.

Dorothy saved the recording of Dr. King because she knew it was historic and educational, and she wanted it to be shared.

Let’s listen.

Dr. King speaks for about ten minutes and the assembly ends with a sing along led by his colleague, future Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andy Young.

And if you are so moved, please feel free to sing along.

Thank you.