Why Do Light Rail Costs Only Go Up?

The Washington Post reports that cost estimates for the Purple Line in the DC suburbs have risen by $56 million while the Red Line in Baltimore now is estimated to cost another $220 million. Total cost estimates for the Purple Line are now $2.43 billion–more than double the original cost estimates. As with the previous increase, the State must foot the entire bill for the change.

MTA decided not to publicize the cost increase:

Henry Kay, who heads transit project development for the state, said the MTA didn’t publicize the increase because it was considered a “minor adjustment” on such a large, complex project. He said the additional costs came from refined estimates based on more detailed engineering and still-rising real estate prices.

“It doesn’t reflect some faulty approach” to cost estimating, Kay said. “It’s just the nature of a mega-project being developed over a number of years.”

Except that, as recently as March, Henry Kay also claimed that ““We have a high level of confidence” when they released their previous estimates. Moreover, as I pointed out in a previous post, the continual errors in one direction are highly suspicious:

The excuse that cost estimates have risen because the earlier estimates were only rough estimates is suspicious if only because cost estimates have always increased. They never decline. If the estimates are unbiased, the errors shouldn’t be off only in one direction.

Put more bluntly, if MTA is being straight with us, why have the costs continually risen instead of sometimes going down instead of up? And these changes have occurred even as they have tended to take out expensive features, such as the promised continuation of the Capital Crescent Trail through the Purple Line tunnel.

It would be useful to hear the Montgomery and Prince George’s County Councils debate what project they would give up to pay for the latest increase in costs even as they figure out how to pay for their share of the project. The Montgomery County Council still has to figure out how to pay for the trail–whose costs have also doubled to $95 million.

The County Council also to convince the owner of the APEX building in Bethesda to tear down the building so the station can be built there–something the County is rightly working hard to accomplish (it’s the right place) but will also take money.

Will the next increase break $2.5 billion? One question we should’ve asked long ago: at what point does this project in the form of light rail become too expensive, especially since (1) the CCT has already been transmuted from the previously promised light rail into BRT; (2) Montgomery County is planning a countywide BRT system; (3) MTA’s own estimates showed BRT as much more cost effective; and (4) we have many pressing transportation needs, including other public transit investments and the maintenance of existing infrastructure (e.g. Metro and MARC) to make.

Share

RoboBomb

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) recently made over 70,000 robocalls asking for volunteers and money. Only 400 people pressed a button to respond positively to new MCDCC Chair Kevin Walling’s plea to support state and local candidates.

So far, multiple sources report that they do not know if a single dollar has actually been raised by follow-up calls to the estimated 0.57% who responded positively to this recorded message. Regardless, it looks like that MCDCC will be lucky if they don’t lose money.

The calls came as a surprise to much of the Central Committee, which did not, at least as a whole, approve or learn about them in advance. I have heard the calls described as misleading because they give the impression that the money donated is directly going to support local and state Democratic candidates.

I imagine that MCDCC leaders would argue that monies raised will support their efforts to aid Democratic candidates. Except that it looks as if any money raised will have to be plowed back into paying for the solicitation. The poor response is why most dialing for dollars occurs with a live voice on the phone.

This fizzling fundraising effort follows on a similarly unsuccessful direct mail campaign. MCDCC included return envelopes in the solicitation, which sounds like a good idea. But it also made the mailing more expensive and did not result in a higher return rate than previous efforts with only small amounts raised.

So far, Kevin’s early efforts to increase fundraising by MCDCC–one of his core promises in seeking the chair–have yet to bear fruit. And expanding the broader donor base has to be even more difficult outside the height of election season.

Share

Tea Leaves of MD-03

MD-03 is a tricky district. It has a Jackson Pollock quality in terms of it’s lines that really means no elected official has a true base here. It does take in enough prime political real estate that if John Sarbanes (still a young man) runs for his father’s US Senate seat one day – there should be a hard thought Democratic primary.

From Montgomery County

It would not totally surprise me if Steve Silverman were interested in running for Congress, and he does indeed reside in the third district. He raised well over two million dollars in his bid for Montgomery County Exec in 2006. I doubt he could do half that for a Congressional campaign today. However, he’d have at least half a million at his disposal, and possibly seven or eight or nine hundred thousand.

A few terms in Congress would surely be an enticing capstone to Ike Leggett’s career (And he too lives in MD-03). He could put together 1.5 to 2.5 million dollars and would be a strong candidate. Ike would be a real heavy weigh. . . and don’t we always say he’d be a better legislator?

Anne Kaiser might clear a million dollars, but I’d be surprised. I wouldn’t be shocked if she had at least $700,000. I’d be blown away if she didn’t clear half a million. I suspect she’d get substantial help from national LGBT Donors and interests.

Craig Zucker could do $250,000-$500,000. He’d also be dynamic enough to stretch those dollars. Craig might do well with SEIU (He ran there home care program in Maryland at one point) which could help substantially. Zucker is an incredibly hardworking candidate and could make himself competitive for the seat.

Eric Luedtke is a lackluster fundraiser but could see substantial labor PAC money come to fund him. I’d also be a bit perplexed if the NEA didn’t spend hundreds of thousands in independent expenditure to support him, especially if Bill Ferguson were in the race. The dynamic between  Teacher Union Activist Luedtke and Teach for America Alumnus Ferguson on Education Reform, although they are (from what I understand), quite close in the legislature, might very well make this a proxy fight between powerful labor and reformist interests (similar to the 2013 Boston Mayoral run off between Marty Walsh and Dan Connelly).

Anne Arundel County 

Maybe former Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen. No idea what he could raise. More than 100. . . but who knows how much more? I don’t think he’d be a particularly serious candidate, with little opportunity to expand outside of his base in the City of Annapolis (not big enough to support a real congressional bid). Nice guy, though.

County Councilman Chris Trumbauer might be able to garner substantial backing in IE from the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. Which is lucky for him because he couldn’t raise more than low six figures on his own. He’d be well positioned to lock down the Anne Arundel County portions of the district (although that’s not a huge base).

Baltimore County

Bobby Zirkin a dynamic, handsome young trial lawyer who happens to be a strong contender to be the next chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. If that happens, his number could be as high as $1.5 million. If not, $650,000-$1,000,000. Senator Zirkin could likely raise very substantial amounts of money from the incredibly tuned in community of Trial Lawyers that finances so many Democratic Stalwarts.

Dan Morhaim – a Delegate and a Doctor makes a powerful combination. Would clear a million easily. Two million might be a stretch. Shares a heavily Jewish Western Baltimore County district with Zirkin. Despite being one of the stronger fundraisers in the house, he lacks enough pizzazz to be a solid congressional contender in my opinion.

Jon Cardin– Would raise a million easily, but not more than $1.2 or 1.3. Would benefit from confusion with his uncle as well. But, I think that Jon is pretty done after the AG Race. However, the Cardin brand is stronger here than it is statewide.

Baltimore City

Brooke Lierman She could raise a million bucks off her last name, and probably another 300K off of her own network. If Hoyer came in to aid his former Chief of Staff’s daughter you could see another quarter million drop in. She’d be competitive against Anne Kaiser for an Emily’s List endorsement. But as we saw with Heather Mizeur in the 2014 Gubernatorial primary they don’t devote a lot of resources to Democratic Primaries in Deep Blue states.

Bill Ferguson – A handsome, white, young Baltimorean State Senator with real education reform credentials. Can he get buy in from national Ed Reform donors and raise mega millions? I’m not sure. A guy to watch, none the less. With a very, very solid base in the rapidly gentrifying, densely Democratic neighborhoods of South Baltimore. Definitely one to watch.

bIn a primary this crowded, with so many disparate bases of support, I have no clue who might come out on top. I’m not going to pretend that I do.

 

 

Share

Orange is the New Black: Gubernatorial Edition

Maryland has much more experience with corruption than Virginia, so I thought it might be helpful to offer a few tips to our sister state. After all, we had much of our political class arrested in the 1960s. The Old Line State can speak from experience.

Watch the Future McDonnell Income Taxes
Conviction doesn’t always end corruption or shamelessness. Spiro Agnew became the only person ever to resign the vice presidency after his 1967 tax evasion conviction for unreported income. That didn’t stop him from trying to deduct the bribe money he had to repay Maryland from his California taxes in 1989.

Make Your Marital Problems Convincing
The “I have no idea where the money for this Rolex or my daughter’s wedding reception came from because my wife and I are having marital problems” defense didn’t fly with the jury. Those supplements have stronger effects than realized if they expected them to believe that sad hodgepodge.

In contrast, Gov. Marvin Mandel had believable problems since he divorced the first Mrs. Mandel to marry the second–and won reelection after he left his first wife. Indeed, the source of Mandel’s corruption was his need to pay hotel bills and alimony.

Mandel’s first wife, Barbara or Bootsie, refused to leave the governor’s mansion stating “I will remain Mrs. Mandel” until the former first couple negotiated an alimony settlement. I would have hired her to negotiate for me anytime.

No Need to Grasp for the Smelling Salts, Virginia
The Commonwealth is no doubt worried about its honor and reputation in the wake of its first gubernatorial conviction. But have no fear, you can still look down on Maryland which is waaay ahead in terms of corruption and isn’t even in the race for national leaders. Virginia remains the mother of presidents, while Agnew is the only Marylander to serve as president or vice president–a jinx Martin O’Malley would like to break.

Maryland pols convicted in the same era as Vice President Agnew and Governor Mandel include:

Anne Arundel County Executive Joseph Alton
Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson
Baltimore County State’s Attoney Samuel Green, Jr.
Congressman William Mills
Speaker A. Gordon Boone
State Senator Clarence Mitchell III
Delegate James “Turk” Scott
U.S. Senator Daniel Brewster

And yet some still seem to think you just aren’t anyone in Maryland unless you’ve been indicted. The lack of Montgomery and Prince Georgians on the list is more testimony to our lack of influence then rather than our probity.

Good Governor, Shame about the Corruption
Ironically, despite the corruption problem that forced him to leave office, Marvin Mandel was considered an excellent, reformist governor. Similarly, McDonnell was well-regarded in Virginia until his Rolex and supplement problem came to light.

Share

Becky Wagner on Reducing Teen Pregnancy

Becky Wagner sent me an interesting message in response to an earlier post on teen pregnancy:

I thought I would follow up to your blog regarding long term contraception and the evidence of the benefits represented in the drop in teen pregnancies.

Advocates for Children and Youth is a non-partisan policy reform organization (Maryland’s Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT organization) that tracks over 60 indicators of the well-being of children in Maryland. We know that unplanned pregnancies can create poor outcomes for children and families and for that reason supported legislation sponsored by Del. Heather Mizeur which established pre-conception health care for low income women.

Regarding your concern that Maryland was not listed as covering the long term contraceptive described in the article, I asked our Health Policy Director, Neha Trivedi, to look into the matter. Her feedback is as follows:

Individuals in Maryland who are enrolled in a Managed Care Organization (MCO), or those on Medicaid with a family planning program do get coverage for birth control, which includes long term contraceptives such as IUDs. However, depending on the type of plan they have with Medicaid, I found that only certain forms of birth control are covered. Therefore, some plans may or may not cover some types of birth control i.e. implants as described in the article. For those who are inquiring about new forms of birth control they need to speak directly to their Medicaid MCO, or the family planning program at Medicaid to see what type of birth control is covered by their providers.

So it would appear that, just as prescription drugs for various treatments are or are not covered under certain health plans, it is the same with contraception.

Advocates for Children and Youth focuses on the issue areas of health, education, child welfare and juvenile justice, all through the lens of racial equity and economic sufficiency. We are happy to provide information and data for Maryland’s children in these issues areas.

Share

NAACP Criticizes PG School Cell Towers

The controversy over the plan to place cell phone towers on school grounds in Prince George’s to generate money continues. Yesterday, Prince George’s NAACP President Bob Ross criticized the proposal, according to the Montgomery County Parents’ Coalition. Objections from the Coalition to the cell phone tower center on the potential effects of radiation emanating from the towers.

Share

Republican Ed Edmundson Not from Central Casting

logo-edmdI don’t often meet Republican candidates here in Montgomery County, if only because they appear to be thin on the ground. So I was a little intrigued when I met up with Ed Edmundson, a candidate for the House of Delegates in District 15, at Starbucks.

About Ed

Ed is a first time candidate reminiscent of past generations of Montgomery County Republicans, like Jean Roesser, Connie Morella, Betty Ann Krahnke and Howie Denis, who were liberal on social questions but more moderate or conservative on economic issues–long a winning formula in this area and indeed one that still works for several Democrats on the County Council.

Unusually for a Republican, he has been endorsed by NARAL, as have all three Democratic incumbents. It’s not often you hear a Republican talk about fair trade, ending “the school to prison pipeline,” and legalizing marijuana.

Ed gets more conservative on economic questions. He wants to cut the corporation income tax to make Maryland more competitive with Virginia. He also passionately believes that the regulatory structure created by the State and the County is too cumbersome and particularly a burden on small businesses.

On education, Ed proposes radical alterations to the teaching benefits structure by doubling teach salaries and eliminating pensions in favor of 401(k) plans. In my view, Ed is very fuzzy in terms of how to pay for large tax cuts and increased education spending. He wants the federal government to pay for increased education spending by cutting defense.

While decidedly out-of-the-box and even courageous for a Republican, it also requires decisions far outside the scope of the authority of the House of Delegates. State officials needs to pay for changes within the State’s own budget. The last four years have demonstrated that waiting on Congress is not a strategy. Despite this impracticality, Ed nonetheless brings a genuine passion regarding economic questions.

Specifically, he advocates for the positive, appealing part of the Republican message that government needs to work to encourage business and develop a more holistic strategy towards that end. And he expresses deep concern about those who view business with hostility rather than a crucial part of the solution.

In short, while his ideas haven’t gelled and the numbers don’t add up, the Republicans desperately need more people like him who don’t fear the future but who want to streamline government to promote prosperity and pay for needed government services. At least Ed shows some imagination, while Larry Hogan serves up the reheated sauce of “waste, fraud, and abuse” as “vision.”

Why Ed Won’t Win

Ed faces a lot of obstacles in his uphill bid for a delegate seat. First, District 15 has become much more solid Democratic turf since the Republicans last won seats in the area. Democratic partisans are now less willing to crossover and vote even for moderate or liberal Republicans–the undoing of Howie Denis on the County Council–because the national brand has become so tainted.

Second, District 15 has an extremely solid delegation with no weak links who could provide an opening. If Speaker Busch has good sense, he’ll find a way to appoint Kathleen Dumais as Judiciary Chair and sideline (Chair Emeritus?) past-his-sell-by date Joe Vallario. Aruna Miller has consistently struck most as smart, serious, and hard working. Recently appointed Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo has already made a positive impression. These are the sort of legislators we need to keep who make it difficult for opponents to make a good case to fire.

Third, there is always the Ficker problem. Running on a ticket with the ever-polarizing Robin Ficker, whose son is now running for delegate, seems an excellent way to assure that Democrats open to voting for some Republicans don’t give Ed a hearing.

Fourth, Ed is a complete newbie to campaigning. He plans to spend around $40,000, mostly his own money, and likely an insufficient amount for a  serious delegate challenge in Montgomery County. Moreover, I don’t think he knows how to spend the money wisely as he is buying newspaper advertisements and sending no direct mail.

Still, it’s always up to the voters.

Share

Hogan Campaign Jumped into the GOP Cul-de-Sac

Despite Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Larry Hogan’s effort to turn attention away from social questions such as same-sex marriage and abortion rights, his campaign is turning out to be the perfect illustration of Republican demographic and policy problems.

The Washington Post recently highlighted Hogan’s call for tax cuts targeted at the elderly:

Speaking at a retirement community along with his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Mr. Hogan said that once he gets spending under control, his administration would “completely eliminate state income taxes for pensions and retirement income.”

As is disappointingly customary for too many Republican candidates, he made no mention of the spending reductions needed to pay for these tax cuts that just happen to be popular with the high-turnout elderly electorate:

We’d like to report that, along with his blockbuster tax cut proposal, Mr. Hogan released detailed projections showing how much revenue it would cost the state and which programs he would target for commensurate spending reductions. But we can’t, because he didn’t.

Hogan’s choices mirror directly the current state of the national Republican coalition, and the surprisingly non-conservative, irresponsible policy cul-de-sac that follows from their imperative to cater to it. David Frum explained it well in a must-read article in Foreign Affairs:

Republicans have come to rely more and more on the votes of the elderly, the most government-dependent segment of the population — a serious complication for a party committed to reducing government. . . .

What boomers mean when they call themselves conservative is that they have begun to demand massive cutbacks to spending programs that do not directly benefit them. Seventy-five percent of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. Not surprisingly, then, boomers say they want no change at all to the Medicare and Social Security benefits they have begun to qualify for.

Boomers’ conservatism is founded on their apprehension that there’s not enough to go around — and on their conviction that what little resources there are should accrue to them. . . . It might seem paradoxical that people on Medicare, or soon to qualify for it, would oppose a further expansion of the government’s role in health care, but it actually makes perfect sense: boomer conservatives fear that government in the age of Obama will serve somebody else’s interests at the expense of their own.

Republicans have responded to boomers’ fears by reinventing themselves as defenders of the fiscal status quo for older Americans — and only older Americans. . . . [T]he GOP has rejected changes to retirement programs that might in any way impinge on current beneficiaries. The various budget plans Republicans produced in the run-up to the 2012 election all exempted Americans over age 55 from any changes to either Social Security or Medicare.

So Republicans like Hogan have become defenders of the elderly at the expense of other generations. Indeed, Hogan’s proposal is essentially a direct transfer from non-retired people who will get fewer services but still pay the same taxes to the elderly who would pay significantly less tax in Hogan’s imagined Maryland. Not a great deal for most Marylanders.

There is unquestionably an opening for a candidate to argue that Marylanders are too highly taxed and that regulation prone Democrats have stifled economic growth that is vital to employment and our State’s long-term success. But Hogan thus far has yet to make an argument in a remotely realistic or coherent way that suggests a conservative vision or way forward.

Share

Holy Moly, Look at What They Spent!

Campaign finance reports have started to come out. And wow, Dana Beyer and Jonathan Shurberg now have significantly lighter wallets but still managed to lose their primaries. If anyone knows of General Assembly campaigns that have spent more, please let me know.

Dana Beyer

Dana Beyer spent a whopping $332,503–or $63.48 per vote–on her failed bid for the District 18 Democratic senatorial nomination. Virtually all of it came out of her own pocket. In 2013 and 2014, Dana loaned her senate campaign $315,500. So she raised only $17,003 in contributions, including $500 from Emily’s List.

Dana has loaned herself $497,703 over the course of her three unsuccessful campaigns for the General Assembly–two for delegate in 2006 and 2010, and senator in 2014.

Jonathan Shurberg

But Dana’s expenditures fall short next to Jonathan Shurberg’s total so far of $421,858 for losing effort to gain the delegate nomination in District 20.  The total could go even higher as Jonathan has loaned or given his campaign an astounding $496,773. His loans totaled $366,200 and gifts added up to $130,573.

The total per vote based on Jonathan’s expenditures is an incredible $140.76 per vote but that could rise to $165.76 based on his loans and gifts to his campaign.

And to think some people just go to Neiman Marcus.

Share

Woodmont Avenue Staying Closed

Bethesda Magazine reports that the opening–much heralded by large signs in the area–will not occur after all:

Montgomery County spokeswoman Sue Tucker said inspectors visited the site and worried about safety concerns at the construction site, which includes a new underground parking garage.

“The county has gone out there and decided it will not open until the garage opens, which is planned in January,” she said.

So the new projected timeline for opening and the ease on traffic on the area is now postponed at least six months beyond the original two-year deadline. See also the story in Bethesda Now.

I guess the question is why weren’t these problems foreseen when the County approved the plan to reopen the street while construction continued on the two buildings?

 

Share

Maryland Politics Watch

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterCheck Our Feed