Category Archives: General Assembly

Democrats, Be Careful on Labor Day

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last week, Governor Larry Hogan caused a splash in Ocean City with his new Executive Order mandating a post-Labor Day start for public schools.  A few Democrats, led by Baltimore City Senator Bill Ferguson, Montgomery County Delegate Eric Luedtke and Montgomery County Senator Rich Madaleno, have pushed back hard.  The two sides occupy their natural political territory: Hogan touts the economic benefits that employers in resort areas could receive from busy Labor Day weekends, while the Democrats reassert their traditional defense of public schools (whose officials overwhelmingly oppose the order).

Some Democratic lawmakers are spoiling for a fight, but wiser heads should prevail.  If the Democrats try to overturn Hogan in the next general session, they will be handing the Governor a nice win for three reasons.

  1. A post-Labor Day start is popular.

The Governor’s use of polls, especially those showing his high job approval ratings, clearly gets under the Democrats’ skin.  But Hogan is not the first politician to leverage polls to his advantage and he certainly won’t be the last.  Three different polls taken by Goucher College in the fall of 2014, the spring of 2015 and the fall of 2015 find support for starting school after Labor Day at 71%, 72% and 72% respectively.  The most recent poll finds support at 69% or above for every gender, racial, age and party group isolated, including 72% approval among Democrats.  Support for starting school after Labor Day is about even with support for sick leave and redistricting by an independent commission (another signature Hogan issue) and is above support for legalizing marijuana and opposition to fracking.

  1. The Democrats are divided.

A number of Democrats have sponsored at least one of three recent bills mandating Labor Day school start times.  They include the following five Senators and nineteen Delegates:

Senator John Astle (Anne Arundel)
Senator Ed Kasemeyer (Baltimore County/Howard)
Senator Katherine Klausmeier (Baltimore County)
Senator James Mathias (Eastern Shore)
Senator Jim Rosapepe (Prince George’s/Anne Arundel)
Delegate Curt Anderson (Baltimore City)
Delegate Darryl Barnes (Prince George’s)
Delegate Kumar Barve (Montgomery)
Delegate Pamela Beidle (Anne Arundel)
Delegate Eric Bromwell (Baltimore County)
Delegate Mark Chang (Anne Arundel)
Delegate Diana Fennell (Prince George’s)
Delegate Barbara Frush (Prince George’s/Anne Arundel)
Delegate Tawanna Gaines (Prince George’s)
Delegate Cheryl Glenn (Baltimore City)
Delegate Keith Haynes (Baltimore City)
Delegate Anne Healey (Prince George’s)
Delegate Sheila Hixson (Montgomery)
Delegate Carolyn J. B. Howard (Prince George’s)
Delegate Aruna Miller (Montgomery)
Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes (Eastern Shore)
Delegate Theodore Sophocleus (Anne Arundel)
Delegate Jay Walker (Prince George’s)
Delegate Alonzo Washington (Prince George’s)

In addition to those Democrats who support the Governor’s position (even if they’re not happy with implementing it through an Executive Order), many more will be loath to vote against something that has more than 70% public support.  If the General Assembly leadership tries to ram through a bill next year overturning the Executive Order and they cannot get enough votes to override a veto, that would be a nightmare scenario.  The Governor would look strong on a popular issue and the Democrats would look weak – VERY weak.

  1. It’s a regional wedge issue.

If the Democrats try to overturn Hogan, understand what that could look like to Marylanders who live near places like Deep Creek Lake and the Eastern Shore: an effort by politicians from MoCo and the City to prevent economic prosperity in their areas.  As one Democratic lawmaker who is not from the resort counties told us, “The jurisdictions that need the tourism are desperately in need of local government revenues, they are among the poorest in the state.  To ignore that borders on public policy malpractice.”  Governor Hogan wants to depict Democrats as pointy-headed, urban elitists who don’t care about the rest of Maryland.  Democrats need to be careful about giving him ammunition for that argument.

Some may point out that Labor Day is not as strong a voting issue as education, transportation and taxes (the latter being OWNED by Hogan) and that the numbers may move as school systems rearrange their calendars.  Fair enough: poll numbers can and do move, with those on marriage equality being the prime example.  But making them move far enough and fast enough to justify a legislative response will likely require a massive PR campaign to do it.  Who is going to wage such a campaign?  It won’t be the Democrats themselves, whose communication capacity is dwarfed by the Governor’s – a problem on which no apparent progress is being made.  It probably won’t be the state teachers union, which opposes the Executive Order but told the Post that overturning it was not a focus of theirs in the next general session.  If not the Democrats or the teachers, who else is going to do this work?


Hogan WANTS the Democrats to fight him.  There’s a reason why he did this through an Executive Order and a press conference rather than simply having the State Board of Education do it for him.  The Governor wants this story to go on for months to maximize his benefits from it.  So does the original architect of the issue, Comptroller Peter Franchot, whom the high priests of the Democratic establishment regard as an apostate.  Do General Assembly Democrats really want to give these two a bigger win than what they already have?

Let’s remember the Governor’s goals here.  First, he wants to increase his reelection vote percentage above the 51% he received last time.  Second, he wants to get enough Republicans elected to the General Assembly so that his vetoes can be upheld, thus forcing Democrats to negotiate with him on virtually everything (including redistricting).  The easiest way to do that is to pick up seven GOP seats in the House of Delegates, which the Republicans did in 2014.  And third, he would like to eradicate the Democratic Party from all areas outside the Baltimore-Washington corridor, a feat that is already dangerously close to reality.  If the Governor can accomplish all three objectives, he will change Maryland into a genuine two-party state, at least at the level of state and local government.  And he thinks the Labor Day issue will help him get over the top.

The Governor is dangling the bait.  Will the Democrats take it?


EITC Increase Dies But Northrup Grumman Gets Corporate Welfare

One of the big battles of the General Assembly’s now ended legislative session centered around proposals to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and to cut taxes. Both the Senate and the House proposed an increase in the EITC. But while the Senate tied it to a cut in marginal rates for the top 11.1%, the House passed a broad based tax cut.

No EITC or Middle Class Tax Cuts

Conference negotiations resulted in stalemate, as the Senate held out for its tax cut on the wealthy. As a result, no tax cuts and no increase in the EITC. The political sense in the Senate’s position was lost on me. The Democratic-controlled Senate held the EITC hostage to a tax cut for the wealthy for which the Governor would inevitably claim all the credit. Bad policy and bad politics.

Don’t Worry, We Have Northrup Grumman’s Back

Meanwhile, the General Assembly passed a $37.5 million tax credit for Northrup Grumman. The Senate even voted down an amendment that proposed to make it nonrefundable. While the legislature made progress on other fronts, the General Assembly bombed the fundamentals on tax policy.

Heck, Republicans should have opposed this turkey too. If you really believe in the free market, then you should also believe that government should not pick winners and losers or give some businesses special treatment.

Sen. Rich Madaleno, who opposed the tax cut for the wealthy and the corporate welfare for Northrup Grumman, summed up the situation well in a tweet: “Sadly only Northrup Grumman gets expanded EITC.”

How Did They Vote?

That’s for tomorrow’s post.




Peter Franchot Punches Back at Mike Miller

Comptroller Peter Franchot responded on Facebook to yesterday’s post on Senate President Mike Miller’s sharp criticism:

For the vast majority of my Facebook friends who have better things to do than keep up with the State Circle sandbox, and have asked me what all of this is about, here’s what Senator Miller’s latest attack boils down to. First, I’m an independent voice for the taxpayers of Maryland, who gave me this job that I love and who pay for my salary. I work for you – not for Senator Miller or any other Annapolis party boss.

Second, while I’m a lifelong progressive on social issues, I’m also a fiscal watchdog who is happy to work with responsible leaders from both parties to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent more efficiently, and to hold the line on higher taxes and unsustainable debt. For a backroom partisan like Senator Miller, who must destroy the Republicans at all costs in order to recover his grip on patronage appointments, preserve his grip on the redistricting process and such pursuits, my preference for bipartisan government is an act of heresy that is best snuffed out.

I offer this not in a spirit of anger or resentment of Senator Miller, because he is simply doing what Annapolis bosses do. I offer this simply to provide context to those who might otherwise be inclined to take the Senate President and his comments more seriously than they should. That said, enjoy your Friday and a relaxing weekend!

I’m sure Republicans are enjoying gleefully this intraparty feud. Comptroller Franchot has certainly given back as good as he got yesterday from Senate President Mike Miller. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine this statement will help improve relations with General Assembly Democrats, who wish that Franchot would carry water for them instead of the Governor more often.

A Note on Political Maneuvering

Yesterday, one had to chuckle when when Mike Miller said “I’m not going to name his name.” Though technically true, it self-evident that he was speaking of Peter Franchot. Peter Franchot’s statements that he does not harbor “a spirit of anger or resentment” after a blunt, return attack towards Miller in the name of providing “context” inspire as great an eye roll.

But let’s hold off on labeling either of these people as insincere–or at least more so than the rest of us. The media routinely places politicians in an impossible position. Would anyone be shocked if Peter Franchot felt “anger or resentment” after Mike Miller’s comments? Except Franchot would be criticized as petty if he did not disclaim being so. Yet denying this normal human response looks disingenuous, especially after his scathing critique of Miller.

And people wonder why politicians sometimes look like a pretzel married a robot.


Miller Touts Raskin, Disses Franchot in One Stroke on Opening Day

The Maryland Senate is just not a safe space for Peter Franchot.

On the opening day of session, many luminaries come before the General Assembly to say hello and give brief remarks. When Senate President Mike Miller introduced Brian Frosh, I’m told he said enthusiastically something along the lines of “Welcome to the Attorney General. He served in this body for many years.” followed by very welcoming applause from his former colleagues.

As Franchot rose to speak, Miller introduced him offhandedly as the “tax collector” to very scattered, tepid applause. However, the chamber gave a resounding round of applause when Miller next reminded the body that Franchot used to represent Sen. Jamie Raskin and touted Raskin as someone who was going to do a terrific job as the next congressman from the Eighth District.

Miller also compared Franchot to Trump in a television interview, so I guess it’s safe to say that they’re no longer BFFs. More dangerous for Franchot is the broader estrangement from the Democratic Party that the moment revealed.


Mike Miller Compares Peter Franchot to Trump

Bruce DePuyt of News Channel 8 got quite a first day of session interview from Senate President Mike Miller. After giving a lucid analysis of the sources of the Trump phenomenon and its danger, Miller aimed his fire closer to home:

He [Trump] is like one of our state officials. I’m not going to name his name. He’s a fraud. He was a moderate Democrat who is now transforming himself saying I’m a right-wing tea party conservative to get the vote. That’s nonsense. You’ve got to be true to yourself. He’s not true to himself as are other politicians that we know.

It’s an open secret that the state official who shall not be named is Comptroller Peter Franchot. Miller has been feuding publicly with the Comptroller, attacking him in a scathing public letter. Miller has been critical of Franchot for grandstanding and his now routine support of Gov. Hogan on the Board of Public Works.

Franchot’s evolution has been amazing. When he primaried sitting Comptroller William Donald Schaefer in 2006, he positioned himself as the progressive standard bearer. The Washington Post reported:

Franchot ran an aggressive campaign, trying to link both Schaefer and Owens to Ehrlich and claiming that he was “the only real Democrat in the race.”

So in essence, Miller’s argument is that Franchot has become exactly the portrait he drew of his opponent in 2006. Indeed, Franchot’s reply to Miller’s letter was highly complimentary of the Governor while critical of General Assembly Democrats.

Mike Miller is a centrist Democrat, so one can only imagine how liberals in the General Assembly view Franchot’s actions. I’d say Franchot is headed for uncharted waters except that, based on his own 2006 primary campaign, Franchot should know exactly where the course he is charting heads.


Hogan’s First Session Endgame

Evaluating outcomes of legislative sessions, particularly when the Democrats control the General Assembly the Republicans the Governor’s Mansion, often devolves into rating winners and losers. Though there were the inevitable clashes on policy and rhetoric, it was also a productive session.

The sour note finish on the budget, however, was a perplexing surprise in light of the initial bipartisan budget compromise that saw strong support from both sides of the aisle. Bipartisan comity unraveled towards the end of the session.

Though Gov. Hogan’s staff had been highly involved in the budget negotiations that led to the brief budgetary Era of Good Feelings, he decided to insist on adding another $75 million to the pension fund after the compromise was reached.

The Governor’s  reinsertion of this demand after agreement had been reached will harm future negotiations with the legislature. It reduces legislative trust that he will adhere to deals and makes legislators wonder if he really prefers an argument to policy accomplishments.

The new attempt at negotiations after the pension demand reemerged also flopped. My colleague, Todd Eberly, largely blames the Democrats for not taking Hogan’s offer to partly reach their goals on education, health and COLAs for government employees in exchange of hewing to his demands on pensions.

While certainly a reasonable enough viewpoint, Hogan’s demands went well beyond pension funds to include passage of virtually all of his other bills. Negotiations in which the Governor expected the whole menu for only partial budgetary concessions were not likely to succeed.

There are further reasons for this failure. Gov. Hogan and his team did not lobby rank-and-file legislators nearly as aggressively as Gov. O’Malley during the legislative session. The lack of contact felt Jimmy Carter-like at times. His staffers need to work not just with legislative leaders but other legislators to advance their bills. President Miller and Speaker Busch are important but they are not the whole General Assembly.

The light lobbying touch may also be a symptom that Gov. Hogan believes that the General Assembly rolled over for Gov. O’Malley and so they should do the same for him. Except that many Democrats often fought with O’Malley and he had to fight very hard to get his priorities from gambling to same-sex marriage passed.

No doubt there is a learning curve for every new governor. While Gov. Hogan was the Appointments Secretary for Gov. Ehrlich, he has less experience in dealing with the General Assembly. His first session was hardly a failure. But whether his second session goes better will depend not just on Democrats but on him.


Hogan Threatens Legislative Leaders

Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted this out yesterday via his campaign organization, Change Maryland:


This is one of those wonderful threats that is clearly meant one way–if you don’t bend, I’ll make electoral trouble for you at home–but Hogan’s press people will try to spin as we’re hoping that they’re listening to their constituents.

Somehow, I doubt they’re intimidated.

It’s also an argument that only goes so far. Democrats won so many seats in the General Assembly that Gov. Hogan cannot sustain a veto without Democratic support. Legislators have mandates too.


Legislators Working to Make Metro Better

firemen in metroJust More Media Hysteria, So Chillax

Denial from Greater Greater Washington

Greater Greater Washington’s response to the series of problems with both the Metro and the DC streetcar was to blame “media hysteria” and remind us that transit is still safer than driving. So pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Better Response from the General Assembly

Fortunately, like the public they represent, legislators in the General Assembly think the continuing rot in Metro not only needs to be stopped but reversed. I don’t think this weekend’s repeated problems will persuade them otherwise.

Freshmen Del. Marc Korman (D-16) and Del. Erek Barron (D-24) have real interest in transit issues and have organized an informal Metro working group as part of an effort to figure out how to fix WMATA and exert more effective pressure to do so.

Special kudos to Del. Tawanna Gaines (D-22) who heads the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Transportation for supporting the effort. It’s terrific to see leaders like Del. Gaines working to support reform efforts.

The people involved realize that these are long-term problems with no quick fix. Hopefully, they can (1) improve oversight of Metro, (2) get Metro to address some specific problems, and (3) start to address some of the central questions around WMATA’s management and funding.

Fortunately, the interest in these questions extends even beyond the Metro area. Great to hear that Del. Brooke Lierman (D-46) and Del. Bob Flanagan (R-9B) joined many legislators from Montgomery and Prince George’s to attend the group meetings. Del. Flanagan was a former Secretary of Transportation in the Ehrlich administration.

While I look forward to seeing the group’s action plan as they learn more about WMATA, it is a good start that those involved know there are serious problems and want to figure out how to fix them in a more systematic, effective way.


Changing the State Budget Process?


Black is the New Orange: Hogan’s Budget is on the Right

Over at the Free Stater, Todd Eberly has a great post that unpacks exactly why governors of Maryland are considered the most powerful in the nation:

According to the constitution of Maryland, the Assembly cannot increase spending in the governor’s budget and it cannot move funds around in an effort to increase funding in one area by reducing it elsewhere. All the Assembly can really do is reduce the amount of spending proposed by the governor.  The Assembly can introduce legislation to provide funding for programs – but only if the legislation identifies a funding source (e.g. raising taxes). Certainly, members of the Assembly can work with Hogan and try to convince him to introduce a supplemental budget that provides more funding for programs they value, but failing that, Hogan’s budget will stand.

Senators Rich Madaleno, Guy Guzzone, and Roger Manno have introduced a constitutional amendment to give the General Assembly more power vis-a-vis the governor. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the amendment that established this system, it seems a good time revisit our choice.