Fiscal Fantasy

 The Second Gubernatorial Debate

Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Larry Hogan has an opening with genuine discontent about taxes. He has certainly pressed it home virtually to the exclusion of all other issues.

Tax Cuts for You, Tax Cuts for Me

Hogan has put out the idea of a panoply of tax cuts. At a forum in a Baltimore populated by retirees, his idea of eliminating all taxes on retirement income was unsurprisingly popular among this demographic that votes at very high rates.

He also wants to lower taxes on corporations as part of an effort to improve the State’s business climate along with cutting back income taxes more broadly. Since he repeatedly talks about repealing all tax increases that occurred over the past eight years, that means that the gas tax and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fee (a.k.a. the “flush” tax) should also go.

But Before We Even Get to Tax Cuts

However, before engaging in any new tax cuts or spending, the next governor will have to deal with a major revenue shortfall. Tax revenues are often hard to predict. While the federal deficit has declined rapidly, Maryland will need to close a gap of $405 million in order to balance its budget.

Illusory Plan to Pay for Them

Hogan promises we can have it all by cutting “$1.75 billion in waste and abuse that we have identified.” Cutting waste, fraud, and abuse has a long history as the savior of politicians who want to cut taxes or increase spending without making tough choices. Just recall the Grace Commission report 30 years ago.

Hogan has now dusted off this strategy. Except that his figure is woefully inaccurate–inflated by a minimum of $843 million— as a review of just a portion of Hogan’s claims by the Baltimore Sun revealed. Sloppy math, such as a misplaced decimal point, undermines the Hogan meme that as “just a small businessman” who will watch our pennies carefully.

Even more embarrassing is that another error to the tune of $285 million relied on collecting more in property taxes–not exactly the theme of his campaign–but also on the assumption of tax rates of 100%. My guess is that not what they were going for when they unveiled their plan.

Hogan’s campaign concedes that the Sun‘s report is correct, as  Campaign Spokesman Adam Dubitsky creditably acknowledged. (Smart: admit the mistake, move on, and pivot back to the campaign’s core message.)

And the Costs are Unknown

Hogan doesn’t know the cost of all of the various tax cuts that he has proposed. However, the Washington Post reported that a nonpartisan analysis revealed that the cut in retirement taxes alone would cost the State over $1 billion in revenue.

Incredibly, despite the welter of promises, Hogan simply hasn’t looked into it. As Dubitsky explained to the Post, “It’s not going to be until we dive into the budget after we win the election.” An amazing admission about the leader of Change Maryland who just said in a debate “I don’t want to over promise and under deliver.”

Since Hogan promises so much but there is little on the table in the way of real cuts, I worry that they may fall on the state’s universities–not just in terms of tuition but also in other funding that has been vital to its steady positive trajectory. And my view is that any pro-business economic strategy has to rely both on continuing that movement and taking better advantage of it.

Hogan 2.0?

Speaking with Dubitsky and listening to Hogan in the debate, one also perceives a more reasonable version of Hogan. Dubitsky told me that Hogan is committed to maintaining the State’s AAA bond rating and getting the fiscal house in order before moving forward with tax cuts. Makes sense to me.

Certainly, working to make Maryland more attractive to business is  a perfectly reasonable goal, as is the idea of restructuring state government to improve efficiency and focus it on future challenges. But so far, all Marylanders have received is theme and message without an iota of content.

Avoiding specifics may well be the way to go in a campaign–too many Democrats get bogged down in the specifics of plans. Anyone remember the endless and pointless 2008 debates between Obama and Clinton about who had the better health care plan?

Even just the outlines of an approach and concrete examples backed up by facts would put meat on the bones and provide badly needed credibility. Even more welcome would be if Hogan would stick to not over promising by ceasing to hand out impossible tax cuts like lollipops on the campaign trail.


Accountability and Transparency at MCDCC

Despite recent posts highlighting shortfalls of the new Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (see here and here), the new MCDCC has a lot of potential. MCDCC has a lot of energetic new members as well as ongoing members with valuable experience.

The MCDCC meeting last night revealed some additional strengths. New Chair Kevin Walling did a fine job of running the meeting. He made sure that people were heard even as he worked to make sure that the Committee moved through an ambitious agenda.

In general, despite a diverse range of approaches, MCDCC members seem willing to listen and to learn from each other. Many brought good ideas to the table. And even if there were some bad ones, they at least deserved a respectful hearing.

There are gaps on two fronts, however, that need to be addressed if this potential is to be realized.

Accountability and Assessment

Just as a willingness to try out new ideas is important, the Committee needs to collect information on an ongoing basis that will allow MCDCC members to assess their effectiveness. At the MCDCC meeting, reports lack this critical information.

For example, the report on the precinct organization said that more people were joining than were leaving or dying. But there was no information about the number of vacant slots or how many vacancies were filled or created. Other reports similarly referred to success but provided no hard data on accomplishment.

The fundraising committee did not report. Even the budgetary information provided to MCDCC members was highly limited with no basic breakdown on the sources of funds. And that was not provided in advance of the meeting. Trying new fundraising techniques is great but this sort of information is vital to assess whether they should be repeated.

Additionally, since resources are limited, assessment needs to occur not just as to whether a positive outcome occurred but if this was the smartest, best use of resources. In short, members seem very supportive of one another but need to learn how to build a team even as they make dispassionately these sorts of judgements on the value of various activities.

Not everything is going to be a success. So what? It’s often worth trying new ideas and you can still thank the people for running with them. But declaring everything a success won’t help move the Committee forward.

Chair Kevin Walling alluded to this need to make judgements when MCDCC discussed the issue of whether it should mail the Montgomery Democrat newsletter to all members. The costs versus the benefits–as well as alternative benefits that could be accrued by spending the money otherwise–should be examined. Following through on these sorts of tough discussions is exactly what needs to happen.

Transparency and Inclusiveness

MCDCC needs to become more open not just with Democrats and the media but with each other. Currently, information is increasingly kept within the Executive Committee and not even shared with the broader Committee.

This trend seemed to accelerate after my post critical of their fundraising efforts with a flurry of proposals (that fortunately seem to have died down) on how to gag other members even though the subject of the post was discussed at a public meeting and robocalls were made around the County.

So MCDCC needs to be more willing to consult openly with each other not to mention rank-and-file precinct workers–especially on proposals mooted to change the precinct organization–and even pesky bloggers like me. Hunkering down into an ever shrinking circle is the exact opposite of the inclusive approach advocated strongly by all members of the Committee.

I think MCDCC can do it. No doubt there is a steep learning curve, especially just before a general election. And people who have new ideas also need to listen to members who have more experience. But only with more accountability and transparency will the exciting ideas to move the Democratic Party in Montgomery forward and prove Will Rogers (“I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.) wrong really have a chance to succeed.



MCDCC Chair Says One Thing, MDDEMS Another

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) held training for Democratic precinct officials this past Saturday and several sources report was controversy over access by precinct officials to MDVAN–the Maryland Democratic Party’s voter database.

MDVAN allows users precinct officials to select out different groups (e.g. new voters, Spanish-speaking voters, inconsistent voters) of voters for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) purposes. It also allows the creation of walk lists so that canvassers can conduct their work efficiently. In the past, precinct officials have been given access to the database but only for their one precinct.

MCDCC Chair Kevin Walling Says One Thing

When asked about goals for the training by MCDCC Precinct Coordinator Melissa Pinnick, many responded that they would like to learn how to do more with MDVAN. Eventually, MCDCC Chair Kevin Walling explained that precinct officials would no longer be given access to MDVAN and made clear that this was state party’s decision.

Instead of MDVAN, precinct officials were told that they would be given a PDF with lists of voters from their precincts. Precinct officials were not happy–many have worked their precinct for the Dems for a very long time–and asked who they should contact to do something about it.

But MDDEMS Say Another

Maryland Democratic Party Compliance Director Meredith Bowman explained to me that access to MDVAN is completely at the discretion of county party chairs. I also did not get the impression that the state party was aware of the issue in Montgomery County or that they had demanded the change.

In response to my query about why he decided to deny precinct officials access to  MDVAN and other questions, Kevin Walling communicated via email that he had to consult the MCDCC Executive Committee. While there may well be another side to this story, I don’t know his or MCDCC’s viewpoint.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen

Rep. Van Hollen spoke to the precinct officials on Saturday and gave a good rousing speech that communicated the value he and other elected officials place in the precinct organization for getting out the vote for the party year in and year out.

Apparently, the MDVAN issue would not go away and he was asked publicly about it by a precinct official. Once the issue was explained to him, Rep. Van Hollen said immediately that this is exactly the sort of thing that drives him crazy and that he would see what he could do about it.

MCDCC Reverses its Decision

By Monday, MCDCC was saying that precinct officials who want access to MDVAN can have it. MCDCC confirmed this at its official meeting on Tuesday.


Sun Poll Gives Brown 7 Point Lead

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown leads challenger Larry Hogan by 7 points among likely voters according to the poll conducted for the Baltimore Sun:

The poll by OpinionWorks of Annapolis found Brown leading Hogan 49 percent to 42 percent.

Though Brown has a 7-point lead, the poll found his backers are less solid in their conviction than Hogan supporters. And many in Brown’s camp are younger voters, a bloc that historically is less likely to vote.

“Hogan has a much more engaged, committed base of support right now,” said OpinionWorks President Steve Raabe.

“This is not by any stretch a locked-up race,” Raabe said. “You can still see Brown winning comfortably. But you also can see Hogan winning.”

The poll of 800 likely voters, conducted Oct. 4 to Oct. 8, has a 3.5 percentage-point margin of error.

Unfortunately, the Sun does not provide the crosstabs, so it’s hard to glean any information beyond that presented in the article. Nonetheless, here are a few thoughts on two problems for Brown and one for Hogan:
  • Brown leads by 88-6 among African-American voters. Compared to other polls, there are many fewer black voters left for Brown to consolidate. Among African Americans, he will need to focus on the solid turnout he needs for victory.
  • The age gap persists with Hogan fairing better among older than younger voters. Brown will need to work to make sure that younger voters show up to vote. If he has success here, he may outpace expectations. Problem: the race has not really grasped the State’s attention.
  • Despite real problems, Brown still has a clear lead, so the current dynamic, though unfavorable to Brown,  doesn’t point to a Hogan win.

Brown Expands Lead in CBS/NYT/YouGov Poll

CBS/NYT/YouGov has good news for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. According to their poll, Brown leads Larry Hogan by 55-38 among likely voters, including leaners.

Inside the Survey

This poll, conducted September 20-October 1, reveals nice improvement for Brown. Their previous survey in the field from August 18-September 2 had Brown ahead by 51-37 among likely voters. So Brown is up 4 points and further above 50%, while Hogan is up only 1 point and still below 40%.

According to this survey, Brown’s improvement is due entirely to increased support among white voters. While Brown remains at 80% among black voters, he has increased his white support from 37% to 42%. And he still has room to grow among African-American voters.

The gender gap remains cavernous in the recent survey with Brown up 65-27 among women and Hogan up 52-44 among men. While Hogan needs stronger numbers in both groups, the poll indicates that he must make major improvement among women in order to be competitive on Election Day.

The breakdown by party identification reveals the strength of the Democrats. Brown is down 7-93 among Republicans and 37-52 among Independents. But it just doesn’t matter because he is up 86-6 among his fellow Democrats who compose one-half of likely voters according to the survey.

Reading the Tea Leaves

The key question raised by the survey is why did the Lieutenant Governor promise not to raise taxes in the recent debate. Even if it is the top issue for voters, a candidate leading 55-38 doesn’t need to bind his own hands.

Internal polling for the Brown campaign may show a much smaller lead over Hogan–even smaller than the 9 point lead in the recent Washington Post poll. While some Democrats exude confidence, there are also significant rumblings of concern around the State.

Alternatively, it may suggest that a Brown-Ulman Administration would veer away from the course charted by the O’Malley-Brown Administration in terms of tax and economic policy. A surprise to those who see Gov. Brown merely as O’Malley 2.0. Taking taxes off the table forces Brown either to curtail his progressive agenda or restructure State government to accomplish it.


Looks Like We Have a Governor’s Race

Though we tend to assume that Maryland is a rollover for the Democrats, and often is, gubernatorial elections have been surprisingly competitive since Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose goal was to win all the votes rather than only most of them, left the Mansion in 1994.

Gov. Parris Glendening barely beat Del. Ellen Sauerbrey, who earned the sobriquet Ellen Sourgrapes when she refused to concede defeat after seeing her claims of fraud evaporate, in 1994. Glendening won by a more convincing 10% in their 1998 rematch.

Republican Rep. Bob Ehrlich had his revenge on the Democrats for redistricting him out of his congressional seat when he ran for governor in 2002 and beat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. But Ehrlich, memorably nicknamed “Bobby Haircut” by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, was a one-term wonder.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley defeated Ehrlich in for reelection in 2006 by over 6 points. Even though it was great year for Democrats, Ehrlich was the only Republican governor to lose. Ehrlich came back for a rematch but it was no “Return of the King.” O’Malley defeated him by an even greater 14%, although 2010 was a terrible year for Democrats.

In short, though the Democrats have dominated gubernatorial contests–Ehrlich was the first GOP governor since Agnew became the accidental governor–Republicans have run good candidates and viable gubernatorial campaigns even as the state has trended inexorably towards the Democrats in virtually all other elections.

Lieutenant Governor has not been a great launching pad for gubernatorial campaigns since the office was created in 1970. Blair Lee III lost the Democratic primary to Harry Hughes in 1978. Melvin Steinberg lost the Democratic primary to Glendening in 1994. Townsend lost the general election in 2002. (Michael Steele has not run for governor but lost his bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006.)

This year, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown hopes to break the curse by becoming the first Lieutenant Governor to become governor since the office was created in 1970. Certainly, Brown won the primary convincingly in the face of serious opposition.

Despite expectations of a relatively easy campaign, Maryland has a real contest this year. Larry Hogan is serious politico if only because he says “I am not a professional politician” despite having been Ehrlich’s appointments secretary and founding “Change Maryland” as a vehicle for his gubernatorial ambitions. (Sidenote: Would you hire a doctor or plumber who put up a shingle proclaiming “I am not a professional” to get your business?)

Another inkling of a real campaign and that the internal polls may be closer than the recent 9 points reported in the Washington Post is that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown felt it necessary to make a startling promise not to raise taxes even as Hogan faces his own problems regarding “error riddled” identification of government waste that he plans to eliminate.

Next up: an examination of the claims and promises of both the Hogan and Brown campaigns.


It Doesn’t Get Better

Richard_MadalenoSen. Rich Madaleno comes out to a friend as a Capitals fan

The It Doesn’t Get Better Project’s mission is to communicate to Washington sports fans around the world that it doesn’t get better, and to inspire support for these brave individuals coping with the ongoing disappointment provided by Washington sports teams and the mockery that their fans endure.

This heartrending situation is faced by people in all walks of life. “It was harder for me to come out as a Caps fan than as gay” said Sen. Rich Madaleno in an interview earlier today. “I buy my son Ravens jerseys so people won’t think I’m trying to make him ‘that way.'”

Another fan would not be identified on the record but told 7S: “Between the name and their [bleep] team, I was just too ashamed to go see Washington play football on Monday. And I couldn’t even sell the tickets on StubHub. I had to give them away.”

Stalwart Nationals fan Jonathan Sachs says he has not deleted all of his Nats Ballpark pictures on Facebook but that it’s difficult: “I want to be open and not live a lie about who I am. I believe the Nats can go all the way but it’s hard when they crash in the first round of the playoffs, especially during the High Holidays.”

But the majority just doesn’t always understand their plight.

One partner of a Washington sports fan reported: “Normally, my husband is a mild-mannered guy but I stay away from his man cave when he starts yelling and pounding at the furniture that the Nats failed to score a basket. Again.”

Some are even less sympathetic. Former Chevy Chase Mayor David Lublin argued: “Why did Sen. Madaleno come out of the closet? Why can’t he keep that he is one of those people to himself?” Del. Neil Parrott agreed and has started a petition demanding that fans of DC sports teams “keep their cooties to themselves” in order to protect the children of the State of Maryland.

If you wish to donate to the It Doesn’t Get Better Fund, just send $250, $100, or even $25 to Dan Snyder. Every contribution helps make sure that It Doesn’t Get Better.


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