Tag Archives: Republicans

Is the County Council Sneaking in a Tax Hike?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Republican Party has alleged on its website and through blast email that the county council is “sneaking in” a tax hike. County GOP Chairman Alexander A. Bush wrote:

At a time when unemployment claims in Montgomery County have increased by 4,717% since the first week of March, our County Council has agreed with County Executive Elrich to give notice that they are “considering” an increase in the property tax rate “4.5% higher than the constant yield tax rate [which] will generate $62,978,926 in additional property tax revenues.”

Mr. Elrich admitted in his March 15th budget proposal that the current COVID-19 crisis will exacerbate the decline of income tax revenues in the County. But rather than tightening its belt, like families and private businesses must do, Mr. Elrich asked the County Council to drastically increase property taxes to make up the difference.

I was heartened by the March 16th response from eight of the councilmembers: “this is a time for cautious decision-making, not property tax increases.” And thus, I was surprised by the County Council’s notice on Thursday that they were, in fact, “considering” the full tax increase.

At a time when small businesses throughout the County are closing their doors and desperately hoping to survive long enough to reopen, this proposed property tax increase is obscene. This may be why the County Council has worked so hard to hide it from the public. Thursday’s legally-mandated notice in the print edition of the Washington Post is the only trace of it. The notice is not published online and the Council’s calendar entry for the April 21st meeting makes no mention of it. This notice was allegedly approved at the Council’s March 31st meeting, however (and possibly in violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act) the recording shows no discussion of this issue whatsoever. In fact, it was approved unanimously – and without any debate – as part of the “consent calendar,” which is reserved for uncontroversial matters.

Is the GOP right? Does this constitute “sneaking in” a tax hike?

It is true that the county executive proposed a property tax hike in his recommended budget that was promptly rejected by 8 council members. But that fact is actually irrelevant to the advertisement taken out in the Washington Post. The advertisement was mandated by state law regarding increases in property tax rates above the constant yield tax rate, which is defined as “the General Fund real property tax rate for the coming fiscal year that would generate the same amount of revenue that was generated during the current fiscal year.” The state law is extremely specific on the wording, style, placement and timing of the advertisement. It even requires that the county send the advertisement to the state to prove that it is following state law.

An excerpt from the county Republicans’ website.

The county’s standard practice is to exceed the constant yield tax rate but to restrict the growth in property tax collections to the rate of inflation, which is consistent with the county’s charter limit. Staying within the charter limit does not constitute a tax hike. In contrast to MoCo, most other Maryland counties lack charter limits on property taxes at all. In times of rising assessments, these other counties can leave their property tax rates constant and their collections can easily rise faster than inflation. (Let’s note that many of these counties are governed by Republicans!)

As to the GOP’s allegation that this notice was somehow hidden from the public, that is absolutely false. All of the details were contained in a staff memo posted in plain view on the council’s website. The memo includes the language of the newspaper advertisement which we reprint below.

This is perfectly consistent with past practice even when the executive is not proposing a tax hike. Here are the council resolutions on newspaper advertisements for constant yield tax rates from 2018 and 2019, when the county executive did not propose and the council did not pass property tax hikes.

And so there is no “sneaking” of any kind. The county followed state law on newspaper advertisements, a requirement that has nothing to do with decisions on tax increases. It would seem that the Montgomery County Republican Party has a problem with the county obeying state law.

There are two possibilities accounting for the Republicans’ argument: mendacity or ignorance. Neither is a good reason for why they should replace the Democrats in power.

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Are Republicans Trying to Help Aruna Miller?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Much has been said about the Maryland Republican Party sending out racist mailers targeting Congressional District 6 candidate Aruna Miller.  The standard interpretation of this seems to be that the GOP sees Miller as a strong candidate and is trying to keep her out of the general election.  Indeed, the Washington Post editorial board made that argument.  But what if the Republicans are actually trying to help Miller instead?

The classic example of intervention in an opposing party’s primary is Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s promotion of conservative GOP Representative and eventual opponent Todd Akin.  McCaskill spent $1.7 million on ads accusing Akin of being “too conservative” during his GOP primary, helping boost him past the rest of the field.  And that’s not all – when Akin pulled a successful TV ad in favor of one that flopped, McCaskill schemed to have her pollster contact Akin’s campaign to persuade him to re-run the high-performing ad.  Once Akin won his primary, McCaskill exploited his weaknesses to finish him off and get reelected.

Two “anti-Akin” ads by McCaskill and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Why do we bring this up?  Some of the people who received the GOP mailers were female Democrats, including Miller herself.  A few took to Facebook and Twitter to complain about it.  And if they didn’t get them directly, they may have read about them in publications like the Washington Post, Bethesda Magazine and India West.  How do you think they are going to react when they see a female Democratic candidate getting bashed in racist mail sent by Republicans?  They are going to rally to Miller, of course, and that’s what happened on social media.  Maybe that’s the point.

Miller uses GOP racism to motivate her supporters.

Aruna Miller is doing really well in this campaign.  She is raising lots of money, doing well at forums, attracting great endorsements from the Sierra Club and the teachers and is the most prominent woman running in a primary electorate that is roughly 60% female.  But look at this race from the standpoint of the GOP.  They know David Trone won an absolute majority of the vote in rural Frederick and Carroll Counties in the CD8 primary – the kind of areas that Republicans need to dominate in the sixth district.  They know Trone could spend $10 million in a general election, something no other Democrat can do, and that would free up national Democratic money to go to other Congressional districts around the country.  Most of all, Trone looks more like incumbent Congressman John Delaney than any other candidate – a center-left businessman who says he has created thousands of jobs.  The GOP knows that kind of candidate can win in this district.  Why would they want another one like Delaney?  And if they don’t, why not help a rival win?

Maybe we’re reading too much into this but we don’t think the GOP is stupid.  This kind of tactic can work.  Just ask Claire McCaskill!

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Maryland Delegate Questions Criticism of Roy Moore

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a Facebook post in the wake of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s defeat, a Maryland GOP Delegate is questioning those who have criticized Moore’s history with teenage girls and the actions of other sexual harassers.  That history was key to Moore’s loss.

Republican Delegate Jason Buckel (R-1B), who represents Allegany County, wrote on Facebook:

I’ve not said a word about the Alabama Senate election or the swirling world of accusations, admissions, rumors and varying degrees of bad behavior by men– from the clearly criminal to the truly appalling to the unambiguous acts of poor taste to the fairly innocuous and easily overblown. I think that trying to litigate in the court of public opinion what did or did not happen 20, 30, 40 or more years ago in momentary, fleeting encounters or relationships and then view those allegations through the light of modern prism, as opposed to the conventions and norms of the time in which they occurred, is fraught with danger, although clearly rape, physical sexual assault, and pervasive, consistent, degrading sexual harassment have never been and never could be acceptable under any circumstances at any time by anyone.

Buckel went on to praise the policies of the Trump administration while bashing Steve Bannon, Moore and other GOP candidates.

In a comment later on his post, Buckel said, “But who knows – While girls Roy Moore stopped by a mall to say hi to 40 years ago are national figures, 99.9% of Americans have no idea who Doug Jones is and chances are his senatorial career will be exceedingly brief.”

Let’s review the allegations against Moore.  His first accuser, Leigh Corfman, described how he sexually assaulted her when he was 32 and she was 14.  Another woman, Beverly Young Nelson, said Moore locked her in a car and tried to force her into oral sex when she was 16.  Six of the eight women who came forward were under the age of 18 at the time that Moore pursued them.  These incidents were not in keeping with the “conventions and norms of the time” as the girls and their families were disturbed by Moore’s actions and he was banned from stalking girls at the Gadsden Mall.

Right now, there is a national debate going on about differing degrees of sexual misconduct and what levels of punishment are appropriate.  That debate will be playing out for a while before it is settled – IF it’s settled.  But the allegations about Moore’s behavior with teenage girls are far outside the boundaries of any gray areas, past or present.  He was not “saying hi” as Buckel stated above.  Elected officials who appear to make excuses for the likes of Moore should beware the voters next November.

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GOP Tax Bills Discriminate Against Maryland

By Adam Pagnucco.

Much has been written about the tax bills passed by the U.S. House and Senate in recent weeks.  Overall, both bills offer small tax cuts to the poor, modest ones to the middle class and large cuts to the wealthy and corporations.  But in order to partially offset the massive tax cuts going to those at the top, the bills do something else.

They discriminate against taxpayers in Maryland.

Why do they do that?  One key feature of both bills is that they abolish the ability of individuals to deduct state and local income taxes from their federal incomes.  (Property tax deductions would still be allowed up to $10,000.)  According to IRS data for Tax Year 2015, U.S. federal taxpayers deducted a total of $334 billion of state and local income taxes from their incomes, more than the amounts they deducted for mortgage interest ($278 billion), charitable contributions ($222 billion), real estate taxes ($187 billion) and state and local sales taxes ($17 billion).  Abolishing the state and local income tax deduction hits people who itemize their deductions and pay significant amounts of state and local income taxes.  Marylanders are targeted on both those measures.

Itemizing Deductions

According to the above IRS data, 46% of Marylanders itemized their deductions on their federal tax returns in 2015.  That’s the highest rate in the country, far surpassing the national rate of 30% and red states like Arkansas (22%), Mississippi (23%), Louisiana (23%), Texas (24%), Alabama (26%), South Carolina (27%) and Georgia (33%).

State and Local Income Tax Deductions

In terms of state and local income tax deductions per return (including non-itemized returns), Marylanders ranked fifth in the nation at $4,217 per return.  Maryland trailed New York, D.C., Connecticut and California.  Virginia ranked tenth, indicating that the abolition of this deduction will hit the Washington, D.C. metro area particularly hard.  The states least impacted are mostly red states and those with little or no income taxes.

Inside Maryland, the impact will be felt differently across the state.  That’s because residents of some jurisdictions pay much more in state and local income taxes than others.  According to 2015 income tax data from the Comptroller, MoCo and Howard County residents pay by far the most state and local income taxes in Maryland.  Residents of many parts of Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore pay the least.

Consider this.  If you itemize your deductions, are paying $5,000 in state and local income taxes – roughly the average in Maryland – and your effective federal income tax rate is 15%, you will owe $750 more to Uncle Sam because of the abolition of the state and local income tax deduction.

Does that mean you will owe more federal taxes overall?  That depends.  If you are wealthy, you could get huge offsetting cuts because of changes to the top income tax brackets and tax cuts on pass-through income from your businesses.  If you are poor or middle class, you could benefit from an increase in the standard deduction and an increase in the child credit, but that could be offset by an elimination of the personal exemption.  An analysis of the Senate bill two weeks ago by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found almost all of the tax benefits from that bill going to the top quintile of Maryland taxpayers.  Changes prior to the Senate floor vote and in conference committee may tweak the details but not the overall impact.  And it could get worse: wealthy Republican donors are already complaining that their tax cuts are not big enough.

There are many evils in the GOP’s tax bills: redistribution to the one percent, big tax breaks for multi-nationals who ship jobs overseas, losses of insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act and more.  But for Marylanders, the additional slap in the face is that the bills shift the federal tax burden away from states like Texas, South Dakota, Alaska and Mississippi and onto residents of the Free State.  All Marylanders, including Republicans, should oppose that.

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Andy Harris Votes to Increase Deficit $1.5 Trillion

Republican Rep. Andy Harris (MD 1) voted to allow tax cuts of $1.5 trillion dollars without requiring any offsetting spending, increasing the deficit and debt dramatically.

The proposal is particularly anti-Maryland as it would “doom the current deduction for state and local taxes,” which benefits Marylanders disproportionately, as it does residents in New York and New Jersey. Other tax deductions up for elimination that might spread the pain more evenly, such as the home mortgage interest deduction, or closing corporate loopholes, have been ruled out by tweet or as sacred cows. Nevertheless, unlike the bulk of Republicans from those states, Harris still voted yes.

Harris has undergone a Damascene conversion on the deficit and national debt since the Obama years:

His budget never solves the deficit problem, much less begins to pay down the exploding national debt we will leave to our grandchildren. . . . Once again, the House will have to take leadership on reining in the debt and deficit by proposing a budget that makes the tough choices that are necessary to head off a Greek-style federal bankruptcy.

Harris logic says that ballooning the debt by much less than the Republican budget is madness that will cause rack and ruin associated through “a Greek-style federal bankruptcy” when it’s proposed by Obama but not when Trump-Ryan want it.

Even leaving aside the unfunded giveaway to the wealthy that is done in a way that limits benefits to Marylanders, especially more middle-income residents who still deduct, the complete shift on the debt and importance of balancing the books shows the situational ethics and moral bankruptcy of Andy Harris–and the many other Republicans who said more or less the same thing.

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Republican Delegates Protect Internet Scammers

By Adam Pagnucco.

After Republicans in Congress voted to allow Internet service providers to sell their customers’ browsing histories and other personal data without their consent, Delegate Bill Frick (D-16) took action to block such practices in Maryland.  But one group was able to prevent the General Assembly from even voting on whether to allow such conduct in the Free State.

You guessed it: Republican state lawmakers.

Bills in Annapolis face deadlines for introduction so that each chamber has adequate time to send them to committees, hold hearings and votes, and reconcile them if different versions pass.  But Congress’s action to legalize Internet providers’ scamming of their customers took place only days ago and Sine Die, the last day of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2017 regular session, is approaching on April 10.  Delegate Frick, who is known for introducing consumer protection bills, had to act fast.  The Maryland Constitution requires two thirds of state legislators to agree to let a bill be introduced in the last 35 days of session.  So Frick quickly drafted a bill to outlaw the scamming that Congress allowed and asked his colleagues in the House of Delegates to allow its introduction.  He needed 94 votes.  He got 90.

Frick posted a partial screenshot of the vote page on Facebook (below).  Delegate Kumar Barve (D-17) posted the full tally.  Every single Delegate who voted against the bill’s introduction was a Republican.  So were all the Members of Congress who voted to roll back federal Internet privacy rules in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.

What did the Republican Delegates block from being voted on?  Frick’s bill was a simple one.  It would have made it an unfair or deceptive trade practice in Maryland for Internet service providers to sell or transfer their customers’ names, social security numbers, addresses, IP addresses and browsing histories without their affirmative permission.  It also would have banned them from showing ads derived from browsing histories and denying service to customers who refused to allow their personal information to be shared.  The bill made an exception for information subject to a subpoena, summons, warrant or court order.

One Republican Delegate who voted against introducing Frick’s bill, Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County, told the Associated Press that Internet privacy is “a national issue, and a Maryland bill would just drag Washington politics into the state.”  Great!  So when millions of Marylanders get scammed by Internet predators, the state legislators who represent them should do nothing.  Nigerian princes, British lottery officials and offshore bank investors rejoice!

GOP politicians have been known for their squabbling in recent years, but on this one thing, they agree: your personal Internet data should be bought and sold without your knowledge or consent.  Remember that in November 2018.

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2018 Maryland House of Delegates Ratings, Part II

Continuing from yesterday’s list of safe Democratic seats in the House of Delegates, today’s post looks at safe Republican seats. All were carried by Trump in 2016 and Hogan in 2014. At 31% of the House, the 44 safe seats fall well short of being able to sustain a veto by a Republican governor.

Western Maryland

As with the Democrats, Republicans dominate certain regions of the state to their electoral benefit. They have nine safe seats in Western Maryland, a region with Republican loyalties dating back to the Civil War, like in much of Appalachia.

One delegate district (1A) centered on Garrett is arguably the safest GOP turf in the state. Portions of Allegany and Washington Counties used to be hotly contested with Democratic Speaker Cas Taylor hailing from Cumberland. Those days are over, as districts 1B, 1C, 2A, and 2B hold five more safe Republican seats.

Unlike the other Frederick County district,  District 4 is very safe Republican territory. It excludes the City of Frederick along with the southwestern portion of the County most oriented towards Washington, and can be depended up to elect three GOP delegates.

Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland

Save for the sole African-American majority subdistrict, the Eastern Shore is now solidly Republican. The districts east of the Bay (35A, 36, 37B, 38A, 38B, 38C) will reliably send nine Republicans to the House of Delegates in 2018.

Excluding heavily Democratic Charles County, Southern Maryland is now a great area for Republicans. Districts 27C, 29A, 29B and 29C centered on Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties are good territory for their four Republican delegates.

Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties

Carroll and Harford provide another trove of Republican seats with 5 (Carroll), 7 (Baltimore County and Harford), 34B (Harford), 35B (Cecil and Harford) electing nine more Republicans. District 42B, which takes in much of northern Baltimore County, has also been safe Republican turf for two more delegates.

Dundalk District 6 in Baltimore County is relatively new to electing Republicans. Before 2014, it sent three Democrats to the House of Delegates. Now, Republicans seem well ensconced in this working class white district at all level of government.

Anne Arundel and Howard Counties

Anne Arundel is a hotly divided county in many elections, such as the 2016 presidential and the 2012 referendum on marriage equality. However, several of its districts tilt heavily Republican–30B, 31B, 33–and will safely elect six Republicans in 2018.

As a whole, Howard tends to list increasingly Democratic. But District 9A, located in the more Republican western part of Howard with a bit of very Republican Carroll County added in for good measure, reliably elects two Republican delegates.

Conclusion

Bringing it all together, there are 44 solidly Republican seats:

Western Maryland: 9
Eastern Shore: 9
Southern Maryland: 4
Baltimore and Harford: 11
Carroll: 3
Howard (and Carroll): 2
Anne Arundel: 6

 

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Maryland Republican Party Ashamed of Trump

The relationship between Donald Trump and the Maryland Republican Party is the love that dare not speak its name. Donald Trump is all but an unperson on the Maryland Republican Party twitter account, @mdreps.

The Maryland GOP would rather pretend their presidential nominee doesn’t exist. @mdreps hasn’t mentioned Donald Trump since the Republican Convention. Indeed, “Trump” has appeared a mere five times @mdreps since the Maryland Republican Primary, including the following tweet on primary night:

MDGOP3

Next up, from the Republican salad days:

MDGOP5

Video received from a Trump voter in honor of this tweet:

The following is the only tweet in which the Maryland Republican Party expresses direct approval of Trump:

MDGOP4

Though Trump gets mentioned in the next tweet only in the cited article description, it’s worth a mention if only because the Maryland Republican Party’s own words, “It’s about ideas, not race,” are as Orwellian as they come.

MDGOP2

The next day they retweeted an innocuous shout out to the Republican delegation in Cleveland that copied Trump.

In short, you’d never guess that the a thumping majority of Maryland Republicans support Donald Trump.  There is not one picture. No tweets proudly touting his latest utterance.

I imagine some Republicans will claim they’re just too focused on state issues to mention Trump. Except that you may’ve noticed that their logo is a “Stop Hillary” sign. Maryland Republicans also have no problem using @mdreps to attack Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.

The lack of Trump mentions is really a good sign. Shame is the right emotion if Donald Trump is your party’s nominee. Let’s hope the second stage of grief for the party entails repudiation.

 

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Republican Board of Elections Members Violated the Open Meetings Act

According to an opinion by the Open Meetings Compliance Board, the three Republican members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections violated the Open Meetings Act when they held a private conference call. As readers may recall, this call took place during the heated debate over the movement of early voting locations to less Democratic areas in the County.

From the opinion’s conclusion:

We have concluded that three voting members, a majority of the voting members of the elections board, constitute a “quorum” for purposes of the Act such that a conference call among three voting members constituted a meeting subject to the Act. We have recognized that applying the Act’s quorum definition to the elections board is complicated, and this matter posed the unusual circumstance in which the public body’s own definition, when applied, did not secure the public’s right to observe every stage of the public body’s consideration of public business. Although we can see that the board members might reasonably have relied on the bylaws provision when they conducted the board’s business among themselves, we nonetheless find that the conference call violated the Act. We therefore direct the elections board to the acknowledgment requirement in $ 3-211. We have not commented on how the elections board must transact business under the elections laws.

You can read the full letter here:
Open Meetings Compliance Letter on Paul E. Bessel’s Complaint

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What the Frack?

The House Republicans are going after the fracking report (a.k.a. the Maryland Department of the Environment’s “Assessment of Risks from Unconventional Gas Well Development in the Marcellus Shale of Western Maryland”) in a big way. Here is House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga’s latest email:

Szeliga

They’ve even got a video from the hearing:

It’s good to see that House Republicans watched Battlestar Galactica too:

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