Tag Archives: Taxes

Maryland 2014 Election Lessons, Part 4. Grandfather Figures, Tax Cuts, And Negative Campaigning.

Earlier this week, Sen. Barbara Mikulski assembled a rather exclusive Democratic leadership meeting in Annapolis. Democratic leaders remaining in office in 2015 only. It was billed as looking ahead to 2016 and beyond; but the day-after reports suggested more time spent pondering what went wrong in 2014. The leaders seemed to be looking for some secret, hidden answer. Or maybe, for a scapegoat.  Continue reading

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Maryland 2014 Election Lessons, Part 1

Governor-elect Larry Hogan begins a statewide victory tour on Tuesday with a Veterans’ Day parade appearance in St. Mary’s County, one of many counties that contributed to his somewhat surprising victory over Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown last week. Brown, who was supposed to be the next Maryland governor, won’t be having any parades in the near future.  Continue reading

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Maryland Democrats Snooze Three Weeks Before Election

The election is three weeks from today. Why does my Democratic gut feel like it needs an Alka-Seltzer?

This is the saddest year for Maryland Democrats since Spiro Agnew won the governor’s mansion. At least Bob Ehrlich was a seasoned Maryland politician with years of service in Congress and the General Assembly. Who is this year’s Republican candidate? He’s the son of someone by the same name who was a congressman when I was a teenager, in the last century.

This year, we have two candidates who look sort of gubernatorial, no election for the U.S. Senate, and no contest in any of the state’s eight congressional districts. In Montgomery County, my home county and the largest jurisdiction in Maryland, there’s no visible sign of an impending election. I mean “no sign” literally. You see a few lonely lawns sprouting signs for Republicans. But Democratic signs, nada. And why should there be? Ike Leggett has a lock on the county executive’s office and nine Democratic council candidates are cruising to Election Day on automatic pilot. It’s no wonder the voters are disconnected. This is no way to run a democracy.

Not a single political message in my mailbox since the primary. (Email is a different story. Messages every day from Democrats begging for contributions.) The only candidate to be seen or heard from in Montgomery is Robin Ficker.  Seriously, Ficker is the only candidate I’ve seen since the June primary. I attended three Saturday-night outdoor concerts at Black Rock Theater in Germantown during the summer, and Ficker was working the crowd all three times. I seriously doubt, BTW, that Ficker can win, but stranger things have happened. If any Republican has a snowball’s chance in MoCo in 2014, it would have to be Ficker.

I chalk up the political disinterest to two factors.

First, there’s not a single exciting contest to stir the voters’ blood, not in MoCo, and not in Prince George’s County or Baltimore City, the state’s two other Democratic redoubts. If anyone knows of a General Assembly cliffhanger in Central Maryland, please let me know.

The second reason is related to the first. The Democratic Party in MoCo, P.G., and The City is the victim of its own success. Democrats so dominate politics in the big three that all suspense, energy and conflict has been drained from the system. Could you write a good novel or screenplay without CONFLICT?

Without conflict, there is no story. If there is any conflict left in the Big Three, it would be in the primaries, not the General Election. Alas, the entrenchment and almost certain re-election of Democratic incumbents in the local and legislative races has drained excitement even from the primaries. The turnout in June’s Maryland primary is Exhibit A.

With the days ticking down to the start of Early Voting, and the electorate snoozing, a Republican has been creeping slowly up behind the Democrat in the only statewide race that matters, the governor’s race. The candidates are Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the Democrat who should be the runaway favorite; and Republican Larry Hogan, who unlike Agnew, Ellen Sauerbrey and Bob Ehrlich, the other serious Republicans to run for governor in modern history, has never held elective office.

That’s right. Agnew was county executive of Baltimore County, at that time one of the three most populous jurisdictions. Sauerbrey was minority leader in the House of Delegates, and Ehrlich was a congressman. What are Larry Hogan’s credentials? I can think of two: Hogan looks old enough to be governor, and he promises to cut taxes. Now, even Brown, the Democrat, is promising no new taxes.

Taxes is the only issue on the voter’s minds this election season. I’ve been making some phone calls to voters — a lot of phone calls, actually. When I ask about issues, the answer is taxes. It’s the next thing to unanimous. I’m calling on behalf of a Democratic candidate on the Eastern Shore, where Red Republicans are thick as mosquitoes, but Democrats and unaffiliated voters in the Blue counties have nearly as much antipathy to taxes this year. Just ask Brown.

So there you have it. Democrats in Central Maryland are in a self-induced coma. Republicans in the provinces are hopping mad, as always. I don’t think it will happen, but we could wake up with a Republican governor on Nov. 5.

— John Hayden

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Maryland Governor’s Debate, First Impressions

 

Promotional photos via Maryland Public Television

Promotional photos via Maryland Public Television

ONE. The debate was way too short. One hour is not enough. The candidates sometimes had to cut their answers short, and concluding statements were cut to less than 60 seconds. When a baseball game or football game is televised, we don’t set an arbitrary time limit. We cover the whole game, even if it goes into extra innings or overtime.

TWO. Was it a coincidence that both Anthony Brown and Douglas Gansler tried to associate themselves with Heather Mizeur’s response in at least one or two cases each? (Note: All three are Democrats. A separate debate was held for Republicans.)

THREE. Mizeur is the only candidate supporting immediate legalization and regulation of marijuana. She said Maryland could raise money by taxing marijuana to pay for early childhood education. The other two aren’t ready yet. They want to wait and see how legalization works in Washington State and Colorado.

FOUR. A clear separation on tax policy. Gansler repeatedly advocates reducing the corporate income tax to make Maryland more competitive with other states in attracting business. Mizeur wants to cut taxes for 90 percent of ordinary people, keep the corporate income tax and close the loopholes, reinstate the millionaire’s tax and retain the estate tax. Brown prefers to hold out for “comprehensive tax reform,” not try to do it piecemeal. He promised to appoint a commission to propose tax reform in time for the 2016 General Assembly. And he indicated that small businesses need tax relief more than major corporations. Mizeur promised no estate tax “giveaway,” Brown promised no corporate “giveaway.”

FIVE. Gansler attacked a culture of special interests and lobbyists in Annapolis. He called Mizeur a former lobbyist, and he charged that the Brown campaign is funded by special interests. Mizeur pointed out that her campaign is the only one that opted for public funding.

SIX. Mizeur is the strongest proponent of universal early childhood education. Brown said he was closer to Mizeur’s position than Gansler’s, and Gansler tried to associate himself with Mizeur’s position on early childhood education, as well.

I can’t pick a winner here. These are professional  politicians who have answered questions and repeated their positions many times before. They’re pretty good at it. And I doubt that any one debate is likely to change the outcome of an election. Unfortunately, I think TV advertising is more likely to turn the outcome of an election.

For what it’s worth, I thought Heather Mizeur had a calmer stage presence and smoother delivery than  the other two. Both Brown and Gansler looked tense and tried to talk too fast to squeeze words into the limited time. Gansler stumbled on his words several times, but no big deal.

Brown continues to appear to be the clear frontrunner.

— John Hayden

 

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If Maryland Is Rich, Why Do We Act So Stingy?

The Washington metropolitan area is among the most affluent in the U.S., based on Census data. The suburban counties of Maryland and Virginia have always ranked high, according to median household income, for as long as I can remember.

Map of Maryland highlighting Montgomery County

Map of Maryland highlighting Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many Maryland politicians and business leaders are aggrieved because Northern Virginia beats out the Maryland suburbs in the high-income game. That explains why many in Maryland obsess about competing with Virginia. The theory goes that Montgomery County must outbid Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia with tax giveaways and other subsidies for business. Otherwise, businesses will choose to locate in Virginia, rather than Maryland. It’s a crazy regional fascination with keeping up with the Joneses.

Worse yet, millionaires might move across the Potomac River to avoid Maryland taxes! Spread the alarm: The sky is falling, the millionaires are fleeing for their lives (and their money)! And similar baloney, spread by people such as Blair Lee IV.

This sort of petty thinking ignores the reality that businesses choose where to locate based on myriad factors, such as transportation systems, quality schools and universities, availability of an educated workforce, quality of life. Most of all, businesses go wherever they can find paying customers. Taxes are one factor among many, and not the most important.

Likewise, millionaires choose where they want to live based more on status and amenities than on taxes. The rich want to live next door to other rich folks. Their favorite place of residence is Manhattan. Astronomical costs of luxury apartments overlooking Central Park don’t dissuade them, and neither do New York City taxes.

Many of the wealthy live in Maryland because it is, as the beer commercial used to say, “The land of pleasant living.” Yes, the entire Chesapeake region is the land of pleasant living. And if the landed gentry want to move someplace else . . . well, they have to sell their fancy homes to other millionaires. Get it? You can’t find a waterfront estate just any place. You have to go to the waterfront. Far as I know, B-4 still lives in Maryland.

Count your blessings, anyone?

Let’s focus on the larger reality, shall we? The Washington area, including the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, is one of the very richest in America! By extension, that means we’re among the most wealthy, privileged people in the world, and in all of history. Get it? Wealth and privilege.

Why do we whine so much?

How could this wealthy, privileged megalopolis have allowed its Metro subway system to fall into disrepair? Why is every decision to build a school or give teachers or police a raise controversial? Why is raising the paltry $7.25 minimum wage a big deal?

150px-democratslogoWith so much affluence and wealth** in Maryland, why do politicians constantly bicker like spoiled children over who gets a bigger slice of cake? I’m looking at you, fellow Democrats, since we’re in the majority.

Nothing focuses the attention of Maryland pols quite as much as allocating money to build schools, or highways, anyplace in the state. Please don’t mention highways and mass transit in mixed company. Highway people fight with mass transit people like cattlemen and sheep herders in the old West.

With so much wealth, Maryland can afford to fund all its needs. We ought to be counting our blessings and giving thanks for our privileged location, not sulking and fighting.

Problem is, people who have big money or control big money don’t want to part with it. The affluent and the wealthy, and their representatives, want to keep what they have, and earn or steal more. Most of all, they want to avoid paying taxes at all costs.

Highest incomes in the nation

Four counties in Virginia are among the top ten in the nation every year, based on median household income. They are Loudoun, Falls Church, Fairfax and Arlington. Prince William County and Stafford County are either in the top ten or close. Three other top-ten counties are in New Jersey.

Poor Maryland. Only Howard County and Montgomery County are consistently in or near the top ten.

However, four more Maryland counties — Charles, Calvert, Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s — are among the 30 highest earning counties, out of 3,000 across the country, according to The Washington Post. Click here for the Post story.

Montgomery in truth, has slipped in recent years. I can remember when MoCo was among the three richest counties in America, year after year. Montgomery was No. 12  in 2012, with median household of only $94,365, the Post reported. Got that? Montgomery was No. 12, ahead of about 2,988 counties. Howard was No. 4, with $108,234 median household income.

The level of incomes in different parts of the country are all relative and must be taken in context. People who move here from other parts of the country are usually shocked by the prices when they buy a house or rent an apartment.

It’s not easy, making ends meet in Montgomery County, even with two paychecks, on $94,365 a year. If you’ve got a child in college, you’re pressed to the wall. Some of the folks in Chevy Chase and Potomac are among the truly wealthy. But the high cost of living is nearly everywhere.

People living in places like Wheaton, White Oak, Rockville, Gaithersburg, Germantown are ordinary, middle-class or working-class Americans, just trying to get by, paycheck to paycheck. Nevertheless, in a state as affluent as Maryland, every school should be a first-rate facility with excellent teachers, whether it be in Chevy Chase or Germantown. The schools in Prince George’s County should be as well-funded as the schools in Howard County.

Talking seriously about WEALTH . . .

** All this stuff about affluence and wealth has a number of angles. The median household income, keep in mind, is basically household paychecks.

A paycheck of $108,234 in Howard County doesn’t classify anyone as “wealthy” or “rich.” It doesn’t put anyone even near the “top one percent.” At best, people earning these median incomes in Howard and Montgomery, and across the river in Virginia, can be classified as “affluent,” in my opinion.

Of course “median” means half of all the households earn more than the median, half earn less. Some people make $1 million, or $5 million, a year, while the median in Montgomery is less than $100,000. The “average” household income, therefore, is much higher than the median.

Real wealth, in my opinion, is measured by much more than annual income. Many of the wealthy may arrange things so that they have no “taxable income.” None. But they’re still plenty wealthy.

Real wealth is measured in the value of property — real estate, bank accounts, jewelry, artwork, pleasure boats and airplanes — and in ownership of profitable businesses, or ownership of stocks and bonds. There’s a lot of this “real wealth” in Maryland, and it’s not necessarily in the suburban counties where the affluent earn their paychecks. Consider the waterfront estates on the Chesapeake Bay, in counties like Talbot County.

The takeaway

The bottom line, however you define wealth or affluence, is that Maryland, with six counties among the top 30 in the nation in median income, is a very affluent state. And that’s without taking into account the real wealth, the waterfront property and corporate wealth.

Maryland has more than enough wealth and resources to pay for all public needs. There’s no need to fight about money for schools or transportation. The question is: Does Maryland have the will to pay for schools and transportation?

— John Hayden

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U.S. Congress Implodes; President Escapes To Hawaii

What a bizarre spectacle of irresponsible brinkmanship! The ultimate House and Senate votes may have narrowly averted immediate fiscal crisis and tax increases, but they do not restore one iota of confidence in the legislative branch of American government.

President Barack Obama, after failing to exert the leadership the American people hoped for, immediately boarded Air Force One to resume a Hawaiian vacation with his family. What can he be thinking?

To put the cherry on top of the whipped cream,   Continue reading

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Returning Now To Our Regular Program, “The Fiscal Cliff”

Photo by John Hayden

It’s 10 days since I last posted on Work In Progress. The Earth continues to spin. Gen. John Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, et al., were pushed from the front pages by a deadly rocket battle between Israelis in Israel and Palestinians in Gaza.

Full-out war appeared imminent, according to cable TV news. But a ceasefire was called in time for Thanksgiving.  (Appropriate that it’s an American holiday. We have so much to be thankful for, compared to the rest of the world. And we take it all for granted.)

The waning of the Middle East crisis made room for a seasonal story: Walmart employees threatening to disrupt kickoff of the Christmas shopping frenzy. (Starting time for the frenzy advanced from Black Friday to Thanksgiving Day, henceforth to be known as Black Thursday.)

The Walmart protests fizzled, naturally. They had as much impact as Y2K. Walmart workers stand exposed as powerless against the energy of American consumerism.

Now we return to the dreaded “Fiscal Cliff,” at least until the next distraction. Be not faint-hearted! In the grand scheme of things, the fiscal cliff is a bump in the road.

Most importantly, the fiscal cliff provides a unique opportunity to put the brakes on the runaway military-industrial defense complex.  Seize the day!    Continue reading

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The Fiscal Cliff — Seize the Day, Cut Military Spending Now

The U.S. defense budget, worldwide military overreach, and the influence of the military-industrial complex — these are the root of America’s economic and debt crisis.

Not Social Security, not Medicare, not Medicaid, not government pensions, not anything else you want to label as “entitlements.”

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How High Is A “Fiscal Cliff”? What Happens At The Bottom?

MAYBE THE FISCAL CLIFF LOOKS LIKE THIS sand dune in Ocean City, Maryland, after some serious pounding by Hurricane Sandy. A sudden drop off at the top, followed by a sloping hill of sand.

Ever notice how the terminology we apply to important issues in the public sphere can blow things all out of proportion. Continue reading

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Maryland Election Ballot Questions: In-State Tuition, Redistricting, Same-Sex Civil Marriage, Gambling Expansion

See that line? That’s the first-day of early voting at Berlin in Worcester County, Maryland.

You can expect long lines at Maryland polling places for the Presidential Election on Tuesday. The reason: Ballot questions that voters know are important, so they take the time to read all the questions in the voting booth and make their decisions. The solution: Get familiar with the ballot questions before you go to vote. Do this on Sunday or Monday. Make your decisions and mark them on your sample ballot or just jot them down on a scrap of paper. Or print out this post and take it with you. Walk into the polling booth, vote, and you’re out in three minutes. But you’ll still have to stand in line, because most people won’t take a few minutes to prepare themselves in advance.

The following comments on four of the ballot questions represent the opinions of the blogger.

QUICK GUIDE TO THE FOUR MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS ON THE MARYLAND BALLOT

QUESTION 4, REFERENDUM: HIGHER EDUCATION, TUITION RATES.

Quick recommendation: QUESTION 4: VOTE FOR THE QUESTION.

Question 4 is the in-state tuition referendum, AKA the Dream Act referendum. Authorizes in-state and in-county tuition rates for all true residents of Maryland, including undocumented immigrants. It’s been passed by both houses of the General Assembly after considerable debate, and signed into law by the governor.

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