Monthly Archives: August 2014

In miniature, Aug. 28

  • “Auditors from the federal government are delving into the debacle of Maryland’s health insurance exchange, The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday. All we can say is, good.” [Frederick News-Post] Catalogue of state ObamaCare exchange debacles, of which perhaps only Oregon’s outdoes ours [Peter Suderman] Role of departing health commissioner Sharfstein [Maryland Reporter] Role of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, earlier;
  • More details on GOP poll finding governor’s race almost neck-and-neck [Maryland Reporter, earlier]
  • Police militarization: Frederick News-Post runs a letter from me about vote by Reps. Van Hollen, Delaney to preserve Pentagon-surplus-to-cops program. Choicest comment: “The liberal left is never happy.” (Referring to me!) Related Baltimore Sun coverage of 1033 program in Maryland; earlier post here.
  • Conveniently, privacy laws conceal identity of official in the O’Malley/Brown administration accused of inside dealings [Baltimore Sun] My little crony: Mark Newgent traces energy subsidy flow to firm run by O’Malley sidekick [Red Maryland]
  • Truly discouraging that legislature would discontinue reporting through which we learn that law enforcement agencies in Maryland have conducted more than 6,500 SWAT raids since 2010, the great majority over execution of search warrants [Newgent]
  • Dems launch StopPeroutka.com [Len Lazarick, Barry Rascovar; earlier] His affinities with Anne Arundel sheriff nominee [StopPeroutka.com]

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Annual costs of owning a car

Maryland is twelfth highest in the BankRate survey (via Business Insider), substantially higher than neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia (Delaware and West Virginia had costs comparable to ours). While Maryland has a relatively high gas tax, our spending on gasoline itself is only in the middle of the pack (perhaps because Marylanders are more likely to buy gas-thrifty vehicles and drive shorter distances than residents of many other states). Unfortunately, our repair and insurance costs are among the nation’s highest; both are influenced by regulation as well as other factors.

We reported in May on a National Motorists Association survey that found Maryland one of the worst states in the country in looking after motorists’ interests, in part because of the high reliance by law enforcement on methods geared to raise revenue through traffic-law enforcement.

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MD-GOP poll: Hogan within 3 points of Brown

Not to say we told you so, but, yeah, we told you so. Details here on the 45-42 margin. And suddenly a race many wrote off as hopeless is looking very winnable, with Labor Day and the whole fall election season yet to come.

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Militarize local cops? Six Maryland House members voted for, two against

Two months ago, joining forces from right and left, GOP Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) backed an amendment that would have ended the shipment of various categories of military-grade armaments to local police forces under the 1033 program, which has shipped billions of dollars’ worth of such equipment to local forces in recent years. Among items that would no longer have been made available, had the amendment passed: “aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents (including chemical agents, biological agents, and associated equipment), launch vehicles, guided missiles” and so forth.

The full House voted down the amendment by a vote of 355 to 62. Leadership from both parties opposed the amendment, which won votes from 19 Republicans and 43 Democrats.

So how did the Maryland delegation come down? Only Democrats Donna Edwards and John Sarbanes voted to end the flow of military gear, while Democrats John Delaney, Chris Van Hollen, Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, and Steny Hoyer and Republican Andy Harris joined Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner in voting no.

Zaid Jilani at Vanity Fair writes that “Congress has been a willing participant in the arming of the police for years now, and the man most responsible for this trend graduated from Congress to the executive branch: Vice President Joe Biden.” Jilani also notes that defense equipment producers and police interests form a powerful combined lobby to keep the program big. On the role of Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, who of course is himself a senior Democratic leader in the House:

Hoyer is one of the two members who have received thousands of dollars from the National Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) in this campaign cycle. As tensions continued to mount in Ferguson, F.O.P.’s executive director Jim Pasco defended the militarization of police officers. “All police are doing is taking advantage of the advances of technology in terms of surveillance, in terms of communication and in terms of protective equipment that are available to criminals on the street,” Pasco told The Hill on Thursday.

Maryland’s own statewide F.O.P., it should be noted, just endorsed Democrat Anthony Brown for governor.

If Maryland representatives, especially those representing liberal and African-American communities, seek to reverse the militarization trend in view of public reaction to the scenes from Ferguson, Mo., it will be their own record most of them will need to run away from. Incidentally, I’m scheduled to join radio host Diane Rehm tomorrow (Monday) at 10 a.m. on her popular WAMU program to discuss police militarization; you can find more of my recent writing on the subject at links here and here.

To see how your Representative voted, follow this link.

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Poll report: Brown only 6 points up on Hogan

Josh Kurtz at Center Maryland:

A recent statewide poll that was shared with me the other day, which was not conducted for either of the candidates for governor, showed Brown with a 46 percent to 40 percent lead over Hogan. The survey was taken by a highly reputable D.C.-based pollster who has vast experience querying Maryland voters.

This seems like big news, no? Only a few weeks ago Anthony Brown was polling, what, 18 points ahead of Larry Hogan? If the gap has indeed narrowed to 6 points, I’d say that’s reason for Brown’s people to hit the panic button — and for national analysts to begin following this race as a potential Republican pickup.

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Maryland False Claims Act, cont’d

I’ve blogged several times in this space about the Maryland False Claims Act, whose passage was narrowly averted in the last legislature, and I’ve noted critics’ concern that its ambiguous language could support private lawsuits challenging the tax bills of Maryland companies, with a verdict or settlement resulting in a percentage payment to the bounty-hunting complainant. Now I’ve got a short piece in Reason tracing where such statutes can lead when loosely worded in a way susceptible to exploitation by clever lawyers: a Philadelphia complainant is using New York’s liberally worded False Claims Act to challenge the federal taxes of a Philadelphia-based financial giant, the Vanguard Group, for what could be a very rich bounty payoff should the case settle. As I point out, “by getting pro-plaintiff laws through the legislature in just a few states — New York liberalized its law four years ago — advocates can set the stage for a nationwide informant push.”

P.S. My earlier writing also drew a two-part (!) indignant response from a plaintiff’s lawyer who makes a business of filing this type of suit. The most hilarious bit is Mr. Kitts’s after-the-fact claim that the unseating of (opponent) David Brinkley by (supporter) Michael Hough constituted some sort of “referendum” on the MFCA. As a resident of District 4 I never did meet a voter during the whole primary season who told me this (alas) obscure legislative controversy made any difference in how they cast their ballot.

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Anthony Brown and the health exchange fiasco: You Had One Job

YouHadOneJobFrie

I have my differences with Maryland Reporter columnist Barry Rascovar, but his latest column correctly identifies the central issue in this year’s Maryland election: the failed rollout of the state’s Obamacare health exchange, which Rascovar calls an “immense fiasco,” a “monumental disaster that should have been foreseen,” even “the costliest debacle in Maryland state history.” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is now the Democratic candidate for governor, had been assigned to oversee the rollout as his big project, having few other duties attached to his position. The results could be summed up in a
now-classic Internet meme: You Had One Job.

As if this were not enough, Lt. Gov. Brown and Gov. Martin O’Malley sat back while state health secretary Josh Sharfstein loyally fell on his sword to take blame that was far from his alone. Rascovar:

Even worse, they [Brown and O’Malley] connived with legislative leaders to cover up the true story by avoiding an in-depth accounting of what went wrong until mid-2015. This intentional lack of transparency and accountability will remain an indelible blot on the O’Malley-Brown administration. It will haunt both of them in the years ahead.

Sharfstein took the fall at legislative hearings. He was the only one connected with this ill-fated project to apologize and take responsibility for a truly screwed-up rollout.

It’s a devastating episode because, for all the state’s general leanings toward the Democratic Party, swing voters in Maryland still place a premium on competence and independence. After watching his performance in the health exchange debacle, who could be confident that Anthony Brown will display either?

YouHadOneJobRail

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In miniature, August 9

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Of corporate tax “giveaways”

For Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, uniform lower corporate taxes would be a “giveaway,” while the current set-up — super-high rates combined with negotiated side deals for favored businesses — is *not* a giveaway. Mark Newgent explains:

Subsidies and other taxpayer-funded goodies are what allow our public rulers the power to pick winners and losers, and reward politically reliable corporate partners. Politicians like Anthony Brown aren’t in the habit of giving up power.

Newgent provides this table at Red Maryland, based on numbers from Good Jobs First:

MdTaxPreferences

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Won’t name the team, will attend its games

“Anthony Brown Spends Our Money on a Team He Won’t Name.” Zing!

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