Monthly Archives: December 2014

Loosie in the streets, with patdowns

In a Saturday editorial, the Washington Post calls for further hiking Maryland’s tobacco tax so as to push the state’s smuggled-cigarettes rate, currently around 20%, closer to New York state’s Bloomberg-influenced, nation-leading 57%. The New York policy has proved a highly effective way to bring petty and not-always-so-petty crime to New Yorkers’ everyday lives. With I-95, I-70 and other corridors, Maryland is already one of the most accessible states for contraband smugglers, and if the Post has its way organized gangs on the streets of Baltimore stand to get their hands on a new cash engine that, as one Brooklyn distributor is said to have boasted on wiretap, is “better than selling drugs.” What could go wrong?

P.S. The Post’s editorial never even mentions smuggling or evasion of the law, let alone bring up the Eric Garner case in Staten Island, although the Post’s own news analysts and opinion writers have repeatedly explored the role of taxes in that case. Is it too much to ask of the Post editorialists that they keep up with their own paper? [rewritten and expanded; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty]

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In miniature, December 21

  • Purple Line backers picked a color name similar to Metro lines, clever move but oh so misleading [David Lublin, The Seventh State, earlier]
  • Frederick County mom Cindy Rose goes to court seeking right to opt kids out of state-mandated assessment tests [Frederick News Post]
  • Court of Appeals will decide whether to construe insurance policies against drafter [Ron Miller]
  • Video caught confrontation between Prince George’s cop and student, but did it matter in the end? [Scott Greenfield]
  • Sen. Jamie Raskin working on how to remove language from Maryland constitution purportedly barring religious unbelievers from public office [John Hockenberry “The Takeaway,” earlier]
  • State’s “road system again ranked low, but highway officials strongly counter ratings” [Meg Tully, Maryland Reporter]

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Zero Hour for the Purple Line

With its twisty, politically drawn route it won’t get you fast to the places you want to go. Its interconnectivity with Metro is poor and getting worse. For a foretaste of where its rising costs are headed, check out the cost overruns at the Silver Spring Transit Center.

In short, the Purple Line makes an appealing target as governor-elect Larry Hogan looks for ways to cut the Maryland budget. Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute says it’s a net energy loser and unlikely to relieve congestion. Former Chevy Chase mayor David Lublin has been blogging extensively at Seventh State about the project’s shaky financial premises for which other parts of the state, and other transit users such as those who ride buses and Washington Metro, will wind up paying dearly. A common way of evaluating fixed-route transit projects is whether by stimulating intensive development along the line, they boost local real estate values and the accompanying tax base. As Lublin points out, however, pressure groups stand ready to resist denser or higher uses of land near Purple Line stops on the ground that it would lead to displacement of businesses and tenants already there. And the development impetus may not be so great to begin with — Metro is a much more powerful boost than a streetcar line because it is better suited to carry commuters in and out from around the whole D.C. area, yet even Metro stops often languish for decades without the redevelopment of nearby properties of low usage intensity. Ben Ross of Action Committee for Transit has responded to Lublin and O’Toole at Greater Greater Washington.

One further, very serious problem with an already marginal fixed-rail transit project: changes in automotive transport are happening rapidly enough to make many plans obsolete. Aside from the rise of Uber and Lyft ridesharing, we are probably within a decade or two of the widespread adoption of driverless vehicle technologies which will change demand patterns for both transit and roads (and resulting issues of congestion and capacity) in ways that are almost impossible to predict. It is already doubtful that the new line suits the needs of 2015, and much more doubtful that it will meet the needs of 2045.

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Maryland constitution still bars nonbelievers from holding office

The restriction, seen as unenforceable given the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1963 decision in Torcaso v. Watkins, lingers on in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas as well as Maryland. [New York Times] A general revision of the Maryland Constitution for other reasons would appear to be the best practical chance of getting rid of the embarrassing relic; the Times quotes Del. Jamie Raskin (D-Silver Spring), who comes off well, and Sen. Chris Shank (R-Hagerstown), who alas comes off less well.

Despite Torcaso, the largely forgotten restrictions have served as fuel for culture warriors: in Austin, Texas, of all places, a council candidate has raised the question of whether her opponent can serve in office under the Texas Constitution considering what she alleges is his religious unbelief. [Texas Monthly]

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In miniature, December 6

  • How did the limping if not moribund Maryland Republican Party manage to pull off last month’s stunning political triumph? A big part of the reason is that it had as chairman Diana Waterman, who is so adroit at letting others shine that it might not be apparent at first how central her role was in making it all happen [Erin Cox, Baltimore Sun on MD-GOP convention, at which Waterman won unanimous re-election]
  • Montgomery County’s religious-holidays problem is a public-schooling problem [Neal McCluskey, Reason]
  • “So Many Problems at the Baltimore Police Department” [Ed Krayewski, Radley Balko]
  • Molly McGrath Tierney at TEDxBaltimore 2014 on foster care in the city [video]
  • A happier Baltimore story: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake‚Äôs efforts to welcome immigrants have borne fruit [Scott Beyer]
  • Appeals court ruling holds public policy to supersede union contracts [Richard J. Douglas, Maryland Reporter]

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“Green in exchange for green”

Joseph Bottum in the Weekly Standard on the tax-credits-for-green-sermons arrangement in Prince George’s County. Earlier here.

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“Operation Choke Point Hits Ammunition Company in Maryland”

“Fox Business Network’s John Stossel interviews US Consumer Coalition’s Brian Wise and Kat O’Connor, owner of TomKat Ammunition LLC, on the Justice Department’s Operation Choke Point.” The Gaithersburg-based ammo seller was cut off from credit card processing services and suspects that the federal Choke Point program was the reason.

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