Monday, March 31, 2008

In Defense of Taxing Millionaires

The current battle over whether to replace the hated computer services tax with an income tax surcharge on millionaires has become a defining ideological struggle among Maryland state legislators, especially those from Montgomery County. Many MoCo Democrats, including a few really good ones, argue that millionaires pay enough. Today I take up the banner for the rest of us.

The best case for the other side has been presented by David Lublin, founder and owner of this blog. His central arguments are budgetary and geographic. David points out that millionaires pay a lot of taxes. He does not want them to move out because if they do it will hurt our capacity to fund programs we need. He also describes both the computer tax and the millionaire surcharge as targeting MoCo because both affect lots of people who live in the county. “You're replacing one tax which targets Montgomery County with another that does exactly the same,” he writes.

David’s argument is logical and pragmatic, and I respect it. But a millionaire surcharge is a worthy alternative to the computer tax for three reasons.

First, let’s examine how people who earn a million dollars in a year get their money. I will bet that the majority of them do not earn a million dollars every single year. Rather, many of them will earn in the mid-to-upper-six digits in most years but then obtain an occasional spike. That spike may be from a payout in a lucrative lawsuit settlement, a capital gain or an inheritance. Would people in this category really move out of the state because they had to pay a couple extra thousand dollars in a year when they got lucky?

As for the super-rich, those who do earn a million dollars in every single year, they already can park their compensation in tax-deferred vehicles like 1031 exchanges or establish part-year residency in no-income-tax states like Florida and Nevada.

The Washington Post reports that 6,150 Maryland residents reported at least one million dollars in income in 2005 and 2,535 lived in MoCo. How many of those residents earned a million dollars in every single year over the last five years and would therefore be really tempted to move? Possibly several hundred, but only the Comptroller’s office would know for sure. Are these several hundred people really worth the colossal amount of political capital that MoCo’s state legislators are expending on their behalf?

Second, anyone who believes that the economic well-being of our county is a linear function of the number of millionaires who live here does not understand the source of our prosperity. Montgomery County’s vitality comes from its excellent schools, the entrepreneurialism of its small businesses (including those in the tech sector), its highly-educated and diverse population, its attractive neighborhoods and, of course, federal spending. Millionaires live here for those reasons just like the rest of us do. If tax rates were the sole determinant of their residency, they would all have moved to Virginia long ago.

Third, Maryland’s working and middle classes have already paid their share. Just last fall the legislature’s special session passed a regressive tax package. Last October, I calculated that the Governor’s original $1.7 billion proposal derived 61% of its revenues from regressive sources like the sales tax hike. The package that was ultimately passed was worse. The Maryland Budget and Policy Institute analyzed the session’s product and found:

The poorest 1/5 of taxpayers will pay nearly 0.8% more of their income in taxes. The middle 1/5 will pay half that percentage: just over 0.4%. The wealthiest 1/5 will pay between 0.3% and 0.5% of their incomes in increased taxes. This overall regressive distribution occurs because the regressive nature of the sales tax increase overwhelms the progressive features of the income tax changes.
Now I am not opposing all regressive taxes. The cigarette tax, for example, saves lives. The gas tax encourages mass transit use and fuel efficiency. But when a billion-dollar-plus tax package is comprised primarily of regressive measures, that sends a message about the legislature’s priorities. And the principal reason for relying on regressive taxes like the sales tax was the desire by some legislators – including some from MoCo – to limit income tax increases for the rich. Now some of these legislators are talking about cutting transportation funding as an alternative to the surcharge.

Isn’t relieving traffic congestion also a high priority for this county? If the rest of MoCo’s residents sit in gridlock to protect the rich from paying more taxes, isn’t that an example of replacing one measure that targets Montgomery with another, as David says? MoCo Democrats rightly criticized Governor Ehrlich when he diverted transportation funding to avoid raising taxes. And we should not forget how Virginia has suffered for its inability to finance its transportation infrastructure.

Furthermore, let’s recall the unholy moment in which the computer tax was spawned. The creature was conjured from the abyss by the Maryland Senate for the sole purpose of not raising taxes on millionaires to the extent that the Governor originally recommended. Interestingly, no member of the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee will admit to fathering the wailing beast in whatever dark corner of the Senate chamber such acts are usually committed. If the Senate had adopted the Governor’s admittedly imperfect proposal, we would never have the computer tax or the current row over the millionaire surcharge.

I once blamed Senate President Mike Miller for the computer tax and the regressive special session tax package, but he proved me wrong. Back in January, I reported the following from our now-legendary blogger interview with him:

Regular readers will recall how I criticized the Senate President for the regressive character of the special session tax package. Leaping into the jaws of the lion, I asked him the following question:

“The tax package that was passed by the special session collected the majority of its revenues from raising the regressive sales tax. If you could have that one back and do it over, would you have taxed the rich a bit more to give the working people a break?”

Miller did not back down from the sales tax. He described it as “the most regressive but also the most acceptable” of the taxes, claiming that he received little protest on it. “But I wish I could have had more from the income tax.” Miller noted, accurately, that part of the Montgomery County delegation, backed by their County Executive, pushed back against the Governor’s rate increase for the top income tax brackets, thereby limiting the legislature’s ability to raise them. “You need 24 votes to pass something through the Senate and I didn’t have the votes to spare!”
And so Mike Miller is actually to the left of a good part of the MoCo statehouse delegation on this issue. That’s right readers, print those bumper stickers: MIKE MILLER: TOO LIBERAL FOR MOCO.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Good Idea from Virginia on Housing

According to the Post, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly is proposing to use county funds to buy foreclosed homes and sell them at below-market prices to working families.

I know that both Maryland and its two largest counties, Montgomery and Prince George's, have significant budget problems. But foreclosed homes already sell at discounts and the program's cost would merely be the difference between the low purchase price and the sale price to families. Additionally, such a program would help stabilize the property tax base by preventing neighborhood deterioration. I do not regularly applaud Virginia's economic policies but here is a good idea that should be considered in Maryland.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Maryland Ratepayers Fatten Power Industry Bosses

Maryland’s electric power industry has been in the news quite a bit lately. The Washington Post had a good wrap-up story a couple weeks ago on how Maryland consumers are struggling with rising electric bills. Politicker Maryland ran a few articles linking deregulation to campaign contributions. The Governor is announcing a legal settlement with Constellation Energy that would provide BG&E customers with a $170 rebate each. And the Maryland Senate is considering a plan that would cut electric bills by $2 a month. But none of these stories cover an important set of facts: just how well have Maryland’s electric power companies fared under deregulation?

Traditionally, power companies were vertically integrated. They owned the generating plants, the transmission facilities and the distribution lines. Deregulation was intended to create competition by separating generation and distribution ownership. Multiple generators were supposed to compete by selling power at the lowest price to commercial and retail users. Those users would order that power through the now-independent distribution companies.

After Maryland passed its law in 1999, its power industry re-organized to comply with the new regime. Baltimore Gas & Electric established a new holding company, Constellation Energy Group, and separated its generation and distribution assets into different subsidiaries. Allegheny Energy, which owned Potomac Edison in Western Maryland, followed suit. Pepco sold its power plants to a totally independent third party, national generator Mirant, and became a pure distributor. Those corporate re-organizations are one reason why deregulation is so hard to undo.

Consumer choice took effect in 2000, but to give competition a chance to develop, consumer retail rates were frozen through 2006. However, there were two problems. First, no new major competitors came to Maryland. Second, power fuel prices soared. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2000 and 2006 wholesale prices increased 44% for coal, 80% for natural gas and 116% for refined petroleum. Constellation and Pepco claimed that these input cost increases were largely responsible for the 40-70% electric bill hikes faced by Maryland ratepayers starting in 2006.

Is that true? If all the power companies were doing was passing on cost increases to consumers (something the old regulated system was supposed to restrain), we would expect the companies to report higher revenues but stable net incomes. But that is far from what is really happening. Below we report to our readers the financial results from Maryland’s four largest electric power companies in 2003 and 2007 from their Securities and Exchange Commission filings. We also report the total compensation earned by their CEOs in 2003 and 2006 (the latest year available). Judge for yourselves the real record of Maryland’s deregulation.

Constellation Energy
Parent Company of BG&E, Nationwide Merchant Generator

Stock Close, 1/2/03: $24.84
Stock Close, 3/26/08: $90.23

Revenue, 2003: $9.343 Billion
Revenue, 2007: $21.193 Billion

Net Income, 2003: $277 Million
Net Income, 2007: $822 Million

Chairman/President/CEO: Mayo A. Shattuck III
Total Compensation, 2003: $6,901,426
Total Compensation, 2006: $20,058,669

Electricity Distributor in Washington Suburbs

Stock Close, 1/2/03: $15.61
Stock Close, 3/26/08: $24.67

Revenue, 2003: $7.269 Billion
Revenue, 2007: $9.366 Billion

Net Income, 2003: $107 Million
Net Income, 2007: $334 Million

Chairman/President/CEO: Dennis R. Wraase
Total Compensation, 2003: $895,942
Total Compensation, 2006: $4,921,550

Nationwide Merchant Generator, Owner of Former Pepco Power Plants

Stock Close, 1/2/03: NA (Filed for Bankruptcy on 7/14/03)
Stock Close, 3/26/08: $35.92

Revenue, 2003: $3.856 Billion
Revenue, 2007: $2.019 Billion

Net Income, 2003: Lost $3.835 Billion (declared bankruptcy)
Net Income, 2007: $1.995 Billion (includes $1.562 billion from discontinued operations)

President/CEO in 2003: S. Marce Fuller
Total Compensation, 2003: $3,231,071

Chairman/President/CEO in 2006: Edward R. Muller
Total Compensation, 2006: $8,646,648

Allegheny Energy
Generator and Distributor in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Western Maryland

Stock Close, 1/2/03: $7.76
Stock Close, 3/26/08: $50.39

Revenue, 2003: $2.182 Billion
Revenue, 2006: $3.307 Billion

Net Income, 2003: Lost $355 Million
Net Income, 2007: $412 Million

Chairman/President/CEO: Paul J. Evanson
Total Compensation, 2003: $7,652,138 (includes “make-whole payment” of $6,397,330 connected to leaving another power company in mid-year)
Total Compensation, 2006: $9,329,832

Now I suppose we could recover some of these executives’ plunderings from Maryland ratepayers through a millionaire surcharge but some people might argue against that. After all, if any of these looting bosses – excuse me, these upstanding members of the community – actually live in Maryland, we don’t want to drive them out of the state, right?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

NoCo and the Computer Tax: BFF

So you’ve never heard of NoCo and BFF and don’t understand how they relate to the computer tax? Read on!

The Washington Post is reporting that Governor O’Malley is floating a deal to get rid of the much-hated computer services tax. He proposes to replace its revenue with three sources: a surcharge on millionaires increasing their income tax rate to 6.25% from 5.5%, “diversion” of transportation funds and more budget cuts. Senator Verna Jones (D44 – Baltimore City) proposed to pay for repeal through a high-earner surcharge alone, but the Governor would like to rely on multiple sources instead.

Why is the Governor treading so carefully with the rich? Why, it’s because of our politicians in Montgomery County!

Here is County Executive Ike Leggett’s reaction to the Governor’s plan:

Leggett said he favors a repeal, partly because the planned tax significantly affects the thriving technology industry in the Washington suburbs. Leggett said, however, that he opposes raising the top personal income tax rate because a large number of wealthy Marylanders live in Montgomery and that he is wary of cuts to transportation funding.

"I want to be supportive of resolving this, certainly as it relates to this computer tax, but Montgomery County cannot be the sole source of solving a statewide problem," he said.
Even blogger hero Senator Madaleno was lukewarm:

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) acknowledged that the number of those who would be affected by the millionaires' tax is small. "But this is a class of people who generate a lot of tax revenue for Maryland and Montgomery County," Madaleno said. "To create a disincentive for them to stay would be damaging to the rest of us."
Senator Brian Frosh and Delegate Tom Hucker were more accepting of the surcharge, but there are enough MoCo legislators who agree with the County Executive that the delegation has become a significant hurdle to repeal. Many MoCo legislators don’t want the computer services tax. And they don’t want a millionaire surcharge. And they don’t want transportation cuts. That is why, by the power vested in me as the author of this blog post, I am officially changing the nickname of our county from MoCo to NoCo.

Now there are alternatives and I laid one out a couple weeks ago. An extra point hike in the corporate tax rate, combined reporting and installation of the Governor’s original upper income tax rates would pay for the computer tax repeal. And the first two components would spread the pain more evenly across the entire state than a straight surcharge. Plus, all three components are progressive taxes and would partially mitigate the special session’s overwhelmingly regressive tax package.

But if NoCo politicians do not offer an alternative soon – whether it looks like mine or not – we all know what is going to happen. The Governor will make a deal with the General Assembly leaders and the delegations from Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Prince George’s County. Some variant of his proposal will pass because the pressure to repeal the computer tax is reaching a fever pitch. And guess where the diverted transportation money will not be going? You guessed right: some project in NoCo will have to wait a few more years. And who is going to be shedding tears for us in other parts of the state? You guessed it: absolutely no one.

And what if NoCo’s politicians successfully resist repeal? NoCo and the computer tax: Best Friends Forever. And there you have the title to this post.

Illegal Robocalls in Council District 4?

MCDCC Vice-Chairman Alan Banov reported receiving a negative robocall in connection with MoCo's County Council District 4 race. This is quite curious considering that he is a District 5 resident.

Mr. Banov left the following comment on one of our recent posts:

The other night I found a message on my voice mail from a robo-call to the effect that Nancy Navarro takes money from developers and if she does that, who would she listen to if she is elected. There was no "authorization" line on the message I heard, so I don't know if there was one in the beginning. Does anyone know who is sending out that message? I have no idea where Nancy Navarro is getting her money or whether the message is true or false, but I am concerned about an anonymous negative robo-call.

Disclaimer: I don't have a dog in this race (I don't live in District 4). If I did, I might or might not vote for Nancy Navarro. I haven't decided what I would do.
Mr. Banov then supplied the following partial transcription. He did not have the complete first sentence:

"… the upcoming County Council special election, please remember:

Nancy Navarro will take campaign moneys from developers. When you get her campaign mail and phone calls, ask yourself: If Nancy takes developer money, will she represent the people or just the developers?"
Maryland’s election law mandates authority lines for all campaign materials, which specifically include "oral commercial campaign advertisements." If these robocalls are going out without authority statements, they are illegal under state law.

This reminds me more than a bit of Al Wynn's robocalls. As I remember, they did not help him very much. But at least they were openly authorized and not anonymous.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More on County Council District 4

Here’s our latest roundup for D4 residents and MoCo political junkies. (Yes, we know that you junkies need help, but in the meantime, keep reading our blog!)

Dan Reed at Just Up the Pike has posted an interview with Nancy Navarro. Once again, Dan shows off his knack for picking out the most interesting, and even the most provocative, statements from his interviewees.

Progressive Neighbors has posted interviews with Nancy Navarro and Don Praisner. These interviews contain the most detailed positions on issues so far released by either candidate. They even address our beloved Carr bill! Progressive Neighbors did not endorse in the contest.

Navarro has wrapped up the vast majority of union endorsements in the county. The only union to have endorsed another candidate is the Montgomery County Federation of Teachers, an American Federation of Teachers local union, which is supporting Don Praisner. MCFT has no contracts with the county and should not be confused with the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents county teachers and has endorsed Navarro.

Steve Kanstoroom and Pat Ryan have websites up. Don Praisner has completely redone his website and it is much improved.

The recent County Council committee changes hinge on who wins the District 4 race. If the winner disagrees with Council President Mike Knapp’s assignments, they could change next year.

Kevin Gillogly and I are working on a joint post about last week’s candidate forum. Hurry up, Kevin! We know you are still grumpy because of your decision not to run, but that is no excuse for not covering this race for our all-important readers. The Gazette’s coverage of the forum is here. They missed the central exchange in the debate over the relationship of the education budget and the county’s deficit, but we will cover that for our readers.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The County Executive’s Bathroom: An Investigative Report

Greetings readers. I am joined live at the scene of the soon-to-be-constructed County Executive’s bathroom by special MPW correspondent and County Council staffer Dana Beyer. As you know, the Washington Post reported that the project would cost $65,000 and county staff said it was necessary for the security of the County Executive. Ms. Beyer has been investigating the project. Dana, what can you tell our readers about the new bathroom?

Dana Beyer: Well Adam, I have been unable to access the bathroom for three reasons. First, it is still under construction. I have seen several carpenters and plumbers hauling in platinum and gold fixtures but they won’t let me see what they’re doing.

Carpenter: Youse have to have a union card to get in! Widdout one… fuhgeddaboutit.

Former County Executive Candidate Bob Fustero: Do you hear that? I was right about those unions!

Dana: The second reason is that the transgender bill is still tied up by Citizens for a Responsible Government so I might not be allowed in even after it’s built.

Michelle Turner, CRG Spokeswoman: We have to protect the children from Dana! Errr, assuming any are actually allowed in the County Executive’s bathroom…

Adam: Dana, what is the third reason?

Dana: After the Post article, the County Executive’s office became quite sensitive about the project’s cost. So they instituted a fee schedule for access to pay for it. The fees operate on a sliding scale depending on exactly how one uses the bathroom.

Adam: Can you give us the details?

Dana: I’d rather not. After all, this is a family blog. I understand the fees are quite expensive and council staff are not paid enough to afford it.

Michelle Turner: That’s not a problem for us. We’ll just take it out of the per diem we receive from the Family Research Council.

Adam: Look! We now have a special guest – it’s County Executive Ike Leggett!

County Executive Leggett: Who are you people and what are you doing here?

Adam: Sir, we are reporting on the bathroom project. It’s part of our effort to follow your example in maintaining transparency in county government.

Leggett: Security, get them out of here!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hitting the Loo in Style

Readers, I just could not resist this Post article about the County Executive's new bathroom. Among other things, it contains some intimate details about the "private business" habits of several of our current and former politicians.

A variation of an old joke comes to me. What can you do in a $65,000 bathroom? Apparently, whatever the hell you want! And if that didn't make you grimace, check out the crude attempt at irony in our labels to this post.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Montgomery College’s Union Busting Campaign: Part Four of Four

In Part Three, we began examining the FAQ sheet that Montgomery College sent to its adjunct faculty to spread propaganda about unions. We demonstrated how the administration tried to make SEIU Local 500 look like an intimidating, coercive organization and how they tried to attach questionable generalizations about unions to the local. Now, we expose how their questions and answers serve a third tactical objective:

3. Scare the workers and make them think the union is not worth it.

Q. How long does it take for a union to negotiate a contract?
A. Recent studies show that contract negotiations usually take more than one year when employees are represented by a union, and that unions are successful in negotiating an agreement within a year only 25% of the time.

Q. Will I have to walk a picket line?
A. That is a possibility. Although there is a “no strike” provision in the law, a union may require members to picket in an effort to get its point across. Many unions also require their members to serve picket duty at other companies where they have a strike. The SEIU is known for its frequent picketing of businesses that it is trying to get to accept its positions.

For example, look at the article in the Washington Post on February 18, 2008 titled “A Stubborn Union Storms the Gates at Carlyle Group,” which reported on the SEIU’s picketing on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Post noted that picketers “swarmed through the Carlyle building, jumping on and off elevators, running up stairways and trying to get into Carlyle offices in an effort to confront [a] Carlyle co-founder… After some heated moments, security and D.C. police escorted the union from the premises.”
The FAQ sheet neglects to mention that many first contracts are not reached because of “union avoidance” programs of the kind that Montgomery College is now running. And the SEIU action at Carlyle, a troubled company by any measure, involved a campaign at nursing home chain Manor Care. Local 500 does not organize nursing homes and did not participate in the picket action against Carlyle. And Local 500 does not require picket duty of its members because most of its employers are in the public sector and in Maryland are are not subject to strikes. Montgomery College is well aware of this but nevertheless tries to smear Local 500 by talking about the actions of a different SEIU group on a different campaign.

As someone who has been fighting law-breaking employers for more than 13 years, I’m accustomed to this sort of misleading propaganda from private-sector employers. But now a public institution has hired a “union avoidance” attorney to apply these same tactics to county employees – all through our tax dollars. How many thousands of dollars is Montgomery College spending on its union-busting campaign? How many students could be educated with that money? And why is Montgomery College being allowed to pay a “union avoidance” lawyer hundreds of dollars an hour at a time when the county is projecting a $297 million budget deficit and is raising property taxes to pay for it?

What will Montgomery College do next? Union-busting campaigns usually do not end with FAQ sheets. Common tactics include captive audience meetings, one-on-one interrogations by supervisors, promised improvements (which may or may not actually materialize), threats of job cuts and even firing union supporters. Is this what the college’s adjunct professors have to look forward to?

Montgomery College’s union busting campaign is an absolute abomination in a progressive county like Montgomery. Adjunct professors and any other public employees should be free to choose, or not choose, union representation without being subjected to taxpayer-subsidized propaganda and fear. The County Executive and the County Council should immediately take measures to terminate Montgomery College’s “union avoidance” attorney and compel the school to let its employees make their own labor decisions in peace.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Montgomery College’s Union Busting Campaign: Part Three of Four

When Montgomery College administrators sent a memo to adjunct faculty warning them against joining SEIU Local 500, they attached a document called “Typical Questions That Are Asked During a Union Organizing Campaign.” An FAQ document is a typical opening shot in any union busting program. Provided by the “union avoidance consultant,” the FAQ sheet spins the labor law, spreads misleading propaganda and scares the workforce. Montgomery College’s document is no different and seeks to accomplish the following tactical objectives:

1. Make the union look like an intimidating, coercive organization. Here are a few questions and answers in the FAQ sheet designed to do that:

Q. Do I have to let a union representative into my house?
A. No. A union representative has no more right to enter your house than any other paid salesperson.

Q. Do I have to sign a union authorization card?
A. No. You don’t have to sign such a card to teach at Montgomery College. Under the law you have the right not to join a union and no one can threaten or coerce you into joining.

Q. What difference does it make if I sign a union authorization card?
A. If you and other part time faculty feel pressured to sign a card and actually do so, it increases the chances that the union will be able to file a petition for an election. If that should happen, you should expect even more pressure from the union to vote for it if an election is held.

Q. The union organizers say that everyone else is joining the union. Why shouldn’t I join too?
A. It is a common organizing tactic of unions to claim that “nearly everyone has signed” union membership application cards and they want only a few more employees’ signatures to make it 100 percent. Actually, they may have very few people signed up and they use a “don’t be last” approach to get enough signatures to legally petition for an election. Many employees sign to keep from being bothered and needled by the organizers. This is why the law relies on the secret ballot vote as the true test of employee’s choice.
So union representatives are “paid salespersons” who threaten, coerce, pressure, bother and needle workers. And management is the voice of reason merely informing workers of their right to be left alone.

2. Make questionable generalizations about other unions and insinuate the specific local union in the organizing campaign is guilty of them. Here are a few examples from the FAQ sheet:

Q. Will it cost me anything to belong to this union?
A. In all likelihood, yes. Unions collect monthly dues, and besides that there are a lot of other charges such as initiation fees, assessments and contributions to organizations and causes a union may sponsor or support. Unions also fine and suspend members who violate any of the union’s many by-laws and rules forbidding any “disloyalty” to the union.

Q. What can the union fine its members for?
A. It depends on the union’s internal rules. Most union constitutions and by-laws provide that the union can fine you for almost anything – for not attending union meetings, for trying to come into work if there is a strike, or for talking back to an officer of the union.

Q. Is it true that a union may require its members to pay more than dues each month?
A. Yes. The union may require a member to contribute to the international union, as well as to pay charges for political contributions, informational clinics, building funds and other special project funds. If a member refuses to pay these special assessments, your union membership may be suspended or you may be fined by the union or even expelled by the union.
The FAQ sheet does not mention that the federal Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 guarantees union members the right to vote by secret ballot on local dues and assessments. Union members also have rights to free speech, due process in any disciplinary procedures and to sue their unions in court.

SEIU Local 500’s bylaws specifically guarantee all members the right “to receive a fair and open hearing in accordance with the provisions of these bylaws on any charge brought by him/her or against him/her.” Furthermore, SEIU Local 500’s bylaws do not require political contributions (which are voluntary) and specifically allow member votes before raising dues or assessments. But of course, Montgomery College is not going to tell its workforce these facts.

We’ll finish looking at the FAQ sheet in Part Four.

Correction: An adjunct professor wrote me to state that not all adjuncts receive $880 per credit hour as the Gazette reported and I cited in Part One. According to this adjunct:

Please take note of the fact that $880 per ESH (estimated semester hour) is the MAXIMUM that an adjunct can presently earn at Montgomery College. The minimum is $810 per ESH. The next level, $850 per ESH, can only be obtained after a teacher has taught at least 6 semesters (three years) and has accumulated a certain amount of professional development credit by taking various workshops. In three more years, the teacher can advance to $880 per ESH; once again professional development credit has to be earned. These courses must be taken during the adjunct's own time, so of course there's no compensation. Also, it's up to an adjunct to petition for the next pay level by submitting the appropriate form along with proof of professional development credit to his or her respective department. There is no such thing as automatic advancement. If an adjunct doesn't follow the above procedure, he or she will remain at the same pay level indefinitely.
So after six years and much training on the adjunct’s own time, the professor may earn up to $10,560 for four courses in a semester. Nice.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Montgomery College’s Union Busting Campaign: Part Two of Four

On March 3, Mary Kay Shartle-Galotto, Executive Vice-President for Academic and Student Services and Marshall Moore, Vice-President for Administrative and Fiscal Services sent a memo warning adjunct faculty not to support SEIU Local 500. This document has the fingerprints of a “union avoidance consultant” all over it. The memo begins:

As some of you may already know, organizers of the Service Employees International Union Local 500 have approached the part-time faculty at Montgomery College and have asked them to sign union authorization cards. If a sufficient number of part-time faculty sign these cards, the union intends to submit a petition for a representation election to the State Commissioner of Labor.

Montgomery College has always maintained good relationships with its full-time faculty and staff unions; however, the College does not believe that the unionization of part-time faculty would best serve the interests of this faculty base, the College, or our students. There are many complicated facets to this issue - and some misunderstandings - that part-time faculty members should understand and reconcile before they commit themselves to union representation. Unions can promise a lot - namely wage increases, better benefits, job security - but the union may not always be able to deliver everything it intends. Faculty should also be aware of the sizable fee/cost factor involved with any union membership.

Part-time faculty members are a diverse group of people with many different goals and priorities. We have faculty who work for a variety of different industries and institutions, and this diverse, real-world perspective is something we highly value in this faculty base. Unionization would almost necessarily standardize the treatment of this population, which could result in difficulties with the assignment and scheduling of classes, not to mention possible difficulties involving full-time faculty relationships.
So Shartle-Galotto and Moore admit to maintaining “good relationships” with their other unions but nevertheless say “the College does not believe” that unionization would be in the interest of adjuncts. Why not? They refer to “many complicated facets to this issue – and some misunderstandings.” They talk about the “sizable fee/cost factor” of unions but avoid mentioning that U.S. union members were paid on average 30% more than non-members last year. They also do not want their adjuncts to know that while 69% of U.S. unionized employees have access to a defined benefit pension plan (which the adjuncts do not have), only 15% of non-union workers have similar access. And their discussion of “standardizing” the workforce omits the fact that any employee classifications are a subject for collective bargaining in which the employer has full rights of participation.

Later in the memo, Shartle-Galotto and Moore claim that adjuncts received an 8 percent salary increase in the 2007-08 academic year. They neglect to mention that the college's adjuncts receive as little as one-third of regular faculty pay for the same work. They also fail to mention that their hired “union avoidance” attorney, Darrell VanDeusen, could be making more in 30 hours of billing (perhaps $12,000- $18,000) than adjuncts can make teaching four courses in a semester ($10,560).

But Montgomery College is not merely selectively releasing information. They attached a list of “frequently asked questions” about unions to their memo which was probably drafted in consultation with VanDeusen. We’ll take a look at that list in Part Three.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Paying for Roads One Way or Another

Yes, I know everyone is talking about MoCo’s budget crisis, and don’t worry – we will too. But this Post article on a report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) calling for a comprehensive toll network caught my eye.

According to the article:

The [COG] study, which will be presented to the council of governments' Transportation Planning Board, includes three scenarios. The first would add a series of new toll lanes to every freeway in the region, with tolls applying only to drivers on those lanes, a proposal that is seen as unworkable. The new roads and overpasses would be so costly and eat up so much land that it is essentially a non-starter.

"We can't build a duplicate highway network; it ain't gonna happen," [COG transportation director Ronald] Kirby said.

The report lays out two other scenarios that would add tolls to existing highways:

One would add tolls to all District river crossings and existing freeway lanes in the city, where there is no room for new or expanded lanes. The plan would, in effect, connect the 1960s-era highway network that was discontinued in favor of Metrorail. For example, the stretch of New York Avenue from the District line to the Third Street tunnel, which connects U.S. 50 and Interstate 395, would be tolled. Similarly, the stretch of Independence and Maine avenues that joins the Arlington Memorial Bridge and Southeast/Southwest Freeway would be tolled.

The most comprehensive scenario, which has captured the imagination of planners and government leaders, would toll every regional highway, plus all the regional parkways, including the Baltimore-Washington, George Washington, Rock Creek and Potomac, Clara Barton and Suitland parkways.

According to the report, the most comprehensive tolling network would raise $2.75 billion a year, increase transit use by 6 percent, boost carpool rates by 4 percent and result in a relatively small -- 1.2 percent -- increase in vehicle miles traveled, which is how traffic planners measure the amount of driving.
Why are we talking about tolls? Because there just aren't very many alternatives to pay for massively expensive but necessary transportation projects. Neither Maryland nor Virginia have done very well at this. In last year’s special session, the Maryland legislature voted to allow the gas tax to increase along with construction costs, thereby generating an extra $400 million annually for transportation. But $250 million will go to maintenance, leaving just $150 million – roughly equal to the cost of one average interchange project – for new projects statewide each year. In Virginia, a plan to allow an unelected board to levy taxes for transportation unraveled when the state’s Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Politicians in neither state have shown much willingness to further increase gas taxes, so COG is proposing tolls as an alternative.

I have never actually met a person who loves tolls. I mean, not just one who tolerates tolls, but one who has formed a pro-toll fan club, collects toll-related memorabilia, has opened a toll museum and worships toll collectors like rock stars. That said, EZ-Pass has made paying tolls less painful than it used to be.

But think about it like this: one way or another, we will pay for our road network. We can pay for it through a gas tax. We can pay for it through tolls. We can pay for it by privatizing roads (as Indiana has done) and then watching the private operators jack up the tolls over time. Or we can pay for it by sitting in congestion, burning needless gas as our cars idle and further pollute the atmosphere. The first two options present costs that are obvious and up-front whereas the last two have costs that are hidden or deferred. Nevertheless, I find the first two options preferable to the last two because at least they do not increase greenhouse gas emissions or enrich plutocratic investors.

Montgomery College’s Union Busting Campaign: Part One of Four

Management calls them “union avoidance consultants.” Labor people call them “union busters.” But whatever term you use for them, you can count on them showing up whenever workers dare to tell the boss that they are thinking about forming a union. All across the country, thousands of lawyers, consultants and outright shysters rake in billions of dollars working for anti-union employers. They spread fear and propaganda and some of them even assist employers in breaking labor laws just so workers will be too scared to choose union representation. And now Montgomery College has hired a “union avoidance” lawyer of its own.

Montgomery College’s union busting started when the college’s adjunct professors approached SEIU Local 500 to discuss representation. Many of us remember college faculty as being tenured, comfortable residents of the ivy tower. But today’s college professors are increasingly part-time, paid by the class, with few benefits and no job security. Montgomery College’s faculty is now mostly comprised of adjunct professors who, unlike tenured faculty, have no union representation. According to the Gazette, the college’s adjuncts are paid $880 per credit hour taught, with most classes worth three credit hours. Full-time faculty can make up to $3,038 per credit hour. SEIU reports that adjuncts do not have health benefits or defined benefit pensions. When SEIU began gathering authorization cards from workers for a state representation election, the college acted quickly to put an end to it.

Montgomery College hired Darrell VanDeusen, a lawyer with Baltimore law firm Kollman & Saucier. VanDeusen, recently named as one of Maryland’s “Super Lawyers” in Baltimore Magazine, describes his practice as “providing advice in matters such as compliance with anti-discrimination laws, union avoidance and collective bargaining, family and medical leave and fair labor standards.” The law firm also states that VanDeusen “has defended employers in hundreds of charges before the EEOC and other state and local fair employment practice agencies” and “has argued cases in state and federal courts that have interpreted the law in favor of employers.” SEIU states that the going rate for top “union avoidance” lawyers in Maryland is $400-600 per hour. If that is true for VanDeusen, he could earn more in 30 hours of billing ($12,000- $18,000) than an adjunct professor could earn teaching four courses in a semester ($10,560).

What is Montgomery College getting from VanDeusen? We’ll take a look in Part Two.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Transgender Bill Supporters Sue Board of Elections

Yesterday, twelve Montgomery County residents filed suit against the Montgomery County Board of Elections in the county’s circuit court seeking to set aside their finding that the anti-transgender petition should proceed. The plaintiffs include former Progressive Maryland president and former state delegate candidate Elbridge James and current Takoma Park mayor Bruce Williams. They are represented by Jonathan Shurberg, an attorney working with Equality Maryland.

The complaint alleges that Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG), the group that collected the signatures, used “inaccurate, inflammatory and false information” that is “indicative of a pattern of fraud on the part of the individuals collecting the signatures…” For example, one of the plaintiffs claimed that she “was falsely induced into signing the referendum petition that is the subject of this lawsuit by individuals stating that the law in question allowed for unisex bathrooms and for men to be in the women’s bathroom.”

The complaint goes on to question the validity of the signatures themselves. It alleges that many signatures were outright forgeries, were not obtained from registered voters, were not obtained from county residents, did not have any addresses or were duplicates. The complaint lists numerous problems with the circulator affidavits, such as, “The Petition contains numerous Petition sheets reflecting alterations indicative of fraud by the circulator such as circulator and/or signer information that appears to have been covered with “white out…” But the complaint never states how many signatures or circulator affidavits are alleged to be invalid.

Finally, the complaint claims that the Board of Elections ignored the above problems, stating, “Defendant Board of Elections appears to have determined to overlook disqualifying infirmities in the Petition signatures, circulator certifications and other categories set forth above and instead to certify the Petition despite the Petition’s failure to comply with governing legal requirements.” The remedy sought by the plaintiffs is for the Montgomery County Circuit Court to set aside the board’s finding of validity, thereby allowing the transgender anti-discrimination bill to take effect.

It’s difficult to get a sense of the volume of evidence the plaintiffs have to back up their claims. CRG submitted 32,087 signatures. They need 25,001 to be upheld. The Board of Elections never stated how many signatures were found to be valid when they certified the petition. The complaint never stated how many signatures Equality Maryland’s volunteers found to be invalid. So the presiding judge would have a number of options: find that the process is so fraud-ridden that the petition must be set aside (the plaintiffs’ position), find that the Board of Elections acted within its allowable discretion or order the board to re-examine every signature.

But there is a bigger tactical field than merely the legal realm. The transgender bill started as an anti-discrimination bill, pure and simple. Then it was amended to include “any restroom, shower, dressing room, locker room or similar facility,” an amendment that was later removed but never forgotten by its opponents. CRG’s petition drive degenerated into an ugly ground war that produced this video of a County Council staffer confronting petition gatherers. CRG is promising a lawsuit over this incident. So now we have one confirmed lawsuit against a taxpayer-funded agency, another possible lawsuit involving a taxpayer-funded employee, much talk about showers and bathrooms but much less talk about protecting innocent people from discrimination – which after all was the inspiration for the bill. CRG’s fear-mongerers are running wild while the bill’s original, necessary purpose is receding into the background. From a purely tactical perspective, this order of battle is more favorable to CRG than to the bill's supporters.

Back in 1991, the Planned Parenthood vs. Casey federal abortion case caused many people to fear that the Supreme Court might overturn Roe vs. Wade. Maryland’s legislature passed a bill providing for Roe vs. Wade protections in the state’s law in case the Supreme Court threw out Roe. The law’s opponents successfully petitioned the bill to referendum, but the voters upheld it by a 62-38 margin. Since that 1992 vote, anti-choice groups have not come close to banning abortions in Maryland, though they do try to chip away at them.

If CRG does succeed in getting its referendum before the voters, it might be the best thing that ever happened for supporters of the transgender anti-discrimination bill. Voter affirmation will be much more useful for their cause than endless lawsuits (and videos).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Putting a Gun to the Heads of Maryland’s Teachers (Updated)

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Senate President Mike Miller is threatening education and teachers’ pension funding in an effort to get the Maryland State Teachers Association to support slots. This proves Eric Luedtke’s worries about this issue correct.

According to the Sun:

“They've got to help us either get some type of revenue, either taxes or the video lottery terminals, so we can continue funding public education at the rate I want it funded,” Miller said. "There's nothing more I want than to fund public education, but the beneficiaries of public education have got to respond in kind.”
But there is more:

The Senate president has also told union leaders that their failure to back the measure could force the General Assembly to seek another funding source for teacher pensions, including asking counties and school boards to foot the bill, a move that would almost certainly force severe cuts on the local level.
I have disagreed with the Senate President on slots in the past. But even more than that, I disagree with his approach to the relationship of slots and education funding. A common-sense, pro-education approach to this issue is to say, “I’m committed to education, now let’s go find the money.” Instead, Mr. Miller seems to be saying, “I’m committed to slots, now let’s figure out how to pass them.” This is not the kind of pro-education behavior I expect from my party in Annapolis.

Slots are now being marketed as a magical solution to the state’s budget problems. Some politicians are now telling us that if we pass them, we can pay for education, repeal the computer tax and pay for virtually any other kind of program that we want. But in fact, as surrounding jurisdictions increase their gambling programs in a mad, dice-and-whiskey-fueled gaming arms race, our revenue take will be far from certain. The only certainty is that license-holding corporations will be enriched beyond their executives’ wildest dreams, including those that are now teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

The Senate President is a recognized master of politics and has survived as long as he has by knowing the sentiments in his chamber better than anyone – ever. He is pressuring the teachers by threatening education funding and holding up their grievance arbitration bill because he knows that voters respect them. Apple Ballots with one-armed bandits on them are almost as valuable as penthouse comps. But there is a price to this tactic.

First, the teachers waged a relentless four-year campaign to get their pension benefits increased, a fight that ended in 2006. By threatening to subject those benefits to county financing, Mr. Miller is signaling his willingness to endanger the teachers’ top legislative achievement of the decade.

Second, he is pressuring the state organization’s board to make a decision without input from a closely-divided membership. This does not take into account the internal realities of a union, which is in fact a political organization. No political organization likes dealing with divisive issues – for example, look at the General Assembly’s contortions on gay marriage, illegal immigration, the death penalty and, of course, slots. As any political organization works it way through a tough issue, it needs time, delicate negotiations and ways to assuage those who come up short. Putting a gun to the heads of the leadership, as Mr. Miller is doing, may earn him a temporary victory but is sure to create fury in the ranks and a desire for revenge against the Senate President, his pro-slots colleagues and even some of the state union leaders themselves.

In Montgomery County, we call MCEA the 800-pound gorilla. Don’t make it angry, Mr. Miller, because this gorilla has a long memory.

Update: MSTA's board voted last night to support the slots referendum. The Post has the story here. MSTA President Clara Floyd released this statement:

Today the MSTA Board of Directors voted to support passage of the November slots referendum.

Thanks to Thornton funding, we are making clear progress in raising student achievement across the state. Our greatest moral responsibility is to continue this progress by ensuring that educators and schools have the resources they need to give every child access to great public schools.

The referendum establishes an Education Trust Fund and dedicates half of future proceeds to our public schools. It provides Maryland with an additional source of funding, beginning with licensing fees in early 2009.

Because of our state’s precarious fiscal outlook, if this referendum fails, students, teachers and support staff will be left with outdated facilities, larger classes, outdated textbooks and shortages of materials. School systems will be left with fewer resources to recruit and retain the best teachers and support staff.

Although this referendum is a necessary component to curing our state’s long-term fiscal woes, it is not sufficient. MSTA will continue to advocate strongly for other progressive and sustainable revenue alternatives to provide adequate funding for public education.
Despite the state board's endorsement, readers should not assume that all local affiliates will now do everything in their power to support slots. Judging from the controversial nature of the decision and, especially, the way in which it was made, some local affiliates are bound to work harder for the referendum than others.

District 4 Candidate Forum Scheduled

Wednesday, March 19, 2008
7:30 p.m.

Aspen Hill Library
4407 Aspen Hill Road, Rockville, MD 20853

All candidates for the Montgomery County Council
District 4 vacancy* are invited.

Special Primary election: April 15, 2008
Special General election: May 13, 2008

*The vacancy was left by the death of Councilmember Marilyn Praisner.

Sponsored by: Aspen Hill Civic Association; Friends of the Library, Aspen Hill Chapter; Republican Club of Leisure World; Wheaton & Kensington Chamber of Commerce; Montgomery County Young Democrats; Hispanic Democratic Club; District 14 and District 19 Democratic Clubs; District 18 Caucus; Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee.

Vicky Surles
Administrative Asst.
Wheaton & Kensington Chamber of Commerce
2401 Blueridge Avenue, Suite 101
Wheaton, MD 20902
301-949-0080 / 301-949-0081 fax

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is the Computer Tax Here to Stay? (Updated)

The Washington Post reports that Maryland’s Senate has not reached a consensus on how, or whether, to replace the much-despised computer sales tax. But Maryland Politics Watch readers have seen this coming.

Remember the now-legendary blogger interview of Senate President Mike Miller back in January? When we asked him about the computer tax, the Senate President answered, "The computer tax is not a good tax, but it’s $200 million and I’m going to fight to keep it... No one can agree on a replacement." And here’s our report on House Majority Leader Kumar Barve's comments:

"The House got rid of the computer sales tax but it came back. It’s bad public policy. It’s unwise to tax businesses that are mobile," Barve stated. "But unless we’re willing to find $200 million in extra revenues, it will be very difficult to get rid of." And why was the computer industry vulnerable? "In politics, when something unpleasant has to be done, it’s usually done to whoever squirms around the least!" Barve noted that Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15, MoCo) had a proposal to replace it with a gas tax, "but that is a non-starter." Added to Mike Miller’s comments, Barve’s opinion indicates that the computer tax is not going anywhere because there is no other way to raise the money.
Mr. Miller’s and Mr. Barve’s political predictions have been proven correct. When the Republicans proposed spending cuts and tapping "unallocated funds" to pay for a repeal, the Senate rejected it. When Senate Democrats proposed an income tax surcharge on the rich, Montgomery County officials opposed it. Time is running out: the current session has less than a month left and the computer tax is due to take effect this summer.

The tragedy is that it didn’t have to be this way. Governor O’Malley never proposed this tax. The House of Delegates did not propose it. And there were other ways to raise the money. An extra point hike in the corporate income tax could have raised at least $100 million and Maryland’s rate would still have been lower than Pennsylvania and D.C., equal to New Jersey and barely higher than West Virginia and Delaware. Combined reporting on corporate income taxes could have raised $25 million. Progressive Maryland believes it could have been worth $100 million. The legislature could have kept the Governor’s original higher income tax rates on individuals making $150,000, raising perhaps tens of millions more. And the legislature could have aggressively gone after tax-cheating employers but so far has not done so.

Instead, we are left with a looming, devastating tax on a knowledge-based industry critical to the state’s future. Everyone hates it. But no one has figured out how to get rid of it. Surely the Democrats in Annapolis can do better than this.

Update: The Sun reports that a surtax on millionaires is gaining ground. Democratic Senator Verna Jones's (D44-Baltimore City) proposal would raise $230 million by instituting a surcharge rate of 6% on incomes between $750,000 and $1 million and 6.5% on incomes above $1 million. But Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has written in opposition to the plan.

Update 2: The Governor has come out in favor of replacing the computer tax with the surcharge. However, Democratic Senator Robert Zirkin (D11-Baltimore County) has proposed to repeal the computer tax if the slots referendum passes. He also favors cutting transportation projects.

Senator Zirkin, I know my Montgomery County delegation is split on taxing the wealthy. But I would hope that all of them would stick together on opposing transportation cuts. All they hear is how horrible traffic congestion is from both their constituents and our County Council. Good luck in getting our eight State Senators to cut State Highway and transit projects in our county.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Nancy Floreen Joins the Blogosphere

The blogosphere has a new member: Montgomery County Council Member Nancy Floreen. Welcome to our world, Nancy! You will soon learn the joys of staying up until two in the morning to overcome writer’s block, trying to figure out html script errors and wondering who is using those anonymous screen names to make the snarky comments you’re tempted to delete.

Other politicians have tried to run blogs before. They have usually succumbed for two reasons: lack of regular postings and boring content. Now I am not worried about regular postings with Ms. Floreen. She is a very hardworking council member who labors on many issues every day and knows them all inside-out. I am sure she will feed her blog well. But on content, well...

You see, we really like Nancy Floreen. She is extremely charming, has a playful sense of humor and is very engaging in person. But we the voters give our politicians every incentive to be boring. I mean, when they say anything halfway interesting, we punish them for it. Just look at Robin Ficker. OK, bad example… How about George English? OK, another bad example, but you get my point. Only a few politicians regularly flout this rule (including our friend Dana Beyer, who is always good for an occasional blog post). So as one of Ms. Floreen's supportive constituents, I would like to start her off to blogging fame and fortune by suggesting she answer a few questions of mine. If she did, it would surely draw lots of eyes to her blog! Here goes:

1. Is it true that it once took four MCPD officers to force Marc Elrich to wear a tie for a council hearing?

2. Forget transgendered people. Can we pass a law that keeps the shower nuts out of the bathrooms?

3. True or false: George Leventhal once beat Mike Knapp in a game of one-on-one basketball.

4. Why do council staffers escort visitors out of the council offices? Don't you trust us not to steal the staplers? Or is this policy only used for me?

5. MoCo is not getting enough transportation money from the state. What if the county council members formed a human chain across the Beltway as a show of resolve?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nancy Navarro's Show of Force

One week after Don Praisner announced his candidacy for the District 4 County Council seat backed by the County Executive and four council members, Nancy Navarro responded with an announcement of her own.

Navarro’s campaign kicked off at the Good Hope Community Center at 11 this morning. Supporters in attendance included Council Member Valerie Ervin, Casa de Maryland leader Gustavo Torres, District 20 Delegate Tom Hucker, several members of the school board, representatives from MCEA and SEIU Local 500 and scores of district residents. Navarro read this statement:

My name is Nancy Navarro. I am the President of the Montgomery County Board of Education, a wife and a parent of two amazing daughters who could not be with us because they are in school. Earlier today, I filed as a candidate for the District 4 Council seat.

This candidacy was not in my plans. It came about after a sad and unexpected death of a woman who dedicated her life to service. I have learned that many honorable endeavors usually are not planned and that is why it is so important to be ready. And I can say with absolute resolve that I am ready for this seat and I am willing to represent all the residents of District 4 and this County.

Yesterday, I visited with over 100 residents of this neighborhood at the Good Hope United Methodist Church. They came together to demand a renovation of this center and other centers located in mostly low-income communities of color. This community came out to be heard, to be supported and to indicate their presence in this District.

In the last three weeks, I have heard that the only issues that people in this District care about are land use, the ICC, traffic and the environment. Indeed these are very important issues to all of us, but let’s not forget all the other issues that we all face everyday: the need for quality education, jobs, affordable housing, access to affordable child care, access to affordable health care, business development, enhanced transportation services and many more.

These are the issues that we must grapple with as a District and as a County. In these difficult economic times, we will not be able to solve everything. But it sure helps to have someone who has been in elected office, who has presided over an elected body and who is not afraid to exercise her independence while making very difficult decisions. I do believe in the politics of possibilities. I do believe that Montgomery County with its ever-changing face can and will continue to preserve its quality of life.

I pledge to seek consensus whenever possible, to promote civil discourse and to always make decisions based on what is in the best interest of District 4 and the County. Please come out to vote on April 15. District 4 deserves a leader that is here for the long haul, one that has been tried and tested, one that reflects the hopes and dreams of all its residents.
Three things stood out about this announcement to your blogger:

1. The campaign showed off an extremely diverse group of supporters for the event. Just look at the picture below:

Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, seniors, kids, union people, community activists and many others were present in abundance. As Council Member Valerie Ervin said, “When we talk about the new Montgomery County, this is what it looks like.” More importantly, the gathering resembled a district in which no one demographic group commands a majority.

2. Special elections depend on turnout and this one will be no exception. The fact that MCEA, SEIU and Casa de Maryland activists have all pledged to support Navarro gives her a ground game that her opponents must match. They should all beware of the fist-pumping declaration delivered by Gustavo Torres: “We are going to fight to make sure immigrants vote in this election!”

3. Mr. Praisner is effectively the incumbent in the race. Nevertheless, there was immense confidence among Navarro’s supporters. (Perhaps the Good Hope Community Center was aptly named for today’s event.) They truly believe that they will outwork the Praisner campaign and bring change to the district.

This race is compelling because District 4 has not seen a truly competitive contest since it was created in 1990. That year Marilyn Praisner, coming off service on the school board, ran as the candidate of change and defeated three-term council incumbent Mike Gudis. Is Nancy Navarro the 2008 model of Mrs. Praisner? We’ll find out in less than five weeks.

Disclosure: The author is the Assistant to the General President of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. The union’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Council has endorsed Navarro.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Navarro Announces Kickoff

The Navarro campaign sent out the following announcement.

You Are Invited:
Nancy Navarro Campaign Kickoff

Where: Good Hope Community Center at 14715 Good Hope Rd, Silver Spring, MD
When: Monday, March 10th @ 11:00 AM
RSVP or to Volunteer: Mike Hamby

Please join Nancy Navarro and her supporters for a County Council campaign kickoff rally. Nancy's belief in the politics of possibilities and her inclusive vision of governance will be reflected by the diverse lineup of speakers who will announce their support for her candidacy:

Congresswoman-elect Donna Edwards
State Senator Jamie Raskin
State Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez
County Councilmember Valerie Ervin
and more!

We hope you can make it! In the meantime, please visit for campaign updates and to donate.

By authority: Friends of Nancy Navarro, Laura Barnitz, Treasurer.

Board of Elections Approves Anti-Transgender Petition

The Post has the story here. The Gazette also reports on it.

Citizens for a Responsible Government, the group organizing the petition, needed 25,001 votes to put the county's transgender law to referendum. Interestingly, neither the Board of Elections' letter nor CRG's press release indicates how many of the 32,087 signatures were found to be valid. As Equality Maryland intends to challenge the petition in court, the number of signatures by which CRG beat the margin will be relevant.

CRG has something else to worry about. Back in the summer of 2006, noted petition addict Robin Ficker was trying to get yet another tax ballot question approved. But the County Council rejected the petition wording by a 7-0 vote in part because of this:

One issue is whether the intent statement circulated with the petition reflected what the measure would do if voters approved it. It is misleading at best, council members said.
Many people, including Council President Mike Knapp, have alleged that CRG has been spreading misinformation about the transgender law. Could this issue come back to haunt them, perhaps before the council?

So this issue is not going away anytime soon. Oh joy! Maybe we will get lucky and receive some more video from new YouTube celebrity Dana Beyer.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New State Budget Projections Sure to Frighten Counties

Maryland's Board of Revenue Estimates projected today that the state would take in $330 million less in revenue than originally forecasted. This is sure to trigger alarm bells in every county government in Maryland.

The Post and the Sun reported that the Board of Revenue Estimates, a panel comprised of Comptroller Peter Franchot, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Budget Secretary Eloise Foster, said that the state's weakening economy was causing shortfalls in income and sales taxes. According to the Sun:

"The hard numbers that have been presented here today speak for themselves," state Comptroller Peter Franchot, who sits on the state's Board of Revenue Estimates, which reviews revenue forecasts, said Thursday.

"They merely confirm that the collapse of the U.S. subprime mortgage industry has taken a profound toll on consumer confidence and, for that matter, virtually every aspect of our nation's economy, and that the state of Maryland is not immune to these trends."

Franchot warned that the "storm clouds" were not receding: "The conditions are likely to get worse before they improve."
The Senate has already approved cuts of $280 million to the Governor's budget but the House has yet to act. Furthermore, no one is yet taking account of the Keynesian effect of spending cuts: their tendency to cause additional reductions of aggregate demand in the state's economy. Montgomery County's economy, for example, is already close to recession.

Anxiety in county governments was high prior to this announcement. MoCo faces a $297 million deficit. Prince George's County is projecting a $100 million deficit. Several counties expressed their worries to the Sun last week about possible cuts to state aid. MoCo's union leaders are becoming uneasy about whether the county will honor employee contracts. And these issues are sure to affect MoCo's County Council District 4 race, which is already contentious.

The only people who can take comfort from this situation are the politicians who lost back in 2006. They don't have to deal with these problems. As a matter of fact, many will probably blame the incumbents for them when they run again in 2010.

Teachers Endorse Navarro

Maryland Moment has the story here.

Additionally, Navarro's website now lists her supporters as including MCEA, the Service Employees, the Carpenters, Congressional candidate Donna Edwards, Senators Jamie Raskin and Rich Madaleno, Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez and Tom Hucker, Council Member Valerie Ervin, Casa de Maryland leader Gustavo Torres and a majority of the school board.

Disclosure: the author is employed as Assistant to the General President of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

Senator King, Delegate Barkley Propose Changing MCDCC Membership

Senator Nancy King and Delegate Charles Barkley, both of District 39, are proposing legislation that would change the membership composition of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC).

Currently, MCDCC has 23 members: two elected from each of the county's eight legislative districts and seven elected at-large. Senator King and Delegate Barkley's bill, MC-802-08, would expand the committee's membership to 27, with three elected from each legislative district and three elected at-large. Senator King told the Gazette, "It’s a fairness thing more than anything. It’s to even out the playing field... With the upcounty growing like it is we need three members to help build the upcounty part of the membership."

MCDCC spokesman Milton Minneman (who has spoken on reform issues before) had this reaction:

Although the Central Committee has taken no official position on the bill, they believe the discussion would be better if tabled and taken up during a summer county legislative session, committee spokesman Milton Minneman said.

"We don’t think there is any reason to make the change. We know this is all a kickback because various people are concerned with the filling of the delegate and senate seats," Minneman said. "The system we’ve been under has worked for years and only in the last year or so has the issue popped up."
Hmmm, Mr. Minneman. Now who would those "various people" be? You surely are not referring to any blog authors in this county, are you?

Of MCDCC's current at-large membership, five members are from down-county legislative districts (one from 16, one from 18, one from 19 and two from 20) and two are from up-county districts (one each from 14 and 15). Districts 17 and 39, the latter represented by King and Barkley, have no at-large members. This is the likely prompt for King and Barkley's bill.

There is another side to this issue. It is not the easiest thing in the world to find active, dedicated Democrats willing to volunteer for MCDCC. The position has no pay. Its occupants achieve little fame and fortune. The committee is constantly dogged by fanatical bloggers. And remember House Majority Leader Kumar Barve's famous joke that if committee members could not appoint themselves to be delegates, they would have to be paid to serve? Perhaps Mr. Barve was not kidding. While I understand Senator King and Delegate Barkley's position, it's important to have a way to attract the most talented, well intentioned Democrats to serve on MCDCC regardless of where they live.

But the issue addressed by this bill is a small matter relative to MCDCC's other issues. Far more important is that MCDCC members can and do appoint themselves to state office, do not adhere to formal standards in deciding vacancy selections (with Alan Banov being a prominent exception) and are not required to consider any measure of actual voter sentiment within the district in which a vacancy occurs. These are the matters that should be addressed by MCDCC itself, or failing that, state legislation.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Praisner vs. Navarro: It's On

The campaigns of both Donald Praisner and Nancy Navarro made major announcements this week in the race for the District 4 County Council seat.

Donald Praisner, 76, kicked off his campaign at the County Council building on Monday. Backed by County Executive Ike Leggett and several council members, Mr. Praisner plans to hold the seat only for the remainder of his wife's term.

Navarro's campaign responded with this press release:

March 4, 2008
Nancy Navarro Recruits Top Staff for
Montgomery County Council Campaign
Navarro Promises to Bring Vigorous Volunteer-Energy and Fundraising to Big-Tent Campaign

Contact: Nancy Navarro
Phone: 301-628-7705

SILVER SPRING, MD - Montgomery County Board of Education President, Nancy Navarro, today announced the hiring of top staff in her campaign for the vacant District 4 County Council seat.

Having retained Congresswoman-elect Donna Edwards' field director and Sen. Jamie Raskin's campaign manager, Navarro promises to run a first-rate campaign and to raise the resources necessary for victory on April 15th.

Navarro has already recruited dozens of volunteers and a high-profile list of endorsers to be announced in the coming weeks.

The campaign plans an official kickoff event on Monday, March 10th. Details to follow.
The Gazette article also reports that District 19 Delegate Ben Kramer is still considering entering the race. And the Post has more on the continuing dispute between Steve Kanstoroom and the Planning Board.

Next up is MCEA's endorsement, which could come this week. The union could endorse a candidate or sit out the race entirely.

Update: The Post's coverage is here.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

What a Way to Announce for Delegate

Of all things to come out of MoCo’s raging transgender debate, we now have a campaign announcement for state delegate!

For those who have not visited it, I recommend trying out the Vigilance blog run by Teach the Teach the Facts advocates for a public schools curriculum that contains facts about birth control and sexual orientation, including open acknowledgement that homosexuality is not a choice or a mental illness.

The blog has been quite busy lately because of the ongoing attempt to overturn MoCo’s Transgender Anti-Discrimination law. One recent post attracted more than 80 heated comments about the conduct of both sides. A participant in the argument, former (and apparently future) District 18 Delegate candidate Dana Beyer, made this statement:

I can say that when elected I will represent all the people, and that includes those who don't want to even acknowledge my existence.
Now that sounds like a campaign announcement to me although it occurred in a debate forum swarmed by “shower nuts,” as Teach the Facts calls them. I don’t know how many of the shower nuts will vote for Dana, but I admire her tenacity in going after every vote!

This was also a great comeback line from Dana and I think I am going to try it out. You see, I have been having an off-and-on dispute with my neighbors over their howling dog. The next time I confront them, I will announce:

I can say that when elected I will represent all dogs in the district, and that includes big dogs, small dogs, yappy dogs, quiet dogs and even dumb, drooling dogs. And after I take office, you would be wise to seek my favor in dealings with Animal Control!
Errr, just one thing, Dana. Your use of the word "when" rather than "if" doesn't mean you're messing with those Diebold machines, right?