Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What's In the Box? (Wednesday LINKS)

There is a scene at the end of the movie Se7en where a confused, angry, beat-up Brad Pitt is holding up a gun to the side of Kevin Spacey's head yelling "What's in the box?" over and over again.  Due to the delicate sensibilities of my readers, I will not tell you what is in that box, but I will say that the contents determined whether Brad Pitt pulled the trigger.

Morgan Freeman, having seen what's in the box, just wants Brad Pitt to put the gun down.

It's probably one of my favorite scenes in all cinema and offers a great one liner when you want to know something that someone else won't tell you.

Like the fire tax.

Lindsey McPherson has yet another great piece in the Flier, this time writing about the proposed fire tax and the Ulman administration's steadfast refusal to discuss rates until after the county-wide tax provision is passed:  "We'll have a discussion about what the rates will be in the context of the budget," Ulman said.

I don't think Executive Ulman gets to set the parameters of this discussion like that.  In fact, I think the Council should tell him to take a walk with his county-wide tax scheme until he is willing to come back with the proposed rate.  As we learned from 2007, despite Ken's comments regarding the "eastern end of the county...subsidizing the west", a increase for one is an increase for all.  While the West could expect a much greater increase than the metro regions, there is no reason to believe this is a one-sided increase.  Secondly, it is injurious to the public's ability to discuss this matter to hold back "what's in the box" in terms of what this ultimately means -- more tax revenue.

Ken, and his team, know exactly what this increase will be under both county-wide and split tax schemes.  Budget Director Ray Wacks is far too good of a numbers man to sit back and say "I'll let the politicians figure this out and then I'll do the math."

This withholding is almost smug -- "Yeah, I'll tell you what the taxes will be.  You just pass that thing first."  But in one of the more unfortunate quotes we've seen in the Flier in some time, we learn from Fire Chief Bill Goddard that this is not a "tax increase":  "While one could say it's a tax increase, I call it a tax adjustment," Goddard said.


Bottom line -- The Council needs to get these numbers.  What are the rates with the dual system?  What are the rates in a county-wide system?  The Ulman administration had the opportunity to get out in front of this with data about service between the two districts and prospective rates, but now the conversation is leaving their grasp and going out to the public for digestion.

If you're going to adjust all of our taxes, please allow us an opportunity to adjust your legislation.


You know you have a good interview with a politician when you get the quote: "I've answered the question."  Lindsey McPherson exercises some journalistic muscle in questioning Ken Ulman about "adjusting" the fire tax in the context of his pledge of having "zero intention to raise taxes." (Which "some" suggested was an irresponsible thing to say in the specter of the teacher pension shift).  Lindsey hits on all the questions that needs to be asked and seems to wonder what kind of success Ken will have with this "I'll tell you later" approach:

"What I'm asking the council to do is put the rate conservation aside because this is about the fairness," he said.

That may be asking a lot of the council members, who have always seemed to adhere to the philosophy, "The devil's in the details."

I think this iteration of the Political Notebook may be better than...

After early questions about what a Howard County Veteran's Commission would do, it seems like the Council picked the right folks with the right kind of insight necessary to make this new initiative work.  There were a lot of interesting ideas tossed about to make Howard County a better resource for veterans and help those who have been looked over by "the system."

Mitt Romney won primaries in both Arizona and Michigan, averting yet another near-miss in his drive for the GOP nomination.  I'm sure this made some people very happy.  You know.  As happy as you get about Mitt Romney.  They probably enjoyed an alcoholic beverage and made a fist pump...are fist pumps communist or is that just the "fist pound"?  Well if fist pumps are communist, then they probably raised both hands over their head in a Rocky position.  There is nothing communist about Rocky.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  WB covers the "dress rehearsal" for Town Center with pictures of the display put on in an effort to woo Whole Foods.  The only thing Howard Hughes left out was a giant poster on the side of the building that would have said "Median Income: $101K  That's a lot of Cremini!"

That's all for today.  My wake-up time (5:50) is a great gauge for whether we are getting more sunlight.  If I can tell what color my shirt is prior to leaving the bedroom, it is getting lighter out.  Well, my friends, it is getting lighter out.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!