Friday, March 2, 2012

Maxed Out (Friday LINKS)

One of my friends sent me an e-mail yesterday that quite succinctly explained the most direct relevance of the teacher pension shift for your average citizen:

So, no matter what the pension costs need to be paid, yes? If the state keeps paying them we are likely in for a tax increase. If they shift to the counties, we are likely in for a tax increase. ...

So aren't they really just batting around who's ultimately going to be blamed for the inevitable tax increase?

Yesterday, Ken Ulman stood before a line of County employees and elected officials intended to constitute what kinds of cuts County tax-payers would be seeing should the pension shift go through.  "If you do this, all these people are jumping into the sarlacc.  They didn't know that when they volunteered to come with me today, but I'm serious."

But what Ken is not discussing, and a very interesting item of note for five of Maryland's 23 counties, is that our income tax rate is already maxed out.  As you may already be aware, in addition to state and federal income tax rates, you also pay a "local tax rate" related to your County.  The maximum rate allowable under State law is 3.2%.  Howard County's rate, along with that of Baltimore City, Montgomery, Prince George's, and Queen Anne's County, is 3.2%.  As such, you can be confident that along with whatever complaints Ken and the other County leaders are making in public, they are shaking their finger at Governor O'Malley's staff in private about how the State has much greater room for revenue than the counties, especially those that have already maxed out their income tax allowance.

The property tax rate is a much more blunt instrument and has the possibility of turning away business during a very fragile time of growth, especially in Columbia.  But if the pension shift were to occur, Ken would be a contestant with only two life-lines left: Cut services or raise the property tax rate.

I'm in the camp that feels the burden will be significantly less than advertised once Maintenance of Effort is stayed, but there is no doubt that the County will feel some pain.  I also think there is no doubt that this shift will occur.  The good news for tax payers is that only one line on the bottom half of your paycheck will increase.  The bad news is that you may have wished you were a renter.


In yet another embarassing audit disclosure, it was determined that Baltimore City has paid over $14 million in overtime over the past four years, with School Superintendent Andres Alonso's DRIVER being the highest earner in 2011:

The sergeant, Ralph Askins, more than doubled his $76,819 wages, logging roughly $78,000 in overtime last year. He made more than Gov. Martin O'Malley whose salary is $150,000, and about the same as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who makes $155,000.

In other news, Mayor SRB's cardiologist has told her she needs to stop reading the Baltimore Sun.

Gov. O'Malley has signed the same-sex marriage bill into law...sort of.  The law allows for marriages beginning in 2013, so as to allow for a referendum.  Remember in the Super Bowl when the Patriots let Ahmad Bradshaw score?  Yeah, so...

Two additional United States troops have been killed in attempts to control rioting in reaction to the burning of the Koran last week.  I read a very interesting analysis of this violence in a blog post by Abid Amiri:

Certainly, Afghanistan is different than almost all other Islamic countries. First, it has the lowest literacy rate among Muslim nations – thanks to the four-decade long war. Three out of four Afghans age 15 and over cannot read and write. If they cannot read the Quran, they definitely do not understand it. Therefore, the majority of the population receives its basic Islamic knowledge from the tribal elders, the local Imams, and other religious leaders in the community. These individuals have strong political incentives to take advantage of incidents such as these protests. 

Time and again, those not interested in knowing more or otherwise pridefully ignorant want to blame Islam (i.e., the third most popular religion on earth) for what amounts to political violence.  All religions can be, and have been used, as vehicles for political violence.  Religion has a remarkably maleable purpose that can incite the worst in our nature with the least amount of explanation why.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: TJ writes that our first world problems allow us the luxury of considering the value of a county-wide fire tax, but suggests that Ken Ulman is taking the right tact by withholding proposed rates until after the county-wide tax is approved.  He incorporates some assumptions (i.e., the final rate will be 13.55 cents per $100) that I don't think are all that certain, but as is normally the case, he presents some very good arguments (and makes me look like a conspiracy nut in the process).

Have a great Friday doing what you love!