Monday, December 3, 2012

Idle Hands in the General Assembly (Monday LINKS)

I was a little taken aback over the weekend when I saw The Sun pick the death penalty as the next big item on the General Assembly's agenda.  More accurately, they picked it as Governor O'Malley's next heralded legislative accomplishment.

The entire editorial reads as if Maryland Democrats are playing with house money and, in less than figurative ways, they really are.  But looming behind electoral successes and squirrely redistricting maps is the structural deficit, ready to eat away at party hubris and overreaching.

Unlike the federal government, the State of Maryland is required by its State Constitution to balance the budget every year.  Nevertheless, through what I like to call "government math", expenditures are projected out to pay-out dates as opposed to the dates in which they exist on an accounting ledger, thereby balancing the budget today by putting tomorrow's budget in the negative.  A good example of this would be the retirement and pension system.  While the government accounting systems are complicated and I don't mean to overly simplify things, for the most part, our State has projected retiree health benefit expenditures into the year in which they are due, also called "pay-as-you-go".  Same is true for transportation, school, and infrastructure upgrades.  These costs are known to exist, they are de facto liabilities, but they exist on a figment basis when it comes to balance sheets so as not to affect our constitutional requirements.

Meanwhile, our roads are coming apart, are overly congested, and face repairs on an as-needed basis.  Our baby-boomer retirees are racing towards the exits.  The State is primarily basing its ability to pay these costs on casino revenue and increased sales taxes, but the jury is out on whether the revenue will be enough.

What happens when we face these financial crises?  The General Assembly passes incremental taxes that have little noticeable effect on an annual basis, but collectively wear on the patience of the electorate.  Note: I am not suggesting that these taxes have "hurt our economy" or "stopped businesses from creating jobs."  I find that much too speculative for the purposes of getting the State's financial house in order.  All projected injuries and benefits being equal, the Democratic majority needs to stop treating the State Budget like a game of craps.  Not just for the purposes of good public policy, but also for the sake of their majority.

"You're not really suggesting that the Democrats could lose elections because of this, are you?"

Over the short term, definitely not.  Over the long term, definitely.  Between 1935 and 1969, Maryland had three Democratic Governors and three Republican Governors.  That is the exception to the rule in Maryland's 250 year existence, but it is offered for the simple fact that political parties are fluid.  Critical issues shape an electorate and can wrench a majority to its knees.  Sitting on a boiling pot and expecting it not to pour over is a fatal mistake.  Continuing to go back to the social issue basket while the opponents are too weak to fight is a fatal mistake.  Leaving your roads, schools, and retiree benefits to rot are all fatal mistakes.  Pile enough of these up, and you've got a tide shift on your hands.  Maybe not this decade, but possibly the next.


Mike Preston called yesterday's Ravens game an "Embarrassing Loss to an Ancient QB."  Don't think we have to say much more than that.  The Ravens still are in an ok spot for the playoffs, but may have kissed their first round (sorry).  I assume it takes two losses in a row to fire the offensive coordinator, and I know people will say "Calm down, it's one loss", but really it feels like more due to the way this offense has played.  Sickening.  We can only hope it is a wake-up call and not a sign of the level of talent for an over-performing team.

The "Baltimore Spectator" Twitter feed was always an interesting follow, but even more so over the weekend with the BCPD-critic blogger arrested after a stand-off with police over a failure to appear warrant.

Baltimore City officials have said that they "no longer have complete confidence in the accuracy of their speed cameras", putting automated traffic enforcement across the State in the cross-hairs.  Personally, I would like to see a statement from the Howard County Police Department confirming that the problems noticed in Baltimore City do not apply to our network of cameras and believe the County Council has the motivation to see that happen.

The Howard County Agriculture Board has recommended against the easement termination sought by the Mullinix Brothers in their attempt to get out from their land preservation agreement.  I imagine that will be the last word on the subject as the Mullinix family finds itself without an army.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: And Then There's That invited Community Action Council President Bita Dayhoff onto their show this past Friday.  It was a good show as always (although I have to wonder if their semantic skills are as good as their math skills -- "mobile" homes).  One of the unheralded skills that Bita brings to the community is her dogged advocacy for those without a voice.  The accomplishments of the CAC have not been without a fight and I don't think there is anyone else I would want on my side than Bita Dayhoff.  This past year I had the opportunity to work with her on a Head Start initiative and although we could not make all the pieces work, I was inspired by her determination to make something out of nothing.

That's all for today.  I'm fresh off a half-marathon with my brother this past Saturday, so I have a little hitch in my giddy-up.  I think that but for that run, I would be in a much worse mood this morning in light of our mercenary team's loss to the mercenaries from Pittsburgh.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!