Monday, January 7, 2013

General Assembly Back to Work

Lock up you valuables, the General Assembly is almost back in session!

Thankfully, unlike last year, there are no pending revenue shortfalls, as addressed through tax hikes and pension shifts in 2012.  The Transportation "Trust Fund" has been collecting cobwebs for years, with legislators shifting funds like so many cards in a deck to make immediate and necessary repairs as they arise.  In short, Annapolis's quantity of idle hands is about to go up significantly.

Let's look at what they may take up in their free time.

Mass Transit
Most people would agree that you can't solve the traffic of one of the Country's most traversed corridor with more roads alone.

Most people would also agree that gas prices are only going in one direction.

Finally, most people would agree that less single-occupancy-vehicle commuters would be good for the environment, with a majority of those also agreeing that addressing SOV commuters is an important component to slowing climate change.

However, once I suggest that you should pay 50 more cents per fill-up at the gas station to help pay for someone making a living wage to ride the bus to work, the wheels come off our consensus.

There is no dispute that mass transit works to relieve the traffic between Baltimore and DC.  Spend one morning at Penn Station or the BWI rail station and watch the trains fill up with D.C. commuters.  This is our high end mass transit.  We also have the bus.  The Maryland suburbs have not come to terms with riding a bus, and maybe never will.  In Howard County, we are trapped between having a service that is sparsely used and critical utilization by those who need it.

As far as I know, Maryland does not have a Mass Transportation Master Plan that lays out the current infrastructure and the need for expansion.  Any elected official that mentions "rail" seems to be laughed out of the committee room, but it is hard to imagine a Master Plan that did not include some measure of rail expansion as the backbone to a larger project.  And rail is expensive.  It will be paid for by people who never step foot on a rail car.  However, for every person that does, there is one less SOV on the roads, which could mean one less car accident, one less traffic jam, and one less road fatality.

Death Penalty

It seems clear that the Governor is going to make one more run at abolishing capital punishment in Maryland this session.  You can tell The Sun may have slowly come around to the Governor's side in its increasing reference to State-implemented-executions as "the Death Penalty" as opposed to its much more sterile scrubs "Capital Punishment".  We've hashed this out at length, but I hope you all will watch this issue, if for no other reason than the horse trading.  As Dan Rodricks noted this weekend, Senate President Mike Miller once said: "If there's a gallows, I'll pull the lever. If there's a gas chamber, I'll turn the valve. If it's lethal injection, I'll insert the needle."  While I would love to be so naive as to believe a change of heart is underway, I think it is much more likely that in a State where we no longer execute people, Senator Miller sees an opportunity to get some free chits.

I would predict that the Death Penalty either faces complete abolishment or further circumscription to make it even more obsolete in Maryland.

Gun Control

Governor O'Malley has introduced a three-prong approach to responding to the Newtown Slayings: "a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, tighter licensing rules and measures to increase school safety."  Preliminarily, I think we all need to be skeptical of any government official in Maryland "responding to the Newtown Slayings."  If it is good policy, it will stand on its own.  Second, although I think the NRA has forfeited its spot at the table, I think responsible gun-owners should be heard on recommended solutions, with the caveat that "more guns" is not a solution.  If you want to show me a news article about an off-duty police officer that shot a gunman before he was able to begin a round of carnage, I get to show you a dozen articles about accidental shootings in home offices, dens, and basements around the Country.  We're not all heroes.  Some of us are stupid, irresponsible, and dangerous owners of horribly destructive weapons.  I think most responsible gun-owners accept that and are willing to offer their opinions on what can, and should, be done to minimize that contingent.

Campaign Finance

I've seen some chatter that the General Assembly may undertake campaign finance reform to increase the frequency of disclosures and curb the prevalence of shadowy LLC's amongst those disclosures, but the motivations just don't seem to line up.  If I'm an incumbent, even a "white hat" incumbent, it will take a lot for me to change a system that favors incumbency.  Campaign finance reform slides along the balance of a compromise made between the public and electeds: Limits or Disclosures.  Either we limit what some people can give or we have a full disclosure of everything that was contributed.  As court decisions have pushed campaign finance reform more heavily on the latter condition, lawmakers have allowed disclosures to slide back into the darkness.  "New Horizons, LLC", "A Better Tomorrow, LLC" - they sound like happy organizations, don't they?  Well that's just about all we're ever going to know about such corporations, as they dump thousands of dollars into state and local elections, many of which can be shifted with as little as $2,000 difference.

So let's hope something happens.  I don't see it as likely.

That's all for today.  I had a great refreshing weekend working on some big things for Columbia.  While I was trying to get out of my rut by giving myself more rest, it turns out that what I needed was invigoration, inspiration, and enthusiasm.   I'm there.  In the process I met a man who was hired for his dream job by writing a Fortune 10 CEO a letter telling him that if he didn't hire him, he would hear about him, and regret missing out on his talent for the rest of his life.  Confidence changes the world sometimes, even if it's just your world.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!