In which I criticize Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan

I love Governor Hogan, and I think he’s doing a great job in Maryland.  I love that he’s been able to balance the budget without raising our taxes again. Reducing the tolls, while it doesn’t affect me, seems like a great move to make MD more friendly to tourists and truckers.  I personally appreciate the military retirement tax relief increase.  This particular post has become even harder to write after the Governor announced he had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and just started chemo to treat & hopefully beat his cancer.  Lord knows my prayers are with him and his family as they go through this difficult time.

hogan-raintaxrepealBut I’ve got a major beef with his current push to take credit for repealing the “rain tax.”  He did not repeal the tax. He repealed the state mandate that the affected counties had to charge a fee.  The federal mandate that those specific counties continue to come up with money to fund the storm water clean up still continues. Three counties have either never enacted the fee in the first place, or repealed their “rain tax” fee.  Baltimore County reduced its fee by a third.  But so far, none of the other counties have tried to repeal their fees. In my home county of Prince George’s, the County Executive Rushern Baker has already said that he will not attempt to reduce or repeal the fee in PG County.  He told the Baltimore Sun that he’d have to slash things like education to come up with the federally mandated funds. So it is disingenuous for Governor Hogan and his team to sit in Annapolis and brag about “repealing the rain tax.”

Then there’s the purple line fiasco. The Governor rightly rejected the Red line in Baltimore as the money-pit that it is, but he said the Purple line would go forward, provided Montgomery and PG County pony up more cash.  Really, he should have just vetoed it outright.  The counties now have to decide if they think it’s worth it to raise taxes in order to pay for it, because neither county has any extra cash to throw at this project.  Montgomery County is dealing with the fall out from a double-taxation lawsuit they lost. PG County barely got a budget passed after they raised property taxes for the first time since 1979, possibly in violation of TRIM. It’s once again disingenuous for Governor Hogan and his team to say they approved the Purple Line.  In reality, it’s been approved conditionally, and those conditions are very unlikely to be met without counties raising taxes on their citizens.   I’m hoping this is just some sort of strategic move on his part to try to save the state some money and appease some voters while turning public sentiment against the idea.

All in all, I like Governor Hogan, and I think he’s doing the best job he can.  His handling of the Baltimore Riots was spot on, despite all the shade Mayor Rawlings-Blake tries to throw at him for it.  I wish him nothing but the best of luck in getting cooperation out of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.  He tried to get the automatic increase in the gas tax stopped, but couldn’t get it through the General Assembly. I just wish that he would take this opportunity to educate the people about the federal mandates that kill the state and local budgets.  I also hope that his wording of the “rain tax repeal” doesn’t come back to bite him in the rear.

 

PG County Executive & Council Chairman in a Pissing Match; Taxpayers Get Soaked.

Short version:

The PG County Executive, Rushern Baker, wants a double-digit property tax increase to fund schools, and is using a 2012 state law to get around the limits and requirements in the PG County Charter. The Council, led by Chairman Mel Franklin, vetoed the 15% increase, replaced it with a 4% increase, and added a penny increase to the Parks & Planning tax rate. Mr. Baker said that wasn’t good enough, vetoed the Council’s budget. The Council overrode his veto, which pissed Mr. Baker off. So he vetoed their budget again, and sent back one with an 11% increase in Property tax, and threatened legal action if the council didn’t pass his budget. The Council has once again overridden the County Executive’s budget, and passed their version.

Meanwhile, the taxpayers will see their property taxes increase, as well as their phone bills and the cost of various permits and licenses, despite very public outcry against the increases. Taxpayers are left feeling like no one is listening, and the only question now is how much will taxes increase.

 

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The TL;DR version:

Back in 1978, the citizens of Prince George’s County did something absolutely brilliant.  They passed a law that capped their property tax rate at the 1979 rate, affectionately known as TRIM (Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders).  When TRIM was challenged in 1996, the voters in this very blue county not only upheld TRIM, but also passed into law the Approval of New or Additional Taxes by Referendum, which said the county government could NOT raise any taxes without asking the public to vote on it.

People who have been involved in PG County Politics much longer than I remember the Park & Planning Surplus scheme.  Fast forward to the height of the housing bubble in about 2005/2006. Maryland has this thing called the “Homestead Tax Credit” which was very helpful to families who saw their property assessments soaring.  The Homestead Tax Credit capped the amount your property tax bill could rise each year to 10% of the previous year’s assessment.  Thing was, the PG County half of the Maryland-National Capitol Park & Planning Commission had long before decided that the Homestead Tax Credit did NOT apply to it.  So P&P was taxing people on the full assessed property values, not the Homestead Tax Credit capped values.  This resulted in a HUGE surplus of cash sitting in the PG M-NCPPC account.  Once the folks in the county government realized how much extra there was, they started lining up with their hands out and a list of projects to do.  P&P also had ideas for the money, as they had their own list of maintenance issues and whatnot that needed attention.  Everything was rolling along so well.

Then the housing bubble burst. When the county went to the state delegation for funding, the state delegates took one look at the beefy account in P&P, and said use that money to plug the holes until the economy turns around.  That right there was a violation of the taxpayer’s trust, as money that had been taken for use in parks and such was now being used to fill the holes all across the county budget. But the economy didn’t recover as fast as hoped, and the county had to keep raiding the P&P fund to fund the budget.  That is until Martin O’Malley signed a bill restricting Park & Planning to the Homestead Tax Credit assessed value levels in 2010.  After that, the money quickly dried up, and P&P was left with a HUGE list of projects, and an ever-shrinking bank account to fund everything.

In 2012, one of the constant attempts by government officials to circumvent TRIM got approved in Annapolis, under Martin O’Malley.  The State Delegation from PG County supported SB 848 2012, also known as the Education Maintenance of Effort bill. SB848 allows county governments to violate the taxing restrictions in their charters for the express purpose of “maintaining the effort” for the county school system.  “Maintenance of Effort” is defined in the bill as the level of funding from last year, and the bill makes it next to impossible to cut education spending at all.  Any reduction in education spending must be granted a waiver from the state.  Operating any large system like this and not allowing the potential for cuts leads to a situation ripe for corruption, cronyism, and abuse.  Just recently the entire school board gave up their county credit cards because of wasteful, fraudulent spending on the part of several members.

County Executive Baker has his eyes on higher office.  It’s well known to anyone who follows PG County politics that Mr. Baker wants to take a shot at the Governor’s Mansion.  According to the Washington Post, “He told residents and business leaders that rehabilitating the education system would be the centerpiece of his legacy.”  He needs to drastically improve the school system, especially since he took it over just a few years ago, in order to have something he can use in his campaign for Governor.  So SB 848 2012 is the bill that Mr. Baker is using to claim he can raise property taxes in PG County by whatever amount he deems necessary for the school system.  Mr. Baker wants to is increase school funding dramatically, and he assumes that the citizens will go along with it because “it’s for the kids.”  He started asking for a 133 million dollar increase, then tried to settle for a 65 million dollar increase. The County Council will only approve a 34 million dollar increase.  There is a group of citizens, PG Tax Watch, who want to fight any increase, claiming that SB 848 2012 doesn’t apply here, and they may be right.  However, they will face an uphill battle as the State’s Attorney General’s office has already come down on the side of the County Executive. The one thing the letter from the AG’s office does not address though, is whether SB 848 2012 can be used to increase school funding. PG County has more than enough in the budget to fund the school at last year’s level without raising taxes, therefore, neither increase is needed to meet the Maintenance of Effort.

Meanwhile, the County Council, led by Chairman Mel Franklin, have declared that simply throwing money at the school system is not going to fix the myriad of problems there.  They want to increase funding for P&P instead. It seems that P&P told the Council & Executive that they are operating in a deficit this year, but have enough in the bank to cover next year.  After that though, they will be in big trouble, financially.  Councilman Franklin is rumored to have his eyes on the County Executive job when they both term limit out in 2018.  The last thing he wants to do right now is enforce a double digit increase in the property tax.  He realizes that’s political suicide. Instead, he wants to do a much smaller increase, a 4% increase that looks completely reasonable up against Mr. Baker’s proposal of 15%. He also wants to plug that hole in P&P because one of the projects that has gotten underway is a HUGE new aquatic & recreation center near Gwynn Park High School.  It’s one of the things he promised to bring to the area, and he wants to deliver.

Baker’s original proposed budget got shot down by Franklin & Co.  He got upset and vetoed their version of the budget, and resubmitted his own again.  They overrode his veto, and sent their budget back to him.  Baker then got really upset and vetoed the Council’s budget a second time, and vaguely threatened legal action if they don’t pass his budget.  The Franklin-led council promptly overrode Baker’s veto a second time, and essential told Baker to “bring it.”  Now the county’s budget is in limbo while we all await the County Executive’s next move.

More Scandal in PG County!

Jack Johnson, Former County Executive, Arrested for bribery & fraud

Jack Johnson, Former County Executive, Arrested for bribery & fraud

If you live in Prince George’s County, you may have heard about the recent indictment of the former Deputy Director of the Prince George’s County Housing Authority, Carla Carter, but you likely have not heard mentioned her connections to both the former and current county executives.

Carla Carter worked as the Deputy Director of PG’s Housing Authority from July 2007 to February 2012, including five months in 2008 when she was the acting director.  While in a position that allowed her to influence housing programs, from October 2007 to December 2012, Ms. Carter & her husband Raymond received over $109,000 from the HUD run Section 8 housing program for rental properties they owned in Bowie & Capital Heights. According to the DOJ press release, Ms. Carter also got a DHCD employee to change the documents pertaining to the properties, making them seem to be owned by an unnamed co-conspirator.  Together with her husband, Ms. Carter caused payments from the Section 8 program to go to the unnamed co-conspirator, who would then turn the funds over to the Carters.

Besides all of that, Ms. Carter also knowingly filed false financial disclosure statements in 2008 and 2011, hiding her ownership of said properties.  This is not the first time Ms. Carter has had trouble with financial disclosure forms.  In 2005, there was a case brought before the DC Board of Ethics when Ms. Carter, in her capacity as the Chief Financial Officer of DC, failed to file her final financial disclosure statement in a timely manner after she left the position in 2004.  In that instance, she did eventually file the paperwork, and the Ethics board dismissed the case.

Ms. Carter was hired to the PG Housing Authority at the height of the very corrupt Jack Johnson administration.  The former County Executive is currently behind bars for running a pay-to-play scheme with developers, among other things.  Most will remember the arrest of Mrs. Leslie Johnson because she stuffed about $79,000 in her underwear as the FBI broke down her door, in a vain attempt to hide the money.  Besides the pay-to-play scheme, Jack Johnson was also known for his cronyism.  According to WaPo, the former County Executive placed Ms. Carter on several community advisory committees.

Jack Johnson was busted in 2011, leaving PG County in the hands of the newly elected Rushern Baker III.  In March, and again in June of 2011, when it was clear that Johnson was in trouble, Ms. Carla Carter donated a total of $185 dollars to Rushern Baker’s election fund.  These donations are during the time that Ms. Carter was defrauding the Section 8 program.  As of this writing, Ms. Carter’s name is listed on Rushern Baker’s website as a donor. The information about the donations was easily found on Maryland’s Campaign Reporting Information System website.

CarlaCarter-Donation-RushernBaker-censored

 

 

#Ferguson was never about holding cops accountable.

I said when Ferguson first blew up that this was about reminding black people who they should be voting for. Obama is losing the African-American demo because of his lack of any action to better the lives of that group, & because the Democrats have gotten bold about what they stand for in the last 6 years.

Brown-FergusonNow I have proof. Here in Maryland, and in other races across the US, Democrat candidates are using Ferguson to target black voters and remind them who their vote belongs to. In Maryland, we have a candidate who has taken to targeting black voters, and telling them to vote for him for no other reason than the fact that he is a black man. That right there — vote for me because I’m the right skin color — is racist.

Is PG County Government trying to affect the Governor’s race?

I saw this in my facebook stream yesterday afternoon, and immediately wondered if this was even legal:

PGcountyElectioneering

The craziest part about this, is that the information attached to the little video in the facebook post is not correct. Last Sunday’s event was NOT a Candidate Forum, and the Gubernatorial Forum on Disability Issues was held at the National Federation for the Blind on Oct 9th in Baltimore, not Henry Wise High School in Upper Marlboro.

The event held at Henry Wise High was an Anthony Brown campaign event in which Obama spoke on behalf of Anthony Brown. The video is from the campaign event. The transcript of the video, as well as I can make it out is:

“(unintelligible) the systems failing. And these folks trying to make it harder to vote. This and That. There’s always a reason. You know what? There are no reasons. The future is (unintelligible). If you want better policies out of Washington, than you’ve got to vote for ’em. If you want better policies to continue in MD, than you’ve gotta vote for ’em. “

I’m not entirely sure this is legal, as I am new to Maryland, and not up on all of the election laws, so it is possible that no election laws have been broken.  However, it does not look kosher to have official county government pages posting video from a campaign event for the sitting Lt. Governor just 12 days out from the election, and the day before early voting starts.

The Most Incompetant Man in Maryland.

This is amaze-balls. We need to see more stuff like this from the GOP.  The funny thing is, the Brown-Ullman campaign is not disputing any of the claims made in the video.  They’re only upset over the use of the flexing picture, which was found on Brown’s facebook with no caption.  They are claiming that it’s an homage to a cancer patient who died, and that the GOP is exploiting the guy by using the photo.  The Hogan Campaign response is priceless. In an email to the MarylandReporter.com, Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky said:

“That was the part of our ad with which they took issue? Our use of a May 10 Facebook photo of Brown and Ulman flexing for the camera that lacked any caption whatsoever indicating what it was for?

“We thought the Lt. Governor might have at least wanted to respond to the ad’s critique of his administration’s forty consecutive tax hikes, or his botched $125M health exchange roll-out, or perhaps the doubling of the unemployment rate under his watch.”

Via: MarylandReporter.com