Tuesday, October 30, 2012

18 Reasons to Vote AGAINST Question B on the QAC Ballot

This document was researched and developed by Bob Fox and Nick Stoer of Queen Anne's County, and is not original content from Steve Kline. It is being shared with permission from the creators.

In 2011, at the request of a commercial real estate developer, three of the Queen Anne's County (QAC) commissioners voted to eliminate the county's 65,000 sq. ft. cap on building size in county areas zoned “suburban commercial.” The size cap is also known as the anti-big box store restriction.  This action was taken despite the fact that the restriction is part of the county's Comprehensive Plan - the official county roadmap to guide development and preserve the open space and small town character of QAC. This small town character is one of the key reasons county homeowners consider when deciding to live here.

Many citizens were irate about the potential for encroachment by Big Boxes.  The commissioners’ decision clearly opened the door for stores of “unlimited” size to locate here. To demonstrate their opposition thousands of county voters signed a petition to have the Maryland Election Commission put this issue on the November 2012 ballot allowing citizens to have their voices heard.  That petition drive was successful and froze the commissioners’ action. 
The November 6 election is the final act on this matter. To  keep “unlimited” size Big Box stores out of the county citizens must vote AGAINST on Question B.  Winning this will return us to the previous and reasonable 65,000 sq. ft. limit.  

18 Reasons to Vote AGAINST Question B on the ballot (i.e. to oppose Big Box stores in QAC):
    Proponents of Big Box stores provided no compelling economic rationale to the commissioners during the push to open up our countryside to large stores other than fleeting references to job and tax revenue needs.  Contrary to the “more jobs” misinformation from Business Queen Anne’s, studies show that Big Box stores often result in a net loss of local jobs due to fewer employees per sq. ft. of retail space among other reasons.

    About as many jobs are lost as are gained when a Big Box store comes to town.  Small stores cannot compete and they close.  The shift is to lower paying jobs at the Big Box. This is common   knowledge easily researched and verified on the internet. Direct and indirect income subsidies are at times then required by workers under low pay conditions for basic transportation, health and housing aid—burdens thrown onto the local community.  

    Our county job situation is sound.  The 2010 census shows that 85 percent of county workers travel to high-paying jobs in Annapolis, Washington/Baltimore suburbs, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Andrews AFB, Ft. Meade and aviation jobs at BWI Airport, etc.   In August 2012 our unemployment rate was 6.3 percent, well below Maryland (6.9 percent) and national (7.8 percent) numbers.  We have the lowest unemployment rate on the Eastern Shore. 
     Business Queen Anne’s, the real estate proponents of Big Box stores, boast about the $140,000 in taxes that Talbot County collects from Target, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart together in Easton.  That is a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions that QAC collects annually in income tax and property tax from our relatively affluent population.  The taxes from retired people alone who come here for our tranquil setting would dwarf those collected from a Big Box in QAC.  Satisfying that retired group, incidentally, is doubly important from a tax revenue/expenditure viewpoint.  Their kids have finished high school and are long gone.  Yet, retirees still pay property taxes while making no demands on our school budget.   

      It was revealed last month that the county enjoyed a budget surplus of over $7.2 million  in fiscal year 2012 owing to revenues $5.4 million above and expenditures $1.2 million below budget.  A break-even situation had been anticipated.  The county is currently in excellent fiscal shape.  So much for the “fiscal crisis” that fuels Big Box advocate reasoning. 

     Big Box stores do not generate additional sales, real estate or income tax revenue at the county or state level. The relatively fixed amount of money in circulation is simply shifted around.

    Big Box stores concentrate traffic and precipitate traffic lights, additional traffic lanes and gridlock.  Infrastructure costs go up and taxpayers, not the developers, get stuck with the bill.  Our county roads are not designed to handle Big Box stores either on Kent Island or up-county at the intersection of Routes 213 and 544.  Witness the traffic congestion on route Route 2 in Severna Park/Glen Burnie and on 301 in Waldorf/Bowie. 

     Many county citizens with either solid Western Shore management positions or substantial retirement incomes moved here to escape the hustle and bustle of the Western Shore. 

      When they are built, Big Box stores often overpower existing small businesses.  State studies document the negative consequences of Big Box stores in Maryland towns like Cambridge and Reisterstown.  We don't want boarded up store fronts. 
      Given our population, QAC already has a surplus of commercial and retail space.  The former Safeway store in Kent Towne shopping center sat vacant for more than two years after Safeway opened its new site in April 2010.  Heaven only knows what will happen to the ACME building once it closes its door.  A Big Box store will add to the number of shuttered store fronts in QAC.

      A 180,000 sq. ft. Big Box (Safeway on Kent Island is at 65,000) with its vast sales capacity creates its own growth momentum.  The push then is for more population and housing, then more Big Boxes and so on.  Commercial expansion at moderate levels would be a thing of the past.  Once the gates open the leap frog effect will obliterate our rural, small town setting in no time.  Witness the overnight change to Middletown, Delaware.
    People often ask “What makes Queen Anne’s County special?”   One person captured the answer by summarizing that in addition to modest traffic, a great shoreline and beautiful vistas “It’s not what we have that makes the region so special, it’s what we don’t have”.

     Small neighborhood businesses are locally owned  and we know each other- customers get personal attention and better service compared to shopping in large, impersonal Big Box stores.       
     People shop near where they work, less so near where they live and, again, 85% of the QAC labor force works outside the county.  Out-of-county shopping patterns and habits have long been established.  The horse is out of the barn.  That is the reality.
      The Big Box stores in Easton are often cited by proponents of unrestrained growth as a model to replicate.   Since the construction of the shopping center containing Target, however, town leaders are now changing course and maintaining a 65,000 sq. ft. cap.  No plans are afoot for additional Big Boxes  in Talbot County.
       Big Box stores immediately send receipts out of state to home offices. They are not partners in local economies.   In contrast, small local businesses support local banks and industry and re-circulate store earnings in the community

     We in Queen Anne’s county have a responsibility to continue to provide an island of tranquility, varied water and wildlife recreational activities and that intangible Eastern shore “difference” to stressed out visitors from the Western shore who travel only a short distance to get here.  A good part of our economy and culture has evolved to satisfy that experience for both visitors and residents alike.  Support what the Bay, the inlets and land have made available to us for centuries, not jarring and needless change.

     Who would largely profit in the end at a local level from Big Boxes?  A few developers.  Do we really want to give them the power to radically alter our special place?  Vote “against” on Question B.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

On the eve of the 2012 Election

Soon, the commercials will be off the television, and hopefully some of the self-righteousness of those most assured of the rightness of their opinions will dissipate, as well. This has been an election almost singularly focused on jobs, on the economy. Boiled down to its core, this has been an election about money, which seems to be all many care much about these days. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to convey this, how to push back on this notion that the only job of government is to enhance personal wealth, and as I was rereading Mark Kurlansky's great work, 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, I stumbled once again upon one of my favorite passages related to this topic. I hope that you might enjoy this as much as I do, it is perhaps especially relevant as we head to the polls in 2012.   

"We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads. It includes the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children. 

And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. The Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom or our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America, except whether we are proud to be Americans."

Robert F. Kennedy 1968 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Great Talbot Tax Myth

Talbot County, Maryland. "The Hamptons of the Chesapeake Bay." Home to St. Michael's, Oxford, several scenic rivers and creeks, and many waterfront farmsteads that predate the failed British attempt to extinguish the rebellion in her American colonies. And the patriotic cause of 1776 is relevant in this conversation, fought as it was, in part, over the implications surrounding taxation.

To the delight of many of those waterfront farm owners (and God bless them!), Talbot County has the lowest property tax rate in the state. And it's not just that it's lower than every other county, but just how much lower; compared to some counties, the Talbot rate is fully 50% lower or more.

Much has been made recently by some folks in Queen Anne's County about why that Talbot County tax rate is so low. Those people, who represent interest groups singularly dedicated to increasing development in our county, have taken full-page advertisements out in local papers focusing almost entirely on Talbot County's tax rates. Why would a Queen Anne's County-based interest group spend money on an advertisement that talks so much about Talbot County?

It's a good question. Turns out, the developers in Queen Anne's County really want, no, they NEED you to believe that the reason why Talbot County's taxes are so low is because Talbot County has Big Box retail stores. The ad in question, even goes so far as to ask: "Why are Queen Anne's County taxes so high? Because we don't have Walmart, Staples, [etc]." And why on earth do they need you to believe that a few stores are responsible for Talbot County's ridiculously low tax rates? Because they want you to vote on election day to bring Big Box retail to Queen Anne's County.

Seeing this ad got me thinking about why Talbot's tax rates were so low, so I started to dig around. And what did I find? Well, not surprisingly, having a few Big Box establishments is hardly the reason Talbot's taxes are low; here's the real story:

For years and years, Talbot County has been a 'tax capped' county, which means that in no single year can the county raise property taxes more than 2%. But in each of the last three years, Talbot County has in fact raised their taxes to the limit of the tax cap. In 2012, due to the county's inability to meet its Board of Education funding requirements, the County Commissioners even overrode the county's tax cap to levy an additional tax to make up for the school budget shortfall. These tax increases come even as Talbot County has cut $20 million from its county budget over the past five years.

The real reason Talbot's taxes are so low is because Talbot committed itself, years ago, to keeping its government small, no matter how painful that decision might turn out to be. Discovering just what that means in application is important as we attempt to compare Talbot's apples to Queen Anne's oranges.

In Talbot County, citizens can expect a much longer response time from their emergency services (fire, police and EMS) than we can in Queen Anne's County, where emergency response times are very quick for a rural county and a point of pride for Department of Emergency Services leadership. But call for an ambulance in Trappe, and you might find yourself waiting longer than you might like, indeed longer than you can well afford. Talbot County also pays their sheriff deputies some of the lowest salaries in the state, and of course requires each deputy to cover more ground, with less effect, and all for less money. 

Whether it's EMS, fire, or police, Talbot County spends almost half what Queen Anne's County spends to keep their citizens safe. When I sat on the Queen Anne's County Budget Task Force, no one from the public, and I mean no one, ever so much as breathed a word about cutting the budgets for fire, EMS, or police. 

Also in 2012, Talbot County spent 60% less on their county detention facility than Queen Anne's County did; I wonder if the warden of the Queen Anne's County jail in Centreville could afford a 60% reduction in manpower?

Queen Anne's County spends ten million dollars a year more on education than Talbot does, proof positive that more kids in school equals bigger government budgets and higher taxes. But fewer kids isn't the only reason for the lower cost of education, because while Talbot offers new teachers comparatively high salaries, as teachers gain experience and tenure, they find that their salaries do not keep up with other counties across the state. This means that the longer a teacher works in Talbot County, the less he/she will make comparatively over time. 

In 2012, Queen Anne's County had more than twice the budget for roads maintenance as Talbot County, and any of the five Queen Anne's Commissioners would tell you that is still a woefully inadequate sum. In fact, Queen Anne's County has stopped removing roadkill from the side of the roads, so insufficient is our budget.  Sticking with public works, Talbot spent only 25% of the Queen Anne's County budget for solid waste; and yet people have complained to no end that our county transfer stations are not open frequently enough, imagine if they were closed 75% more of the time than they already are! People would wind up dumping their trash on the roads, but there would be no road maintenance to clean it up.

So as you can see, the case for Talbot's low taxes is quite clear, and it has virtually nothing to do with Big Box retail, or even revenue of any kind. As a very well placed contact in Talbot County told me during the research for this piece, "the impact of Big Box retail on Talbot County's budget and taxes is marginal." To imply that Queen Anne's County, by attempting to attract Big Box development, could somehow replicate Talbot County's tax rates is a baldfaced lie. It is a bastardization of the truth that deserves ridicule, because it seeks to misinform the public for the benefit of a few very interested stakeholders.

What the story of Talbot County actually tells us, is that if we want to have the lowest tax rate in the state, we should kick 10,000 people out, and reduce by nearly half the level of all our government services.

The math just doesn't add up; join me in voting NO on Question B in Queen Anne's County.

Notes on sources:
-Even with a tax increase in 2012, Queen Anne's County still has the fifth lowest tax rate of any county in the state of Maryland. You can see data for all counties here.      

-People like to talk about the lack of good paying jobs in Queen Anne's County, but as it turns out, Talbot County pays its county employees less across the board, and often much less, than does Queen Anne's. You can see salary data compiled by MACO here.

-You can see the Talbot County budget here.

-and the Queen Anne's County budget here.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Growth Deconstructed

Sophism - noun - an argument apparently correct in form but actually invalid; especially : such an argument used to deceive

Sophism is today's word of the day. Interestingly enough, the Greek philosopher Plato is responsible for the modern interpretation of the word: Plato viewed these teachers who took cash payments as greedy, using rhetorical sleight-of-hand and ambiguities of language in order to deceive, or to support fallacious reasoning. That comes from Wikipedia, that high bastion of online academic research. Put in plainer terms, sophists are folks who are willing to say whatever comes to mind in support of an argument they really want to win.

In even plainer terms, sophism is a polite way of saying bull!#$@.

One of the key tenants of sophistry, and of modern politics, is that if you repeat something enough times, people will come to believe it. Here in Queen Anne's County, we have a population of interest groups that actively chant 'growth,' at every possible opportunity. These groups will call for more 'growth' whenever any argument comes up: Have a bad case of arthritis? The county needs more growth! Crops didn't fare too well in the drought? The county needs more growth! The roads are crumbling! We need more growth!

The last one should pluck a particularly humorous chord. Who would ever dream of fixing a problem by making it worse?! Balderdash!

But of those three questions, the third one is the one we should take most seriously, because these interest groups do indeed believe that if the roads are crumbling (and they are), the only reasonable solution is to put more cars on them. Keep that in mind as you head to the polls in the coming weeks.

And this argument applies to more than just roads. The development interests in this county want you to believe that crowded schools just need more students; an over-extended law enforcement agency simply needs more territory to cover. A polluted river just needs more pressure from lawn fertilizer and stormwater runoff.

Perhaps all of this seems overly-simplistic, to be so breezily dismissive of an argument that is made so earnestly by people with enough money and enough skin in the game to buy ads promoting growth as a cure-all for anything and everything that ails the county and her citizens.

The simple fact of the matter is that continuing to repeat that growth, and any kind of growth, is good for the county, is sophistry in its purest form. The success of their argument, in getting you to vote the way they want you to vote, hinges on your believing several things.

1. That the county isn't growing. This is simply false. Since 1980, the population of Queen Anne's County has essentially doubled. The size of the county budget is (despite recent exceptions) on a very upward trend. County revenue is growing. Our emergency services capacity is growing, our schools are growing. In short, look around you. Anyone who has been here any length of time can see very clearly that the County is not stagnating, and is certainly not shrinking. But it is essential that developers make you believe (against all obvious evidence) that the County isn't growing.

2. That growth pays for itself. Every day you wake up in Queen Anne's County, you are participating in a longitudinal study that is virtually proving that growth doesn't pay for itself! That is why the county had to raise taxes in fiscal 2012. The population we have now is insufficient to pay for the services that population currently demands; the idea that more population would somehow nudge us over the tipping point, and somehow create a revenue utopia where each additional person pays taxes but demands no services is ridiculous. Let me say that again, for emphasis: it's ridiculous. Suggesting that we need more growth to pay for the growth we already have, but that the new growth won't have costs of its own is suggesting that we are hamsters on a wheel; hamsters that better never stop running.

3. That somehow more growth in the past would have insulated us from The Great Recession. This is perhaps most frustrating, because there are countless examples of how untrue this statement really is. All around Queen Anne's County, particularly to the west of us, are counties that are chock-full of office complexes, retail strip malls and redundant Big Box establishments. Every single one of those counties felt the impact of The Great Recession as did Queen Anne's County, and most felt it even more acutely. Most of them had deeper unemployment and larger budget deficits than ever faced Queen Anne's County, and have been much slower to recover than Queen Anne's, a process which of course is still ongoing.What's more is that no other economic sector has recovered more quickly, and more robustly, than the rural economy. Agriculture is leading the way towards a national economic recovery, and it just happens to be the county's number one industry. 

4. The future health of the county depends on growth. It is likely that making every possible concession to developers would increase the county budget; you will get no debate from this writer on that point. But with every increase in revenue comes a required increase in expenditures that will often outstrip the revenue, leaving you in the same type of mess you are in now, only deeper. The current population (both commerical and residential) of Queen Anne's County requires a budget of X dollars. The added population will require a budget of X + dollars, but won't contribute all the + necessary to even the ledger; and alas, the pressure for more growth will continue apace, using the same tired arguments.

What the future demands is to find sustainability in budgets, from both a revenue and expenditure standpoint. If we predetermine that any growth is good growth, we will certainly assure that future county budgets will expand at a clip far beyond revenues ability to keep up. If we continue to peg our budgets to assuming that housing values will always increase, and retail sales receipts will always get bigger, then we are doomed to repeat not only the mistakes of the past, but the mistakes we are making even as I write this.


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Big Box Inconvenience

The following Letter to the Editor was published in the Queen Anne's Spy:

In Mureen Waterman’s Letter to the Editor of October 11 (What “Little Guys” are Protected by QAC Big Box Referendum?) the title question is embarrassingly simple: all of them. Here in Centreville, we’ve got a small menswear shop, a local pharmacy, an appliance dealership, a picture framing studio, an eyewear store, a hardware store, and a lumber company. Does Mr. Watermen really think that these businesses, all of which likely exist on the slimmest of profit margins already, would not be impacted in any way by the building of a Big Box store in Queen Anne’s County?

Mr. Waterman also regrettably uses the examples of Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Safeway as the national chains that would be most susceptible to the influence of a Big Box neighbor. What he forgets, or blissfully ignores, is that those very stores are the ones who already helped to wipe small local grocers, pharmacies, and general stores from the Kent Island landscape. The establishment of a Big Box store would help to finish the job in Queen Anne’s County, threatening the very existence of our local plant nurseries, bicycle shops, lumber yards, hardware stores and countless other small businesses across the county. The people who own these businesses keep their dollars local, send their kids to county schools, involve themselves in the local political process and do not deserve to have their risk rewarded with Mr. Waterman’s idea of “growth.”

To define the very future well-being of our community on opening the county to Big Box businesses and to imply that somehow, the presence of these stores would have insulated Queen Anne’s County from the recession is absurd. The recession has been national in scope, and has hit those counties with Big Box development even harder than it hit counties like ours, as Americans drastically changed their spending habits. What’s more, these very stores that Mr. Waterman hopes to attract to our county are largely responsible for the outsourcing of millions of American manufacturing jobs, jobs that pay, or paid, much better than anything that can be found under the bright lights of a Big Box store.

Let’s not confuse building Big Box stores with the economic growth Queen Anne’s County needs. I encourage all voters to vote NO on Question B, and keep Queen Anne’s County small business friendly for the future.

Steven Kline
Queen Anne’s County

You can see Mr. Waterman's original letter to the editor here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Best Reason to Vote NO on APFO

Campaign consulting, the kind that tells candidates to get a different haircut, or work certain buzzwords into their debate responses, is a booming business. Candidates and interests groups alike pay thousands, sometimes millions, for so-called seasoned campaign hands to give them the recipe for surefire success. Much of a campaign’s success can be attributed to finding that perfect can’t-miss message; most campaigns end without ever finding it.

In last week’s copy of The Shore Update, cleverly disguised as an ad for two pro-development amendments, was the best argument against making changes to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that a campaign could ever hope for.    

Changing the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) means that developers, like those who write the checks for advertisements in The Update, can crowd the county’s schools with new students and the county’s roads with more cars, and then pass the higher tax burden on to you, the taxpayer. The changes that are being sought to the APFO on the November ballot give developers a free pass, and help them avoid paying their fair share for their impacts on the county. Written another way, changes to the APFO are little more than a subsidy for sprawl that comes at your expense.  

We are fortunate here in Queen Anne’s County to have very good schools. We consistently score great marks on a variety of metrics, and our teacher’s deserve our appreciation. Not only do they do a fantastic job in the classroom, but they also do it economically; county schools spend less per pupil than many jurisdictions in the state, and get a much better end result. The schools are a good investment, both from the standpoint of the student and the taxpayers. 

But what happens when class sizes swell and teachers are asked to do even more with even less? Well, as it turns out, the Business Queen Anne’s advertisement in The Shore Update has an important lesson for us, as we head to the polls in just a few weeks.

The advertisement, which is only half a page of text, has seven, yes, SEVEN, grammatical errors. Out of a mere 18 lines of text, all of which are printed in large, 20+ point font, five have at least one grammatical error of some sort or another. There are errors of possession, plural and punctuation (it is an alliterative adventure in miswritten English!). We’ve got random capitalization, missing punctuation, wrong punctuation, and even some confusion about to and too thrown in just for good measure. It’s enough to make an English teacher blush!

So ignore the photo on the top of the page, which might be the most soul-dead image of the inside of a retail establishment that one could hope to find. Ignore the ridiculously laughable assertion that not having Big Box keeps our taxes high. Finally, ignore the asinine implication that not having Big Box development somehow keeps everyone commuting to work (will your commute change if we get a Walmart?). All of that is just so much sophistry. 

Focus instead on what the future will look like if we let our schools get over-crowded; the proof is staring us all right in the face, right there on the bottom half of page three.  

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Sign of the Times

Roadside political signs. We've all seen them, and we've all ignored them. I am not sure where they got their inglorious start, but it must have been a time when cars drove slower, or our collective high speed visual acuity was better, because they are perhaps the lowest grade interaction in what is decidedly a low-grade affair: campaigning.

Very few politicians enjoy campaigning. It is dismal work dodging yap-happy cockapoos while knocking on the doors of cranky strangers; pressing the flesh with party activists who have an altogether uncomfortable level of commitment to the cause; and making the heavy-handed pitch for monetary contributions. And on the flip side of this filthy penny, I don't know anyone who enjoys getting dinner time phone calls from robotic facsimiles of hopeful politicians or a daily stack of fundraising appeals in the mail. It really is the perfect combination of dreadful: people who don't want to do something to people who don't want it done to them. As I re-read what I just wrote, campaigning begins to sound more like some kind of dual action intellectual rape than it does a sensible way to choose our leaders.

Political signs are the hands-off and less-imposing low hanging fruit of the campaign world. In fact some highway-proximate landowners seem so indifferent to political signs that they will allow candidates from decidedly different political persuasions to erect signs on their property. There is no political statement that illustrates voter apathy better than a shoulder adorned with Romney, Obama, Cardin, Bongino, and Harris signs at regular intervals. The signs run together in the same way all politicians have managed to run together in the American psyche.

As a former (successful) campaign manager, I know many of the challenges associated with road signs (as opposed to yard signs); from finding suitable locations, to making sure the text is visible from a speeding automobile, to putting the signs back up after foul weather. I also know just how limited an impact even the most well-placed and numerous road signs can have on the ultimate outcome of an election.

But I have recently driven by a few signs for Dan Bongino's United States Senate campaign here in Maryland. Bongino, who I do not know personally, has been running for the Senate for what seems like an eternity. He has never held elected office of any kind, and as such, is suffering from something that doesn't take a campaign consultant to diagnose: lack of name recognition. So in what seems to be a transparent ploy, the Bongino campaign has taken to nailing placards on the side of Bongino road signs that simply say "Jobs Not Taxes."

This tagline represents all that is wrong with politics and government in this day and age. I cannot express how angry those three words make me, how much I'd like to berate the person(s) who think that its a good idea to dumb down a campaign with a slogan that makes no sense even in the abstract, who thinks it is appropriate to attempt to communicate with voters (at high speeds) with a throwaway phrase that insults their very intelligence. Mr. Bongino may have good ideas, might even have a compelling message, but when his campaign makes the strategic decision to forgo meaningful discussion in favor of something as basely moronic as "Jobs Not Taxes" then I am not much interested in hearing the rest of Mr. Bongino's message.

And it appears as though I am not alone. Mr. Bongino may be the only major party nominee for a US Senate race in the country to finish third in his race, behind both the Democrat Ben Cardin and the Independent Rob Sobhani. This despite a years-long campaign that has failed to raise enough money for a meaningful presence on television, and a candidate that is still fighting for "name recognition." With a month to go, the time for building name recognition is well passed. What might be even more insulting to Mr. Bongino is that his opponent, the incumbent Senator Ben Cardin, is now referring to the Independent, Rob Sobhani, as his opponent, apparently comfortable simply ignoring the Republican nominee.
 The issues of taxes (i.e. government revenues) and economic recovery are complex issues, intertwined with one another in a way that even the most qualified economic and tax policy experts can not and do not fully understand. Jobs Not Taxes indicates that Mr. Bongino is not interested in the hard and detailed work of actual governing (something he has not done, at any level), but rather in trying to (unsuccessfully) elicit a Pavlovian response in Maryland's voters by telling them what he thinks they want to hear, even if it is so simple-minded as to have the opposite affect.  

Monday, October 01, 2012

Costly Inaction

As the days get shorter, hunters and anglers across the Delmarva Peninsula get ready for fall hunting and fishing seasons. The tug of a trophy striper off Bloody Point or a flock of Canada geese setting down into a decoy spread will get the blood of Eastern Shore sportsmen and women pumping faster, and the anticipation for a productive autumn afield is building across the region. 

Hunting and fishing aren’t just hobbies on the Eastern Shore, they represent a way of life that has helped to define what it means to ‘cross the bridge,’ both literally and figuratively. Outdoor recreation is a huge economic driver for Delmarva. A duck hunter who launches his boat at Kent Narrows pays the county to use the facilities, fuels his boat up at the local gas station, gets the ethanol build-up knocked off his outboard at the small engine repair shop, and of course buys a hunting license that funds important conservation work all across the region. He buys ice and lunch at the corner deli, and when the day is done relaxes with friends at the local watering hole. 

Taken in total, Delmarva hunters and anglers contribute more than $1.5 billion dollars to the economy annually, and support thousands of jobs. Yet in the discussion of creating jobs, or even protecting the ones we already have, outdoor recreation is unfortunately often missing from the conversation.  

How can policy makers at all levels ensure that the future of hunting and fishing is bright? One great step in the right direction would be to restore the water quality of the Chesapeake and her creeks, rivers, and wetlands by continuing to move forward on the development and execution of the Watershed Implementation Plans. These plans, often referred to as a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay, set necessary goals for reducing harmful runoff into the Chesapeake watershed. They present the clearest way forward in a generation of Bay efforts.  

Elected officials and interest groups have found it easy to bemoan the cost of the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet. Restoring the Bay has costs. But the costs of inaction are more severe than anyone anticipates. As water quality continues to degrade, the impact on commercial and recreational fisheries, hunting, boating, and other forms of economically important outdoor pursuits will be substantial. When we talk about cleaning up the Chesapeake and restoring water quality, it isn’t just conservation for conservation’s sake. But an integral part of the Eastern Shore’s economic well-being.