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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

As you could have guessed, posting isn't going to be happening over the holiday. It'll likely resume sometime around New Year's. I wish you all a happy and joyous holiday, and for God's sake, don't waste as much energy as the guy who owns this house:

originally uploaded by Kung Fu Reference.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Travel Day

No posting today, but I thought these links were interesting:
  • The bill is coming due on global warming in Maryland:
  • Allstate Corp., one of Maryland's largest insurers, will stop writing homeowners' policies in coastal areas of the state, citing warnings by scientists that a warmer Atlantic Ocean will lead to more strong hurricanes hitting the Northeast.

    The company will no longer offer new property insurance beginning in February in all or part of 11 counties mostly along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Existing customers won't be affected; a spokeswoman said Allstate intends to renew those policies even in coastal areas. It will continue to write new policies in Baltimore and Baltimore County.


    Allstate's change in Maryland is broader than a move by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. two years ago to cap new business in coastal areas and not to write new business in two ZIP codes near Ocean City. Allstate's move will affect residents in Calvert, Dorchester, Somerset, St. Mary's, Talbot, Wicomico and Worcester counties and parts of Anne Arundel, Charles, Prince George's and Queen Anne's.
  • It looks like the long-delayed Inter-County Connector will be delayed yet again:
    Four environmental groups and a Montgomery County couple filed lawsuits yesterday arguing that federal transportation officials approved the intercounty connector project before adequately studying the highway's effects on wildlife and public health.

    The two federal lawsuits -- one filed in the District and the other in Maryland -- also allege that the federal environmental review did not meet legal requirements to consider other east-west transportation options. Building mass transit and improving local roads, among other measures, would cost less, do less environmental damage and combat traffic better than an 18-mile road cutting across Montgomery and Prince George's counties, the complaints say.

  • This seems awfully weird, and a little Machiavellian, even:
    Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley gave his longtime political nemesis an early Christmas gift yesterday when he single-handedly pushed to raise State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's annual salary by nearly $83,000 - instantly making her the city's highest-paid employee.

    But the raise - which will boost Jessamy's base salary from $142,055 to $225,000 - might have been more backhanded than benevolent, the latest and perhaps most bizarre twist in a years-long struggle between two of the city's most powerful personalities.

    At the Board of Estimates meeting, O'Malley justified the nearly 60 percent raise - significantly higher than the 6.5 percent increase recommended by his finance department - by saying Jessamy has "a very, very tough job. This jurisdiction has the biggest challenge of any in our state."

    He later tipped his hand, ever so slightly, to what might have been the real motivation behind the unexpected move: encouraging others to run against her.

    "I don't think we've had a competitive race for this very important job since 1983," O'Malley said before the board voted to approve the raise. "Shouldn't that tell us something about how difficult this job is?"
What have you found on the Internets today?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Liberal is Born

Let me congratulate my friends Chris and Kate Charuhas of Frederick on the birth of their first child, Peter William. They are great people, and I wish them the best.


The Limits of Fair Share

Thomas Nephew raises an important point about the erstwhile Fair Share Health Care law: Just as current federal law on employee benefits (known as ERISA) proved to be Fair Share's undoing in court, so may any attempt to enact universal health care through the states be in jeopardy:
Butler's brief leaves me with the feeling that just about any health care reform law can founder on the shoals of a vague federal ERISA preemption provision, shifting legal interpretations, and individual judicial temperaments... If a clear, fair choice to "pay or play" like Fair Share can be preempted by ERISA, so can any number of other laws.
This is a good point, but it's perhaps reaching to say Massachusetts' or Vermont's health care laws would run the risk of being preempted by ERISA. As I understand the Massachusetts plan, anyway, there's no connection between one's employer and one's health insurance, which was the fatal flaw of Fair Share. Since any health care reform worth its salt, in my opinion, should discard the employer-based health care system (This old column from the American Prospect explains why), I think ERISA won't be a huge impediment to reform in the states.

While we're on the subject, I think Sen. Ron Wyden's proposal for universal health care has a lot of merits to it (Ezra Klein lays out the details). It would do a lot to make health care in America more accessible without radically disrupting the market for health insurance. If it passes, it would pretty much obviate the need for state-by-state reform.


That Filthy Five! They Did Nothing to Challenge or Resist

To add in my two cents on the death penalty debate (background here, with comments from Stephanie, Bruce, and Andy):

It's easy to think of people who probably deserve the death penalty -- John Allen Mohammed, Slobodan Milosevic, Timothy McVeigh, etc. -- but when it comes to the marginal cases (say, people who might have committed a crime, but the evidence was sloppily presented, or the defense counsel was asleep at the wheel, or the governor doesn't believe in mercy) it becomes a lot more difficult to say that justice is being done well, or even adequately. That is, we should ask ourselves, Are there enough safeguards in the criminal justice system to put all the really bad guys on the chopping block, while keeping those whose guilt isn't indisputable away? The evidence suggests that there isn't, not if you want to execute enough people to have the death penalty function as a deterrant -- a dubious proposition in itself, as Andy notes.

That said, while I'm against the death penalty for a variety of reasons (for one, I don't believe a democratic state should be in the business of revenge), I have a hard time believing the alternative -- life without parole -- is more humane. As I've noted before, prison brutalizes ordinary people and makes already brutal people worse. This might not be so objectionable but for the fact that prison is supposed to have some kind of rehabilitative component to it. It's one thing to just lock away the truly bad people who are beyond all hope, but the barriers between them and the people we nominally want to help aren't very strong.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Meet the New Bosses

So the Republicans in the Maryland Senate have chosen David Brinkley of Frederick County, where I grew up, as minority leader. As I recall, Brinkley is a conservative, but not a wingnut, so he'll probably be able to have some influence on the Democratic majority, particularly with the more conservative Democrats. In the House of Delegates, on the other hand, the GOP has gone with Anthony O'Donnell, who you might remember from the many articles in the Sun, Gazette, et al, in which he could always counted on for fire-breathing right-wing rhetoric. Of course, as Democrats well know, when you're in the minority, not playing along with the majority has its benefits too.

Answering Your Economics-of-Prostitution Questions

Concerning a "sex tax" for prostitutes in Germany, Bruce asks:
Does the imposition of a monthly levy, rather than a surcharge to the value added tax, distort the market for prostitution in inefficient ways? Does it discourage the marginal producer, allowing the more famous madams in the spirit of Lulu White to reap the benefit of reduced competition and charge oligopolistic rent? What about non-compliance and evasion; is the infamously picky German customer equally picky about paperwork in this area, and will heavy-handed German bureaucrats inflict their obsessive-compulsive Kantian ethic of the categorical imperative to prosecute the non-compliant? How would Borat's sister - the 4th most famous prostitute in Kazakhstan - adjust to these market conditions?
I'm not that familiar with VATs, which are more common in Europe than the U.S., but this "sex tax" appears to be a kind of professional license fee, which is found in lots of jobs, from lawyer to hot dog stand vendor. A license to whore, if you will. It's true that licenses, and license fees, can be a barrier to entry into a given market; Milton Friedman, for one, argued that the American Medical Association uses licensure to deliberately restrict the supply of doctors (which has a fair amount of truth to it). On the other hand, you do want your doctor or lawyer to be well-qualified, just as you want the guy who sells hot dogs to do so in a sanitary fashion, and (I imagine) you want your hooker to know what she's doing. How you would determine such a thing, I have no idea.

This blog post has been brought to you by economics: making the taboo banal since 1776.

UPDATE: For a more sober perspective on legalized prostitution, this CSM article is informative.

Delaying the Inevitable

It looks like the consensus coming out of the meeting between Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly leadership is to kick down the road for a while the whole matter of raising taxes:
O'Malley said revenues and surplus funds from previous years are sufficient to make meeting the state's balanced budget requirement possible this year without changes to the tax code. But he added that the long-term picture is worse, with billions in projected deficits later in his term. At the same time, a state law requiring more public school spending is entering its final stages, and health care costs continue to balloon.

"We've got to make a lot of tough choices," he said.

The restructuring could include increasing the state's current 5 percent sales tax rate; expanding the sales tax to cover services; making the income tax more progressive so that higher-income Marylanders pay higher rates; and increasing the gas tax to pay for more roads and mass transit. Slot machine gambling is also sure to be discussed.
While the Sun and the Gazette both portray the meeting as refreshingly cooperative after four years of Bob Ehrlich, I think there's much more disagreement than is being let on. We're told that Maryland's tax code is long overdue for reform, but the last time one was proposed -- the so-called Linowes plan of 1990 -- it went nowhere. And we had Democrats in both the State House and the Governor's mansion then, just as we do now, with many of the same players (e.g., Mike Miller). Contrary to some Republican caricatures, many Democrats are loathe to raise taxes, particularly if it's done badly -- like, say, an increase in sales but not income taxes. Add to that the permanent fixture of many prominent Democrats in Annapolis, and O'Malley may be right in wanting time to build up political will for reform.

UPDATE: The League's thoughts on the subject are apropos.

The Teacher is Survival, But Soon the Present Will Be the Past

The semester's over (finally), so posting may or may not become more regular...

Monday, December 18, 2006

No Posts Today (Again)

Statistics exam, the last thing I have to do this semester. Perhaps in the spirit of Time Magazine's Person of the Year award, everyone will get an A!

Bruce, BTW, has an excellent rant on the subject:
How has citizen opinion journalism and commentary overtaken print media? It's not because "we" are "the most important people." We are not. The dead tree edition is simply inefficient. Readers enjoy the back-and-forth of commentary and linking of supporting material. It's not so much a "publication" as an ad hoc graduate seminar with everybody having half of the library in their backpack. Consider your own college education: what impressed you more, the discussions in your 300 and 400 level classes or the wit and wisdom of the school newspaper that might, or might not, print a letter to the editor? If anything, blogging has taken the some of the self-importance and smugness out of opinion journalism. A number of bloggers have daily readerships well in excess of the subscription bases of many print opinion magazines. But it's not about us being important or the "person of the year" for 2006. It's about economics and accountability.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hard Time

It's been a while since I blogged about the prison system in Maryland. Evidently, things are not looking up:

The Maryland prison system is so dangerous that even inmates placed in protective custody are frequently the victims of assaults and threats on their lives, a top prison official testified in court yesterday.

In a highly unusual acknowledgement of dysfunction in the state's prisons, the administrator in charge of security operations said vulnerable inmates -- especially jailhouse informants -- are routinely attacked even after officials move them to special cells for their protection.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we've got everything under control," said James V. Peguese, assistant commissioner for the Division of Corrections. "Unfortunately, people die in prison so we don't have a perfect record."

This reminds me of a point Brad Plumer made recently: Part of the reason prisons in America are so dangerous is that prisoners are implicitly expected to be abusive to one another behind bars. Not that anyone really cares what happens to prisoners, even the non-violent offenders; but given that prison tends to make people more likely, not less, to commit crimes in the future, you would think there would be more concern about this situation.


Friday, December 15, 2006

The Kobayashi Maru of Exams

So the microeconomics exam turned out to be a no-win situation; everyone, even the people with bachelor's degrees in economics, did badly. And that was by design.


Thursday, December 14, 2006


Microeconomics final today, so no posts. Go amuse yourselves.

I'll give you a head start:

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Time to Get Ill

This makes me feel so much better:

Maryland is one of the lowest-ranked states in the country in terms of preparedness for health emergencies such as bioterrorism or pandemic flu, but Virginia is among the 14 best-prepared states, according to a report issued by a health advocacy group yesterday.


Matthew Minson, a senior official in the Maryland Health Department, said he did not want to comment on the report's findings without more access to the data it used. But, he said, Maryland has made "substantial improvement" on preparing for health disasters. He also said he was "pleased" with confidential evaluations that Maryland had received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


The report found that half of all states -- including Maryland and Virginia -- would run out of hospital beds within two weeks of a moderately severe pandemic flu outbreak. The District is in better shape: About two-thirds of its hospital beds would be filled in that period, according to the study.


Three years ago, Maryland was ranked among the best prepared states by the Trust for America's Health, which at that time focused more on readiness to confront a bioterrorism attack. Maryland got a lower score this time, in part because of its vaccination rates and nursing shortage.
That last part is especially troubling, not just with respect to health emergencies, but also because of the aging population, both in Maryland and nationwide. This UMD-Baltimore study found that the state has a shortage of about 3,000 nurses, and that was in 2003, when Maryland was supposedly more prepared. Between caring for the elderly and dealing with potential epidemics or bioterrorist attacks, health care workers will be under severe strain.

In spite of this, there doesn't seem to be much effort to bring more people into the nursing workforce, or even retain them. As the study noted, nursing education programs in Maryland haven't expanded to admit more students, real wages for nurses have been stagnant for at least 10 years, and many nurses have quit due to poor working conditions. Given that nursing, along with teaching, will be one of the few skilled professions that's also in high demand in the coming years (see this Demos report (PDF) for more details), making nursing a more attractive line of work will be necessary both for the sake of public health and for preserving a strong middle class in Maryland.

Sustainability and Distribution

John McGrath of Gristmill namechecks Herman Daly, a professor at the Maryland School of Public Policy and one of the founders of the field of ecological economics (I may even take a class with him next semester). EE, of course, posits that a sustainable economy must ultimately achieve a "steady state," limiting both population growth and industrial output. McGrath connects this idea with the current problems of inequality in the world:
It is frequently said that developing countries will never accept sustainable development if it means prolonging their poverty. What this independent audit of the World Bank's policies show, however, is that growth itself is not a panacea for poverty. Similarly, academic research now suggests most of China's anti-poverty progress occurred not in the 1990s but in the early 1980s, well before the rapid growth in China's recent past.

International development policies have fetishized growth while ignoring inequality and sold it to the developing world largely on the promise that growth would lead to less poverty. This promise has turned out to be a lie. If you don't deal directly with inequality, it doesn't get better. Indeed, multiple examples (China, Russia, even the U.S. today) show it gets worse.

In a world where renewables are rapidly becoming competitive with fossil fuels, it may become possible to sell the global poor on sustainable development. But if we want to build a solid consensus, we also need to directly and meaningfully address the poverty of individuals, not just the poverty of nations.
Ecological economics is to be distinguished from environmental economics, which addresses environmental problems but stays within the neoclassical paradigm, which ecological economics sees as inadequate. Mark Montgomery of the AEI-funded American magazine has more on the difference.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


The Maryland Court of Appeals finally explained its reasoning behind striking down the early voting law in August. As you could have guessed, the court said the state constitution strictly limits voting to one day, not many. Hopefully, this will result in a constitutional amendment to permit the practice.


Roll With It

This leans more toward the John Waters version of Baltimore than the Wire's, but it's still kind of fascinating:

WYPR profiled the group a while back; go check it out!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

Pretty much eveyone, including the Washington Post, was cheering the departure this past week of Sen. James Inhofe, who in keeping with the Republican tradition of putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse, was a climate change denier in charge of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. At least we have Maryland's own David Wissing to sing his praises:
That's right, the same media organs that are breathlessly reporting about the threat of "global warming" were, thirty years ago, talking about the coming "ice age". This is a reason it is hard for me to take a lot of what I hear in the media about "global warming" seriously. This doesn't even take into the account the rank hypocrisy you get from those politicians that scream about global warming in speeches, but do absolutely nothing about it in their private life. Whether it is Al Gore taking private jets around the world, or John Kerry's numerous SUVs (oh wait, those are his family's SUVs, not his ... my apologies), or Ted Kennedy refusing to allow a wind farm near his compound ... and on and on. Never mind the fact that Global Warming hero Al Gore was Vice President for eight years (two of which he had a Democratic Congress) and despite this being the "most important issue in the world", he did not do damn thing about it. To people like Gore, Kerry and Kennedy, it is all political rhetoric more than anything....
Oh, David, can't you even come up with an original line of phony argument and crocodile tears? Yes, some in the popular press in the 1970s predicted global cooling, but the scientific consensus for that was nowhere near what it is with respect to global warming now. Indeed, as the links above indicate, the popular press has, if anything, been too deferential toward the self-appointed "skeptics" of global warming, most of whom have little or no scientific training.

And while Ted Kennedy should justly be criticized for opposing a wind farm near his property, Al Gore at least takes the trouble to buy carbon offsets for his travels, which is only one of the many things Gore is now doing to combat global warming, from starting an environmentally-friendly investment firm to switching to green power options for his home (David Roberts has more). Also, Gore, along with President Clinton, did try to do something about climate change in the 1990s: it was called the Kyoto Protocols, and regrettably was opposed by the Republican Senate and the Democratic minority.

At least, however, they tried. By contrast, President Bush and the Republican Congress have been in a continual state of denial, even while so many others, from British Petroleum to the insurance industry, have come to acknowledge that global warming poses grave problems for the future of mankind. This kind of willful denial of facts would be laughable, if it weren't so dangerous. Roberts' post above has an appropriate rejoinder to the likes of Wissing (emphasis added):
Nobody is perfect on climate issues. Why? Because our political and cultural system makes it extraordinarily difficult. That's the issue: changing the system to make it easier to act in environmentally benign ways, and harder not to.


As I've argued again and again and again and again and again and again, the lifestyle choices of any given individual are beside the point. Those who try and fail to be righteous are better than those who are unapologetically wicked. Those who speak the truth and fail to fully live by it are better than those who speak lies. Those who advocate societal changes and fail to make individual changes are better than those who do the reverse, and better twice over than those who seek no change at all.

We need to change our laws, regulations, tax codes, and business practices. We need to change our minds about what is and isn't acceptable in a 21st century society.
Meanwhile, Blog Arundel points us to a Chesapeake Quarterly report on the effects of climate change on the Bay.


Friday, December 08, 2006

The Return of Friday Flickr Find

On the road this weekend, so this seemed appropriate:

"Northern Maryland" originally uploaded by Bruno4ever.


Gregory Kane is Making Sense

I admit that Johns Hopkins' decision to suspend the student behind the "Halloween in the Hood" fiasco (background here) offended the libertarian side of me -- Bruce Godfrey makes some good comments in that vein -- but I think Gregory Kane, who I don't ordinarily agree with, gets to the heart of the matter:

Free speech, free speech, free speech. Let's slow down for a brief reality check: Park's case isn't like "Red Emma" Goldman being imprisoned for advocating anarchy in the late 1890s, or socialist Eugene Debs being sent to a federal pen for speaking out against World War I.

This is about a college kid who watched a black comedian's television show and then figured he'd try to be as funny as the comedian. But Chappelle brings certain cultural credentials to his humor about black folks. Chappelle grew up in "the hood." Whatever else has been said about Park -- and much is said about him on -- no one's claiming he grew up in the hood.

In short, as we say in the hood: Humor about black folks is an A and B matter Justin Park needed to C his way out of.


The issue at Hopkins isn't free speech; it's whether people are willing to take the heat for the free speech choices they made.

Hopkins officials might have let Park off easy. If I had my druthers, he'd still be in school.

But he'd be doing his comedy routine about black folks in front of an audience comprised of a few Bloods, a few Crips and a whole mess of ticked-off Black Muslims.


One Veteran's Voice

Through the magic of the Internets, I learned that Brian Van Reet, an old friend of mine from high school I had lost all contact with, served for a year in Iraq, or as he puts it, "a year long government sponsored work/study program in the middle east where I learned how not to wage a counterinsurgency." He gives a bracing account of his experience there at the website for IAVA.

He also has a blog, One Veteran's Voice, where he writes under the name One Veteran. As you might expect of a veteran, especially of the current war, he does not mince words, whether it's about George W. Bush, domestic surveillance, or John Kerry's comedic skills. You have been warned.


Delayed Correction

It wasn't the NIST that failed to recommend paper trails, it was an advisory group for the Federal Election Assistance Commission. In any event, at least the NIST's report has brought Senate President Mike Miller around on the need to fix our electronic voting machines. Sometimes Miller can be a stick in the mud when it comes to reform, but it's good to finally see him on the right side.

Also, D.C. will have to wait until next year, at least, to have voting rights legislation considered. Why? Well, in addition to being corrupt and extremist, the outgoing Republican Congress is lazy:
Utah will not get an additional House seat by the end of this year. The House Republican Leadership decided it would not take up the bill that would have created it before Congress adjourns for the year at week's end.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


In voting news...

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has failed to recommend paper trails for electronic voting machines. In the wake of the Florida undervote scandal, you would there would be more support for preserving the legitimacy of our elections in any way possible.

Also, Washington, D.C. inches closer to getting some actual representation in the House of Representatives. Good news, but is the District ever going to get any Senate representation?


Bob Ehrlich, Sex Offender?

OK, even I think this is dumb. Funny, but dumb.


Free State Ethanol

The link is a week old, but I wanted to note this Sun article on a proposed ethanol plant to be built in either Baltimore or the Eastern Shore:
The surge of interest in the once-marginal fuel is driven by a desire for freedom from Middle Eastern oil and billions of dollars in federal subsidies. Increased demand for ethanol is boosting income for corn farmers and could reduce global warming pollution - but it might also translate into higher food prices for consumers, because more expensive corn means higher feeding costs for cows and pigs.


Three gas stations in Maryland are among the few nationally that sell nearly pure ethanol - called E85, for 85 percent ethanol. But only 2.5 percent of the vehicles in the United States can run on this concentrated form without damaging their engines.

The rush to build corn ethanol plants in Maryland is a microcosm of the trend nationally, where about 50 ethanol plants are under construction and 107 more are operating. As a result, the price of corn futures - which reflects expectations of future markets - has soared 50 percent since September, from $2.40 per bushel to $3.60 this month, Silver said.


Rice said producing ethanol becomes more profitable as oil prices rise. "A few months ago, it was a lot easier to get financing for ethanol plants because gasoline prices were higher and a lot of this market hinges on gasoline prices," said Rice. "If we all of a sudden get a plummeting of gas prices, you might see a lot of these financiers pulling the plug."
Of course, ethanol, like any fuel, is no silver bullet, but it does have the potential to boost the economy, especially in rural areas like the Eastern Shore. And it will take some time before an ethanol industry can function well without subsidies -- indeed, instead of Exxon and Shell, we may well have ADM and Cargill as our future energy giants, which is not an appealing prospect for those of us concerned about undue corporate influence on our government.

If you want to learn more about biofuels of all kinds, from ethanol to biodiesel, I highly recommend this series by the environmental magazine Grist, which provides, I think, a balanced look at the topic.

UPDATE: Speaking of corn, it appears climate change may well wreak havoc on any plan to farm our way out of the energy crisis.


Getting the Memo

Part of the reason why I haven't been posting much lately is my Political Analysis class, which is requiring me to produce two policy memos in two weeks, with the second due Thursday. To get an idea of what I'm doing, check out academic blogger Mark Kleiman's description:
These exercises are intended to be simulacra of real-world work assignments: in particular, memos from staff analysts to decision-makers who are generally above them in the organizational pecking order. That makes them very different from exams.

Your goal in an exam is to show that you know the material, and can use the relevant technical vocabulary properly to give precise answers. Your goal in a memo is to help the recipient figure out what to do.

Kleiman, incidentally, is a visiting professor at Maryland this year. Sadly, I didn't know he was teaching here until long after the semester had begun.


Blogs Fall Apart

Mike Raia is going offline. Too bad; he's done good work. I wish him good luck in the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, Bruce Godfrey says he'll be scaling back blogging for a while -- and then proceeds to post six times in a day. Like smoking, blogging is really hard to quit.

While I'm doing meta-commentary, I believe, with Matt Stoller, that local bloggers will be key to building a progressive infrastructure, but we need to make blogging more than just a part-time profession; after all, the best bloggers out there do it full-time. And as Mike probably knows, even grad students can't devote enough time to blogging to make it ultimately worthwhile.

One day I hope Maryland has something like Blue Jersey, a great progressive blog on local issues in Jersey, with lots of resources. Something like Free State Politics, only bigger. In the meantime, the local progressive organizations could do worse than to add blogs to their website. I think I would visit Progressive Maryland or the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's sites more often if they had a continual stream of new content.

Tough Choices and Truth in Budgets

Martin O'Malley says "tough choices" will have to be made with the budget next year, but declines to elaborate. Whether that means he'll be giving up on some of his spending plans or try to enact new taxes, such as slot machines, is unclear.

This is probably as good a time as any to mention the Progressive States Network's big report on policies for state legislatures. There's a lot of good stuff there, especially on smart growth, balancing work and family, and election reform. The section on tax and budget policy is germane here:

A prime strategy should be promoting truth in budget reforms that track what the tax burden is for different income groups, the extent of corporate loopholes and other tax giveaways, and which companies receive state economic development money and government contracts. Such reforms give the public the tools for a more robust understanding of what really goes on with state money. And once special deals for corporate interests are exposed, it becomes easier to enact reforms that save taxpayers money and frees up resources for other needed state programs.

While Maryland likely won't see a TABOR initiative any time soon, we ought to have more accessible information on taxes in the state; I'm thinking of a one-stop-shop website like the Maryland Voter Information Clearinghouse that would easily and clearly show who's paying, and who's getting paid. Perhaps Comptroller-elect Peter Franchot would be interested in expanding the Comptroller's website into something other than a glorified tax preparation site?

UPDATE: It turns out there is information on the Maryland tax system, but it's a PDF file, and doesn't really say anything about government contracts and subsidies (which would, after all, concern the disbursement of tax money, rather than its collection). Maybe I'm just spoiled on Wikipedia, but this is 2006, people! Information on something as important as taxes and the budget should be as accessible as possible!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Fair Share Has Done Its Fair Share

OK, one more thing...

I hope the General Assembly doesn't refight the Fair Share Health Care battle in January, and it looks like they won't, even as the bill is still being argued over in federal court. As policy, it was severely deficient, in that it would have entrenched the obselete system of employer-based health care. As politics -- i.e., as a way of highlighting the sorry state of health care in this country, as well as Wal-Mart's failures as a corporate citizen -- it has served its purpose. Massachusetts won't be the last state to enact a universal health care system in the near future, and with the Democrats in control of Congress, we'll probably even see some federal action, both on health care and on the best way to make Wal-Mart behave -- unionization.


Last-Minute Friday Blogging

Light posting through the weekend, but I wanted to note that my brother has designed a blog for Christopher Hayes, an excellent writer out of Chicago. Check it out, especially his post defending card check for unions.


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