Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary (26)

Comptroller advocates competition

Comptroller Peter Franchot spoke to a half-filled room with the Civic Federation on Nov. 9 at the County Council Building. Speaking of his role on the Maryland Board of Public Works, which he said has approved 18,000 contracts accounting for $85 billion in state spending since he rose to the position from being a delegate from Takoma Park, Franchot emphasized his independence from partisan politics as comptroller.


Franchot portrayed the Board of Public Works as a “court of last resort” against “machine politics,” citing his ability to stand up to the Democratic Party in Baltimore County as a champion of Dundalk Citizen groups regarding a development proposal that he voted against.


The comptroller continued to paint himself as the champion of taxpayers and consumers in the face of stifling government overreach. Consumers of education, he said, will support his proposed one-year standardized testing moratorium that prevents “teachers from doing what they’re good at; teaching,” and adding that many subjects have no application in life, recalling that he “took algebra, trigonometry, and calculus and [has] not used [those subjects] since [he took the courses in school].” He emphasized his plan to require financial literacy instruction for all Maryland students, depicting such instruction as a “civil right for how to acquire wealth.” And his plan to push the school start date beyond Labor Day will not only generate additional tourism-related tax revenues, but is a plan that vacationing families support across the state that is only opposed by “about forty people” in the teacher’s union and Board of Directors.


Montgomery County, he said, could benefit from the establishment of a similar model to the state’s BPW, which could be composed of the County Executive, an individual elected by the Montgomery County Council, and an “elected taxpayer watchdog” to mirror the BPW’s three votes: Governor, Treasurer elected by the Maryland General Assembly, and himself, the Comptroller of Maryland. A local BPW could exercise oversight of the Department of Liquor Control’s competition, which currently does not yet exist but which he proposed would benefit consumers throughout Montgomery County. According to Franchot, 75 percent of Montgomery County citizens do not support the DLC’s liquor distribution monopoly and routinely buy their liquor across state lines, where vodka is sometimes 42 percent less expensive than Montgomery County.


His proposal to introduce competition to the liquor business in Montgomery County comes at a time when the County Council and County Delegation have both introduced similar proposals that differ in degree and which Franchot characterized as insufficient, “piecemeal reform.” Franchot argued that his proposal to allow private enterprise to compete with the DLC will result in consumers voting with their feet and their pocketbooks and predicted that if his proposal were to become law, the DLC would see decreased business due to competition. Legislation will be introduced by request of the Comptroller in the 2016 Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly in January.


Rain Tax Part II

Residents of Montgomery County pay multiple taxes justified in the name of the Chesapeake Bay, including a “bag” tax, a flash tax and water quality charge. Well-intentioned residents who genuinely would like to preserve the bay would be hard-pressed, however, to explain how all that money has made a difference.


Montgomery Co. Positioned to Take the Lead with PACE

Commercial building owners in Montgomery County have a new opportunity, unavailable in most of the rest of the state, to retrofit their buildings with energy improvements, with no upfront costs.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is an alternative to traditional debt financing enabled last year by the Maryland General Assembly. Montgomery is one of two counties that have enacted the local ordinances required to implement PACE. Anne Arundel is the other.

PACE Funds Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy
PACE covers renewable energy like solar and energy-efficiency upgrades that include HVAC, lighting and water-conservation improvements. There’s no upfront investment or collateral requirement for long-term financing (typically 10 to 20 years). Building improvements pay for themselves through utility savings that can be as much as 25 percent. And, as energy costs drop, net operating income increases.  

Another unique benefit of PACE financing is that building owners pay it back through an assessment on their property tax bills. Unlike a loan, PACE attaches to the property; there’s no payback requirement when a building is sold.

Significantly, PACE projects, which began in California in 2008, generate an estimated 16 percent increase in property value. That increased value, in turn, spurs increased tax revenue.

A Ripple Effect of Benefits
There have been more than over 350 projects across the United States, totaling $120 MM. Arundel Mills Mall in Anne Arundel County will be the first project using PACE in Maryland.

Montgomery Co. can help set the pace for PACE in Maryland. Our state and local officials have worked to make PACE available. Now, it’s up to commercial property owners to take advantage of the opportunity to improve their buildings – and the surrounding communities.

Upgrading facilities with energy improvements benefits owners directly with lower energy costs and higher property values while creating clean-energy jobs and increasing property tax revenue. It also helps private companies and localities reduce their carbon footprints and meet their sustainability goals, which benefits everyone.

Every commercial building owner in Montgomery County should be looking into PACE. PACE is good for business and good for the environment.

Claire Broido Johnson is the president and founder of CBJ Energy. She has 15 years of experience in the energy and environment sector. Her email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  


Confessions of a Southern Boy

carr-currentOr how I learned to stop worrying and fold up the battle flag

If you’re an old white guy from the Deep South, it can be hard to explain yourself these days - maybe impossible.
When I was in high school in Memphis, I fell in love with the glamour and glory of the Confederacy. The covers of my school textbooks suddenly sprouted confederate battle flags—which was not hard to do. You could buy rolls of confederate flag stickers at any dime store. Cloth battle flags were as common as pennies; one adorned the cover of my main notebook. I went to a very good but very private school. Our student body was mixed, although the black contingent didn’t begin to match the population breakdown of Memphis. I did have black friends and if any of them were offended by my confederate paraphernalia, no one said anything to me.
If you’d asked me at the time, I would have scoffed at the notion that there was any offense to be taken from the display of those confederate emblems. I considered myself to be free of racial prejudice—a statement that I now realize works very well as a goal but not so much as a declaration of fact, given how deeply engrained racism is in our culture. But to me the flag didn’t mean an attack on anyone, nor was it an attempt to put anyone down. It is possible to love the culture of the Old South while detesting its sins. In fact, it’s possible to venerate the incredible valor of the southern soldier while, at the same time, being glad the Union won the war. (One of the great ironies of southern patriotism is that those waving the Confederate flag often wave the U.S. flag just as vigorously, depending on the context and the issue at hand. I do a lot of driving and don’t recall any region of the country busting out with more U.S. flags after 9/11 than the South.)
I adored the classic storybook heroes of the war, including Nathan Bedford Forrest, after whom my grandfather—and therefore by extension, I—was named. And if, for instance, I had to try to reconcile my affection for the great general with the fact that he was a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan—well, I put it out of my mind with the thought that, hey, times were chaotic, and at least he quit when the Klan became crazy violent.
It is amazing to me looking back on it that no one ever challenged me on the flag issue. But now that challenge is in full swing in a general way, starting—the irony is exquisite—with South Carolina, the crucible of the rebellion where the governor now wants to take the confederate battle flag down from state property. Other southern legislatures are taking up the question.
Should we do it? Should we ban the confederate battle flag from official display in public spaces?
One of the things you learn during a career in communications is that when you speak, it does not matter what you mean, it only matters what is perceived. Let me say that again: What you’re trying to say is immaterial. What the receiver hears you say is the only issue. A communications professional knows this and crafts his or her words accordingly. In broadcasting in particular, you get one shot at it. You bring your full set of professional skills to bear to get it right on the first pass. If your message goes awry—is honestly misunderstood or misinterpreted or provokes an adverse reaction you did not intend—usually you can’t blame the recipient.
The sad truth about the confederate battle flag is that whatever supporters would say about why it still needs to fly and why it might be worthy of public admiration, hate groups have stolen it from us. Add this to the long, long list of items for which such groups cannot be forgiven. They’ve hijacked it and the theft is an accomplished fact. When that flag goes on display, a message of racism goes with it—whether that is the intended effect or not. For the recipient, the impact can be as in-your-face aggressive as the sight of a swastika—which hate groups often display alongside it.
The swastika got its poor reputation the same way. It spent 3,000 years being revered by various religions and cultures as a symbol meaning “auspiciousness” among other things. Then the Nazis appropriated it. Display it today and you’ll get only one reaction.
Those who would continue to support the public display of the confederate flag really have two questions to ask themselves. One: Does it make any sense to deny that hate groups have stolen the symbol and made it their own? Or should flag supporters continue the battle to wrest the flag away from hate groups—and in doing so, risk offending a good portion of America?
Looking at race relations as they now stand in this country, to me it’s hard to argue that we should be doing less to salve old wounds and resolve old and current injustices.
Reviewing my high school days, I am confident that those who knew me well were aware that my flag display was not meant as anything racist. But I am left to wonder how many saw it and never bothered to ask. I sure didn’t bother to ask them. For all I know to this day some of those classmates may think of me in a way I would not like to be thought of. My face turns red at the prospect.
It’s now up to southern legislatures to decide what to do with this grand old symbol—which forms the motif for many of the old south’s current state flags as well. As for me, my affection for the old south and my admiration for its fighting spirit remain firm. But I have folded my flags.

Forrest Carr is a confessed novelist, blogger, land snark, and former TV news director and talk radio host. who has worked all across the country.
You can find his works and his blog at: http: //



Barve seeks a step up to Congress

KumarPortraits 270The field of candidates for the soon to be vacant Congressional seat of Congressman Chris Van Hollen has been taking shape over the last several months. One such candidate is Delegate Kumar Barve, a former Maryland House Majority Leader and currently the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.


The quest for affordable housing

house genericEvery community needs affordable housing whether they recognize it or not. The current requirement is that 12.5 percent of any new construction in Montgomery County must be set aside for moderately priced housing, but is that enough?


A conversation with David Axelrod

axelrodI recently had the opportunity to listen to David Axelrod, long time advisor to President Obama and key strategist for both his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, speak about his new book "Believer: My Forty Years in Politics". The event was sponsored by the Women's Democratic Club of Montgomery County and was quite enlightening.

Of particular interest to me was the issue of dealing with the rampant partisan politics within the beltway. In his book, Mr. Axelrod had indicated that one of the motivating factors convincing President Obama to run for the presidency was his sincere belief that he, as someone new to the "beltway", could have a significant impact on cutting through the partisan politics that so stymies the ability of the federal government to get anything accomplished. Regrettably, the reality that is all too apparent to anyone following President Obama's time in office is that this president has faced more blatant obstructionism than any other president in history, certainly any president in my own lifetime which goes back to the Truman Administration.

The election of the first minority candidate for president, rather than serve to indicate how far we have come as a nation, served all too often to awaken in too many the desire to take us backwards to where we once were...30, 50, 100 or even 200 years ago in areas such as race relations and how we react to the differences that exist among all of the various members of our society.

My question to Mr. Axelrod was simple: Knowing what we now know, how would you have advised President Obama differently in the early stages of his administration in dealing with the blatant partisan obstructionism intended to undermine any attempts by the president to move this country forward? I made it clear that this was not a trick question, Jeb Bush notwithstanding. His response was both extremely honest and, in my opinion, quite appropriate. His answer was "I don't know" and he didn't know, he went on to say, because there really is no surefire way to deal with an opposition that "won't take YES for an answer".

If I could find one positive thing to say about the intentions of the opposition it is that at least they didn't try to hide them. They were quite upfront with their plan from the beginning which was to win back the White House by blocking everything the President attempted to accomplish. As Mr. Axelrod indicated, Mitch McConnell made that strategy quite clear when he declared that his goal was to "make this President a one-term president". Regrettably, this strategy is still being adhered to in a second term.

So how do we break through the obstructionism that plagues today's "beltway politics" and all too often places party before the best interest of citizens? Mr. Axelrod did offer a solution, be it one that requires time and dedication. His solution is "bottom up" politics. Looking at local elections, whether for school board, City Council, and the like and working and voting for candidates who represent the best interests of citizens. It is local and state legislatures that serve as the breeding ground for the senators and representatives in the Congress of the future and it is an investment well worth taking.

Mr. Axelrod also referred to the strategy used by Ronald Reagan to curry favor with what is now known as the "Reagan Democrats" of the southern belt through social issues. He did so not to win back that specific voting bloc as much as to use as an example of rallying a group around a specific set of issues. As the middle class continues to shrink as a result of the policies of the current Congress, the rallying point for those of us who consider ourselves still part of the middle class must be, according to Mr. Axelrod, around economic issues.

These, of course, would include the earned benefits we worked for such as social security and Medicare but they should also include recognizing the need for investment in education and infrastructure. It should also include a tax structure that rewards hard work over making money off of the money others earn. That tax structure should also reward investment in creating jobs in America while penalizing those companies who ship jobs overseas. Supporting candidates who understand and support these middle class issues when they are running for office at the lower echelons of the political spectrum is the most effective way to ensure that they make their way to the upper echelons of the political spectrum down the road.

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