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December 22, 2008

Just a little Q&A

John W. Ashbury

How is it that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was seen by many as unqualified to be vice president and Caroline Kennedy is considered by many of the same people to be the perfect potential senator?


Answer: She ain't! By that, I meant that Governor Palin was not unqualified. Using a similar basis that was used for Governor Palin for comparison, Caroline Kennedy is totally unqualified to be a U.S. Senator.


The simple fact that Governor Palin is a governor and was a mayor and a city legislator suggests that she understands how to run a government, how to process information, and how to coordinate services and meet citizen expectations. Ms. Kennedy's father was the president, but she was a mere child at that time.


I don't think she was involved in governance. She might be qualified to find her way around the family quarters on the second floor of the White House. Beyond that, her knowledge of government is limited to her hobby-like advocacy on education issues. Just because her Uncles Robert and Edward have both served in the U.S. Senate is not evidence of her capacity to legislate on the federal level.


The most startling aspect of this debate is the pure hypocrisy of the Democratic Party, more concerned with image and appearance than the truth.


Why do state employees have to bear the brunt of bad spending decisions by state leaders? Is that fair?


Answer: Because there are 88,000 of them and, no, it isn't fair. Like most workplaces, state personnel costs are the largest portion of the budget. The budget deficit facing the state is enormous, yet that monster payroll hangs out there like a ripe grapefruit, ready to be plucked. Fair? Life isn't fair, but state workers facing 2-5 days of furlough from work at least have one thing that many of our neighbors don't, namely a job!


Why are Democrats in the Illinois state legislature fighting a special election to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacant seat?


Answer: They fear that with the culture of corruption so blatantly connected to their own party, the chance of a Republican being elected to a seat that they could normally never win is higher than ever.


Kathleen Madigan, the Illinois attorney general, tried to convince the state Supreme Court that Gov. Rod Blagojovich was so impaired by his corruption indictment that he could not fulfill his constitutional duties. Given Ms. Madigan would normally represent the governor as his lawyer in his official capacity, this was a big step.


Probably doesn't hurt that Ms. Madigan herself is interested in the vacated Obama Senate seat, and has even been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate.


All of that aside, the blatant protection of partisanship over clean, honest, and open government should be disillusioning to any Illinois voter. It means the Democrat bosses would prefer to perpetuate a scandal and choose a damaged temporary office holder than they would to allow voters to start fresh. The argument that the special election will cost too much is a scam itself. Illinois has a number of municipal elections after the first of the year; the legislature could piggyback with those.


Is ascertaining an aggregate student count of children in this country on an undocumented basis an illegal act?


Answer: No, it is not. Federal law does not, in anything produced to date, state that a school system cannot produce an aggregate number of students. Judicial opinions from the federal courts do state clearly that a student or parent cannot be forced or coerced to admit to their legal status, but it says absolutely nothing about attempting, short of force or coercion, to ascertain an aggregate number.


Without the hammer to ensure compliance, though, any aggregate number developed under that constraint will have a very low confidence, so low as to question any statistics derived from that number. Leads one to wonder, without congressional intervention, why bother with counting at all?


How is it possible that the state budget deficit is almost exactly the same right now as it was a year ago, when the General Assembly met in Special Session to solve the budget crisis?


Answer: Two things. First, it was a silly idea to view Maryland's structural budget deficit in a vacuum. We rushed to Annapolis, boldly planning to "fix" what we believed to be the problem. The problem is that we had no idea what the real problem was, and the fix was worse than the problem!


A massive increase in state revenues as a way to continue an unrestrained spending spree was a recipe for unstable fiscal dynamite. This year, the dynamite exploded!


All of those taxes, from income, to tobacco, to business licenses, to sales, are dropping like flies around a front porch bug light. The new revenue estimates are in, and the news is worse than anyone expected. This year's deficit is $1.5 billion, and next year's projected deficit balloons to $2 billion. Add to that the collapse of the economy, with housing down, jobs disappearing, and pensions eroding, and it's easy to see why 2009 and 2010 could be the worst years ever for the State of Maryland.


The fixes are ugly, and the choices are awful. Kind of like asking: "How do you want it, in the gut or in the head?"


What can you expect if you opted out of Allegheny Power's phased-in electric service rate increase?


Remember that envelope from Allegheny Power last year that gave you a chance to avoid their rate increase phasing plan? Allegheny had to appear before the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to obtain approval for the removal of rate caps for residential service customers in our area.


As directed by the PSC, Allegheny created an opt-out provision whereby consumers could call an 800 number to avoid paying the year-long rate phase-in. The bill comes due in January for anyone who took advantage of the chance to avoid paying Allegheny a smaller increase over the whole of the past year. Those customers will see a 49% increase in their electric bill next month, while those of us too lazy to opt-out or prescient about getting screwed will see a more modest 19% increase.


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