How Not To Build A Road

The Post with more on Virginia’s experiences with public private partnerships. Memo to Maryland - don’t do this. The Purple Line ought to be built, but not this way. And when nobody can explain why we’re using the P3 process for the Purple Line but not the Baltimore Red Line, I get more uneasy, not less. The article is a detailed case study in how not to build a road. Or write a contract. Or spend public money.

Virginia officials are trying to get back tens of millions of dollars from a private company that was supposed to build a 55-mile toll road in southeastern Virginia.

State officials had been sending the company multimillion-dollar installments each month to build the road. But the state lacked federal construction permits, so the road wasn’t built.

And now the commonwealth is out about $256 million.

How does this happen? This is how:

Layne said he was not seeking to disparage state representatives, but noted that they emerged from a more “process oriented” background within state agencies and lacked the entrepreneurial and negotiating experience and resources of private firms.

“They’re not as sophisticated as the people we’re dealing with,” Layne said. “These guys are buying the best attorneys in the world.”

So while Maryland is just starting out with P3s, Virginia is on the way out the door on the other end, out a huge amount of money and trying to figure out how to recoup it.

Hey Maryland, how about we don’t blow a quarter of a billion dollars - or more - to find out this is a bad process, when we can just read the article and listen to the blogger and save the time, trouble and, oh by the way, the MONEY? Sounds like a good plan to me.

ICYMI: O’Malley Running

John Fritze of the Baltimore Sun has the details.

“My decision is made,” O’Malley told a crowd of several hundred at Federal Hill Park. “Today, to you — and to all who can hear my voice — I declare that I am a candidate for President of the United States.”

Despite a long career in state and local office — and a deep inventory of liberal accomplishments in Annapolis — O’Malley starts as a decided long shot, forced to campaign in the shadow of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a onetime ally.

Early polls show Clinton with commanding leads in Iowa, New Hampshire and everywhere else, including O’Malley’s home state of Maryland. He has less support than Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, another declared candidate for the Democratic nomination, and Vice President Joe Biden, who has not said whether he will run.

I watched the speech, and thought it was actually quite good. Short, punchy, good applause lines.

Friday Afternoon Massacre

Larry Hogan is getting really good at one thing - he’s mastered the Friday news dump. Today’s news that needs to be noted:

Four top leaders at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources were let go today, sending a combined 98 years of fisheries, land conservation and communications experience out the doors of the Tawes building, the department’s headquarters in Annapolis.

Deputy Secretary Frank Dawson, Assistant Secretary Kristin Saunders, Fisheries Director Tom O’Connell, and Communications Director Darlene Pisani are all leaving the agency, according to an internal email from the agency’s new secretary, Mark Belton, that the Bay Journal acquired.

Very confident prediction: this is not gonna end well.

Ervin On Crowdpac

Valerie Ervin is fundraising on Crowdpac. My attention was directed to this tweet from Wednesday by an alert reader.

Crowdpac allows potential candidates to see what level of financial support they can drum up before actually making a commitment to run. Any money “raised” is contingent on the candidate actually making the decision to run - credit cards and bank accounts are not charged until the candidate gets in.

Is this an indication of a true “testing the waters” phase, or a sign of Ervin’s imminent entry into the race? My Magic 8-Ball says: “Signs Unclear. Ask Again Next Week.”

Affordable Housing - Or Not So Much

Some appalling statistics out a couple of days ago, comparing the average cost of a 2 bedroom apartment in each state with the average wage earned there. The numbers are awful, particularly in Maryland. Nationally, a 2 bedroom apartment requires an hourly wage of $19.35, while the national average wage is $15.16. The cost of that 2 bedroom apartment is 2.5 times the federal minimum wage.

In Maryland, it’s worse. Other than the island state of Hawaii, Maryland has the largest gap between the $15.71 average wage and the $24.64 per hour cost of a 2 bedroom apartment, an enormous $8.93 per hour. Rents are going up while wages stagnate. Our stock of affordable housing is nowhere near sufficient to meet the need, and we have no meaningful affordable housing policy at the state level.

The next politician who pats him or herself on the back for voting to increase the MD minimum wage to $10.10/hour - in 2018, no less! - should be pummeled with a copy of the full report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In not-unrelated news, the Montgomery County Council recently zeroed out all funding for the Renter’s Alliance, a non-profit group which only just began getting funding last year. The total amount that the Renter’s Alliance was getting? $70,000/year. From my conversations, even this pittance of funding sent landlord groups over the cliff with outrage. They prefer tenants to be at their mercy, whether it’s an eviction or a condo conversion or retaliatory action for tenant advocacy. More than 30% of Montgomery County residents are renters, many elderly and/or low income.

Again, keep all this in mind the next time someone running for office tells you about his or her “strong commitment to affordable housing.” Actions, not words.

300 Posts

Yesterday’s post, Substance Free Journalism, was the 300th in the 69 days of this establishment’s still infant existence. This one is #310. Hope you like reading them as much as I like writing them.

Either today or tomorrow, we’ll go over 20,000 page views. It’s Milestone Week here at Maryland Scramble.

Delaney Followup

After his op-ed this morning, John Delaney has fans, but probably not the ones he was hoping for. And it is possible that this was a plant for a Senate run. I’ve been known to be wrong more than occasionally.

  Noah Silverman is Congressional Affairs Director for the Republican Jewish Coalition. Given the language of Delaney’s screed today, it’s understandable that Silverman mistook Delaney for a Republican congressman and is urging him to run for Senate.

Snark aside, it’s curious that Delaney’s piece said nothing whatsoever about either Israel specifically or foreign policy generally - which are the RJC’s stock in trade. Hmmmmmmmmm. Let’s keep our eyes on the Twitter   machine for more information, shall we?

Delaney Makes A Move

Well, now we know what John Delaney has been up to while he’s been ignoring my increasingly pathetic pleas for his attention. He’s been crafting his attack on the values of the political party of which he claims to be a member.

Washington is paralyzed by extreme political rhetoric that creates powerful sound bites but poor policy. The big legislative updates that we need to compete in the 21st century and to raise living standards have been blocked by a reluctance to seek common ground.

With Washington already broken, the last thing we need is a left-wing version of the tea party. But I am worried about where some of the loudest voices in the room could take the Democratic Party.

Rejecting a trade agreement with Asia, expanding entitlement programs that crowd out other priorities and a desire to relitigate the financial crisis are becoming dominant positions among Democrats. Although these subjects may make for good partisan talking points, they do not provide the building blocks for a positive and bold agenda to create jobs and improve the lives of Americans.

Oh, please. Spare me the Both Sides Do It bullshit. Leave that to the lazy media lapdogs, like Politico. “Legislative updates” haven’t been blocked by a “reluctance to seek common ground,” but by a Republican congressional wing hell-bent from day one on denying the first African-American president any accomplishments at all. It’s not like they’ve been shy about it, either. 

Although some of what Delaney proceeds to outline are beneficial goals I agree with, the tone and rhetoric of the whole enterprise is Democrat-bashing. And on education, he sounds like Arne Duncan. Teachers’ unions, take note.

Second, we should create ways for the next generation to access education, which is the ultimate equalizer. The solution is to ask high-income Americans to help pay for it, which I believe they would be happy to do if they knew that 100 percent of the new money would be targeted at proven educational strategies with high levels of accountability. A new focus on universal pre-K and more affordable higher education at results-driven institutions are especially important.

Reformist buzzwords all over that paragraph. And another thing: rich people “would be happy” to pay for education? You got some data to back that up, Congressman? ‘Cause I got some serious doubts about THAT.

This next paragraph might be my favorite part, calling on Democrats to, well, stop being Democrats.

Additionally, we need a philosophical shift in the Democratic Party, a new willingness to support programs that create pathways for nongovernmental and philanthropic innovation and investment to help solve the problems of society. We should embrace approaches, such as social impact bonds, that combine private-sector capital and expertise with public-interest goals to produce better government services. Such changes will require Democrats to leave our ideological comfort zone and move away from the idea that government, and government alone, is the answer to our problems.

Yeah, because “private-sector capital” did such a great job in 2008. Last time I looked, it was the guvmint that bailed out the banks, not th other way around. I’m fine with my party’s philosophy, thanks.

Which leads to his big finish. Democrats shouldn’t be fixated on regulation of banks and other financial institutions. More important things to worry about.

Lastly, some in our party continue to engage in time-consuming rhetoric attacking banks that has little chance of producing more financial reform and distracts from far more consequential areas of economic risk, such as climate change, chronic underinvestment in the next generation and our broken immigration and housing finance systems.

News flash: Republicans deny the reality of climate change, won’t fix the immigration system because their party is dominated by bigots and nativists, and are just fine giving housing and other finance systems back to the banks that nearly destroyed our economy less than a decade ago. Why the #*#*} are you complaining about a “left-wing Tea Party” when you know (or ought to) that the right-wing version is already doing such a fine job mucking things up in Congress?

Question: why did Delaney write this, and why now? Here’s what I think. This isn’t about fixing things in Congress. This will piss off progressives, who either knew before - or certainly know now - that he’s not one of them. Politico will trumpet Delaney as “sensible.” Somebody will write another couple of articles about the “civil war” in the Democratic Party, which will still be total bullshit. And then it will fade into D.C. obscurity.

But I suspect that John Delaney doesn’t care about any of that. It’s about establishing himself to the center of the spectrum for his run for governor in 2018. That’s the office he’s always wanted.

Read the article again. Change a couple of nouns and adjectives here and there, and it’s tailor-made as a manifesto for Delaney to wrest back the right-leaning Dems and independent voters who put Larry Hogan into office in 2014.

Jobs, infrastructure, education reform. All red meat state level issues, and all were part of the Hogan special sauce. Throw in some hippie-punching for good measure (the media LOVES that), and boom. John Delaney finally did what I’ve been all but begging him to do - announce his candidacy. But not for Senate, and not in 2016. Governor in 2018. He’s “Larry Hogan Lite.” Let the games begin.