Monday, May 17, 2010

Scene This Week In...

In an attempt to ignite some fire in the souls of the electorate, the HoCo GOP has announced a petition drive for a referendum to amend the county charter making it harder to push through a local tax increase. Dubbed the Taxpayer Protection Initiative, the change would require four votes instead of three to approve any new tax measure by the county council.

Just what HoCo needs, another petition drive.

Despite the extreme budget pressures related to decreased tax revenues resulting from the economic downturn, the council has not raised taxes for the past four years, even with a Democratic super majority on the council. This banner in Ellicott City advertising one of the upcoming performances of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company perfectly captured my thoughts about this initiative.

On Sunday, Mama Wordbones and I went for a walk around Wilde Lake. This is one of my favorite walks in HoCo. When I lived in the Vantage Point neighborhood in Town Center it was also my regular morning run route.
By the boat house we spoke with a young man who had just finished kayaking around the lake. Mama Wordbones wondered about the health of the lake’s ecosystem and he indicated that if an abundance of waterfowl is any indication, the lake is doing quite well.

The view from the shore seems to further validate his observation.


Anonymous said...

A little clarity would be helpful. I was under the impression that legislation could not originate through the petition/referendum process. Under what rubric is this proceeding?

Tom Coale (HCR) said...

Article X, Section 1001: Amendment to the Charter may be done upon petition of 20% or 10,000 signatures.

Frank Hecker said...

As a Howard County taxpayer I'm really excited about this "Taxpayer Protection Initiative". Because, you know, imposing a supermajority requirement for raising taxes worked out sooooo well in California....

Speaking non-sarcastically, it seems to me that in the long run the best way to address the issue of taxes is to expand the tax base through intelligent development initiatives that can attract new businesses and make Columbia and Howard County better places to live and work. Sort of like the one that was recently promoted by a Democratic county executive and passed with the support of all of the Democratic county council members.

If Howard County Republicans are really serious about "protecting" taxpayers maybe they should work to elect more Republican council members and a Republican county executive, starting with giving us some good reasons why we should vote for them. Are they having trouble thinking of any?

Anonymous said...

Yes, hecker, that's right. Put 5500 new residences in towne center and watch as the county (surprise!) must pay for roads, schools, water, sewer, police, teachers, expanded school administration blah blah blah. The revenue from the 5500 can't even approach paying for it and the developer walks away with pockets full of cash while taxpayers throughout the county are holding the tab. BTW, the council then sucks up campaign funds from the developer to be re-elected, all on our dime.

Smirkman said...

Anon 6:35,

There will be more to town center than 5500 residences. Offices & retail/ restaurants will be contributing to the tax base as well.

Frank Hecker said...

anonymous #2: Smarter people than I have made the case for town center development, so I'll simply say that from my point of view cities have been economic engines for millenia, and I'm happy to support well-planned high-density development to create a more urban section of Columbia and Howard County.

Now back to the topic of petition drives and referenda: Development is not exactly a new topic in Howard County, and the voters have had plenty of time to evaluate their elected representatives' stands on development-related issues and vote them into or out of office accordingly. And yet when push came to shove opponents of town center development could not find one council member to support their views, and had to resort to a petition drive and proposed referendum. That council members were allegedly bought off by developers seems a thin and implausible excuse for those opponents' failure to elect representatives more congenial to their views.

Similarly, if Howard County Republicans are convinced that single-minded and implacable opposition to taxes is a sound governing strategy then they should work to get themselves a majority on the county council, where they can implement such a strategy and be personally accountable to the electorate for its success or failure.

But apparently Howard County Republicans lack confidence in their ability to elect council members, or their candidates are unwilling to take responsibility for any future decisions they might make as a council majority, or both. Instead they're trying to rig the rules to compensate for their lack of electoral success, and trying to push off onto voters the responsibility for sound fiscal governance of the county.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:35 haiku:

Your playbook of lies
has been regurgitated
one too many times.

Unknown said...


Go run a business in Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Deleware for one year. Then report back to me on what you have found out its like in relation to running a business in Maryland.

In the meantime keep your smugness to yourself.

jessiex said...

go, hecker, go. nice to see you participating more. :-) i've always admired your mind and approach to framing and solving problems.

Anonymous said...

haiku man, you're just plain annoying.

Anonymous said...

Where's WB today? He ok?

Frank Hecker said...

Chris: I'm sorry, what in particular am I being accused of being smug about? Development in Howard County? Or the "Taxpayer Protection Initiative"? (Presumably the latter but it would help it you filled out your argument a little more.)

In any case, my point is basically this, in both cases: If you want government to take certain actions, then convince the voters to elect your representatives to a majority on the county council (or whatever government body you're interested in). If your arguments are compelling and your cause is just then how hard can that be?

In the case of the proposed supermajority requirement IMO the major points proponents need to address is why this initiative is actually necessary, and how we'd avoid the downsides of limiting the council's ability to implement sound fiscal policy.

I may seem smug to you, but as a Howard County taxpayer I have a vested interest in having a county government that is solvent, can finance essential public services, and maintains a AAA bond rating to allow lower-interest borrowing for capital expenses and infrastructure improvements.

The proposed Taxpayer Protection Initiative strikes me as mainly a political stunt. If the Howard County Republican party really thinks taxes are such a problem then they can run a strong credible candidate against the Democratic incumbent in my district and make the case for why I should given them my vote.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:58 haiku:

On the contrary.
You are the annoying one.
Hecker is the man!

Young at Heart said...

You go, haiku man
You make your point so quickly
I really like that.

Tom said...

Instead a petition drive how about expanding the HCC to seven members?
The County has more than doubled in population with the same Council size.
This would better reflect the demographic changes in the County.

Anonymous said...


Anon May 17 8:14. Catch up.

hecker: California's problems don't extend from referenda, they extend from bad state management--a government that did not heed the word of the people.

hecker: Referenda are designed to overturn what might be a bad election; a change in electorate thought; a reaction to elected officials doing the opposite of what they promised. All of these, among other reasons, are valid reasons to call the question. Please read a book or two, and study history and political science. If you don't actually know what you are talking about, you're not qualified to express an opinion, and it appears, when analyzing your comments, that you don't. So, go watch TV and be quiet.

Your reading list--to begin educating yourself--should start with the U.S. Constitution, include The Federalist Papers, perhaps brush by de Tocqueville, and then move on through a couple of hundred years of U.S. history. I suggest enrolling in some university classes on these subjects.

If you don't want to make the effort, just shut up.

Frank Hecker said...

To avoid imposing on Wordbones's hospitality, I've posted the remainder on my thoughts on the Taxpayer Protection Initiative at my own blog (

Frank Hecker said...

Anonymous 10:37: If I'm guilty of being smug, I think you're guilty of being condescending. If you have an actual argument to make in favor of this particular initiative, please feel free to comment on my blog post. And do me the favor of adopting a distinctive pseudonym, if you please.

Anonymous said...

Hecker, how hard can it be to get a good candidate elected? How old *are* you?

It took 1.3 million to get Ken Ulman elected and many still argue he's not even a good representative.

On Jess defending fellow blogger: biiig surprise. Maybe we should all become bloggers and run in a big circle patting each other's backs insead of putting forth open honest discussion.

Anonymous said...

Frank, I favorited your blog but you don't allow anons so it's not likely I'll visit often.

But I do like to see what everyone says on all sides of topics, so commenting is not always necessary.

On TPI, I think the republicans took a risk. It was a calculated risk for sure, but it could easily backfire. So I appreciate the courage to undertake this referendum. Always like when people are participating in Democracy.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10 37, wow. Have a bad day?

PZGURU said...

HECKER - you said: "...the best way to address the issue of taxes is to expand the tax base through intelligent development initiatives that can attract new businesses and make Columbia and Howard County better places to live and work."

This notion that governments should take actions to "grow" the tax base of certain city or county or state is wrong in a number of ways. That is NOT the function of a government. Governments are in place to protect we the people and ensure our liberty and freedoms. Part of that should be minimizing how much taxes they take from us.

When the government (city, county, state, or federal) starts trying to stimulate growth of the population (ie: draw more people to that particular jurisdiction) it is tinkering with the natural balance and behavior of the market. If higher population automatically translated to financial stability or success, then why are the most populous cities (NY, Chicago, LA) and states (NY, CA, IL) all on the verge of bankruptcy?????

And note, that those same jurisdictions are predominantly run by liberal-minded officials who operate under the philosphy of: get more tax dollars, then create more and more govt programs, then when the money runs out, they have to "stimulate" more (approve more development) or raise taxes. It's a vicious upward cycle of spending and increasing taxes.

Look at the smallest towns across the Country. The ones that snobby people like yourselve tend to look down upon as being "primitive", "outdated", "stagnant". Those towns have preserved their small town charm and are not financially bankrupt because they specifically DONT believe in the notion of "growing their tax base through more and more and more development".

Of course, people like you would say that republicans are trying to take away public services and cripple public schools. Fearmongering. Fiscal responsibility means providing public services without spending unnecessarily. Take a look at the new West Friendship Fire Station. WHy did the COunty have to build a TAJ MAHAL? How much money could have been save by building a more modest station house that would still provide fire protection services to the public????? Same thing goes for just about every new school and library. Why can't counties build simple modest schools, sort of like what we had back in the 70's and 80's. It didn't kill us to go to a school that had classrooms of painted cinderblock walls. Did it?

The Town Center redevelopment plan will not generate a net increase in tax revenues!!!!!

Just like the Obamacare plan won't decrease the deficit by a single dollar like Barry and the dems swore it would. Whenever a government estimates it's "costs" it is ALWAYS way off - and Howard County officials are no different.

Anonymous said...

The, "I know you (PZGURU) hate it so I will keep doing it" haiku:

Yet another rant,
from the almighty guru.
Will it ever cease?

Anonymous said...

The, "Let me answer my own question" haiku:

It will never cease.
Our visions simply differ.
Which is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Clumsy embarrasing limerick to be modified for each nauseating Haiku:

There once was Hiaku man from Howard

I realize this line rhymes with Coward

But lo and behold

He’d nauseatingly scold

And contact with him prompts a shower.

Anonymous said...

Another punishingly unelegant limerick for HaikuMan:

There once was Hiaku man from the County

He thought all his lines were of bounty

He’d flame PZGuru

While making noises from a zoo

Behaving less than gallantly.

Anonymous said...

There once was a boring Haiku
Making noises like Ah Choo
The writer imagined whimsy
Though the lines were flimsy
Now look what you’ve done, I’m you

Anonymous said...

There once and again was a "poem"
The author, I didn’t know ‘em
Didn’t read all the lines
Sounded like whines
And wrote Limericks in abundance to show ‘em

Anonymous said...

LimerickGirl haiku:

You'll never be me.
Your attempt at humor failed.
Go talk to your cats.

Frank Hecker said...

Anonymous May 19, 2010 7:04 AM (what a stupid way to have to refer to a commenter, by the way): I do know how much it costs to run a campaign. But if Howard County businesses are as overburdened by taxation as other commenters are suggesting, then I suspect it would be a good investment on the part of those businesses to support candidates willing to reduce that tax burden. (And after the Citizens United decision they have considerable freedom to do just that.)

(Which makes me curious: what's the Howard County Chamber of Commerce position, if any, on the Taxpayer Protection Initiative? I couldn't find anything about this on their web site.)

Frank Hecker said...

Anonymous May 19, 2010 7:08 AM: You write "I favorited your blog but you don't allow anons so it's not likely I'll visit often."

You can't take 30 seconds to make up a fake name? That's all I'm asking for. (See my most recent blog post for more.)

Anonymous said...


Catch up, boy. That's the whole point of using an anonymous name. It allows me to spew any time I want with no hint of personal responsibility whatsoever.

If you stop for moment to look around, you'll see that my political party (take a guess which) is embracing pretty much the same strategy.

For instance, if I want to throw rocks at the moon and/or toss around pejorative terms such as "Obamacare," I can do so with absolute impunity. Because I am now the equivalent of an idiot walking around town with a megaphone and a disguise.

Anonymous said...

There once was haiku girl from where ever
Lyrical verses? No never.
Says talk to your cat
Writing falls flat
She suffers the illusions of clever

Anonymous said...

anon 5 21, oh stop. Those crazed assumptions are baseless and further, just plain false.

Hecker, no can do. Anon is my name. I'll stop by from time to time to see what you're saying, though.

The Chamber [pot] position? Wring as much money out of taxpayers for one select industry and a handful of select powerful insiders.

Frank Hecker said...

Anonymous at May 20, 2010 6:26 AM: "Anon is my name." I guess HoCo political blog comment sections are like our own local version of 4chan. If you plan to start wearing Guy Fawkes masks to county council meetings let me know; I might even start attending.

jessiex said...

i like anonymouse 5-20/5:21, who says being anonymouse makes her/him/it " the equivalent of an idiot walking around town with a megaphone and a disguise." couldn't have said it better. thx, 5:21, you identity-less spewer. ;-)

Anonymous said...

if certain "iconic" bloggers weren't so hell bent on tracking down every last soul that frequents (or not so much anymore...) her blog, I'd be more inclined to use a pseudonym. similarly, "bounties" have been offered to reveal the names of other pseudonymous authors.

protecting my safety is paramount, and as someone whose past stalker has trolled websites looking to track me down, you won't find me posting as anything other than anonymous.

i realize that such trivial matters may be hard to fathom from up on such a high horse.