Blog Category - Center Maryland - Maryland’s leading source of aggregated and original news and opinion on government, politics, business and more. Sat, 15 Dec 2018 15:45:14 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Don Mohler reflects on Kevin Kamenetz, Gone Too Soon There were two months to go until the election. On May 8, 2018, Kevin Kamenetz had just finished filming 14 hours of television commercials that we were all sure would propel him to the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on June 26. And then two days later on May 10, the phone rang shortly after 2 a.m. When the phone rings at that hour, it is never good news. This time was no different. On the other end of the line was the Deputy Fire Chief with words that I will never forget: “Don, the County Executive is in cardiac arrest. You should get to the hospital now.” Thirty minutes later my friend was gone.

It is not possible to capture the soul and spirit of Kevin Kamenetz in a few hundred words, so with that in mind, I will settle for some glimpses into the life of a man who was at the center of Baltimore County politics and leadership for more than a quarter of a century. But Kevin’s story doesn’t begin with governing or election-night victories. It starts with family.

His love of his wife Jill, and their boys Karson and Dylan, trumped any win he ever had in the courtroom or on the campaign trail. Homework? Not a problem. Kevin was there to help. Bar Mitzvah lessons at Baltimore Hebrew? That was special because it reconnected Kevin to his Jewish roots, so much a part of who he was. And oh, those trips to school each morning. That 20-minute ride from Owings Mills to Gilman was without a doubt his favorite part of the day. And as Jill so eloquently reminded us on the morning we said goodbye, Kevin had just told her that the campaign would soon be over, and he was looking forward to having more time to spend with her and the boys. That was not to be. When you think of Kevin Kamenetz, think of his family first. He did.

The County Executive’s inspiration in his public career can be captured in his favorite quote from Hubert Humphrey. “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life - the children; those who are in the twilight of life - the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life - the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” You don’t often hear the former Vice President referred to as an inspirational hero, but for Kevin these words resonated. They captured the essence of what government was supposed to do and what it was supposed to be.

Let’s not sugarcoat it: Kevin Kamenetz was impatient, he could be gruff, and he could get angry. He could make you mad, and he could certainly get mad in return. But as those who knew him best will tell you, that anger never lasted beyond the moment. Have your say. Take your best shot. Move on. That was the Kamenetz way. He had trouble understanding those who held a grudge. “When I was growing up, we used to scream and yell at each other all of the time at the dinner table,” he would say. “Didn’t you?” He was always surprised when someone would respond, “Not really.” But forget all of that. He was the smartest person in the room, and he wanted to get things done. And get them done he did.

Long before security cameras became a common public safety tool, Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz introduced and passed legislation in 2005 mandating such cameras at shopping centers in the County. As he would do throughout his career, Kevin saw things that others had yet to see, and he was bound and determined to act on that vision. Those cameras have now become a vital component of a comprehensive public safety strategy. Kevin would delight in telling you that he knew that all along.

When a task force in Baltimore County recommended that the county move slowly on police worn body cameras and let other jurisdictions across the nation move forward first, County Executive Kamenetz rejected that recommendation. He knew that accepting that approach was the politically safe thing to do, but his gut told him that it was also the wrong thing to do. With Kevin Kamenetz, his gut was almost always right. He had great respect for the Baltimore County Police Department, and he believed that the cameras would improve the behavior of citizens and more often than not show that County officers were doing their jobs and doing them well. That is exactly what has happened. There is Kevin with that vision thing again.

As we would often remind people, Kevin’s grandfather fled Tsarist Russia to come to the United States. He never forgot that. The County Executive had a deep and unwavering belief that the immigrant story was THE American story. He believed that our diversity was our strength, and he was going to fight to protect those who were suddenly feeling like “others” in their own land. He was not about to have Baltimore County police officers serve as immigration agents. He did not believe it was their role, and he believed that it endangered public safety. His Executive Order made that clear. Good politics in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign? Probably not. Did Kevin Kamenetz care about that? Nope. Just do what is right.

He also believed that families struggling to make ends meet should be able to live in quality, safe and affordable housing. (See Humphrey quote above.) The County Executive knew that the concentration of poverty was destructive for the County, particularly for children. Was it popular to fight for affordable housing in Baltimore County? Not hardly. Was it the right thing to do? You bet. Case closed.

And we saved his proudest accomplishment for last. Kevin Kamenetz will forever be known as the Education County Executive. In 2011, he created the Schools for our Future program, investing $1.6 billion in school construction. It was the single largest investment in schools in the history of Baltimore County. The result: 16 new schools, 12 new additions, and wait for it…….. reducing the number of schools without air conditioning in the County from 90 to 2. It is a record of accomplishment unmatched in the nation. Thousands of students and teachers lives have been changed because Kevin Kamenetz gave a damn.

Would Kevin Kamenetz have become the 63rd governor of Maryland? We’ll never know, but it would have sure been fun to find out. We lost a good man on May 10. Godspeed my friend.

Don Mohler served as the 13th Baltimore County Executive, completing the final seven months of Kevin Kamenetz’s term of office.

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Tue, 11 Dec 2018 22:13:10 -0500
Towson is Stronger Than in 2010, But Key Challenges Remain - County Councilman David Marks In 2010, I was elected to the Baltimore County Council from the Fifth District. Towson is the westernmost region of the Fifth District—a center for law, government, medicine, and higher education, with some of the most stable and desirable neighborhoods in central Maryland. Despite all these enviable characteristics, Downtown Towson was a major concern.
In 2010, vast tracts of land were rotting away in Downtown Towson. The movie theatres at Towson Commons were on the verge of closing, and the remaining retail space was largely vacant. The deterioration of Downtown Towson was a blight on an otherwise strong region.

Today, no one talks about how we need to jumpstart the revitalization of Downtown Towson—it is already underway. Whole blocks of Downtown Towson have been revitalized, and construction cranes are in the air.

I attribute our success in Downtown Towson to three key factors.

First and most importantly, entrepreneurs have invested in Downtown Towson.

Second, there was a tone for redevelopment set by former County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, current County Executive Don Mohler, and the County Council. The past seven budgets have invested in school renovations along with transportation improvements such as the resurfacing of Bosley Avenue and Stevenson Lane. Three new parks are finished or under construction throughout Towson.

Third, relations have greatly improved between Towson University and Goucher College and their residential neighbors. In 2010, those relations were frayed as neighborhoods experienced the impact of students renting more and more homes farther away from campus. Since that time, Towson University and Goucher College have opened more dormitories, and the social host ordinance has eased relations between our college students and long-term neighbors.

Moving forward, it seems clear to me that there are a few fundamental initiatives that can advance our work in Downtown Towson and its residential neighbors.

First, we need to implement a Towson circulator—already planned by the state—to ease mobility throughout Downtown Towson.
Second, the county government must identify a guaranteed source of funding to support the care and maintenance of Downtown Towson. Right now, this urban area competes for resources with communities across Baltimore County—and, in fact, in most counties Towson would be its own municipalities. The Towson Chamber of Commerce does excellent work cleaning the streets and beautifying parts of Downtown Towson, but Baltimore County must do more as this area develops.
Baltimore County’s single biggest capital priority in Towson must be a new high school. Already, the population at this aging school has swelled due to demographic changes. The reconstruction of Towson High School must be timed with the reengineering the nearby Herring Run to eliminate chronic flooding.
Towson is stronger than it was in 2010. Many people deserve the credit, and they will all need to work together to advance solutions in the future.

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Wed, 26 Sep 2018 21:50:10 -0400
Chris West: Single-Payer Healthcare – Another View On August 6, my good friend, State Delegate Kirill Reznik, posted a blog on Center Maryland (“Single Payer Healthcare”) in which he took aim at a Baltimore Sun analysis of Ben Jealous’s proposed single-payer healthcare plan. Delegate Reznik criticized the Baltimore Sun and launched a pretty bitter partisan attack on Governor Hogan and all Maryland Republicans because they are not swooning at the prospect of socialized medicine in Maryland. As a member of the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission, I would like to advance several points in response.

First, the analysis relied upon by the Sun reporter was a non-partisan analysis produced by the General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services, an organization run by Senate President Mike Miller’s former Chief of Staff. The last time I checked, Senator Miller is not a Republican.

Second, the analysis stated that a single-payer plan would cost the State of Maryland $24 billion a year (the entire annual budget of Maryland is currently only $44 billion). To pay for the Jealous replacement healthcare system, Maryland would have to levy a ten percent payroll tax against every single business in Maryland and to boot increase personal income taxes by $2,800 per year on every man, woman and child in the State ($11,200 per year for a family of four). Since many families pay either no State income taxes or pay minimal taxes, the reality is that Maryland families that currently pay taxes would see their annual tax bills rise by closer to $20,000 a year.

Third, Maryland has forged a unique relationship with the federal government memorialized in a recently-signed Medicare waiver agreement. This waiver agreement ensures an annual $2 billion infusion of federal money into Maryland’s healthcare system. But the waiver agreement explicitly states that it will be voided if Maryland adopts a single-payer system. So kiss goodbye to $2 billion if the Jealous plan should be adopted.

Actually, Maryland is not the only state in which Democrats have been seduced by the siren call of socialized medicine. Under Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin, Vermont walked right up to the edge of adopting a state-run single-payer healthcare system. At the last minute, Governor Shumlin pulled the plug on his plan, telling Vermont residents that the costs of the new system would be “staggering”.

Beyond the stratospheric costs of a single-payer healthcare system, the fundamental premise of any such system is that the State government would take complete and overall responsibility for the healthcare of Maryland citizens. But when the government pays all of the bills, the government necessarily controls everything. We have a pretty good model of how such a government-run healthcare system would work. It’s called the Veterans’ Administration healthcare system. Unfortunately, the VA system is synonymous with “bureaucratic”, “slow”, “inefficient” and “inadequate”. Under no circumstances will I stand before my constituents and tell them that I want to give government bureaucrats total control over their healthcare.

Finally, Delegate Reznik takes aim at increased premiums in the individual healthcare market (“Obamacare”), which only insures about 6% of Marylanders. Last year, a bi-partisan group of legislators worked very diligently to find a way to curtail the annual huge premium increases that have plagued Obamacare in Maryland since its inception eight years ago. Both Delegate Reznik and I were members of that group, known as the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission. We developed a consensus plan to institute a reinsurance pool to take the pressure off of higher premiums. Our bill overwhelmingly passed in both the House of Delegates and the State Senate (with both Delegate Reznik and me voting for it), and the Governor, Senate President Miller and Speaker Busch proudly signed it into law, hailing it as a wonderful bi-partisan achievement. Delegate Reznik’s recounting of the history of this bill, suggesting that it constituted a partisan battle between a recalcitrant Governor Hogan and a virtuous General Assembly, is simply not accurate.

We need to continue down the path of bi-partisan cooperation in order to improve Maryland’s healthcare system, not to embrace the Jealous plan to deep-six our existing system in favor of a risky, budget-busting socialist alternative.

Chris West is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, representing District 42B in Baltimore County. He is a candidate for the Maryland Senate.

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Tue, 07 Aug 2018 19:31:45 -0400
Kirill Reznik: Single Payer Healthcare There’s a lot of controversy over a Baltimore Sun article that says single-payer healthcare costs $24 billion, and Larry Hogan is having a field day with that misinformation.  This is what happens when you Govern by polls and slogans.  But the truth is not scary, and in fact, quite commonplace.

If you read beyond the headline, you would have see $24 billion does NOT represent the cost to Marylanders, but is the cost of all private pay healthcare in the State.  This number also includes insurance profits, commissions, inflated pharmaceuticals, and the expense that medical providers incur arguing with insurers. 

Last year I crafted a single-payer health care plan that could be implemented in Maryland.  That bill would eliminate all of those costs, provide for a single payroll tax REPLACING the costs and burdens to employers, and cover every Marylander. Businesses in Maryland pay an almost $7,000 for individual coverage, and almost $19,000 a family plan.  With a 10% payroll tax instead, businesses whose individual plan employees’ salaries average less than $70,000 or whose family plan employees’ salaries average less than $190,000 WILL SAVE MONEY.  In addition, those businesses will also avoid commissions and save on administering health plans.

This plan will decrease costs.  More importantly, everyone will get healthcare.  Not based on your ability to pay, or your individual health, age, or race.  And no one risks going to a doctor and becoming bankrupt. 

Rates are skyrocketing, directly as a result of Larry Hogan’s Republican Party, with Donald Trump at the helm.  In Maryland, dozens of proposals were drafted, but the only one Larry Hogan agreed to sign was a $200 million annual payment of taxpayer dollars to insurance companies to “stabilize” the market.  As a thank you, those insurance companies raised rates by 30% four weeks later.

I came to the conclusion that we have no choice because Republicans will NEVER let us fix the system any other way.  Any compromise will be viewed as trying to kill your grandmother that they will dismantle and destroy.

We are the ONLY developed, democratic, capitalist country that hasn’t come to this conclusion.  Rather than some revolutionary plan, it gets us out of the dark ages.  I intend to continue to push my legislation, regardless of who is Governor, and I fully expect Larry Hogan and his surrogates to demonize my plan, Ben Jealous’ plan, or the plan of any Democrat who has the audacity to think that Marylanders deserve to be treated like human beings.  And they will do this while personally enjoying taxpayer-funded government healthcare for themselves.

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Mon, 06 Aug 2018 00:31:06 -0400
Cory V. McCray: McFadden's Multiple Residence The responsibilities of an elected state legislator are myriad. There are the official duties: showing up to vote, taking an active role in committee assignments, and attending community and statewide functions, among other responsibilities. But arguably the most important role of a legislator isn’t one that takes place in any official setting. Rather, it’s the time they spend in their district building relationships with constituents and learning the needs of the many communities that make up the district. This duty often isn’t performed in any sort of formal manner. It takes shape when you meet someone new at a grocery store or restaurant you both frequent – or at that person’s front door as you’re canvassing the neighborhood.

These moments are so important because they go on to inform the decisions that are made once you’re sitting in a committee hearing room or getting ready to cast a vote in the House or Senate chamber. It’s important that when the time to be decisive arrives, you understand that the issues presented aren’t just abstract political theory; they’re the same issues being talked about and debated by the voters who elected you to represent them.

It’s fitting then that the final question posed to my colleague, Nathaniel McFadden, at last month’s “No RoFo 45th District Candidate Forum” touched on this very subject. As the forum was concluding, he was prompted to address the fact that instead of living within the 45th District, he actually resides at the The Village of Cross Keys. It was regrettable that McFadden’s response sidestepped the actual issue.

Rather than answer the question, he made thinly veiled racial overtures to argue that a black man in 2018 ought to be able to own multiple residences without it being viewed suspiciously. Of course, this response misses the point entirely. No one is taking umbrage at the fact that McFadden owns more than one piece of real estate. The concern is that the home he lives in day-to-day is outside of the 45th District – the very district he is asking to continue representing in the state legislature. It’s a legitimate concern and the voters of the 45th District are entitled to more than dismissive doubletalk when the issue is raised.

It’s only intuitive that a legislator who resides in his or her district knows a little bit more about the challenges it faces than one who doesn’t. After all, the best way to get a sense of what’s happening in any given place is to spend time there and find out for yourself. Even more than just possessing knowledge of the local neighborhoods and their specific needs, residing in the district you represent feeds the passion you have as an elected legislator because, like them, you also have skin in the game. When you’re walking into meetings about policy matters that impact your respective district, you aren’t talking about what’s happening in some unfamiliar place – or somewhere you used to live – you’re discussing the concerns that you and your neighbors are confronting on a daily basis. 

So it should be fair game to ask a resident of one of the most affluent zip codes in Baltimore City how he can effectively advocate for one of the most economically distressed. To be frank, the issues faced by McFadden and his neighbors aren’t the same as those faced in our communities. That matters.

When an elected representative doesn’t reside in his district, the gas station at the end of the block loses out, as do the local diners and grocery stores. While that person spends the bulk of their time in another part of the city, public safety issues and vacant homes are still rampant in the areas they purport to serve – even if they remain out of sight.

I know that when I have conversations with fellow residents about the conditions of local schools and troubling upticks in crime, we’re having a dialogue about concerns that we share and are jointly experiencing – not ones I leave behind when I go home for the evening.

One of the reasons I am running for State Senate in the 45th Legislative District is that I believe it’s important to have a clear intention to sleep every night in the district you want to represent. Yes, I too am a black man with multiple properties, but let me be clear that each and every one of them is in the 45th Legislative District. It’s a place that I’m proud my family and I can call home and one that I would be honored to represent as your next State Senator.

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Mon, 25 Jun 2018 00:25:09 -0400