March 13, 2010

Millionaire tax drops payment from $106M more to $257M less

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is the latest Democrat to demand a tax increase, this week proposing to raise the state's top marginal individual income tax rate to 4% from 3%. He'd better hope this works out better than it has for Maryland. We reported in May that after passing a millionaire surtax nearly one-third of Maryland's millionaires had gone missing, thus contributing to a decline in state revenues. The politicians in Annapolis had said they'd collect $106 million by raising its income tax rate on millionaire households to 6.25% from 4.75%. In cities like Baltimore and Bethesda, which apply add-on income taxes, the top tax rate with the surcharge now reaches as high as 9.3%—fifth highest in the nation. Liberals said this was based on incomplete data and that rich Marylanders hadn't fled the state. Well, the state comptroller's office now has the final tax return data for 2008, the first year that the higher tax rates applied. The number of millionaire tax returns fell sharply to 5,529 from 7,898 in 2007, a 30% tumble. The taxes paid by rich filers fell by 22%, and instead of their payments increasing by $106 million, they fell by some $257 million. SOURCE: Wall Street Journal

March 12, 2010

Rockville celebrates 150 years

As Rockville looked back on 150 years of incorporation Wednesday night, one fourth-grader looked into the future and predicted flying cars. Anish Senapati, a fourth-grade student at Lakewood Elementary School, read his winning essay about what Rockville will be like in 50 years at the city's sesquicentennial celebration in Town Square. The state legislature granted Rockville's incorporation on March 10, 1860. In his essay, Senapati says Rockville will have no streets because the cars will fly. The world's tallest building, which will function as a factory and tourist attraction, will be one of many skyscrapers located in the city.

"And the mayor will be me," he added, drawing laughs from the crowd of more than 100.


March 11, 2010

County wants authority to buy any business

Montgomery County, Md., leaders want to use taxpayer dollars to make equity investments in local companies, but some residents say they don't want officials making "risky" business decisions with their money. Delegate Brian Feldman, who leads Montgomery's delegation to the House of Delegates, says the proposal would improve the county's ability to compete for new biotech companies. He notes the state already can make equity investments in businesses that have returned millions of dollars to state coffers. The Montgomery County Civic Federation is opposed to the bill, however. The group's president Peggy Dennis worries about the ethics of allowing elected officials to pick and choose which companies get funding. The proposal in the Maryland General Assembly would only apply to Montgomery County.

Amazing difficulty finding MC's $4,100,000,000 budget!

Can you find the Montgomery County budget that your tax dollars fund? It's not available in public in print. So let's check the county's "award-winning," and "popular" website.... OK, we're at the home page. Nothing about the budget here. Let's try this link at the bottom, which says "Additional Information About Important Issues and Topics," because the budget is pretty important, isn't it? Hmm. Nothing about the budget here, either. Try clicking on "Departments" to find the budget department. Now click on OMB. Nothing about reading the budget on this page. I'll click on a link for the FY2010 budget from last July(!!). It's taken forever, and a lot of independent thinking on my part. But I've finally found a budget. Oh, no! The citizen can only download about 100 large PDF files in order to read the county budget. That's Web 1.0 from 10 years ago! Isn't it time the county website was updated to Web 2.0, where citizens can study the budget in HTML or Flash or some other realtime format? And made available in print so that those without home computers can review it as well by picking up readily accessible copies at local libraries? Let's turn Government into Government 2.0. Unless someone fears the public having easy access to how their taxpayer dollars are being spent by the County Council...

March 10, 2010

Letter to Editor: Solving Maryland's gang problems

Lawmakers in Annapolis are scrambling to pass a series of bills aimed at stemming the growing tide of gang violence across Maryland. This mad dash for legislation to strengthen the ability of law enforcement to identify, arrest and prosecute MS-13 and other gang members poses a question: Where have our elected officials been on this issue?

Gang-related violence and rape, drug dealing, prostitution and crime are nothing new to the law-abiding residents of Maryland. Seemingly new to the issue, however, are the political leaders and law enforcement authorities in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. No surprise that these two jurisdictions are also the playground for numerous illegal immigrants and host to multiple gang-related problems. Unfortunately for surrounding Maryland counties, the gang members do not respect county lines.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson have taken a remarkably dishonest approach to public safety, relying on illegal immigrant support groups such as CASA de Maryland to dictate the terms for handling and arresting illegal-alien gang members. CASA even has lobbied Annapolis against legislation implementing the screening of all foreign nationals in our jails for fear of possible "Hispanic discrimination."

Jurisdictions in Virginia, with lower rates of gang violence and fewer CASA-like groups, have instead successfully partnered with federal immigration and law enforcement authorities. As with economic development and lower taxes, it is time for Maryland to learn from her Virginia neighbors.


Director, Help Save Maryland

Rockville, Md.

Smart students change their own grades

Montgomery County school officials have not yet closed gaps in their computer system that allowed students at a high-performing Potomac high school to change dozens of grades using a device that can be bought from for $69. And other school systems, including Fairfax County, remain just as vulnerable, school officials said Tuesday. At least eight students at Winston Churchill High School are believed to have used the readily available device to obtain teachers' passwords for the school system's grading system. The school system, Maryland's largest, has determined that the grades of 54 students were improperly changed in 35 teachers' records.

"There are solutions out there, but we have to figure out which one fits best for us," said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Montgomery County schools. "We have to believe that our students are doing the right thing."

At a community meeting Monday night, schools Chief Technology Officer Sherwin Collette said the school system thinks students used a device that connects to the end of a keyboard's cord and then is plugged into the computer. Such devices can record everything that a teacher types without ever running any software on the computer itself. A similar gadget was the 11th-best-selling "computer security device" on Tuesday afternoon.

MC to translate documents into Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, and French

Foreign-born Montgomery County residents will see changes in the information produced by county agencies within the next three months.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) signed the Executive Order on Language Access, which requires county agencies to translate important documents into other languages such as Spanish, Korean, Mandarin for Chinese and French, which are the four most spoken languages in the county other than English, said Lily Qi, community liaison and language access coordinator. Databases with important county documents are being created in the four languages for the county's Web site, she said.

Qi said she is not sure when the site will be updated with the translated information.

"We needed a system of accountability, awareness and efficiency," Qi said. "We have a very long way to go, but we're on the right path."

SOURCE: Gazette

March 9, 2010

Leggett and cops spar over guns, lack of ethics

Montgomery County awarded more than $600,000 in no-bid payments to nine companies that had ties to county police officers and were part of a controversial tuition-assistance program, Montgomery's inspector general said in a report released Monday.

The government provided little oversight for the program and in many cases appeared to have responded to invoices from the companies simply by cutting checks of as much as $59,800, according to the report. The lack of controls enabled 216 county employees -- police officers, sheriff's deputies and corrections officers -- to take county-funded training classes and, at the end of the courses, purchase deeply discounted guns that one official has called the "candy" to get them to enroll in the first place.

Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley concluded that the close ties among the companies, employees and students enrolled in the classes have "and will continue to expose county taxpayer dollars to waste and abuse until more comprehensive guidelines and monitoring are put in place."

Problems in the tuition program were discovered in July by Sheriff Raymond M. Kight. Two deputies reported that they had attended a two-day firearms training class whose best feature was the deal they could get on a handgun -- $99 for a Glock valued at several times that, Kight said. For fiscal 2009, the county budgeted $775,350 but spent more than $1 million, the report said.

Blasting at Silver Spring Transit Center

Check out this video of blasting at the Silver Spring Transit Center, which will continue at least through the end of March. It's preparing the site for actual construction, which should start later this year and be completed some time in 2011. You'll have to skip to about 0:45 to see the actual blast, but it's still pretty cool. SOURCE: Just up hte pIke

Money burned on I-270

An armored truck carrying U.S. currency caught fire Friday afternoon traveling north on I-270 near Route 121. State police out of Rockville and county firefighters were called to the scene at 2:09 p.m. to help the truck’s driver and two guards, who are employed with Dunbar Armored Inc. All three men escaped without injury, according to a spokesman with the Maryland state troopers.

“We don’t know why it caught fire but it was completely engulfed in flames and we had to close 270 down for a half an hour,” said a spokesman with the state troopers. Northbound traffic was forced to use a single lane for a mile-long stretch of the highway for the next hour, until the fire was completely under control.

“Even after we put it out, we had to give the vehicle some space because whenever there is oil involved another fire can happen, but nothing like that happened this time,” said a spokesman with the state troopers. There were no explosions associated with the fire. Dunbar personnel and the U.S. Secret Service were also called to the scene, but were unavailable for comment as of Monday. No word on how much cash was being carried inside the vehicle or how it caught fire.

SOURCE: Sentinel

March 8, 2010

Md. Senate protects themselves by killing door-to-door campaigning measure

ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Senate slammed the door on a bill Friday that would have allowed political candidates access to private communities and apartment complexes. Sen. Alex Mooney, a Republican who represents portions of Frederick and Washington counties, introduced the measure after noticing more and more homeowners associations and condominium boards were turning away political candidates.

"Free speech is not an easy thing, but it's a basic right in our country," Mooney said.

Individual residents would still be able to deny access to their houses, but the community wouldn't be able to set a blanket prohibition on campaigning. The measure, which failed 21-26, would have allowed associations and boards to set reasonable restrictions, such as disallowing campaigning at late hours. Mooney said the proposal would have benefited first-time candidates and challengers, not incumbents like him who are already known and invited to community events and included in newspaper articles.


BAE Systems will vacate Aspen Hill

The big story in Aspen Hill is that BAE Systems -- presently located at 4115 Aspen Hill Road (also known as 13900 Connecticut Avenue, it's on a huge corner lot) -- will be vacating the premises as of April 2010. Originally built as "Vitro Building #4" back in 1969 or so, this is 230,000 square feet of contiguous office space with LOTS of parking. While the rest of the former Vitro Labs properties here wre either torn down or converted -- with the former Building #1 and lot becoming Home Depot -- this one surviving building will be on the market. Vitro Labs was absorved into BAE Systems, but BAE Systems has now leased brand-new a highly secure office space in the booming Shady Grove office district.

Vitro Labs was once Montgomery County's largest civilian employer, providing jobs to over 5000 people in the mid-1980s, and the many stores in the commerical heart of Aspen Hill have relied for years on walk-in

customers on their lunch hour or doing after-work shopping on the way home. Once BAE vacates the building, unless a new long-term tenant is found, this leaves Aspen Hill as a low-wage suburban center without any real core of high-paying jobs in the neighborhood, if you exclude perhaps 30 office groups of mostly dental and optometry practices in the nerby small office buildings. See also and the basiour listings of stores, shopping centers, nearby schools, etc. Locally developed and maintained by Thomas Harding.

SOURCE: Thomas Harding

BioMed Realty pays $14.4M for Maryland buildings

Property owner BioMed Realty Trust Inc. said Monday that it paid $14.4 million for two buildings in Montgomery County, Md. The buildings, totaling 82,400 square feet, are in Gaithersburg, Md., an area known for its high concentration of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. They are currently leased to AstraZeneca PLC subsidiary MedImmune Inc. and biopharmaceutical company GenVec Inc. The acquisition boosts BioMed's presence in Maryland to 1.2 million square feet. Shares of BioMed rose 29 cents to $15.74 in afternoon trading.

SOURCE: Business Week

Montgomery renters often priced out of homes, report says

For 14 years, Dalila Bounou and her 9-year-old daughter have rented a one-bedroom apartment in Silver Spring that Bounou describes as cramped but safe. But when her monthly rent jumped to $865 in August -- a 7 percent increase -- the payment combined with her electricity bill of up to $300 a month began to feel like too much.

"I like Montgomery, but Montgomery now is very expensive," said Bounou, 40, who works at an in-home child-care center. "Maybe only rich people can stay in this area."

It is a sentiment that Montgomery County tenants' advocates say is becoming more common in a costly housing market where rent increases often soar beyond growth in personal income, according to a report released Friday by the county's first "tenants work group," which held four public meetings and commissioned a survey of Montgomery renters conducted by Salisbury University. Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett (D) appointed the group, made up of tenants and government officials, in 2008.

The group's report concludes that Montgomery residents living in about 95,000 apartments, townhouses and rental houses are often priced out of their homes, lose security deposits with little explanation and face eviction for no reason.

SOURCE: Washington Post

March 7, 2010

Regulators close Waterfield Bank in Germantown

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Regulators on Friday shuttered banks in Florida, Illinois, Maryland and Utah, boosting to 26 the number of bank failures in the U.S. so far this year following the 140 brought down in 2009 by mounting loan defaults and the recession.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over Sun American Bank, based in Boca Raton, Fla., with $535.7 million in assets and $443.5 million in deposits. Also seized were Bank of Illinois of Normal, Ill., with $211.7 million in assets and $198.5 million in deposits; Waterfield Bank in Germantown, Md., with $155.6 million in assets and $156.4 million in deposits; and Centennial Bank in Ogden, Utah, with $215.2 million in assets and $205.1 million in deposits.

First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co., based in Raleigh, N.C., agreed to assume the assets and deposits of Sun American Bank and to share losses with the FDIC on $433 million of the failed bank's loans and other assets. It was First-Citizens' fourth acquisition of assets of a failed bank since last July; the others were First Regional Bank of Los Angeles, Venture Bank of Lacey, Wash., and Temecula Valley Bank of Temecula, Calif.