One of the biggest surprises of this election season has been the governor’s race in Maryland where Republican businessman Larry Hogan is taking on Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown turning what should have been a runaway victory for the Democrats into an increasingly tight race that is attracting national attention.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.  Hogan, who runs a real estate firm in Anne Arundel County, served as former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s Appointments Secretary and entered the race with probably the best name recognition among the four Republican candidates and easily won the primary as expected.

His next task was to focus on Brown and how to beat the incumbent Lt. Governor in a state where the Democrats hold more than a 2-1 registration advantage, and who also had raised millions of dollars for the race.

Rather than get bogged down in social issues which may matter to conservatives, but are poison in deep blue Maryland, Hogan chose to focus on an economic message of jobs and taxes- especially the latter since the O’Malley-Brown administration has been responsible for over 40 tax increases in their eight years in office, including a one-cent increase in the sales tax and a gas tax increase that pegs the taxes to the increase in inflation.  What a brilliant idea! Peg a tax increase to inflation-which we know will increase by some measure every year and therefore guarantee a stream of revenues to the Democratically controlled legislature forever even though taxpayers aren’t guaranteed raises to pay for the taxes.  And by the way- both the sales tax and gas tax hits the lower end of the economic scale the hardest- a group that the Democrats are supposedly the champions of.

This strategy, which the Brown campaign had dismissed is working for Hogan as Democrats who are tired of the increasing tax burden are increasingly warming up to Hogan’s message.  That forced Brown to pledge in one of the debates to not to increase taxes during his term- which voters are having a hard time believing considering his track record in Annapolis.

With the polls showing an increasingly tight race, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has put the weight of the Republican Governors Association behind Hogan with money and his endorsement.  Christie has come to Maryland to help Hogan, capping it with an appearance Sunday in Baltimore to a packed house of enthusiastic and reenergized Republicans.

While Hogan has been eating into Brown’s base, his best hope is for a scenario like 2002 when Robert Ehrlich beat incumbent Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to become the first Republican governor in Maryland in 36 years.  There are some similarities to that race with Brown, like Townsend being a weak candidate and with Democrats showing little enthusiasm for Brown.

A measure of that lack of enthusiasm are the appearances of President Obama and Hillary Clinton, which drew small crowds and those that came mainly wanted pictures of the politicians and didn’t come to hear Brown.

Brown still has the edge in this race thanks to the Democrats large registration advantage, but thanks to his weak campaign, an-off year election and early voting numbers that were designed to help the Democrats showing that they are not very interested in this race spells trouble for Brown.

Democratic apathy though will not be enough to propel Hogan to victory. Republicans must turn out to vote and the independent/unaffiliated voters-which is the fastest growing group of voters in the state also need to cast their votes for Hogan in above average numbers.

Republican voters in Maryland often complain that their vote doesn’t really matter.  While that may appear true in most years this year is different and their votes are crucial if they are serious about ending one-party rule in the state.

Even though Barack Obama’s Twitter Town Hall consisted largely of carefully selected softball question tweets that didn’t stop users of the microblogging service from generating 169,395 tweets.

The breakdown according t TVNewser:

  • Jobs – 18,957
  • Budget – 15,000
  • Taxes – 14,777
  • Education – 8,833

Despite the preferential treatment and controlled questions Obama still managed to muff the answers according to the Associated Press who did  a quick fact check on the president’s answers.

My recommendation is that maybe next time e could have the answers appear to him in a tweet format via his teleprompter.

In 2008 the Maryland legislature passed a tax on millionaires with the belief that individuals who earn more than $1 million per year were not paying their fair share of taxes and could easily afford to pay more money to the state government.

Last year the state comptrollers office said that based on tax returns files through the end of April the number of returns filed by Marylanders with more than $1 million in taxable income dropped by a third to 2,000 and that tax receipts from that group were down $100 million.

That information was just reinforced by a report by Montgomery County that showed a 27% decline in millionaire tax returns filed in 2007-2008 in the county which is the wealthiest county in the state.

While most liberals scoff at the idea that the tax has been a factor in the sharp decline in tax returns filed by these wealthy individuals Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett speculated that people who own homes in other states are now establishing residency elsewhere which has contributed to the tax revenue decline.

Maryland legislators badly miscalculated that targeting the wealthy would only have a positive effect on revenue and that despite the recession taxpayers would stay put because they are so in love with Maryland.

Yet despite the dramatic loss in tax revenue the legislature is poised on extend the tax when it expires this year.

They apparently think nothing of chasing away the very tax base that provides the money to fund their projects.

And you wonder why they can’t balance the budget?

The Tax Foundation has just released their 2009 Survey of U.S. Attitudes on Taxes, Government Spending and Wealth Distribution and the report shows that Americans opinions on tax issues have not changed markedly since their last study in 2007.

Among the findings from a Harris Interactive poll conducted in February 2009 on behalf of the Tax Foundation  of 2,002 adults aged 18 or over are these;

· 56% of U.S. adults believe that taxes are too high.

· 85% of adults think the tax code is too complex

· 67% favor the complete elimination of the federal income tax

· 56% oppose taxes on “junk food”

While the general attitudes toward taxes may not have changed much in the last two years the survey continues to show widespread disapproval of our current tax system.

With the Republicans out of power until at least 2010 and maybe much longer any hope opponents of the current system had for the implementation of a flat tax or some other alternative method is dead for the time being.

On April 13th we celebrated Tax Freedom Day which theoretically marks the day Americans have earned enough in income to cover their tax burden for the year.

Today while millions of people are furiously finishing their tax returns before the midnight deadline there will hopefully be tens of thousands of people holding TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Parties across the country to show the government how fed up Americans are with the current tax system.

Taxes have become a necessary evil to fund many government services and will probably never totally disappear no matter how outraged taxpayers become. But Americans must fight to make the system one that is both fair and equal and shielded from the grubby hands of politicians who can’t resist spending our hard earned money on wasteful programs.

Chicago’s famed ritzy shopping district known as the Magnificent Mile is a little less magnifent these days as the recession has taken told in the windy city.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal this week vacancies in the area are at the highest level since 1992 when another Democrat was president versus 4.4% in 2007 and just 1% in 2002.  With the almost daily announcements of job losses it is a a good bet that more stores will pull back from the pricey real estate and drive the vacancy rate even higher in the months ahead.

There are currently about 450 shops that line Lake Michigan and the Chicago river, but retailing is under heavy stress as shoppers switch from luxury to lower end stores to take care of their basic needs.

Local politicians haven’t helped the situation any either by raising the sales tax in surrounding Cook County to 10.25% which is the highest in the country and privatizing public parking meters where the rates have soared to $3.50 an hour.

These moves were an attempt to close a $12 million budget deficit but the real effect has been to curb spending even more by consumers who are already wary which leads to lower overall sales tax revenue.  Call it a destimulus package.

The country is currently in the worst economic situation than most people can ever recall having lived through.  That is particularly true for local and national elected officials who are now facing steep budget deficits as a result of years of profligate spending.  Rather than make the truly necessary budget cuts, they resort to increasing taxes and fees to plug the gap.  It may look good on paper, but history has shown that the net effect is to balance the budget while killing future growth.

If the pols continue to raise taxes and fees in thename of balancing the budget the Magnifient Mile will be more like a Magnificent Mess.

As the economic crisis deepens virtually every governor in the U.S. is facing tough decisions when it comes to dealing with their state budget deficits that are expanding at a rapid clip.

In this regard there is no more important state than that of California and its actor turned governor Arnold Schwarzengger who is struggling t deal with a projected $40 billion deficit over the next two years.

When Schwarzengger was elected in 2003 his platform was based on restraining spending, not increasing taxes and less debt financing.  Well what a difference a few years make.  After being soundly defeated in his effort establish budget reform the state budget has grown to a staggering $144.5 billion – up 40% in just four years.  No wonder he has a deficit problem.

Granted Schwarzenegger has been dealing with a Democratically controlled legislature, but instead of hewing to his campaign promises he has completely caved in to the liberals wish list.

Remember that no tax increase pledge?  That’s gone out the window with his proposal to increase the state sales tax rate by 1.5 percentage points for three years which will push the overall sales tax rate to over 9% in some areas making it one of the highest in the country.  All this in the face of a nasty downturn that already has consumers keeping their wallets closed.  He also wants to triple the car tax which isn’t likely to generate as much money as he thinks with people abandoning their cars for mass transit.  Plus who is in the market for a new car these days?  Just look at the Big Three automakers begging for a taxpayer bailout if you don’t think the auto industry is in trouble.

The governor is so enamroed by his own proposals that he has been quoted saying that his tax plan will “invigorate our economy and generate jobs” and conveniently neglects that higher taxes does exactly the opposite.

Despite the fact that he thinks that tax increases are the way to solve his budget woes,  Schwarzenegger has been stymied by the Republicans in the Assembly where tax increases require a two-thirds vote to pass and the Democrats are 3 seats shy of that magic number.

What the state needs right now is the tough guy persona that Schwarzennegger portrayed in his action movies.  He should trim the budget by cutting government programs that were expanded under his watch and show some fiscal responsibility.  Except for his legacy as governor though there isn’t a lot of incentive for him to do much.  He can’t run for office again and if he can somehow finagle his way out of this budget crisis he probably will and saddle his successor with even more unpalatable choices.

The lesson here is that you can’t tax and spend your way to prosperity.