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From the Desk of
County Commissioner Thompson

(April, 2010) The War Between the States obviously settled the question of whether a state may unilaterally secede from the Union. However, the United States Constitution provides a mechanism for a geographic area within a state to apply to Congress for admission to the Union as a new state:

"New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress."

Prior to the 1960s the Maryland General Assembly, like many other state legislatures, was seriously malapportioned in favor of rural areas of the state. Just as the United States Senate (were each state has two senators, regardless of population) serves as a check against pure majoritarian rule of the national government, electing the General Assembly primarily by county rather than population served as a check against pure majoritarian rule in Maryland. Decisions of the United States Supreme Court in Baker v. Carr and its progeny required apportionment of the membership of state legislatures to be on the basis of population, "not trees or acres."

With the advent of legislative apportionment based primarily on population, control of the General Assembly now rests in the urban areas of the state. Resolution of the malapportionment issue created another. While democracy is the preferred form of government, is does have its problems:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy."

What happens when the urban areas of the state, constituting a numerical majority of the State's population, create a government that disproportionately benefits urban areas but is disproportionately paid for by rural areas? In other words, what happens when other areas of the State pay substantially more taxes into the state's coffers than they get back?

I am also concerned that the State's inability to deal with its skyrocketing unfunded obligations for public employee retirement and health care benefit plans may result in Maryland following other states (California, Michigan, etc.) into a financial black hole. Now may be a good time to get out while the gettin' is good.

With the above in mind, I believe the BOCC should explore the financial and legal ramifications of seceding from Maryland and applying to Congress for admission to the Union as a new state. My reasons include:

Public Education

Maryland's long-standing policy regarding funding for public education calls for "wealthier" counties (which includes Frederick) to receive proportionally less state funding that "poorer" counties. Statehood will remove this anomaly.

The marginal cost of compliance with No Child Left Behind and other federal education programs in order to receive federal education funding may outweigh the marginal benefit of the funding. As a separate state, Frederick County may be financially better off to decline the federal funding and the attached strings & conditions.

Tax Dollars Stay Here

As a separate state, Frederick County would keep the tax revenue generated here rather than having it shipped to Annapolis to be divvied up via the political process.

As an example, the General Assembly has reduced the County's share of the state highway user revenue ("SHUR") funding, a/k/a "gas tax" from just under $14 million in FY 2008 to under $500,000 in FY 2010.

State's Unfunded Pension & Retiree Health Care Obligations

The unfunded obligations of the State's pension and health care benefits for retired State employees are spiraling out of control. The combined unfunded liability for the State's retirement and pension systems was just under $17.5 billion as of June 30, 2009, up from $2.8 billion as of June 30, 2004.

The state's unfunded liability for retiree health care benefits was $15.3 billion as of June 30, 2009. The General Assembly has a fiduciary responsibility to modify the retiree pension and health care benefit programs to place them on a sound financial footing. It has done so in the past. However, the Legislature has yet to summon the will to do so.

Senator David Brinkley, one of Frederick County's two state senators, has attempted to deal with the State's unfunded liability for teacher's retirement & pension systems by saddling County governments with the problem, even though the Counties have no control over those systems. Had 2009 SB 648 been enacted into law, the estimated additional cost to Frederick County over FY 11 through FY 14 would be approximately $47 million.

If 2010 SB 1004 becomes law, the estimated additional cost to Frederick County in FY 2011 will be approximately $17 million. Ironically, in 2006 Senator Brinkley and all other members of the County's Delegation voted to add $1.9 billion in liabilities to the State Teacher's retirement & pension systems.

My concerns are not directed at any political party or ideology. We simply cannot continue government as usual.

Read other articles from Frederick County Commissioners