Ten Questions: Ron Miller
Office Sought: Maryland Senate District 27
Hometown: Huntingtown, MD Calvert County
I am a nine-year plus U.S. Air Force veteran, technology and homeland security consultant, senior executive in the public, private and non-profit sectors, and a former political appointee with FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Small Business Administration. I’ve lived in Maryland since 2001.
I really don’t have a hero in the political realm. I don’t worship anyone other than Jesus Christ, and while I respect many men and women, they all have their flaws, as do I. If you pressed me, however, I’d say Jack Kemp for his tireless evangelism on behalf of conservatism, and his absolute conviction that the values and solutions of conservatism benefitted everyone, even minorities and the urban poor. His hallmark was his outreach to those non-traditional constituencies, and I can think of no one who has done it better or with more integrity before or since.
3. What prompted you to take on one of the most powerful politicians in the state?
I have an innate disdain for elected officials who believe they are above accountability and the consent of the governed, and we have two such animals where I live in Mike Miller and Steny Hoyer. I ran against both in 2006 – the switch from one race to the other is a longer story than you have time for! – and I chose to run against Mike Miller again this time.
I’m not intimidated by them; they are just men, after all. The seats they occupy don’t belong to them, and they should have to stand for election against a credible opponent every election.
I also believe that, after nearly 40 years in the General Assembly, Mike Miller is incapable of the bold steps we’re going to have to take in order to fix our budget woes in the mid-to-long term. We’re going to have to take risks and share sacrifices, and we’re going to have to throw conventional wisdom out the window. He won’t do that because his emphasis is on maintaining the status quo and holding power. Neither serve the interests of the people of Maryland.
The Maryland budget is so far gone that we have to start over again. The incrementalism that has plagued our elected officials in Annapolis has brought us to a crisis point, and we have to be big and aggressive in solving our problems.
We start by zero-basing the budget and reaccomplishing it, asking hard questions along the way, like “This is a worthy cause, but should government be funding it?” “Is this a state or local government responsibility?”
Mandates shield off 2/3rds of the budget, and that handcuffs our efforts to devise a permanent solution. Lift state mandates and push back on federal mandates, using the 10th Amendment as it was intended. Force each program to justify its existence.
Every program ought to have a defined and measurable public benefit as an outcome, defined and measurable objectives to reach that public benefit, and a plan to accomplish those objectives. Not a single dime goes to a program until after they have an approved performance plan.
This entire process ought to be completely transparent and open to all Marylanders, from the committee debates and votes all the way to the final vote before it goes to the governor for signature. We should design websites to make it easy for citizens to find the information they need; right now, the General Assembly’s web presence is byzantine and difficult to navigate for anyone other than lobbyists and policy wonks. Unless the release of information adversely affects public safety or violates a citizen’s rights, it all should be out there in the sunshine for all to see.
Just as the sun rises, the sun also sets. Every program should be monitored regularly, and should report back periodically to ensure it is on track to meet its objectives and, ultimately, its public benefit. If it isn’t working and cannot be corrected, then it should be terminated. All programs ought to be considered for termination at some point in their life cycle unless they represent a permanent expense. Not all government programs should last forever.
Education and health care costs must be on the table and subjected to the same rigorous analysis I’ve described. Not only are they the largest expenditures in the budget, they are also the fastest growing ones. The sentiment to wall them off from critical review and realloaction is understandable, but is not showing sound stewardship of Marylanders’ tax dollars. We’re not being honest with them if we say we can do this without including them in the mix.
I’m not convinced that the education budget is designed or allocated efficiently and effectively. For all the positive results we’ve seen overall, we still have serious problems with school systems in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, and they’ve had a lot of money sent their way. We need to look at how much is directly affecting the student and teacher in the classroom, and then critically evaluate costs from there. Other school systems are educating their children well for less money per student; we need to learn from them. We need to examine the success of charter schools and use them as the laboratories of innovation they’re meant to be.
Health care costs will continue to rise, and all the proposals to expand coverage will just dump more participants into a dysfunctional system. My approach to designing a health care budget is similar to how I’d address education. Start with the patient and the doctor, and work from there.
We have a severe doctor shortage in Maryland, especially in rural areas, and you can’t have health care without medical professionals to administer it. Texas enacted comprehensive tort reform many years ago, and doctors are coming back into the state to practice as a result. Lower the cost of doing business for doctors and more of them will stay or set up shop here. It’s common sense, but we’ve let too many people confuse the issue with blizzards of words and numbers. As my mother always says, “Use the common sense God gave you!”
We need to strip most of the mandates from our health insurance regulations and establish a basic package that is more affordable, and give consumers the option to add services as they want or need them. That would not only bring costs down, but would also encourage more insurers to come to Maryland, further enhancing competition.
I have many other ideas, but these are a good representation of how I’d propose to do business. By the way, I’d also look very critically at state land purchases and many smaller programs which, in my view, are involved in areas in which government has no business.
6. Many counties budgets are being crippled by Maintenance of Effort requirements; would you support eliminating or reducing those requirements?
Yes. Maintenance of effort requirements are bad regulations masquerading as educational reform. The counties ought to have the flexibility to make budget decisions without being shackled by the state, and they should be able to sit down with their local school boards to work out solutions when economic times are tight. Threats of fines and reduced aid are reflective of the heavy hand of government, and such bullying should cease. Again, my rule of thumb when it comes to making education budget decisions is to start in the classroom and work your way out from there.
We need to cut our corporate tax rate to be competitive with other states in the region. With our highly educated labor force and available office space, there’s no reason why we should lose out to northern Virginia every time a major business wants to relocate to our region. I’d kill the so-called “millionaire’s tax” – it’s losing money and discouraging our small businesses and entrepreneurs. Tax credits are an anemic response to small business concerns; they hire when there’s work to be done and income to pay salaries, not to get a $3K per person tax credit that won’t even cover salary and benefits for a month.
We need to convene a regulatory review board to critically examine regulations and determine which ones can be eliminated. If it can’t demonstrate a positive impact on public safety or worker protection, it’s gone.
In the long term, we need tax reform so we’re not dealing with these budget crises from year to year. We need to encourage savings, investment and wealth creation, and we need to stop using the tax code to reward or punish behavior; that’s not the purpose of taxes. I support a taxpayer bill of rights because I believe in restricting government’s ability to raise taxes on the people; they would be forced to defend their proposals to the people and, if they say no, it’s not the people’s problem, it’s the government’s problem for not making their case. I also believe we need to determine how to streamline or simplify the tax code, whether it’s a flat tax, fair tax or whatever kind of tax system encourages individual wealth creation and small business growth.
Transportation issues are reaching a critical mass, and we need to address the concerns in creative ways. Large-scale infrastructure projects, with their lag time and potential for fraud, waste and abuse, can’t be the only solution. Locating business offices closer to where people live is a solution that links back to my economic proposals to attract more companies to Maryland. Knowledge work and services are the predominant industry in our area, and we can expand them without significant environmental impact. Telecommuting ought to be encouraged as well.
I would also look into the smart transportation grid programs being implemented in other states to see if they would work here. My impression is that Maryland lacks a comprehensive plan for transportation; it seems to respond to the squeakiest wheel or the loudest elected official. None of these transportation projects operates in a vacuum; we need an integrated, comprehensive plan for the entire state. Sound project management practices and priority setting will go a long way toward giving people assurances that their government is being smart and prudent about transportation.
The environment is a vital component of Maryland’s quality of life, but we’re throwing money at the problems with limited to no success, and we’re not engaging all citizens to become active participants in maintaining and enhancing the environment. More community and voluntary efforts can have positive effects; we all want to be good stewards of the land on which we live. Giving Marylanders more information on what individuals can do, and then encouraging them to act, can lead to dramatic improvements. I’m an advocate of self-governance, and we need more of it in confronting environmental issues.
9. Following on that last question, Maryland passed cap and trade legislation in 2009 and the Maryland Department of the Environment is working with environmental special interests to write the regulations. If elected what would you do to mitigate or nullify what are sure to be economically ruinous dictates?
We need to involve more than just environmental special interests in developing regulations, because they have vested interests pointed in one direction, and that doesn’t serve the people of Maryland. If businesses and communities are not equally represented, it’s a sham. I wouldn’t allow a single regulation to be enacted if it doesn’t emerge from a consensus between affected parties. It’s good governance and, while some people decry the difficulties in reaching consensus, our government is designed to be inefficient and incapable of running roughshod over our liberties. Consensus is the ultimate goal of good policy and, if we don’t have it, there’s probably a good reason why it shouldn’t be done. Elitism or arrogance has no place in our republic.
As you can probably assume, I’m a policy and solutions person, so that’s always an important consideration for me. As a result, I’d like to see Bobby Jindal as the GOP nominee in 2012. He is a highly intelligent and experienced policy maker, and he’s accomplished a great deal in his relatively young life. He appears to be an ethical man with great integrity and the courage of his convictions. His uniquely American story, a story that all legal immigrants recognize, is appealing, too. He may lack the flash and dash of many other candidates, but we have good examples in the Governor’s House in Annapolis and the White House in Washington of what style without substance and experience gets us.
One other thing; despite his great intellectual and political accomplishments, he appears to be a humble man. I’m tired of politicians and other elites who think we’re too ignorant, intolerant, or incompetent to govern ourselves, and they’ve not been shy about expressing their feelings to that end as of late. I prize education, but without the leavening of experience and humility, it leads to condescension and arrogance. We’ve had enough of that.