Cutting School Bus Driver Benefits
The school bus contractors, drivers and attendants need to stand together and be heard. Our elected officials are threatening to take away the one benefit we have access to: a modified version of the health care coverage that county employees take for granted. The same policy that some drivers spend half their pay to receive.
After achieving this benefit a couple of years ago, the cash benefit option was reduced without so much as a ripple from our peers. Now, the politicians looking to trim budgets are talking about eliminating the health care all together. And what about one-year bus contracts? The county has negotiated the contractors numb. Even the out-of-county bus owners, which originally solidified the position the county dictated, are now complaining.
The residents and politicians in this county are quick to boast about our school system, which is indeed one of the finest. But, once again, the bus drivers and contractors are being overlooked as the integral part of the education process that they are.
The requirements for contractors and drivers in this county are stringent. They are required to be the top professionals in their field. It's time we all spoke up and reminded everyone -- parents, teachers, school board members and politicians -- that all we ask in return is to be treated fairly. Our responsibilities are awesome.
On Feb. 26, an article in The Sun for Howard County discussed teen attitudes toward the police. According to this article, police think that the disrespect teens show them is part of a disrespect for all authority.
I have seen this disrespect for authority repeatedly in the many different schools in which I substitute and it concerns me a great deal. These students are selfish, uncaring people. They talk while I am taking attendance or giving directions, argue with me when I ask them to do something, and make teaching class a difficult job. Students enrolled in honor classes frequently act like this; they seem to think that being smart is an excuse for rudeness. I have been substitute teaching on and off since 1982. It was rare to find a student who was rude to me then.
Students act like this because adults are unwilling to enforce rules and are tolerant of rude behavior. Once, when I substituted at Howard High, I sent two students to the office who were rude to me. I was very pleased with the support I received from Stephen Wallis for what I considered rude behavior.
I think it is very important that rules be enforced so that students know what the limits are. Mr. Wallis is fair, patient and kind. He insists that the students be held accountable for their actions. The fact that Mr. Wallis cares about them, and they know that he cares, is clear by the many students who like and respect him. I am impressed by the thought, time, energy and caring that Mr. Wallis puts into his job as vice principal at Howard High School. Mr. Wallis understands that discipline that is fair and responsible teaches students care and respect for others, including authority.
Kevin Thomas is absolutely correct in his position on the capitalistic cannon in his column on March 5. He writes, "Rather than accept that wealth is not always based on material things, we gauge our position in society by how much we can denigrate others." Most in America have selected someone to look down upon in order to raise their own "self-esteem," although they would never admit it.
But in Mr. Thomas' crusade against the evils of an anti-growth mentality, he has fallen pray to the same kind of denigration. During the last county executive campaign, he never had a good word to say for candidate Susan Gray, attacking her as if she was a Republican. He offered statements such as "Susan Gray has got to be the Oliver North of Howard County politics" and "I have nightmares about politics. This particular one centered on the prospect that . . . Susan B. Gray becomes Howard County executive," and "The Picture of Susan Gray."
These personal references reflect Mr. Thomas' obsession with growth when he goes out of his way to condemn any person simply because of an opposite stance with little in the way of proof that growth is the way to go.
In the March 5 column he writes, "Even with the preservation program, of course, there's a certain inevitability about growth in Howard County. And all the efforts to curtail it can't stop people from seeking their share of the American dream." Apparently, Ms. Gray's dream does not coincide with Mr. Thomas' dream, and, of course, Mr. Thomas' (The Sun's) opinion is more credible.
Slow growth to some is fast growth to others. Everyone likes growth except when it affects them personally. Just raise the specter of a school, prison, dump, new road, low-income housing, even a golf course being established and watch all the growth-advocates suddenly shift to a NIMBY mentality. So you certainly don't have to be wealthy to be "pitiful."
Unfortunately, more and more Howard countians are feeling the aspects of growth in a negative way. I have much the same feelings as the rich people Mr. Thomas cites. And I don't live on a three-acre lot in some isolated mansion. I guess I'm "pitiful" too.
R. D. Bush
Up in Smoke
It amazes me that our Howard County senators opposed the governor's smoking ban in public facilities. These senators tried to justify their tobacco vote by saying it was a fiscal issue. Nonsense. It is a health issue.
Maryland has one of the highest cancer rates in America. Smoking causes 5,000 cases of cancer every year in our state and contributes to 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 87 percent of all cases of lung cancer.
Nationally, second-hand smoke (which is what this bill is really about) kills an estimated 3,000 adult nonsmokers through lung cancer. Each year, second-hand smoke causes up to 300,000 respiratory infections in children under 18 months of age. Workers exposed to second-hand smoke are 34 percent more likely to get lung cancer.
Fiscally, we're paying for all this through increased insurance premiums and through Medicaid costs (which are now 15 percent of our state budget).
It's a shame our senators can't do what is right. It's a shame they bend to the political winds of the tobacco interests and don't respond to the health interests of the people they represent.
The Old Ballgame
Day one of strikeball has started. There is no turning back.
I have never been an avid fan of professional baseball nor do I particularly enjoy planting myself in front of the TV for three hours to watch a baseball game. But if there is something I can't refuse, it is attending the ballpark for a "good" game of baseball, with a hot dog in my right hand and a bag of peanuts in my left.
There is just a special smell in the air that lures me and many other people to the minor league games. It's just good ole baseball, the way the game was originally played; not for the money but for the pure thrill of playing ball.
I think it is terrible to hear young children say that they want to be baseball players to be rich. . . . A lot of professional players have lost that joy, which has ruined the name of the game and the entire atmosphere of the major leagues. These minor league players still have that flair and play their hardest for thousands of cheers instead of thousands of dollars.
They are eager to show the country what a good game they can play. The minor leagues are out and ready, and believe me, I'll be one of the first people sitting in my seat with my hot dog and peanuts on Opening Day.
In reviewing the Senate's failure to pass the balanced budget amendment, I would like to address two of the arguments liberal Democrats used to justify their opposition to the amendment. In fact, some senators even switched their votes from previous years to oppose the amendment.
* "The Social Security trust funds will be at risk."
Democrats charge that somehow the Social Security trust funds will be "raided" under a balanced budget amendment. This reasoning is bogus and these senators know it. Under current practice, when the president and the Congressional Budget Office estimate the size of the deficit, the surplus of the trust fund is balanced against federal expenditures. At the 11th hour, opponents of the amendment played the Social Security card and proposed changing current practice so that the trust fund surplus could not be counted in estimating the size of the deficit.
By using phrases such as "raiding the trust funds," Democrats give the impression that the retirement benefits of hard-working Americans will be taken to pay down the deficit. This is one of the most openly deceptive scare tactics used in Washington in many years.
* "Republicans should tell us how they'll balance the budget." The purpose of the balanced budget amendment is to establish an underlying principle, not to specify the mechanics of how the deficit should be reduced. Should the nation live within its means?
If the answer is "yes," the debate will turn to how it should be accomplished. But first we must establish if we as a nation intend to live within our means, or continue to pile debt onto our children and grandchildren. Is going further into debt really an option?
The argument itself raises questions about liberal Democrat intentions. If the choices are painful, and of course they will be, does that mean we shouldn't balance the budget? This is the kind of thinking that got us into this budget mess in the first place.
Fortunately, Republicans have committed themselves to moving toward a balanced budget, whether or not the Constitution is amended. It's clear that liberal Democrats are not truly committed to this goal, and without a constitutional amendment guiding Congress, it will be very difficult to achieve.
Maryland's senators, Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, voted against giving Marylanders the opportunity to decide the fate of the balanced budget amendment. They hope that by the next elections, Marylanders will have forgotten their vote on this strategic amendment. This time, they are wrong.
The writer is president of the Howard County Republican Club.
What Debt Means
In order to bring an end to federal deficits, more of us need to understand that we are living beyond our government's means, resulting in a large and growing national debt, large growing trade deficit and declining value of the dollar.
Fundamentally, the further we go into debt, the poorer the future retirement prospects for those now age 50 and under.
The growing debt increases federal interest costs. The growing retiree population increases entitlement costs. Interest plus entitlements (mostly for retirees), projected to grow from 66 percent of spending today to 80 percent of a higher spending burden by 2020, will fall on a declining number of working taxpayers per dependent retiree.
The economy/income is not growing fast enough, in part because of federal borrowing, to significantly lighten this growing burden. This trend accelerates in only 15 years when baby boomers begin to retire and Social Security and Medicare will exceed FICA tax receipts. Overburdened working taxpayers will likely be forced to make major reductions in these entitlements or accept accelerating debt growth and the induced inflation, which would rob retirees of their savings and annuity values. This situation can be clearly seen in the recent Congressional Bipartisan Commission on Entitlements and Tax Reform projections of federal spending.
To end deficits equitably, every federal expenditure from the arts to big items such as Social Security/Medicare must be reduced or increase at a slower rate. Tax expenditures such as home mortgage deductions and corporate breaks cannot be left out. We each need to tell our congressional representatives that borrowing must be phased out soon in an equitable manner. We need to let them know we are willing to accept reductions in spending that directly benefit each of us or that we are willing to pay higher taxes. Only if we all share in belt-tightening can those under age 50 have reasonable retirement prospects.
The writer is a coordinator for the Howard County chapter of the Concord Coalition.