It's been a soggy couple of days on the Shore and we're looking at a few more before we finally break into our late spring and summer weather. While I'm waiting I want to catch up on a few items of interest that caught my eye over the past week.
Energy prices continue to rise. Gasoline prices set a new record in Maryland this week. Gasoline prices nationwide reached an average of $3.67 a gallon and oil reached $126 a barrel. Gas prices here on the Shore ranged from about $3.55 to $3.65 while in the high priced areas of Montgomery County prices were in the $3.75 - $3.85 range with one station posting $3.97 and a station in DC was asking $4.05 for regular. Diesel prices are higher everywhere.
The tourism industry here on the Shore relies heavily on vacationers driving over the Bay Bridge from the DC/Baltimore area and down from the Philadelphia area. With the peak summer driving season starting in a few weeks, the ability of consumers to absorb these increases could have a dramatic impact on the economy here.
On the electricity side, BG&E posted their new rates and PEPCO Holdings announced that their first-quarter profits doubled from last year. It looks like a difficult summer on the electricity front, also.
Transportation In a related development, the New York Times today reported that higher gas prices are driving record crowds to mass transit. Mass transit systems are struggling to cope and equipment shortages are becoming apparent as is apparent both in Baltimore and Washington. With a huge proportion of the state's transportation budget tied up in the InterCounty Connector, the state and local jurisdictions are going to have to look hard at their budgets to see where they can free up some funds to expand mass transit options.
Here on the Shore, there's little mass transit to speak of. In Ocean City, though, the town is encouraging visitors to rely on its bus system while visiting there. A crowded summer weekend can easily overtax the system there and they are going to have to be careful to ensure they have enough capacity.
On a brighter note, the state has announced that construction will begin next year on the MARC station in Edgewood. With thousands of new jobs coming to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, this station will be a critical part of the transportation infrastructure there.
Health A recent study in New England shows that teenagers in places with strict smoking bans in restaurants were forty percent less likely to become regular smokers. Apparently, huddling outside restaurants and bars to take a puff isn't 'cool'. Lower smoking rates among teens will help keep health care costs from growing so fast. Every little bit helps.
Real Estate The number of home sales continues to decline in Maryland. The National Association of Realtors, as they have every recent month, said that the turnaround is about to start, but almost no one else seems to think so. Spring is normally the peak selling season, but it doesn't seem to be happening, at least here on the Shore.
In many states, local jurisdictions are facing severe budgetary problems as falling assessments lead to reductions in property taxes. Here in Maryland, the problem is not quite so urgent as our three-year assessment system means that assessed values are still rising in most jurisdictions. Some counties, though, like Montgomery and Prince George's, which have come to rely heavily on transfer taxes, are suffering as home sales decline sharply. All local jurisdictions need to be very careful in committing to future costs, though, as the same three-year assessment cycle which is helping them now will be hurting them in the future as new assessments drop.
[The photo is of Thomas Point Shoal Light]