A proper stand

I know we have a major national election in 29 days; however, right on its heels will come the 90 days of terror most call the General Assembly session here in Maryland. It’s never too early to think about the fiscal welfare of Free State citizens and I’m standing (more or less) four-square behind this thinking by the Republicans in our House of Delegates as they formally as a body came out against the Constitutional Amendment for video slot machines and suggested an alternative solution to our continuing budget crisis:

House Republicans today unveiled their budget plan for FY 2010 and announced their opposition to the November 4, 2008 slots constitutional amendment. The Republican plan slows growth in State spending, repeals the O’Malley tax increases, implements a fiscally responsible slots plan, and eliminates the structural deficit.

I’m already liking this because last year they weren’t clear about whether the tax increases Martin O’Malley and his fellow Democrats inflicted on those of us who live, work, or shop in Maryland would be repealed, this time it’s right on top for all to see.

“Maryland’s fiscal problems are not the product of a lack of revenues, but an inherent lack of spending restraint among the majority of its state political leaders”, said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell. “Our continued calls for real spending restraint have fallen on deaf ears and it is now abundantly clear that the Governor’s repeated claims of fiscal responsibility have been proven hollow and false. Until the Governor and the Democrat Leadership get serious about spending restraint instead of perpetuating the illusion, Maryland’s fiscal crisis will only get worse.”

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Martin O’Malley continues to claim he’s cut over $1 billion in spending – so why did our state budget increase in real dollars? As I continue reviewing the House GOP statement, I’ll see whether they’ll make cuts in the actual number of dollars spent.

“In less than two years Governor O’Malley has spent the surplus, raided every fund, increased taxes at record levels, and has still managed to spend Maryland into the ground”, said Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank. “This new deficit was not inherited – it was created by Governor Martin O’Malley, the Democrat Leadership, and their complete inability to restrain spending. It is time for the Governor to stop blaming others and start taking responsibility for his administration’s spending addiction.”

What was left by Governor Ehrlich was a budget that was balanced, but a structural deficit that was projected if spending continued to increase apace. Ehrlich wasn’t quite as conservative in his last budget as he had been with his prior three; in addition spending mandated by the General Assembly in response to the Thornton case was a sword of Damocles over our budgetary head. Still, the situation was manageable without resorting to the massive tax increases Governor O’Malley and Democrats rammed through on a largely party-line basis.

“The Democrat leadership is selling the myth that passage of the constitutional amendment authorizing slot machines will immediately fix our fiscal problems”, said Delegate O’Donnell. “The reality is that even if the amendment passes the state will not see any significant revenue until 2013 at the earliest. We are facing a $1 billion deficit next year, and we cannot wait three years to address it. There is no will to restrain growth among state leaders; making additional tax increases a real possibility even if the slots amendment is successful. We encourage our fellow citizens to VOTE NO on this unnecessary slots constitutional amendment. Demand that the General Assembly go back to the drawing board and get the citizens the best deal for a change.”

And the House GOP is correct. Why should it take so long to begin collecting revenue?

“In the current economic environment, Maryland citizens are struggling to make ends meet”, said Delegate Steven Schuh. By controlling State spending and implementing a fiscally responsible slots plan, we have a unique opportunity to provide significant tax relief – $1,750 per family – by reversing Governor O’Malley’s unprecedented tax increases of last year and to resolve the State’s fiscal crisis by eliminating deficit spending. Our slots plan calls for awarding slots licenses through a free-market auction process that will bring in $850 million in up-front proceeds. The Governor’s plan calls for allocating slots licenses through a political process at below-market prices, which carries a material risk of unjust enrichment of a few, politically connected special interests.”

You have to like that thinking – we get a large sum of the money up front and much of the rest can be picked up in savings. Just think of what an average Marylander can do with $1,750 and the shot in the arm that would provide.

The Republican plan repeals the O’Malley tax cuts and implements a fiscally responsible slots plan. The GOP slots proposal does not require a constitutional amendment and provides $800 million in up-front revenue from significant licensing fees. The plan puts growth in State spending in line with revenues and eliminates the structural deficit.

Outstanding. I’m liking this better and better. Just tell me where you cut spending.

“The House Republican Caucus has continually advocated for very limited growth in government coupled with a responsible slots program as an alternative to increasing taxes and making draconian cuts to state services”, said Delegate O’Donnell. “Defeating the constitutional amendment and moving forward with our plan not only provides a better deal for Maryland’s citizens, but provides an immediate infusion of $850 million that can fill most of the $1 billion hole this Administration has created.”

That’s a start, and I’m sure the big-time gambling interests are some of the few entities who would be willing and able to drop $850 million into our state coffers. Better them making the investment than us digging it out of our pockets.

“The best part of our plan is the $3.8 billion in tax relief it provides for Maryland’s citizens – $1,750 per household”, said Delegate Gail Bates, the Ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee. “We will be putting money back into the pockets of our working families while restoring true fiscal sanity to the State. This will create jobs and stimulate our economy while restraining the growth in government spending which is what we should have been doing all along.”

And yet the GOP does poorly in Maryland. As a plan this sounds quite logical to me, although I’d like a little more information on where spending would be cut. But I can see where there is some prudence in keeping that powder dry though.

I have nothing against having video lottery terminals in Maryland (well, actually I like traditional slot machines better but that’s a quibble for another time), I just don’t believe that our state Constitution is the place to have them enshrined. It would be difficult to make needed changes as any new locations or an increase in the number of machines would have to be approved by voters statewide. That’s one compelling reason to vote no right there.

And while this seems like an odd time to bring the news out, it shows the Maryland GOP is serious about fiscal responsibility. It’s unfortunate some of their brethren at the national level have problems with the concept – that’s why they’re now a minority too.

Crossposted on monoblogue.

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