The issues at stake

Today marks the opening of yet another “90 days of terror” known as the Maryland General Assembly session. My plan is to be at the March on Annapolis tonight so I’m writing here this morning about key issues which need to be addressed and why.

Obviously job one for the General Assembly is approving the budget. But Maryland is unique among states because the General Assembly can’t legally add one dime to the budget Governor O’Malley presents – they can only cut from it or move money around. On the other hand, revenue increases can’t magically be placed by O’Malley but need to have enabling legislation from the General Assembly introduced on his behalf.

The Spending Affordability Committee recommended last fall that the Fiscal Year 2011 budget should maintain the level of spending present in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, which took effect last July. Yet it is up to O’Malley whether to follow the SAC’s advice or do what politicians facing re-election like to do leading into the campaign and increase spending at a faster clip in order to buy a few votes here and there.

Yet O’Malley has one problem – he doesn’t know just who his opponent will be yet. If he seeks the nomination, the odds-on favorite would be former Governor Bob Ehrlich. Then O’Malley could bring out his tired old diatribes against the “prior administration” and direct his political payoffs accordingly. However, if Larry Hogan or Delegate Pat McDonough secure the GOP nod the chips may have to be distributed differently. It’s hard to target the largesse when the target’s not in sight yet.

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Look for O’Malley to beseech his friends just down U.S. 50 in Washington, D.C. to produce a bailout just for him so he can increase spending at a level he deems appropriate.

Part of the reason O’Malley is in such a spending pickle is that the eggs he filled his economic basket with, assuming the revenue would be there, were increases in the sales tax, cigarette tax, and eventually a “millionaire’s tax” which replaced the unpopular “tech tax” originally passed in the 2007 Special Session. There were problems with each approach:

  • If people are losing their jobs or having their hours cut, they spend less – hence lower sales tax revenues.
  • Maryland isn’t exactly a broad state, so smokers found it easier to travel a few miles for cheaper smokes. And has it ever made sense to spend money telling people not to use a product, but then depend on taxes from the product to help balance the budget?
  • People who were in the tax brackets affected by the “millionaire’s tax” were also those who could afford to move to lower-tax states like Florida – so some did. Others lost their jobs or found their business wasn’t as lucrative so they fell out of the tax bracket entirely.

I know better than to expect taxes to be lowered, but not enacting any new taxes or fees would be a step in the right direction. If we can stop the bleeding of jobs and capital out of the state it would help the situation.

Another step in the right direction would be to stop regulating citizens out of existence. Annually the General Assembly passes dozens of new environmental regulations because apparently they expect Chesapeake Bay to be cleaned up overnight thanks to the regulations they passed before – when it doesn’t happen they have no thought but to pass more! Never mind the effect on agriculture and industry.

There will be thousands of people in Annapolis tonight who want the General Assembly to consider and pass solutions to these issues and more, such as stopping the tide of illegal immigrants settling in Maryland and strengthening laws against child predators in the wake of the murder of Sarah Foxwell. While it’s not completely unusual to have a public protest at Lawyers Mall, the size and vociferousness of this crowd tonight could give a clue as to public unrest with the General Assembly in this, an election year.

Crossposted on monoblogue.

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