General Assembly Needs to Go Home

There’s no way around it folks; we’re in deep water.

As we discussed extensively on Red Maryland Radio, nobody is quite sure how to react in this time of crisis. Nobody in political leadership has ever dealt with a health emergency like we are dealing with in the COVID-19 virus.

Governor Larry Hogan is showing tremendous leadership in the way he is handling the crisis. He has shown poise, decisiveness, and a willingness to make the tough decisions. He has surrounded himself with able and competent staff and is empowering them to make the right decisions. His decision to hand over the rest of the state government to Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford so he can focus on the crisis shows and important focus on what truly needs his attention.

That brings us to legislative leadership.

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To be absolutely clear; Democrats in Annapolis have been very complimentary toward Governor Hogan’s leadership. They are not trying to politicize the crisis to attack the Governor or Republicans. Not to say that some legislators seem incapable of turning it off….

At the moment, the General Assembly plans to see its way through the scheduled April 6th adjournment, but are looking to rapidly finish up as much as they can:

Maryland lawmakers said Thursday they will work through the weekend and prioritize the most “critical” bills for passage in case they need to end the 441st Legislative Session early due to the spread of the coronavirus.

In a joint statement, House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson said they asked their leadership teams to “finish critical bills in an expedited fashion.”

“We will work through the weekend in session ― including floor sessions for the House and the Senate on Sunday, March 15, 2020,” Jones and Ferguson wrote. “Amendment requests will be taken by email only.”

Honestly, this is a mistake.

As I have spoken and written about previously, the one constitutional duty the General Assembly has every year is to adopt a balanced budget. Everything else is constitutionally extraneous.  The Kirwan bill, sports betting, and a bunch of other bills are not so important to adopt that they should be pushed through in a crisis; especially at a time in which public participation in the legislative process has been throttled. How can those bills, whether you agree with them or not, be rationally considered while we are in a State of Emergency.

It gets even more complicated when you start talking about the Democrats proposed tax increases. Especially in light of the fact that the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates has indicated that, thanks to coronavirus, we could be staring at the start of a recession;

Maryland’s Board of Revenue Estimates declined Thursday to make updated projections about how much in taxes the state will collect due to economic uncertainty caused by the spread of coronavirus.

The three-member panel of Comptroller Peter Franchot, State Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Maryland budget secretary David Brinkley voted unanimously to maintain the projections about the state’s budget made in December.

Franchot said the projections “are meant to serve as a placeholder as we await to learn the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on our country and our state.”

Bureau of Revenue Estimates Director Andrew Schaufele says it’s unclear whether the virus will cause a short economic hit or a “prolonged, full-blown recession…..”.

….Franchot said the impact of the virus on the state’s economy will be “significant, if not historic.”

It will be incredibly irresponsible to pass tax cuts that would damage the economy at a time in which the state economy is already in trouble. The fiscally responsible thing to do would be to pass the budget and go home. And I’m not alone in thinking that:

There is also the human factor of all of this too. Every day the General Assembly is in session, hundreds of people are still milling around the State House. Essential personnel. Police. Credentialed Media. Legislators. It only takes one person being infected in that building to create a serious problem. If legislators get infected, they take it back to their families, their homes, and their district. That’s how you wind up with the virus being spread even further.

And that says nothing of the actual legislators themselves. Let’s be honest; a lot of members of the General Assembly are older and are members of an age cohort more susceptible to serious health risks and death from this disease.

Is that price one Democrats are really willing to pay to get a tax hike?

In the interest of public health, in the interest of due diligence, and in the interest of good government, the Maryland General Assembly should adopt a budget as soon as possible and immediately adjourn sine die. Is it an optimal outcome? No. But it is the most responsible decision that can be made, and the best decision possible for the people of Maryland. It’s time for the General Assembly to go home.


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