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May 31, 2007

Aspersions v. Solutions

John W. Ashbury

If you recall, former Frederick City Mayor Jennifer Dougherty was among the first municipal leaders to lend her support to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley in his successful bid to unseat incumbent Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. It may have been because she had learned so much from our new governor, fawning at his knee.

Mayor Dougherty, beginning at her inauguration, blamed all the woes of our fair community on her predecessor, James S. Grimes. No matter what the issue, nor how the city failed to meet an obligation, it was Jim Grimes' fault.

Frequently her weekly press conferences descended into either the "blame game," or to her taking credit for the work of others. She seldom gave praise to any of her predecessors for their hard work and accomplishments.

That "blame but fail to produce" attitude may well have led to her one-term status. Even sympathetic voters get tired of such a strategy.

Now, we fast forward to the present and we find her "mentor," our present governor, exhibiting the same behavior. He's blaming Governor Ehrlich for his problems.

Just last week, after his newly appointed Public Service Commission approved a 50 percent rate increase for Baltimore Gas & Electric Company's 1.1 million customers, Governor O'Malley said there was nothing he could do because the PSC was handcuffed by decisions made by those appointed to the PSC by Bob Ehrlich.

Nevermind that he had campaigned on a promise to "stop" the huge rate increase for Maryland electric customers. Nevermind that these rate increases were set in motion in 1999 when the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, which not only deregulated the industry, but forced the utilities to apply 1993 rates for the next seven years.

And at a Howard County gathering of Democrats on May 17, Governor O'Malley began his campaign to prepare Maryland residents for huge tax increases by blaming Governor Ehrlich. It seems he is about to address a "structural deficit," in which the state will receive revenues about $1.5 billion less than it has agreed to spend in the 2009 Fiscal Year budget.

Governor O'Malley purposely avoided mentioning that when he took office in January he was the beneficiary of a $1.8 billion surplus left to meet upcoming needs by that same Governor Ehrlich. He also failed to mention that when Governor Ehrlich took office in 2003, he had been left a $4 billion deficit by his predecessor, Parris N. Glendening.

You might say that during his term in office, Governor Ehrlich turned the state around, gathering $5.8 billion more in revenues than he spent.

Surely, Republican Ehrlich supported increase in numerous fees and did vote, as a member of the Board of Public Works, to raise the property tax rate from 8 cents to 13 cents. The increase was used to cover debt service on state bonds. His predecessors had shifted those revenues to the General Fund.

But, as to the fee increases, taxpayers can choose to avail themselves - or not - of those state provided services.

And Governor O'Malley didn't mention that he had used most of the "surplus" left in his care by Mr. Ehrlich to balance the state's 2008 budget.

Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, president of the Maryland Senate, said that blame for the upcoming tax increases are not only the fault of Governor Ehrlich, but also of his own Democrat-controlled legislature. While the deficit was allowed to accumulate, nothing was done to address the coming crisis. Senator Miller was quoted by The Washington Times as saying.

The Times also pointed out that this structural deficit is the direct result of two laws passed and signed during the Glendening Administration - the law increasing school funding and a major reduction in income taxes for Maryland citizens.

Another major factor in this state deficit situation is a ruling by an accounting control board which forces governments at all levels to fund future pension and health benefits - not as they become payable - but as the obligation is incurred. Frederick County, for example, will provide nearly $20 million in next year's budget to partially meet this requirement, nearly double that of previous years.

Governor O'Malley is preparing state taxpayers for a special session of the General Assembly later this year to address this structural deficit. It is a foregone conclusion that he will ask for increases in the gas tax, which is supposed to go to the transportation trust fund for transit improvements; most of it, however, will go to mass transit and not roads. He also will seek a sales tax increase of 20 to 40 percent, which will go into the general fund to be spent as he and the legislature see fit.

You can also expect slot machines to be part of the fix he has in mind. Senator Miller went along with Governor Ehrlich's slots initiative for four years. The holdup was Speaker of The House of Delegates Michael Busch of Anne Arundel County, who flatly stated he was opposed to them.

Now that a Democrat is suggesting slots be installed at the state's race tracks, Delegate Busch is compromising his principals by saying he is willing to consider them. The speaker seems to be playing a game attempting to pit President Miller against Governor O'Malley, as he was quoted in last week's Business Gazette as saying race tracks may not be the best places for slot machines.

While Jennifer Dougherty gave us an introduction to the blame game," Governor O'Malley is taking it to a whole new level. It would be nice to hear our political leaders - at all levels - actually address the problems we as citizens face, rather than casting aspersions on those who have gone before.

It matters little who brought about the straits in which we find ourselves. Just find solutions to extricate us now - and in the future.

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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