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As Long as We Remember...

February 18, 2008

General Assembly Journal 2008 – Volume 2

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

With all of the presidential sweepstakes hoopla, I’ve let the Journal slip to a back shelf. It’s time to brush the dust off the leather binding.

We’ve past the first filing deadline for bill introduction, so things will start heating up in Annapolis. There are a record number of bills submitted, but all that really means is that there are even more bad bills than usual.

Smith Island Cake will probably be our “official” cake by April, walking may well be our “official” recreational activity, and several other pointless, waste of time, feel-good bills will probably be ready to be signed into law.

Sure, there will also be a number of important policy bills passed. There always are. Hopefully, some of my own bills will make it to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk, but the jury is out on that question.

Still ahead is the marriage question. Depending on whom you ask, marriage rights for same-sex couples is either the most egregious human rights denial since slavery or, if granted, the most dangerous effort to undermine society in history.

Truthfully, neither extreme is right here. The truth, and the logical solution, lies somewhere in between.

Remember all those pesky tax increases rammed through in the special session in November? As I recall, enduring all of that fiscal pain was going to lead us out of the Valley of the Structural Deficit and into the Land of Plenty.

Unfortunately, Governor O’Malley and the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate were a little too enthusiastic in the rush to tax. Even super progressive Comptroller Peter Franchot advised caution, suggesting that adding taxes without a fuller fiscal picture for next year might be problematic.

Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley (Frederick-Carroll) and his House counterpart, Anthony O’Donnell (Southern Maryland), claimed the whole special session mess was a failure in the making, predicated on too many unknowns.

Well, somebody wasn’t listening…because the tax increases, many of which went into affect January 1, look like they may cause more problems than they solve.

Problem Number One: The sales and income taxes have made Maryland voters, usually willing to accept the latest progressive nanny government Annapolis throws at them, are extremely unhappy. Joe and Jane Marylander have found the email addresses of the General Assembly, and, boy, are they using them!

I get one email a week from a guy in Baltimore County, who claims to be a life-long Democrat, who sends out the voting tally for all of the tax increases. Every week, like clockwork, he emails a list of all of the Democrats who voted for the taxes and a list of all of the Republicans and Democrats who voted against them. He says he’ll keep it up until the 2010 election.

Problem Number Two: The fiscal forecast for Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010 looks bad. Wait, bad is not the right word. It looks horrifying! Night of the Living Dead spooky! Even with the tax increases, we’re still somewhere between $150 million and $350 million short. I guess it depends on whether you ask the optimistic or the pessimistic economist.

Remembering Problem Number One, it’s not very likely that the legislature can pick the pocket of Maryland taxpayers again this year. So, that means cuts to popular programs like public education and the environment.

Problem Number Three: The slots referendum has now become Governor O’Malley’s single most important legislative initiative. If slots don’t pass in November, his threatened Doomsday budget of last year will look tame by comparison to the cuts he has to make.

Every special interest that helped him beat Bob Ehrlich will be screwed, and then the logic for electing a Democrat who promised to open the checkbook starts to ring hollow.

This legislative week ended on a really sour note. My friend Bob McKee, a delegate from Williamsport (in Washington County) resigned unexpectedly on Friday, February 15. Bob’s home had recently been searched by law enforcement authorities, and in a press release, Bob mentioned Internet computer images that were found that would reflect poorly on his years of service to the citizens of Washington County.

Bob and I had become good friends. Our offices were located directly across the hall from one another. I had a sense something was up earlier this week, but the magnitude of the story escaped me until Friday’s revelation.

Bob was a champion of veteran’s rights and was a respected leader of rural policy issues. He was respected as someone who could work in a bi-partisan manner to accomplish important work, and he had a great reputation for constituent services. Now, he’s gone.

The final image came late Friday afternoon. As I was returning to my office following a committee voting session, I entered the western Maryland hallway. Crowded around Bob’s office were three different television crews, with cameras, klieg lights, and reporters.

Bob had left Annapolis Thursday night, and his outer office door was closed and locked. Wondering what the news crews were filming, I leaned in for a look. They were filming the nameplate on his door, the final image and last vestige of a successful legislative career brought down by personal weakness and/or poor judgment.

Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
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