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January 27, 2009

Raise Your Voices…

Farrell Keough

A new president and a new session for the Maryland Legislature – what more could a columnist ask for? Uh… substance?


We have seen a number of Executive Orders signed. But, do they have any specifics? Well, some do. We are now going to pay foreign nations to abort their children. But others do not.


For instance, the Guantanamo Bay (GITMO) closure does not have any specifics as to what to do with the prisoners. Of course, having some previously released prisoners show up on al Qaeda video does not help the transition. In short, the changes are not really changes, but rather placating the constituency while feeling around for the right course of action.


Placating seems to be the course of action most favored by politicians. We have an enormous budget deficit in this state. Part of the solution rests on hopes of receiving a federal government bail out. Good plan!


Another part of the solution is the possible laying off of numerous employees. Again, the specifics are non-existent. The old stand-by of going after law enforcement is at the forefront. This bait and switch has been in politics since time in memoriam – make the cuts in places you know most of the public will not accept, then the smaller cuts and possible tax increases seem understandable and acceptable.


The idea of cutting swimming by our local Board of Education comes to mind; they did not touch their precious new building, but swimming sure brought out the folks in droves. Now they are set to tell us they have no other areas where they can make cuts. Or, maybe they will try another bait and switch.


But I digress. Getting back to the state budge, our local Del. Richard B. Weldon, Jr., allowed me to quote two observations he had regarding state personnel:


1)       The Governor has the authority to appoint over 6,000 employees. This was a HUGE issue during the Ehrlich Administration, with Democratic legislators outraged that he would do exactly what every other governor before him had done. Seems like suddenly it's not such a big deal, though. Wonder what changed?


2)       I heard Senate President Thomas V. (Mike) Miller make the following statement: "State employees make sacrifices to work for the state; they expect some job security in exchange for those sacrifices." While I have no doubt that state workers have suffered during budget crunches, to suggest they deserve consideration beyond having a good job with a decent pension and healthcare seems a little hard to accept. Especially given what we're seeing in the private sector, like construction and financial services.


These are very telling comments! Not only has the governor only mentioned 700 employees on the possible layoff list, but he fails to recognize his own authority to deal with far and away more than that number. We are being bamboozled and very few are willing to step up and call our governor and the rest of the leadership on this.


Governor O’Malley is also shifting costs to local governments, (retirement funds for school employees for example) and depending upon a federal bail out. Yes, within this budget is the expectation for $350 million from the federal government. Not only is that a paltry sum when one considers the $14 billion budget 1, but to depend on something that is unknown is the worst of irresponsible spending.


We had a Special Session in the fall of 2007 which raised our taxes by 20% among other increases. And this made no difference in the shortfall 2 we are seeing now. The Special Session was touted as the time when the hard decisions were made. Obviously, that was not true.


In fact, it may have been a time when our Governor O’Malley was banking on a run with Hillary Clinton. Just as the prognostication for the Special Session was false, so, too, will the plans for making the hard cuts now. Seven hundred employees cut from 86,000 employees is virtually meaningless.


We have a tremendously top heavy State Department of Education. Cuts are not being proposed for this agency. The cuts are for law enforcement and health care are some of the major agencies targeted. Guess what? The old bait and switch again!


It is well known in politics that this method works; hence we see it every single time the “hard decisions” have to be made. These are not real decisions. These are attempts to gin up the public to protest these cuts so the politicians can inform us that the only remedy is higher taxes, or fees, or whatever term of the day applies.


This year’s session has only just begun. Now is the time to motivate change – not the political pabulum of change, nice words with not substance or meaning, but real change that will not only influence the current economic downfall, but affect the future workings of our government. Write your representative, write letters to the editor, call into radio shows, make your voices heard! Times of economic hardship are opportunities. Use this time to influence our representatives.


Keep a positive outlook. This can be a real opportunity. If we squander it, we may not see this chance come again – ever.



1. One billion dollars equals one thousand million dollars.


2. A shortfall in politician terms means we have given away so much that we cannot tax the populace more to make up for giving away more things.

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