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January 26, 2009

General Assembly Journal 2009 Volume 4

John W. Ashbury

You can tell the 426th Maryland General Assembly is underway. Pick up any newspaper (assuming they still make home delivery in Frederick County), or turn on your evening news, and you’ll be assaulted with unmistakable evidence in the form of a failure of logic and reason.


As evidence, the prosecution presents exhibit one, the proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget. Gov. Martin O’Malley offered his balanced budget proposal to the General Assembly last Wednesday. While there are a number of fee increases proposed, the administration justifies that by suggesting that the prior fee levels did not cover the cost of the program or service for which they were collected.


The good news is that there are no major tax increases requested. Frankly, I’m a little surprised. Instead there are major reductions, spread across all aspects of the state government. Seven hundred layoffs of state workers are proposed, elimination of almost all unfilled vacancies, and even cuts to precious and normally protected funding streams like public education.


The FY10 budget proposal includes one head-shaking prospect, something that will surely become a source of major contention. The budget anticipates $350 million in new revenue from the federal government, counting on President Barack Obama’s passage of a federal stimulus program aimed at granting money to state governments.


Now I know that Governor O’Malley is probably well-connected to the new Congress and president. Heck, his primary presidential candidate is even the new Secretary of State. Maryland’s own Steny Hoyer serves as the majority leader of the House of Representatives.


But planning to balance the state budget with $350 million in revenue, with no strings attached to flow down from the federal government, when there isn’t even a formal discussion about how this might work, seems foolish and incredibly irresponsible.


Here’s the best analogy I can come up with: It would be like going out to purchase a new car that you cannot afford while planning on the death of a wealthy relative in order to provide the revenue to cover the cost of the purchase. What idiot would do that?


According to the Maryland Constitution, the General Assembly can only reduce the governor’s budget proposal. Depending on his influence with the legislative leaders, it’s likely that there will be additional reductions proposed. Still possible is a transfer of the teacher pension obligation to the counties.


Also possible: additional layoffs of state workers, alterations to the retirement benefit programs, reductions in public health programs, delays in expanding health coverage passed in previous sessions, delays in environmental cleanup programs, and other service and program reductions.


There is a twisted sense of satisfaction in watching long-serving legislators; accustomed to giving special interests everything they ask for, having to come to grips with saying “NO” for the first time.


One might argue that it’s easier to govern during a budget contraction than it is when things are going well financially. It’s much harder to balance competing interests when money is flowing freely; the interest groups know that funding is possible if they push hard enough.


* * * * * * * * * *


Lori Shipley and Barbara Pacifico, two very special women and dedicated employees of The Plamondon Companies, lost their lives in a terrible multi-vehicle accident on I-70 last Monday.


I knew both, as they both graduated from the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Frederick County program. My connection with Lori went deeper, as she was a dedicated and passionate member of the Board of Directors of United Way of Frederick County.


Both of these beautiful spirits leave behind a loving family and a family of co-workers and friends, all trying to come to terms with why these things happen.


We always keep a grieving family in our prayers, seeking comfort and calm as they struggle to cope with an overwhelming loss. We need to do that for both the Shipleys and the Pacificos. This time, I’m also asking that we keep their Plamondon family in our thoughts and prayers.


At the visitation for Lori at Calvary United Methodist Church at Second and Bentz in Frederick Friday, I was struck by watching Peter Plamondon, Sr., Pete Jr., and Jim trying to be a strength and comfort for Lori’s family and co-workers.


I’ve always felt that the measure of the character of a leader is best demonstrated in the most difficult circumstance. I saw Peter and his two sons, now the daily leaders of the company that bears their family name, holding hands, dispensing hugs, and generally being a comfort and strength to their subordinate employees and families.


I’ve always had a great personal respect for Mr. Plamondon and both Pete Junior and Jim. Watching them Friday, I understand the power of a family-oriented company, and I fully comprehend the reasons for their success, both as a corporation and as individuals.


Lori and Barb worked at Plamondon for a reason, and that reason was never more in evidence than on Friday.


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