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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


March 2, 2009

General Assembly Journal 2009 Volume 7

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Last Friday – the 27th – marked the 45th day of the legislative session, otherwise known as halfway day. What a difference a month makes.

 

When session started back in early January, tax receipts were plummeting, the overall economy was headed south (and the southerly economic migration continues), and Gov. Martin O’Malley was fearful of the impact of major cuts to programs and services.

 

State employees were forced to take up to five furlough days, and rumors abounded about an impending layoff of up to a thousand state workers.

 

Advocates for education, the environment, healthcare, and social justice all clamored for their piece of pie, assuming that the pie slices would be smaller this year in comparison to past years.

 

Lobbyists were gearing up for a massive schmooze attack, counting on frequent contacts and political paybacks to protect their client’s best interests.

 

Now, standing here on the threshold of the final 45 days, the landscape has changed dramatically, while storm clouds continue to gather on the horizon.

 

President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress handed Governor O’Malley - and his 49 gubernatorial colleagues – a huge gift, a federal stimulus bill loaded down with new federal spending on state and local initiatives.

 

Setting aside the whole question of spending more money as a way of improving a collapsing national economy as a result of too much deficit spending, this shot-in-that state-budget arm comes at a perfect time.

 

In Maryland, we’ve been shielded from the worst of the economic slide, as a function of having the federal government as our region’s largest employer. Unlike the Rust Belt and Bible Belt, we can count on Uncle Sam to send a paycheck home to a majority of Maryland homes every two weeks.

 

At the start of the session, we were almost $2 billion short of a balanced budget. Governor O’Malley cut spending and proposed further reductions in popular programs like the Geographic Cost of Education Index, a payment made to more wealthy county education systems to offset their increased cost-of-living.

 

The federal stimulus bill includes over $3.2 billion in federal spending for Maryland alone. If you recall earlier, we were discussing the state having a projected shortfall of $2 billion. The federal stimulus bill wipes out the deficit and replaces it with a spending surplus, all in the “worst year for our national economy since the Great Depression.” Quotes are added for WFMD radio talker Blaine Young’s benefit.

 

No wonder Governor O’Malley seems too happy these days, when fellow governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger (R., CA) and Kathleen Sibilius (D., KA) are so depressed. Governor O’Malley, who told us during his State of the State speech that the two best words he could say were Barack Obama, now gets to adjust state spending to account for more road/highway/mass transit funds and more spending on education than was previously possible.

 

Thanks to President Obama, the governor doesn’t have to begin the traditional electoral season with big program cuts and denial of state employee union benefits and layoffs.

 

The federal stimulus simply allows governors the luxury of ignoring the terrifying impact of the national economy on the states. Assuming the national economy rebounds in the next two years, it may be possible to avoid even more drastic and painful reductions in services and programs.

 

As much as I’d love to see that happen, I just don’t think it will. We would be better off simply banking any federal dollars, or, at a minimum, just spending those funds on one-time projects.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Expect a second vote next week on the abolition of the death penalty. In normal circumstances, a committee vote to kill a bill is the end of the debate/discussion. Not so with the death penalty, an abnormally important and controversial subject.

 

Governor O’Malley and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, in concert with many in the faith community, have made a priority of repealing the death penalty in Maryland.

 

Following a huge rally led by Governor O’Malley and the Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held their voting session last Friday.

 

The committee voted 5-5 against a repeal, with one member, Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R., Harford) absent. Sen. Jacobs vote wouldn’t have changed the outcome, as she is against a full repeal.

 

Senate President Thomas V. (Mike) Miller (D., Prince Georges/Calvert) has announced that he may, in spite of the losing vote in committee, allow the bill to come to the floor of the Senate for a full up-or-down vote. President Miller is personally opposed to a repeal of the death penalty.

 

Someone once said that Senator Miller could, if he chose, garner 24 votes to burn down the State House. Twenty-four votes is a constitutional majority in the Senate. Rest assured that if President Miller is allowing that vote to take place in the full Senate, he knows where the votes are, and he knows what the outcome will be.

 

Forty-five days…and counting.

 



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