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January 12, 2011

Itís going to be ugly

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Today is the first day of the 428th legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly and, as in past years, the main question on the minds of the leadership of this august body’s deliberations will be, “Welcome to Maryland, what’s in your wallet?”


One of the many enigmas hovering over the upcoming session is the perception that this session will be a ho-hum gathering of lawmakers, filled with low expectations and high anxiety.


Nothing could be farther from the truth. Many tend to agree with the assessment offered by State Senator-elect Joe Getty (R., Carroll-Baltimore). At a legislative breakfast last Thursday, Mr. Getty summed up his analysis of the upcoming session with one word: It will be “ugly.”


He should know. An avid historian and state constitutional scholar, Mr. Getty served in the House of Delegates from 1995 to 2002, representing part of Carroll County, and in recent years served as counsel for the Maryland State Republican Senate Caucus. During Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s tenure in office, Mr. Getty served as policy director for the governor.


So, no one is going to pull the wool over his eyes.


To make matters worse, the legislature in Maryland did not see the dramatic changes in the political landscape as did most of the rest of the nation. As reported by venerable political observer, Len Lazarick on November 19, 2010:


“Maryland was one of only seven states where Democrats picked up seats in either chamber of the state legislature. Maryland Democrats gained two state senators, while in the rest of the country, out of 6,125 state legislative seats up for grabs Nov. 2, the party had a net gain of just seven other seats – in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri and West Virginia.”


On Monday, Frank A. DeFilippo reinforced a point made by Mr. Getty at the legislative breakfast. In a commentary titled, “The Year in Preview,” Mr. DeFilippo noted:


“The November elections did not dramatically alter the make-up of the General Assembly as they did Congress. Republicans gained six seats in the House of Delegates but lost two in the Senate, leaving Democrats firmly in control of state government across the bureaucratic flow-chart. There has been a realignment of committees in both the House and Senate, and, if anything discernable has occurred, it is a loosening of the ideological balance in the Senate.”


Mr. Getty observed that last fall’s elections will not be helpful to the average Maryland taxpayer as many of the traditional conservative Democrats, who have served Maryland well in the past, are being replaced by liberal Democrats.


As Maryland continues to hold its own as one of the most cobalt blue states in the nation, many younger political observers have long lost sight of the fact that for generations, Maryland – and Carroll County, for that matter – was run by conservative Democrats.


Last Thursday, Mr. Getty remarked, “The conservative, pro-business, fiscally prudent Democrat in the Maryland General Assembly is quickly becoming extinct.”


Now, you may ask yourself why does this really matter. It matters for several reasons. Last fall’s election telegraphed to statewide elected officials that they will not be held responsible for raising taxes and profligate spending. Not by the voters or by the major media in the state.


Mr. DeFilippo reinforced a point made by Mr. Getty at the legislative breakfast. “The new legislature will be populated, in part, by rambunctious first-timers who are anxious to establish themselves in the State House as well as with the voters at home…”


In order to get elected, many of the newbies made promises that they will look forward to making good for the voters at home. Add to this a predisposition on the part of the re-elected leadership to spend, spend, and spend some more.


As a result, look for more in the way of social and environmental programs and initiatives that will insidiously add to the culture of spending without accountability in Annapolis; this in spite of the much ballyhooed budget deficit facing the state that various news reports and state commissions say is hovering around $2 billion.


How the Assembly will balance the budget is anyone’s guess. The 112th U. S. Congress is in no mood to repeat the one-time federal stimulus money that was used to help balance last year’s budget. The governor and the Assembly’s leadership are almost out of fund transfers and re-directing dedicated funds, such as the transportation trust.


Look for more taxes, says Mr. Getty, who joins a growing chorus of legislators who are bracing themselves for the Assembly to raise gasoline and alcohol taxes.


According to Mr. DeFilippo, one legislative initiative on the horizon would “impose a ‘dime a drink’ tax on alcohol and earmark the proceeds for health care for the poor. While this rendition may fall short, others favor raising the tax on alcohol as a general fund revenue source. The tax on beer hasn’t been raised since 1955, and the tax on wine and liquor has remained the same since 1972.”


The two 800-pound gorillas in the legislature remain what to do with the spiraling cost of state teacher and public employee pensions; and the increased costs of (ObamaCare) health care.


Another dynamic which will add shrill glass-breaking notes to the opera-like drama will be a proliferation of what Mr. DeFilippo refers to as “gesture legislation – goo-goo measures that cost little or nothing but accommodate special groups and allow lawmakers and constituents alike to feel good … bills that have been bouncing around the Assembly for years.”


Last Thursday, Mr. Getty predicted initiatives such as gay marriage, abolishing the death penalty, and numerous pieces of legislation involving illegal immigrants, such as providing in-state college tuition, would be forthcoming.


For the icing on the cake, look for multiple initiatives involving slots and gambling.


It’s going to be ugly.


I’m just saying...


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