The Looming Assembly
The time when all good little legislators pack their grips and head for Annapolis is near at hand.
The 2012 General Assembly Session begins Wednesday at 10 A.M. as prescribed by the state’s Constitution. The gavels will fall in the House of Delegates and Senate, and then the real madness begins.
We're in for a surreal 90 days this year. The full range of options regarding taxes looks to be on the table, from a gas tax increase to a flush fee hike.
No doubt Gov. Martin O'Malley and his compatriots in the Democrat majorities of the House and Senate have already hammered out the basics of whatever policy matters they want to pass, including tax increases.
The gas tax seems like a guarantee, although Republican Sixth Congressional district candidate Robin Ficker is promising he'll stop it.
Forget about that promise. Mr. Ficker is no more likely to become a U.S. Representative than we are to make a unicorn discovery.
Speaking of the Sixth District, the GOP field gets more crowded daily. First, rumors had Bud Otis, former chief of staff to Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, angling to replace his boss. When Congressman Bartlett discovered this disloyalty, Mr. Otis became the "former" chief of staff.
Next, Roscoe himself announced his re-election bid. A little embarrassed maybe, but a candidate nonetheless.
Not to ignore the other declared Republicans, but everyone's been holding out for the big boys. The former state senator from District 3, now state GOP chairman, Alex X. Mooney, rushed to field an exploratory committee.
Mr. Mooney followed his exploratory announcement with a quote in the local papers that he did not intend to run if Roscoe stayed in the race. Yeah, right.
Alex Mooney never intended not to run. In fact, he's so focused on running for Congress that he's only given half a mind to his duties running the state GOP. As proof, he has raised more money as an exploratory candidate for Congress in four weeks than he did as the head of the state party in four months.
In addition to Mr. Mooney, the other big gun to announce is current District 4 Sen. David Brinkley. Well respected in Annapolis, Mr. Brinkley is known for rolling out an alternative to the budgets submitted by Governor O'Malley in each of the last four years.
David does not live in District 6 right now. Alex (and others) will call him a carpetbagger. While the U.S. Constitution does not require an in-district address, it is an issue to be dealt with.
If both Roscoe Bartlett and Alex Mooney run in a GOP primary, the arithmetic looks good for David Brinkley. Congressman Bartlett and Mr. Mooney will divide the typical conservative base vote, while Senator Brinkley can get the other GOP votes. It would be possible to win the GOP primary with less than 30% of votes cast.
Democratic Party candidates pop up every day, too. The latest announcements represent the best hope to steal a GOP seat in Western Maryland.
Montgomery County business mogul and multi-millionaire John Delaney looks to be a formidable candidate. State Democratic Party hand-selected candidate – State Sen. Rob Garagiola – will not have a cakewalk primary.
This one will be a doozy.
But let’s get back to the General Assembly. In addition to an almost certain gas tax increase, you can count on the flush fee going up. A present from the 2005 General Assembly, the flush fee was created by Gov. Robert Ehrlich as a way to pay for upgrading sewer plants.
The cost of these upgrades is far greater than was originally imagined, so they need more of our money. Call it a political payoff to the environmental crowd.
Speaking of payoffs for the environmentalists, PlanMaryland will also come up during the session. GOP legislators want to roll it back completely. This expansion of state planning authority into what had been powers reserved to the counties is also opposed by some Democrats.
Frederick's own Galen Clagett (D., 3A), himself a successful real estate developer, plans to introduce a bill to require legislative approval over changes to regulations involving land use planning.
The O'Malley Administration promises to work on job creation, too. Looking at past O'Malley efforts to create jobs, expect a further expansion of the giveaways to organized labor. Governor O'Malley's idea of job creation is to either hire more state employees or expand the reach of big labor – or both.
If taxes aren't a big enough issue, Mr. O'Malley promises to get a same-sex marriage bill passed this year. He's promised to make this an administration priority.
Last year's bill failed by a few votes, this time it will pass. They'll have tearful testimony by both proponents and opponents, but in the end, they'll have the votes. House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller will not allow their governor to fail.
Our county commissioners have decided they need a lobbyist. Well, not exactly. They've decided they need two. They've hired Bruce Bereano and Bill Miles. Mr. Bereano and Senator Miller used to work together, as did Mr. Miles and Speaker Busch. Will this new arrangement solve all our problems? Not so much. Will it hurt? Probably not.
Board of County Commissioners’ President Blaine Young promises to spend every Thursday night in Annapolis, at his own expense. That way he'll already be there for the Friday morning Frederick County delegation meetings. That ought to be a hoot.
So, sit back, put your feet up, and prepare for 90 days of fun, frustration, confusion and amusement. One thing you can count on: If our legislators in Annapolis are working, then we need to be watching.