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March 5, 2012

Spending Intervention

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The A&E Network runs a popular show called “Intervention.” The show features people struggling with addiction, and chronicles the travails of their loved ones as they force the addicts to see the impact of their self-destructive behavior on themselves, as well as the catastrophic result on everyone and everything around them.


Right here, at home in Maryland, we have the same problem. Ours isn't a substance addiction issue, though. Maryland’s majority legislators are addicted to spending, and they binge on spending each time the General Assembly convenes. The fuel for these out-of-control binges are the earnings of hard-working Marylanders.


There is a never-ending rationalization of the need for this excessive spending. The crack addicts on television cite the stress of life, the sad state of their upbringing and background, and a genetic disposition to addictive behavior.


Our spending addicts have their own well-worn excuses for their destructive behavior. Without a doubt the most popular excuse is "it's for the children." This catch-all justification is repeated more often by our state political leaders than their requests for campaign contributions.


The logic behind this excuse is terribly flawed, and obviously so. We can't just spend our way to better education, just like we can't legislate our way to a utopian vision of social justice. The Great Society investments of the 1960s brought us concentrations of poverty, crime and despair when the promise of these social investments was to lift all boats with a rising tide.


Same with education investment. The policies related to how children learn turns out to have a more significant positive effect on enhancing education than just throwing gobs of cash at the problem.


The General Assembly will be faced with a raft of bad decisions by early April. Gov. Martin O'Malley's gas tax idea hit a speed bump before it had a chance to get to cruising speed. As the national average of a gallon of gas was reaching $3.75 and rising, the idea of adding the 6% sales tax to a gallon of gas sounded like the dumbest idea ever floated in Annapolis.


The best part was that the proposal had a built-in limit on the tax if the cost per gallon rose too quickly. Using their own methodology, the tax couldn't even have been applied, as the base per gallon price had risen so fast before the announcement that their own limitation would have applied. You gotta love these guys!


Never known for allowing fiscal reality to intrude on deliberations, legislative leaders in the Senate announced that the gas tax idea might not work...ya think?


Instead, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (Prince George’s) is proposing an increase in the standard sales tax of up to 1%, and an expansion of the sales tax to cover purchases and services not currently taxed.


You thought you hated the gas tax? Wait ’til you see how this new idea lightens your wallet.


Governor O'Malley's budget also proposed the elimination of a portion of the mortgage interest deduction for Maryland homeowners. Using tactics employed by the Obama Administration at the federal level, the proposed reductions are designed to impact the wealthy.


Without regard to the whole redistribution of wealth thing, the Maryland Association of Realtors® reacted to the governor's proposal by packing Lawyers Mall with Realtors® in a late February downpour.


A crowd of Realtors® on Lawyers Mall sounds like the start of a bad joke. Unfortunately, the joke is on us.


Nothing says political will like a pack of wide-eyed legislators staring out at a sea of angry potential campaign donors. You can bet against the mortgage interest deduction being lowered, as the governor will be left standing alone in the Desert of Bad Political Ideas.


Governor O'Malley seems to be field-testing the idea of a 2016 presidential run. He is a frequent guest on national political talk shows. Some argue that the governor's intense focus on the same-sex marriage issue reflects his White House aspiration.


If the smoke is indicative of political fire, then the spending addiction in Annapolis will likely hit new levels as we wind down the O'Malley era. Using past as prologue, Governor O'Malley will reward those who've supported him before. He'll support organized labor, environmental activists, and traditional progressive special interests to help build his 2016 coalition.


If the legislative leaders weren't already sufficiently predisposed to spend more of your money than they should, imagine their addiction being enabled by presidential candidate Martin O'Malley.


The only intervention that will work is political; but sadly, there probably aren't enough non-addict voters in Maryland to make the change that's necessary.


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