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The Tentacle


August 6, 2012

What to do? What not to do!

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

On the eve of another election, this one a municipal election in Brunswick, lots of random thoughts are rolling around this writer's cranial cavity. The most cogent thought relates to the $100 property tax rebate program.

 

The Board of County Commissioners is about to send out $100 checks to county taxpayers. This results from projected savings that the commissioners have squeezed out of county general government operations.

 

The howl of protest from groups and individuals that have either been affected by specific reductions or feel compelled to argue on other's behalf is loud and sustained.

 

Just before the commissioners recently voted to provide these rebates, a final group of stalwart activists showed up to voice their objections. Most of them chose the least effective form of protest, a personal attack on the president of the board, Blaine Young, or a tirade against those they believed would vote for the payments.

 

The attacks are centered on the simple premise that county tax dollars should not be disbursed to non-profits human service providers by the government. A majority of the board clearly feels compelled to follow through on the check disbursements.

 

Two commissioners stand apart. David Gray is opposed to the whole idea of de-funding non-profits, and he intends to be consistent in his opposition. Paul Smith takes a more nuanced position. He voted to abstain, using a confusing and slightly inconsistent argument.

 

He explained that while he did not agree with the majority, thinking it should be a rate reduction, not a one-time rebate. He fears the future, making a rate reduction a risky proposition if the economy does not rebound next year.

 

This whole idea of abstaining is really a way to duck a tough vote. Legislative abstentions are intended to give an elected official a way to document a conflict of interest and are defined in the governing documents of most elected bodies.

 

Abstaining because the vote is too controversial, or because you're trying to maintain a sense of peace within the body, is not an acceptable reason. Voting and legislating is hard; it takes people with principles, intellect and guts to do it well. An abstention for any reason other than an obvious conflict of interests is an abdication of the primary obligation of elected public servants.

 

Vote yes, vote no, but for Heaven's sake, vote.

 

The fuss about the rebate is another mystery. Big-hearted progressive county residents, especially representatives of the faith community, who are asking that the county hand over tax dollars to non-profits, ignore the vast majority of residents who feel they are better able to decide what should be done with their money.

 

Most people view $100 as significant; yet many of the opponents made the argument that no one would miss or notice $100. Without too much thought, an unscientific survey yielded the following result: of 16 people, randomly encountered in downtown Brunswick, 16 said they would be quite happy to receive a tax rebate of $100. Four indicated that they would re-gift the rebate to a charity of their choice. Five said they'd take the money and head for Charles Town, WV.

 

That brings up the other random thought. The Maryland General Assembly will meet later this week to address gambling. While being too little, too late, our fearless legislators will no doubt produce another set of muddled, confusing language with which to clog the 2014 ballot.

 

After all, that's what they do best. They take a simple proposition such as expanding legal gaming and they pile it up with tax breaks for casino owners, giveaways to local governments, and the placement of new locations that appeal to the base of the majority party.

 

Not to worry, the road to Charles Town is well-worn, if not a little cluttered, with the cars of Frederick County residents. Just follow the trail of tail lights once those county rebate checks come out.

 



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