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The Tentacle


October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Happy Halloween! Of course, for Marylanders, Halloween came early this year when Gov. Martin O'Malley appeared Monday evening before a joint session of Maryland General Assembly with a very big trick or treat bag.

The special session of the Maryland General Assembly convened with a breathless air of anticipation and anxiety. Many who know how to count firmly believe that Governor O'Malley has enough Democrat votes in both chambers of the legislature to affirm his comprehensive, long-term solution to the state's $1.7 billion structural deficit.

Others aren't so sure that all of the governor's six administration bills introduced October 26th will make it through unscathed - although most smart-betting person would be foolish to bet against the house.

That said, Tentacle.com columnist Roy Meachum wrote a compelling cautionary tale last Friday in which he concluded that the governor shouldn't "make book on" getting all the Maryland Dems "to jig to his Irish tune."

And for additional perspective, re-read Del. Richard Weldon's excellent analysis Monday on The Tentacle of the two special legislative sessions under the previous administration.

With the exception of failing to involve the Maryland Republican leadership, the governor has conducted a textbook campaign for the last two months - developing a compelling and persuasive case for raising taxes, much of which hinges on "it's for the children," class warfare, and enhancing the very social-welfare, big government programs that many urban Marylander's cherish.

Not to be overlooked is that evergreen canard that if we don't raise taxes, the state will close down or greatly reduce funding for public safety and education.

Advancing age allows one to understand this approach for what it is.

Advancing age fails me as I struggle to remember who made a recent homage to the Battle of Waterloo in which Napoleon made the critical mistake of relying on his flashy cavalry instead of appropriately utilizing his excellent foot soldiers.

However, as much as the governor's excellent grassroots campaign, especially with the Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties is admirable, there are continued concerns that he has taken for granted his flashy cavalry - the Democrat members of the General Assembly.

Political theorists will suggest that the grassroots will prevail upon the Maryland legislators. However, Maryland Democrat legislators are more often that not in a league of there own and not as accessible to their constituents as textbook political theory may suggest.

And therein lies the rub. Lightweight political pundits will simplistically suggest that the overwhelming Democrat majority will take a dive for the governor; but this is the party of Will Rodgers ("I am not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat."). The Dems in Annapolis are notorious for acting like feudal lords - and are ultimately not that unified or organized.

After all, it was Mr. Rodgers who quipped, "Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans."

In a press release last Friday, the governor stated that he believes his tax package "will continue to make historic investments in public education, reform the state's income tax, lower the state property tax, establish a Higher Education Investment Fund to stabilize college tuition costs in Maryland, and legalize up to 15,000 slot machines at five locations around the State."

For those following along at home, the six administration bills include: The Transportation Investment Act; Tax Reform Act of 2007; Budget Reconciliation Act; Maryland Education Trust Fund - Video Lottery Terminal; Video Lottery Terminals - Authorization and Limitations; and the Working Families and Small Business Health Coverage Act.

The press release claimed that under his "proposed reforms to the state's income tax, reductions in the state property tax and sales tax proposals, the Maryland Department of Budget and Management estimates that 83 percent of Marylanders will pay less overall."

Of course, unstated is the not-so-small matter that the remaining 17 percent, or 952,000 of Marylanders, are going to be solely responsible for raising $1.7 billion. If my math is correct, that comes to $17,857.14 each. Hmmm, as long as the 932,131 folks in Montgomery County take care of this extra tax burden, I can live with the governor's tax package.

Recently The Washington Post published an article that compared the governor's collaboration with the Democrat leadership in the Maryland General Assembly to that of "Thelma and Louise." The article reminded us of the final scene of the 1990 movie classic which portrays "the two friends-turned-outlaws kissing and then plunging off a cliff to their certain deaths rather than taking responsibility for their actions."

For the sake of propriety, I'll not hook you up with the image of Governor O'Malley kissing either one of the "two Mikes," Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, Jr., (D., PG-Calvert) or House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D. Anne Arundel). As for the metaphorically jumping off a cliff part, well.

Nevertheless, in the high stakes poker game in which the governor finds himself, many are nodding their heads with the published comments of political consultant Kevin Igoe in The Washington Post: "If O'Malley is unable to orchestrate a successful session, 'it could really hurt his future dealings with legislators.'"

Political analysts will suggest that by passing such a precipitous tax increase so early in his term, the governor is crazy like a fox. That the voters will forget the tax increases in the next election.

However, the burden of proof will weigh heavily on the governor in the next three years as to whether or not a profound and measurable increase in the quality of life of voting Marylanders will be achieved.

Otherwise, the opposition party may very well go ahead and order the banners which read, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

Meanwhile, only the future will reveal whether or not the O'Malley legacy will be that of a trick or a treat. Me, I'd rather just leave my porch light turned off.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org .



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