Could it happen here?

December 19, 1991

In face of an ever-deepening state budget crisis, Maryland Republican lawmakers who chant the refrain of "no tax increase" are courting the kind of political comeuppance that has befallen their GOP counterparts in New Jersey.

Having ridden voter anger at a tax hike pushed through last year by the state's Democratic governor, James Florio, Jersey Republicans wrested control of the legislature from the Democrats this year, establishing veto-proof majorities in both houses.

But as soon as they got in a position to carry out their promise to roll back Florio's unpopular tax, the lawmakers suddenly developed a case of cold feet -- and no wonder, since turning the simplistic tax revolt rhetoric of the campaign into public policy would wreak havoc on the state's fragile economy.

So far, Governor Schaefer has been able to hold in check most of the opposition to tax increases being expressed by such Johnny-one-notes as Del. Ellen Sauerbrey. Schaefer already has cut services to the bone and -- despite mixed reviews for this week's fireside chat on the budget -- he has done a better job than the hapless Florio of selling his approach to a skeptical public.

But Schaefer could find himself having to do something like Florio may well do in New Jersey -- in effect, putting the onus of either higher taxes or drastically reduced government services squarely on his critics in the legislature and then saying in no uncertain terms, "Now either put up or shut up."

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