Q: Who said, "Read my lips: No new taxes"?
A: George Bush, 1988 Republican National Convention.
Q: Who said, "Read my lips: New taxes."
A: Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden. He said it this week.
Actually, in his State of the County address Wednesday, what Mr. Hayden said was, "Read my lips: I will do what is right for the people of Baltimore County," but his message was that he now supports a 5-cents-a-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax -- if half the money goes to localities -- and the county's taxpayer groups be damned.
In his talk before the county Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Hayden described how much the political and economic landscape has changed since he took office 15 months ago. In 1990, Roger Hayden, a little-known former steel executive and school board president, rode into office on an anti-tax rip tide that swelled in eastern and northern Baltimore County. Now, he refers to the tax protester movement in less buoyant terms. "No matter what kind of pressure I am subjected to, I have no intention of overseeing the dismantling of Baltimore County," he told the chamber in a veiled swipe at the anti-tax forces.
Certainly, Mr. Hayden's approach to downsizing government is right for the times, although anyone in his position would have no alternative: You can't spend what you don't have. But some of the charges he leveled at the Rasmussen government when he ran for office now ring hollow.
For instance, the gasoline tax increase he supports translates to nearly $60 more a year for the average two-car family -- about double the cost per family of the county's beverage container tax that anti-Rasmussen critics so staunchly opposed and eventually repealed.
In a similar vein, while Mr. Hayden flogged then-executive Dennis F. Rasmussen for being chauffeured around by two full-time security guards, he avails himself of the same privilege. How ironic that what Mr. Hayden once derided as Mr. Rasmussen's "trappings" of office are now being defended as prudent security policies.
Still, Mr. Hayden has kept his pledge to reduce the size of government. The recession and reductions in state funds have given him the opening to slash jobs and curtail services. But now he has admitted that the county is about to cut into the bone.
In Towson, the Hayden regime succeeded in gaining 400 early retirements, cutting back on school nurses, cutting the pay of the remaining work force and curtailing Sunday library services. It is holding close to the vest the cuts that come next. They won't be pleasant. But one thing is certain: The fire-and-brimstone no-more-taxes talk is over.
Simply put, Mr. Hayden's message to the tax zealots this week was, "Thanks for the ride, folks. This is where I get off."