Speaker Mitchell is Wrong

February 24, 1992

For months now, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell has adamantly maintained that citizens want lawmakers to solve the state's entire billion-dollar deficit problem by simply cutting back the size of government. No new taxes has been Mr. Mitchell's credo. And he has held firm to this position. The people want it that way, he says.

But Mr. Mitchell, it turns out, is wrong. According to today's Sun Poll, Marylanders do not want endless cutting of jobs and government services that will hurt schools, police and fire operations, libraries and the social programs they have come to depend upon.

By a stunning margin of 3 1/2 to 1, those polled said they favored a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes. Only 18 percent of these individuals said they favored the Mitchell "no new taxes" approach. The vast majority of those polled statewide, 66 percent, said they want "some cuts in services and some tax increase."

Legislators in Annapolis, take note. The same poll showed that voters are more likely to reelect politicians who have the courage "to raise taxes to maintain government services" (48 percent) than to oppose them (30 percent). Marylanders want solutions from their political leaders that don't leave state and local governments in tatters. And they are willing to pay what it takes -- if the money is spent wisely.

There is also good guidance in the Sun Poll for lawmakers on what types of services are worthy of financial support. Highest on the list is food and medical care for poor children (89 percent), followed by improving public schools (78 percent), housing for the homeless (76 percent) and fighting the war on drugs (74 percent). Far lower priorities are given to upgrading transportation (38 percent) and building more prisons (37 percent). These seem to be mirror images of what legislative leaders have set as their top priorities this year.

One other polling result should catch the attention of lawmakers: 82 percent of the 1,210 people polled said that "most elected officials are out of touch with the problems of people." Speaker Mitchell certainly is at odds with what the Sun Poll reveals about the wishes of Marylanders. Perhaps those who shout the loudest about no new taxes aren't representative of the vast, silent majority of citizens in this state who want a balanced approach on the tax-and-spending issue. Legislators should take care not to be deceived by this sound and fury.

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