Revolt in the house

March 25, 1992

Given the turmoil over tax issues in Annapolis this session and the lack of statesmanship shown by many senators and delegates, it was inevitable that some minions would stage a palace revolt against House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and his tax and spending package. Their misguided and irresponsible stance, if it sways the House, would plunge Maryland into a fiscal crisis of immense proportions.

Somewhere along the line, someone in the State House has to have the courage to propose the unpopular. Tax increases are inevitable if the state is to balance its budget without shutting down entire agencies and stripping local school systems of hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid. The Senate grudgingly conceded that higher taxes had to be approved; now it is the House's turn.

The complex plan hammered out by two House committees resolves most of Maryland's $1.2 billion deficit by slashing existing programs even further and cutting deeply into local aid. Still, a $264 million tax package had to be fashioned to make income equal spending. Without this extra revenue, a "doomsday" scenario is the likely option, triggering especially massive pain for local government services.

House Speaker Mitchell, after shying away from the dreaded "T" word all session, now has put the full weight of his office behind the tax plan, which would raise the gasoline tax, add a new income tax bracket for the rich, raise cigarette taxes and expand the sales tax to a few more items. If leaders of the palace revolt get their way, Mr. Mitchell's tenure as House leader would be very much in doubt. And the state's future would be a shambles.

This tax and spending-cut package, like the Senate-passed version, is hardly ideal. It fails to make the tax code progressive and fails miserably to address Maryland's long-term budget problems.

Still, Mr. Mitchell and his supporters had the courage and backbone to do the right thing. They did not cater to the demagoguery of the tax-revolt zealots as did craven legislators from Baltimore County, especially Delegates John Arnick, Kenneth Masters and Joseph Bartenfelder, who led the palace revolt.

Elected office imposes an obligation on state legislators to take responsible positions on controversial issues that may not be popular. Sadly, many of our senators and delegates in the State House would rather be re-elected than do the correct thing. For them, the end justifies the means, even if it leads to dire consequences for Maryland's state and local governments. We are deeply disappointed in their actions. As the budget battle continues, we trust that other legislators will have the fortitude to do what is right, even if it is not politically convenient.


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