Democratic excess in 2000 Assembly

May 01, 2000|By Martin G. Madden

WHEN SOMETHING seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. are spreading the word that the 2000 General Assembly legislative session was the most "successful in recent memory."

They leave out the fine print, however -- the reckless spending of an embarrassment of riches that will mortgage our state's future.

Republican legislators posed one question: What is wrong with asking state government to live within its means like Maryland's families must do every day?

The Democratic leadership responded by finding imaginative ways to avoid traditional spending limits.

Charged with establishing a restraint on the state budget, the Spending Affordability Committee continued to allow the budget to grow faster than the rate of personal income growth, a departure from historical practices.

This decision opened the floodgates for the Democrats to engage in a wild spending frenzy. Armed with a $940 million surplus, the Glendening-Townsend administration promptly ordered everything on the menu and left taxpayers with the check.

Not only did Democrats increase our state operating budget by $1.8 billion, they also increased general fund debt by $100 million. More than 2,000 new state positions were added, and our vital reserve funds were raided.

The extravagant spending of today sets the stage for tax increases and budget cuts tomorrow. It's happened before. In 1989, the General Assembly encountered a $410 million surplus and spent $373 million of it on new government programs, while leaving only $37 million for tax relief. Two years later, the recession hit, and the Democrats raised taxes and cut government services.

Republican legislators knew we could do better. First, we implored the Democratic leadership to maintain fiscal discipline. Our resolutions calling for adherence to traditional spending restraints were defeated by the Democrats.

Second, we realized that the record-setting surplus was the result of the hard work of Marylanders.

It's their money, and they deserve across-the-board tax relief.

To hear the Democrats pat themselves on the back for passing "meaningful" tax relief is offensive when if offers only $20 million worth of tax cuts in a budget totaling $19.8 billion.

Republicans supported legislation to accelerate the personal income tax reduction and eliminate the inheritance tax completely. March 30 was interesting as Republican senators offered amendments on the inheritance tax, providing $50 million in tax relief to our citizens. They were rejected by the Democratic leadership because of "budget restrictions." Two days later, the governor released a supplemental budget totaling $182 million! It's a matter of priorities.

The governor bragged about buying votes to secure his legislative agenda. His braggadocio prompts another question: If his agenda was so "prudent" and "responsible," why was he forced to buy votes in a legislature in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 3-1 margin in the House and 2-1 in the Senate?

The shortcomings of the 2000 session were not limited to fiscal issues. As the governor proclaims his commitment to building schools in Maryland, he supported a prevailing wage bill that inflates the price of school construction by as much as 20 percent, meaning that, in the next 10 years, up to 180 elementary schools will not be built. The next time you see a new portable classroom, thank the governor and his big labor friends.

This money should have been invested in textbooks for our children, enhanced salaries for our teachers, and Internet wiring for classrooms.

Republican legislators were advocates for the education reform sweeping the nation -- publicly chartered schools. Charter schools encourage parental involvement while avoiding the burdensome regulations that hamper failing school systems.

The teachers union holds Democrats in an iron grip, and the bill was defeated in a Senate committee, even though the federal government is offering $175 million in funding to the states for starting charter schools.

Finally, Marylanders are demanding safe neighborhoods and schools. With that comes the obligation to convict violent criminals. In Richmond, Va., the murder rate declined by 50 percent because of Project Exile. In Maryland, a bipartisan bid to replicate this success enjoyed unanimous Republican support, but was watered down by the Democrat leadership.

Project Exile would have closed loopholes that allow violent criminals to avoid mandatory sentences, created new bail restrictions and called for enhanced cooperation between local and federal prosecutors.

Mr. Glendening's timidity on getting tough on criminals who wield guns is regrettable. How many more communities will we surrender to crime before the Democrats say enough is enough?

Not all legislators and voters would agree that the 2000 session was a "success." An "assembly of excess" is a better description, one that sets the stage for the "Tax Increase and Broken Promise Act of 2002."

Martin G. Madden is the Senate Republican leader. This article was co-written by J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Senate Republican whip; Robert H. Kittleman, House Republican leader; and Robert L. Flanagan, House Republican Whip.

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