Anti-tax, with a vengeance

The Political Game

Lawmakers: Frederick County's Bartlett and Mooney one-up the governor -- and sometimes each other -- in their zealousness.

April 13, 2004|By Howard Libit and David Nitkin | Howard Libit and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

IF YOU THOUGHT Bob Ehrlich's anti-tax sentiment was strong, check out the credentials of Frederick County lawmakers Joseph R. Bartlett and Alex X. Mooney.

Bartlett, a second-term delegate, and Mooney, a second-term senator, vote against almost every revenue proposal.

It doesn't matter if it's a hotel tax in Dorchester County or a development purchase in Howard County, Bartlett and Mooney are sure to vote "red" against the measure. They'll even pull taxes off lengthy "consent" calendars just to record their opposition.

"I don't want to tax my constituents. I don't want to tax anyone's constituents," says the 34-year-old Bartlett. "The problem isn't that we tax too little. It's that we spend too much."

The pair even vote against taxes proposed by county delegations that would affect only their county's residents -- measures that are usually approved through a "local courtesy" policy.

"I signed a pledge before both my elections to vote against all taxes," says the 32-year-old Mooney. "The others down here would say that I should vote for their local tax increases. I don't agree with that. A tax is a tax."

Bartlett's committee, House Ways and Means, handles all revenue measures, and the delegate is often the only one raising his hand in opposition to bills. Mooney's recent request to pull a small Frederick County tax bill off a consent calendar so he could vote against it on the Senate floor drew groans from some Democrats.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller says he disagrees with the tactic, "especially when the taxes are supported by other Republicans and affect small Eastern Shore counties that desperately need revenues for school repairs and construction."

"To [be] voting willy-nilly against all these things is not good public policy. Taxes are the dues we pay to live in our society," Miller said.

Many Annapolis watchers say Bartlett and Mooney have a bigger goal in mind: Building their "anti-tax" credentials for a future campaign to replace Bartlett's father, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett. The 77-year-old congressman is expected to win re-election for his seventh term this fall after beating back a GOP primary challenge last month.

"If Alex Mooney wasn't down here, I would be voting exactly the way I am," the younger Bartlett insists. "My father wants to serve as long as he is physically able to serve. I'm happy with what I'm doing, and when he retires someday, then it's something I'll think about."

Mooney -- who once worked as an aide to the congressman and is chairman of his re-election campaign this year -- says virtually the same thing. "My focus is on the Senate and doing our work down here," Mooney says. "It's hard to plan much into the future in politics."

Though they say they aren't paying attention to each other's legislation actions, Mooney is quick to point out two Ehrlich administration taxes that Bartlett supported this session -- proposals to increase vehicle registration fees for highway construction and homeowners' sewage fees for Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Mooney voted against both of those GOP initiatives.

A late-session snub for the comptroller

In a blow to Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the General Assembly scuttled a proposed scholarship program in his name that appeared to have bipartisan support.

The Schaefer public service scholarship proposal was contained in a bill introduced by Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, and was immediately funded by Ehrlich as part of a supplemental budget. Ehrlich said he wanted to spend $250,000 to help public service students receive training.

But in final budget negotiations Saturday night, money for the scholarship was stripped out.

The Senate argued to keep it. The House of Delegates led the charge in getting it removed.

"There's a William Donald Schaefer public policy building. There's a Schaefer tower," said Del. Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County, arguing that perhaps Schaefer didn't need another commemoration -- at least not this year.

Rosenberg said yesterday that his bill was still on track to become law, even without funding behind it. That means the scholarships are authorized, and money could be provided in the future.

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