Republicans protest O'Malley plan

October 30, 2007|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN REPORTER

With some chanting "No new taxes" and hoisting signs reading "Impeach O'Malley Now," hundreds of protesters packed a Republican-organized rally yesterday in the shadow of the State House to decry the General Assembly special session called by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley to consider taxes and slots.

"We have been hearing a lot of talk about the citizens of Maryland wanting to invest in the state as a whole," said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican. "But I don't think you want your governor or this legislature to be in charge of your portfolio."

Republican legislative leaders have said they will fight passing revenue-raising legislation without also reviewing the annual budget. O'Malley's plan calls for increasing some taxes and legalizing slot machine gambling to combat a $1.7 billion projected budget shortfall for the fiscal year starting in July.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's A section misidentified state Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Republican from the Eastern Shore. He is the House minority leader.

Some Republicans also oppose O'Malley's proposed 2008 referendum on legalizing slot machine gambling at five locations, despite backing a slots plan by former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. several years ago. Ehrlich used his Saturday radio program to urge listeners to turn out yesterday.

"We cannot sustain a government that is growing at a higher rate than we can afford to pay," said House Majority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Republican delegate from the Eastern Shore, to the cheers of placard-waving supporters. "We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem."

The rally, one of several held in Annapolis yesterday as the General Assembly began its special session, opened with a rendition of "God Bless America," and continued with speakers urging the crowd to pressure Democratic lawmakers, invoking divisive issues from sessions past.

"We beat in-state tuition for illegals in Maryland," said Del. Warren E. Miller, a Howard County Republican. "The reason we beat it was because of your letters. Let's scare the liberals. Let's scare the governor."

John Wafer, who owns a small printing business in Ellicott City, said he attended the rally to show his support for fellow Republicans, whose views are overshadowed in a state where Democrats outnumber them 2-1.

"I think the governor is being opportunistic," he said. "It is an unnecessary expense to the state to have this special session."

A recent poll showed O'Malley's approval ratings dipped to 46 percent from 52 percent in March, largely because of changing opinions among Republicans. The telephone survey of 839 registered voters was conducted Oct. 16 to 21 by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

But if Republicans hope to harness their energy, they might have better results if they are willing to compromise, said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University.

"They are not going to do it with rallies," he said. "They need to get into the discussion on the budget committees. They need to be flexible, as do the Democrats, and try to figure out different ways of cutting the deficit."

Shortly after the anti-tax rally, a coalition made up of officials with the Maryland Democratic Party, labor unions and the advocacy group Progressive Maryland demonstrated in front of Lawyers Mall, saying O'Malley's plan will help working families and stave off cuts to vital programs.

"Maryland is the wealthiest state in the nation, and yet we spend the lowest percentage of income on state services," said Donna Edwards of the Maryland-DC AFL-CIO.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, praised the proposal to expand medical coverage to uninsured residents, in part through new revenue brought in by O'Malley's revenue plan.

"We have 800,000 people in Maryland without health insurance - that is inhumane," he said. "Governor O'Malley is going to do something about it."

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