O'Malley's spacewalk

Annapolis 2007 A Look Back

December 02, 2007|By C. Fraser Smith

The governor of Maryland recently brought to mind the majestic though scary sight of astronauts floating outside their spacecraft, endeavoring to make repairs.

Walks in space are usually successful, but the peril is inescapable, along with the questions: Does he have the right tools? Will the tethering umbilical hold? Can the work be done in one walk, or will another be needed? Will the support crew do its job?

Maryland's ship of state had soared into the remoteness of deficit spending before Gov. Martin O'Malley arrived in Annapolis. But it would be his job to bring it safely back to Earth.

The governor's work was done, and now, with all of two weeks' perspective, it's time to name the winners and losers.

There were many winners, I would suggest, though some will say the whole thing was a veiled celebration of failure, a stealth repair job forced upon us by legislators succumbing to election-year pressure.

Against the better judgment of some of its leaders, in 2002, the Democratic-led Assembly passed an aid-to-education bill without arranging a way to pay for it. A year or so earlier, lawmakers had approved an income tax break.

Altogether, the tax cut and the mega-increase in education spending led to the $1.5 billion deficit - and that nagging, persistent deficit brought legislators back to Annapolis last month to pay the piper. So, with that history in mind, here is a roundup of who, relatively speaking, came out ahead or behind.

Winners

Governor O'Malley: He put his political future on the line, daring to face reality - daring to believe that we would get it, even if we didn't much like it. Enough senators and delegates were willing to follow his example, to share his faith in the ultimate good sense of the people, to vote with him. It helped that most of them were Democrats.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller: The only thing worse than voting for big spending projects with no money to pay for them would have been to ignore the result. These two men may have personal differences, different styles and objectives, but they know how to move legislation.

Lobbyists: The legislative special session may be thought of as an advertisement for these masters of the process. The record will show that if you had a lobbyist, you were more likely to escape revenue-raising unscathed. If you didn't have a lobbyist, you were sitting there waiting to be scathed (by taxes). Computer services companies took a $200 million hit, one of the few new taxes on services. Isn't there a manual called CYA For Dummies?

Tax lawyers: A forum is planned at the University of Baltimore this week for businesses that saw taxes increase and loopholes narrow. Various firms are making clear that they have expertise in this field.

Racing interests: The votes weren't there among members of the House of Delegates to legalize slot machines at the tracks. So the Assembly agreed to put the issue on next November's general election ballot. The people's representatives magnanimously agreed to let the people represent themselves. The racing guys now have to make their case.

Health insurance for the working poor: This was the sleeper or stealth issue of the special session. And it was revolutionary. It covers 100,000 parents of children already covered by the highly successful State Children's Health Insurance Program. Money from various sources, including a $1 increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes, will pay the $280 million freight.

The Republican Party: With few leaders of acknowledged statewide eminence, the party needs a way to seem relevant. The special session was made to order. The GOP's institutional aversion to taxes could be made clear, and the voter could believe he or she was not without representation in Annapolis.

Losers

The Republican Party: GOP legislators opposed the O'Malley space walk, calling it overly ambitious at best. But they offered little more than obstructionism in response to his repair plan.

Computer services companies: See lobbyists entry above. With virtually no time to defend themselves, these companies were nailed by legislators who scaled back the governor's income tax increases for the very wealthy, leaving a big revenue hole.

Governor O'Malley: Part of the "solution" agreed to by the Assembly is another $500 million in budget-cutting to be done by the governor, No good deed goes unpunished.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is fsmith@wypr.org.

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