A session of compromise

Our view: Lawmakers wrap up a curative, cautious 90 days

April 09, 2008

There's likely enough good news coming out of the recently completed legislative session to soften the blow of last fall's tax increases and return a bit of luster to the image of Gov. Martin O'Malley, who took a subsequent beating in opinion polls.

The $2 billion settlement with Constellation Energy Group (including the $170 credit for BGE customers), the rollback of the much-reviled tax on computer services, the imposition of greater controls on development around the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, and an anti-crime initiative that expands the state's DNA databank all are likely to sit well with the public.

Add to that much-needed legislation to help families facing foreclosure as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis and to allocate millions of dollars for energy conservation and alternatives. It also doesn't hurt that in a year of budget cutting, education spending was left mostly intact. That includes one-third of a billion dollars to build and renovate schools and a continued cap on the cost of in-state tuition for students at Maryland's public colleges and universities.

Still, there were limits to the General Assembly's willingness to tackle the controversial. Lawmakers failed to pass a global warming bill that ran afoul of labor unions. Meaningful campaign finance reform died in the Senate once again despite widespread support - and a willingness to defer its still-modest costs until after 2010.

Even some of the silver linings seemed to come with a dark cloud: To replace the so-called tech tax, lawmakers chose to raise the tax on those earning a million dollars or more (a reasonable choice under the circumstances) and raid the state's transportation trust fund of $50 million each year (a shortsighted decision given Maryland's considerable road and transit needs).

Mr. O'Malley recently told The Sun's editorial board that his first 14 months in office have been "difficult and often miserable." Between fixing (at least in large measure) a structural budget deficit that threatened to balloon to $1.7 billion next year and cutting spending to meet falling revenue projections, it's clearly not been an easy time to be Maryland's governor.

But there's also a pattern of cooperation and compromise that was often missing in Annapolis during the last term. Whether voters will see and appreciate this bigger picture remains to be seen; it's never easy for elected officials to brag about cutting public services a little bit instead of a lot. Yet that may be exactly what these challenging times require.

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