Under State's One-party Rule, Taxpayer Beware

April 17, 2009|By RON SMITH

When we survey what lawmakers accomplish in their annual ransacking of the taxpayer, we see that they always succeed in two major things: increasing the reach of the government in question and paying back investments made in their political careers by those who fund them. As Mencken pointed out decades ago, "The legislature, like the executive, has ceased to be even the creature of the people: it is the creature of pressure groups, and most of them, it must be manifest, are of dubious wisdom and even more dubious honesty. Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle - a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. ... If the right pressure could be applied to him he would be cheerfully in favor of chiropractic, astrology or cannibalism."

I respectfully disagree with the Sage of Baltimore on the implication that chiropractic is quackery, but other than that, the old guy nailed it, as was his habit. The Maryland legislature, which has finally completed its 2009 session, is, it seems to me, intent on proving Mencken right. Aided by the fact that one party has total control over the making of laws, the General Assembly in Annapolis does some amazing things. In fact, Sen. E.J. Pipkin, one of the small band of Republican legislators in the state, trooped wearily into my radio studio this week to give his take on the just-concluded 2009 session and said, in apparent astonishment, that for the first time he could remember, the majority simply stole a couple of million dollars of taxpayer money.

He was talking about a provision in the state's $13.8 billion budget that takes the money from the Fair Campaign Financing Fund and dumps it into the operating budget. Considering that reserve accounts are raided all the time, what makes this grab singularly sinful? Senator Pipkin says the difference is that this fund consists of money voluntarily contributed by taxpayers for the express purpose of being used to finance campaigns of candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. To divert that money to be used for other purposes is pure theft, he says.

No one has tapped the fund, according to The Baltimore Sun's Laura Smitherman, since Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, when she narrowly lost the gubernatorial race to Parris N. Glendening 15 years ago - but one potential GOP candidate says he might seek public campaign financing. And Mike Pappas' campaign manager says he might file a lawsuit over this diversion of the money. Mr. Pipkin wishes them good luck in court; another benefit of political monopoly such as Maryland's is that the judiciary is (surprise!) pretty much all Democrat.

I remember a blogger saying that bipartisanship in Maryland is defined as Democrats agreeing with each other. I also remember how hopeful Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was when he won the gubernatorial election as a Republican in 2002. He thought, based on his experiences as a state legislator, that he could reach across the aisle and expect some cooperation. He was wrong. Democrats say he didn't do enough to promote a good relationship with the veto-proof legislative majority, but how are we to explain that when he proposed legalizing slots, it didn't happen, but when the Democrats had resumed their total control, it did? Ehrlich initiatives were largely scorned. We found out why for sure when, in 2006, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller promised that he and his fellow Democrats would "get together and we're going to shoot [the Republicans] down. We're going to put them in the ground. We're going to bury them upside-down, and it'll be 10 years before they crawl out again."

If there's an over/under bet on that, I'll take the over.

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is rsmith@wbal.com.

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