From Maryland to Madison

Hey Wisconsin, let us help you out. Apparently, we can afford it.

March 05, 2011|By Brian H. Murphy

Like the rest of America, I am watching the protests in Madison, Wis., with the expectation that they could very soon be occurring in our beloved Maryland — that is, if we had a governor who understood the perilous fiscal condition of our state and had the conviction to propose lasting solutions. Our governor would have you believe he has been making the same difficult choices as governors such as Chris Christie of New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Maryland, like Wisconsin, is on the brink of a self-inflicted fiscal catastrophe. For the last four years, Gov. Martin O'Malley has balanced our budget using record tax increases, record federal fund transfers, and record transfers of internal reserves. This year, Maryland's budget will again be balanced through a combination of fund transfers and tax increases. Maryland's taxable base is finite, and history is littered with once-great societies brought to their knees by profligate spending.

Last year, Maryland's budget was $32.4 billion, the largest in our history. This year, spending is expected to increase by more than 5 percent. Funding for education, health and human resources totals 71 percent of all spending and has grown at more than double the rate of inflation.

Moreover, our spending appears to be driven by political clout, not necessity. Transportation spending has declined in nominal dollars over the past six years, and public safety spending has barely kept pace with inflation. Are not transportation and public safety worthy functions of our government? Perhaps it's time to revisit the way our state allocates resources.

Like Wisconsin, Maryland has a structural deficit. Instead of enacting sustainable solutions to curb spending, Maryland's officials are content to delay our problems for the next election cycle. For example, recent legislation requiring those who receive state services (excluding emergency medical care) to show proof of citizenship was greeted with hostility. America will always be a nation of immigrants, with the most respected "path to citizenship" in the world. Is it unreasonable to ask that those who receive state services from Maryland taxpayers be citizens of this country?

Unlike Governor O'Malley, Governor Walker has decided to deal with Wisconsin's problems directly. Governor Walker has asked public employees to increase their benefit contributions (which they have indicated they would accept), and proposed limiting their collective bargaining power (which they have indicated they would not accept).

Some claim Governor Walker's actions constitute the government going back on its word. That is only partially true. A budget is also a promise, and Wisconsin's 5.5 million residents were promised their taxes would procure certain public services. This year, because tax receipts were less than state expenses, Wisconsin could either raise taxes or lower spending. If Wisconsin were a private company, the employees would understand their dire circumstances. Instead, representatives of Wisconsin's 300,000 state employees stormed the capital, demanding the government break its promise with the state's 5.5 million residents. Wisconsin private sector employees, it must be noted, receive salary and benefit packages that are, on average, less than those of the striking state workers. Remember, even FDR called public sector strikes "unthinkable and intolerable."

My first reaction was to reject the emotive claims of the protesters in Wisconsin. But perhaps I am thinking about this all wrong. In Maryland, we ignore economic truth and we scoff at austerity measures. While the rest of the nation scrambles to balance budgets honestly, we in Maryland borrow from reserve funds as though we have limitless resources. So, for you Jonathan Swift fans, I have a "modest proposal." Governor O'Malley, please call the Wisconsin protesters and tell them to go home. The good citizens of Maryland will assume their pension liabilities.

Maryland already has an estimated $35 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, and potentially unlimited obligations to noncitizens. If we are willing to pay for non-essential services for those who made the decision to enter the country illegally, how could we deny the wants and desires of our neighbors in the Badger State? Since Maryland apparently possesses infinite resources, and those resources are made available to people from all over the world, then certainly our resources should be shared with the good people of Wisconsin.

Brian H. Murphy is a former Republican candidate for governor of Maryland. His e-mail is bhmurphy@plimhimmon.com.

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