Even in turbulent times, Maryland stands in better economic and fiscal condition than most states. In the last decade, median household income in the United States fell 7.1 percent. Family income grew in only five states — and Maryland was the only one that isn't a petro-state like Louisiana or Wyoming.
The reason? Over recent decades, we have invested strategically in the essentials of the 21st century economy: first-class education of the young, constant public and private innovation, inclusion of the whole population and delivery of high-quality public services. And we've done it in a fiscally responsible way, paying our bills, reducing waste, and earning a triple-A bond rating.
To build on this success and propel ourselves through the recession caused by the subprime mortgage meltdown, we have to continue strategic investment in public education, public transportation and public health. This is the proven high road to progress for all Marylanders.
Gov. Martin O'Malley has proposed a balanced state budget for 2012 based on recession-reduced revenues, but it falls short of the investments we need to make in our physical and human infrastructure. To keep our state's economy growing and generating good-paying jobs, I have joined with Sens. Delores Kelly, Jim Rosapepe, Brian Frosh, Karen Montgomery and Paul Pinksy to propose a comprehensive, investment-focused alternative.
Our "Maryland First" budget would:
•restore state investment in our local schools to keep Maryland's education system preeminent in America by restoring funding to avoid the looming cuts to schools that have recently been in the news;
•restore and expand our investment in public health, including mental health, disabilities and rehabilitation services;
•protect Maryland's ability to attract and retain outstanding the public servants who provide high-quality public services that millions of Marylanders, adults and children alike, depend on every day;
•repair and rehabilitate local roads, particularly in older communities;
•reduce traffic jams and promote smart growth by expanding mass transit, especially in the congested Baltimore/Washington corridor.
To fund these investments and to keep Maryland setting the national standard for economic growth and progress in our communities, our "Maryland First" budget increases public savings and investment through a balanced package of revenue measures. Specifically, it would fortify Maryland's investment in public education, public health and other important public services by:
•raising the alcohol tax for the first time since the Eisenhower administration;
•making the state income tax more progressive by recapturing just a small slice of the huge Bush tax cut for those fortunate Marylanders bringing home more than $1 million per year;
•improving tax administration to assure that all Marylanders pay their taxes and that sales tax is collected from, big out-of-state companies, not just main street retailers;
•increasing the cigarette tax by $1 a pack;
•closing the unfair and wasteful "combined reporting" loophole used by large out-of-state corporations to avoid the taxes paid by our local small businesses.
In addition, to create new jobs, repair old roads and jump-start world-class mass transit, the "Maryland First" budget would increase the gasoline tax by 12 cents a gallon. This would fund the fixing of potholes, the resurfacing of older roads, and the improvement and expansion of MARC, Metro and MTA rail and bus service, including Baltimore's Red Line and Metro's Purple Line.
These common-sense revenue measures would raise more than $800 million in each of the coming years. Of course, there may be other ways to pay for crucial public investments — the floor is open for alternative ideas. But the "Maryland First" budget makes an important point. Despite the Great Recession, we do not have to slash state investment in local public schools, strip pension benefits our teachers have earned, watch public roads and bridges deteriorate or undercut critical public services, from snow removal to drug treatment.
We can keep our state's enviable progress going if we are willing to make some tough and visionary choices in the days ahead.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, represents Silver Spring and Takoma Park. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.