First Click, Maryland -- It's all about November
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Friday, April 2, 2010:
For 80 and ½ days of the General Assembly's 90-day session, Maryland politics has had a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like quality to it. Republicans and Democrats in Annapolis would begin to nip at debt and borrowing, the death penalty, same-sex marriage and other essential election-year issues, only to quickly retreat to obscure policy debates. The wonkiness muddled on in the State House while the real election drama seemed to play out in some faraway, distant universe, waiting for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich (R) to decide if he would run against Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).
The purgatory seemed to work well for Democrats, leaving them to focus on passing O'Malley's legislative agenda including a jobs tax credit, sex-offender reforms, unemployment insurance fix and other items. It didn't seem to work as well for Republicans, who more than once held back at the apex of a debate and not go for the jugular the way their counterparts had in Washington in recent months.
Eighty days in to the session and, more importantly, two days after Ehrlich announced, the two personalities of Maryland politics seemed to finally merge and be at peace this year. Deep into a six-hour budget debate on the floor of the House of Delegates on Thursday, Republican Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) stood and introduced an amendment to this year's budget reconciliation bill that would have added a largely symbolic line expressing the House's "intent" to not raise taxes for the next four years.
It was far from the first time since January that Shank has introduced such a measure. There have been many by Republicans intended as swipes to draw attention to their party's contention that O'Malley has taken the easy way with borrowing and other one-time fixes to balance the budget this year and will raises revenues next year if re-elected.
But it was the first time both sides took the debate to its logical election-year conclusion.
"We have grave concerns about this budget -- that it does not do enough to curb the appetite of spending," Shank said. "It's time to level with the citizens of this state, are we going to raise their taxes next year or not?"
Democrats took the bait. House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) stood and asked Shank why the measure specifically called for freezing taxes increases made under O'Malley, but not many other fees and surcharges raised previously.
"I think I know why he specifically didn't include those. Because when Gov. Ehrlich was governor, he raised $3 billion worth," Barve began. "It is curious that the amendment is crafted in this way so as not to shed a beacon, any light on the $3 billion worth of taxes, fees, surcharges, HMO premiums when he was in office."
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) shot back that Barve was rewriting history.
"If you listen to that, he would have you believe that Gov. Ehrlich is a massive tax increaser, and Gov. O'Malley was a tax cutter," O'Donnell said. "The citizens of Maryland know better, they know who raised massive taxes on them. And they know who is going to raise massive taxes on them the year after the election cause you [Democrats] have a history of doing it. You don't raise taxes in an election year. You wait until the year after the election."
"What [Ehrlich] was was a major-league expense increaser," injected Del. Murray D. Levy (D-Charles). Soon a half-dozen lawmakers joined the fray but it came back to the two majority leaders.
"My friends in the Republican party love to raise fees and pretend they're not taxes," Barve said. "Do you remember the flush fee? I remember ... it was a fee but it felt like a tax to those who paid it."
O'Donnell charged that Ehrlich's fees were not on par with O'Malley's tax increases. "The cumulative effect of everything that Gov. Ehrlich stopped, fought, pushed back on -- the governor stood against all of those. He was the only thing that stood against them. In fact, he may be the only thing that stands against them next year, after the election."
Shank tried to get in the last word: "Show our intent. Is it to raise taxes? Or is it to keep taxes the way they are?" "A green vote says it is our intent that the people of Maryland are taxed enough. A red vote says it is our intent after this election to raise taxes."
Several more Democrats ultimately piped up before House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) finally called the vote. "It sounds like we're having an election breakout here," he said jokingly before the measure failed 39-94.
It was an election-year breakout, alright. And it raised the question of how different the first 80 days of session might have sounded if Ehrlich had announced earlier.
News You Should Know
House rejects Senate plan to push pension costs to counties
Layered into Thursday's budget debate was a decision by the House to "reject a plan to begin shifting part of the cost of teacher pensions to local governments -- one of several ways in which [the House] wants to dial back spending cuts proposed by the Senate," writes The Baltimore Sun's Julie Bykowicz. The House and Senate "must reconcile their differences before the legislative session ends in just over a week ... The biggest difference between the chambers' approach to spending appears to be in teacher pensions, which the state pays for at a cost of almost $1 billion in the coming year."
Anne Arundel halts approval on casino
"Anne Arundel County said Thursday that it is halting consideration of plans for Maryland's largest slots casino pending the outcome of a countywide referendum in November or a court intervention before then," writes The Post's John Wagner. "The announcement by County Executive John R. Leopold (R) followed a decision by the Anne Arundel Board of Elections to certify a sufficient number of petitions collected by a group opposed to the 4,750-machine casino at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover. Under Anne Arundel law, residents can force public votes on zoning decisions and other actions by the County Council through a petition drive.
Ehrlich's radio show will go on -- until July
As previously reported by The Post's Wagner, "Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich's radio show on WBAL 1090-AM will go on "as is" now that the Republican has declared he will run against Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley during November's gubernatorial election. The station's general manager reiterated that Thursday to the Baltimore Business Journal's Ryan Sharrow.
"But that will change in July, two months before the Maryland primaries, when Ehrlich wraps up the necessary paperwork and officially becomes a candidate. Ed Kiernan, WBAL's general manager, said Ehrlich and his wife Kendel, will continue to host the Saturday morning show up until July. By law, WBAL would be required to give equal time to all candidates running for governor after the registration deadline, Kiernan said, and that is an unlikely scenario."
Prognosticator puts Md. governor's race in play
"The nonpartisan Cook Political Report on Thursday moved its needle on Maryland's governor's race two notches to the center -- and just left of its bracket titled "toss up" -- saying former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's decision to seek a rematch with incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) ensures a "competitive" race," writes Davis. "The new rating puts 14 of Democrats' 19 governors' seats in play nationwide. Maryland is now one of two still hanging on the left in the "lean" column. Seven are in the "toss up" bracket. The rest have crossed into Republican territory with three leaning right and two more rated as "likely" to go to Republicans in November.
"I think that we've made the decision time and again that we were going to protect that as a priority for Marylanders."
-- Del. John Bohanan, (D-St. Mary's) in opposing a Republican attempt to eliminate a $126 million program known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index that compensates school districts where education costs more in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore suburbs.
"He can get 100 percent of independents, 100 percent of the Republicans, and if he only gets 15 percent of the Democrats, he loses."
Patrick Gonzales, president of Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies of Annapolis on Ehrlich's chances.
"By having him on the top of the ballot, it's worth $10 for every dollar a candidate has to spend."
Del. J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County) saying Ehrlich he takes "a rising tide lifts all boats" view of Ehrlich's announcement. Jennings is running for Senate in District 7.
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Aaron C. Davis
April 2, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner
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