The Maryland Public Policy Institute
The special session on gambling is over. While I support the overall goal of allowing people the right to play games of chance, the legislation that achieves this is pretty flawed. But I’m having a hard time getting excited over this issue. It seems our state policymakers spend a lot of time on issues that are of dubious importance but ignore the more pressing issues facing our state. There should be special sessions that tackle the state’s real problems. Here’s my wish list for these special sessions (which almost certainly won’t happen):
Tax reform – the state’s tax structure has some serious flaws, from the income tax to our corporate taxes to the sales tax. The state needs to redesign its tax system so that it collects enough revenue to provide necessary services but promotes economic growth. That means reforming the state’s business tax structure, first off, but also addressing flaws in the way our income taxes are levied. It also means revamping our sales tax, with its high rate and many loopholes.
Pension and unfunded liabilities reform – the state’s pension system is a looming disaster. The governor and legislators passed very modest reforms recently, but much more needs to be done. This isn’t a big issue right now, but it will be a huge burden on taxpayers in the coming generation. Fixing the problems now instead of in a decade or two will be much less painful.
Education reform – some parts of Maryland have pretty good schools; other parts, not so much. Thanks to the Thornton Commission, the state and local governments are throwing a lot of money at education, but there’s scant evidence that this increased funding is producing better results. Maryland needs to allow more innovation in education. It’s difficult to start charter schools in this state, for instance. That needs to change, and counties need freedom to fund education and provide innovative programs without so much interference from the state.
Health care reform – state lawmakers have done a lot on health care in recent years, but most of it has been poor public policy. Aside from slight loosening of laws that allow health care professionals more freedom to provide services, the state is continuing to burden health care providers and patients with more restrictions and regulations. The state should embrace health care freedom and allow health care consumers more choice in insurance and providers.
These are only a few of the problems facing Maryland that should have been addressed by a special session. But, instead of focusing on enacting reforms that would have a real impact on Maryland’s economy, policymakers focused on gambling. That’s an issue of importance to a few people, but the issues above affect almost everyone in the state. But it’s easier to pass a gambling bill than to pass a pension reform bill or to overhaul the state’s tax structure. As long as we have legislators who choose these easy issues instead of grappling with the harder issues, we’ll continue to have a dysfunctional state.
(As I finish this, I see that my fellow MPPIer Marta Mossburg is sounding similar themes in the Baltimore Sun. Great minds think alike, it seems, although she expresses these sentiments far better than I do.)
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