From Love to Money

John J. Walters Feb 28, 2012

To quote from an article in the Baltimore Sun this weekend: The first 45 days of the General Assembly session were dominated by talk of marriage. The theme for the second half is shaping up to be money — and there's not enough of it.

I can’t decide how to feel about that. Part of me is always happy when the government gets gridlocked over something. The less they do, the less they can mess things up. It may not be an optimal way to achieve “free enterprise, limited government, and civil society,” but sometimes you have to take what you can get.

On the other hand, most of me is shocked that we spent fully half of this year’s legislative session on an issue like gay marriage. The MPPI doesn’t comment on these kinds of things, so I won’t burden you with yet another opinion on that specific issue (I’m sure you’ve already heard plenty). But does this seem a little bit like a misallocation of priorities to you? I’m not trying to say that social issues aren’t important, but I do feel the need to point out a few other things that this state is facing right now.

Things like the laundry list of new or increased taxes that Governor O’Malley wants to impose on a state that already taxes its residents quite heavily (you can see how we stack up to other states here). This ranges from an increased income tax on anyone making over $100k/year to a doubling (or tripling) of the flush tax to applying the state’s 6% sales tax to gasoline.  Oh, and let’s not forget his plan to tax online sales.

None of these proposals are popular with the republicans in the legislature, and many democrats are even saying that enough is finally enough. But if taxes don’t seem like a good use of our legislator’s limited time, what about budget cuts? We’re facing a $1 billion budget deficit for next year, and if we decide not to close that with new taxes, we’ll have to find a way to make some deep cuts.

There’s a few suggestions that are already being voiced to help close the deficit. We could cut education funding (it is, after all, growing every year), we could pass teacher pension expenses onto the counties (which would likely result in increased taxes in each county – or a dramatic cut-back in county services), or we could cut medical funding for the poor.

As if all this is not enough, there’s another issue that O’Malley has really been pushing: off-shore wind. He tried to get it passed last year but couldn’t muster the support. Now he’s brought it back to the bargaining table, and you can bet he’ll be working hard to get it through.

I don’t know about you, but most of those options sound pretty important to me. In other words: I’d like our elected officials to spend some quality time researching and debating any and all of these options, from tax increases to spending cuts to green energy. Unfortunately, we’ve already burned through half of our time talking about who can marry whom: an issue that will more than likely be on the November ballot for the voters to decide.