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Political Consent or Contempt?

Jan 10, 2012 05:22PM ● By Anonymous
The hot topics include same-sex marriage, hikes in the gas tax, the flush tax, taxes on Internet purchases (and any other tax you can think of), new septic rules, wind turbine farms, bridge tolls, and those pesky budget deficits that won’t seem to go away.

But at the top of the legislators’ minds—if not the top of their preview speeches to community groups—is what’s going to happen to them personally in legislative reapportionment. In Anne Arundel County, pretty much all the Republican delegates and senators expect to get screwed (shafted, if you prefer) by the Democrats: Gov. Martin O’Malley and the party leaders who control the process.

That’s among the reasons that at least four Anne Arundel County legislators are looking at a race for county executive to succeed the term-limited John Leopold. Among them is Del. Steve Schuh, who is not ready to go public with his plans, but said that, “Gerrymandering is unfortunately part of the process.” Others include Del. Cathy Vitale of Severna Park, Sen. Ed Reilly of Crofton, and Bryan Simonaire of Pasadena.

There are any number of ways that their current districts could be sliced and diced, cracked and packed, to make their re-elections difficult—putting several incumbents together in one district, for instance, or cutting them off from their power base.

Del. Ron George, the Annapolis jeweler, doesn’t expect much kindness from Speaker of the House Michael Busch, who serves on the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee. After all, George got 1,600 more votes last year than Busch running in three-member District 30. County residents and their representatives pleaded with the committee to put them in only one or two congressional districts, but instead the county that has been voting consistently Republican for council, executive, and State House, got split into four districts represented by Democrats.

On the Eastern Shore, not as much mischief can be done to the GOP, but delegates and senators can be put into districts where they haven’t run before or must run against a fellow Republican. That’s particularly true for Sen. E.J. Pipkin, who district runs from Cecil County, where he lives, to Queen Anne’s, where he used to live. Pipkin has been a pain to Senate Democrats for years, but now as a Republican leader sitting in the front row, he can toss his bombs at close range.

Pipkin made his agenda clear in October’s special session, introducing 22 of the 32 bills in the Senate, most of them seeking to fire back at what he and other rural Republicans call O’Malley’s “war on rural Maryland.” This “war” includes banning septic systems for new development, raising tolls on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and beefing up state authority over local zoning through Plan Maryland. None of the bills were dealt with in the special session, but Pipkin will be back.

Here’s a run-down of other key issues.


BUDGET: There continues to be a nagging $1 billion structural deficit projected next year, and Del. Tony McConkey of Severna Park says, “We’ve spent all the mattress money. We bet the economy would bounce back.” But it didn’t.

Schuh likes to point out that the governor claims to have cut $6 billion from the budget during his five years in office, but yet the overall budget is several billion dollars higher. So proposed future spending hadn’t been reduced, the budget would be further out of whack.

“That’s what masquerades as cuts in the Maryland state budget,” Schuh said. Hence, all the talk about raising revenues.

TAX HIKES: Del. George said House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Sheila Hixson was actively soliciting proposals for new tax hikes. That includes raising the gasoline tax, “a regressive tax that would hurt everyone,” George said, and putting a sales tax on services, which would also be regressive.

O’Malley said he’s actively considering raising the gas tax to help fund more infrastructure construction, and boost jobs in the building trades. But Democratic Sen. Ed DeGrange of Glen Burnie, a subcommittee chair on the Budget and Taxation Committee, told a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, “I suspect there will be a lot of proposals…I hope all of them will go away.”

FLUSH TAX: Somewhat of a sleeper issue, an advisory board has already recommended a doubling of the $30 a year flush tax that goes to fund the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. The tax is paid both by people on public sewer and those with septic systems. The governor has not taken a position on the issue.

GAY MARRIAGE: O’Malley last summer changed his stand on same-sex marriage, and now says he will make the measure part of his legislative package. The measure passed the Senate, but came up a few votes shy in the House, where Speaker Busch was actively backing it.

Republicans oppose the measure, but backers hope to peel one or two GOP votes into their camp. Even if same-sex marriage is signed into law, both sides expect it will be petitioned to referendum.



WIND POWER: O’Malley continues to push for a wind turbine farm generating electricity off the coast of Ocean City, but Pipkin and others concerned with the cost to consumers continue to push back.

These are the issues we know will be coming back with the lawmakers. But it’s often the case that hottest issues don’t emerge until the session gets underway, the way the gay marriage proposal preoccupied legislators last year, and the septic tank proposal came out of the blue in O’Malley’s State of the State address.

Len Lazarick is the editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com, a news website on state government and politics.