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Beyond winning or losing

April 02, 2003

Can the Maryland General Assembly avoid a special session in 2003? It looks doubtful now, with the House and Senate split on taxes and slot machines and a host of other bills awaiting action. We hope lawmakers can remember that this isn't about which side wins, but about how to better serve all the people of the state.

Members of the House of Delegates, led by Speaker Michael Busch, believe that the only way to ensure that there'll be enough money to fund the state's long-term fiscal priorities is to raise taxes, starting with the state's sales tax.

However, that's one thing Gov. Robert Ehrlich promised to veto, should it pass. Ehrlich, who has already accepted an increase in the state property tax, isn't going to bend on this one.

But unless some tax increases are included, Busch won't allow consideration of the slots bill, which is the key to financing the education-funding recommendations of the Thornton Commission.

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Without slots, it's doubtful that the state will be able to keep the promise to fund Thornton, or to balance the budget without some deep cuts in state services. Ehrlich said as much earlier in the session, offering a series of "doomsday" cuts that he said would be necessary without slots.

Now we understand that for the governor and the speaker especially, the first year of a new term is important in setting an agenda and gaining the respect of the other players. But if the House, the Senate and the governor fail to find a compromise on the budget, the outcome will be far worse than the loss of status and wounded egos.

With no agreement, real people will feel the pain because of services they and their children won't get. It's something that need not happen, because despite its current problems, Maryland is a relatively wealthy state.

That means this can be worked out, if the players will resist the temptation to pursue victory at all costs and/or to force a humiliating solution on the other side.

In this case, the winner won't be the one who triumphs over all, but the person who finds a way that all can work together.

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