Can Maryland lawmakers look beyond party labels?

February 02, 2004

Is it possible for Maryland lawmakers to vote their consciences even as they look for common ground? Gov. Robert Ehrlich has to hope so, or face the prospect of concluding another session without much progress to show.

In his second State of the State speech last week, Ehrlich listed what he felt were the successes during his first year in office and said he would keep the promises made during the campaign.

He also called on the lawmakers to reject the partisanship that marks the U.S. Congress and argued that legislators could remain true to their principles even as they remain open to compromises to solve the state's problems.

His proposal for slot machines, which went down in flames last session, is back with some modifications - including two slot parlors located outside the state's horse tracks, an idea suggested by House Speaker Michael Busch.


However, Ehrlich has said he'll hold firm against any attempt to raise sales, income or gasoline taxes, though a slew of other fee hikes are on the table.

The increase in the state's share of the property tax will remain, and the governor is seeking a $2.50-per-month surcharge on sewage treatment charges.

The latter fee would pay for upgrades on large sewage treatment plants that experts agree send too many nutrients into the bay, where they inhibit the growth of grasses that shelter fish and other aquatic life.

Also under consideration by the governor: Increases in auto registration fees and in the tax that Marylanders pay when they purchase vehicles.

Is this a lot of trouble to go through just to avoid raising taxes? Yes, but Ehrlich is concentrating on collecting these fees from those who use services rather than spreading the impact across the entire tax base.

If the voters find that approach offensive, they can voice their displeasure at the ballot box, but we haven't heard much adverse feedback so far.

We do hope the governor is serious about dialing down the level of partisanship in Annapolis. Ideas should get a hearing based on their merits, not on the party label of the lawmaker.

Perhaps we're naive to feel that could happen, but at least for now we'd rather believe it's possible to be governed better than the state is now.

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