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Luck and the legislature

March 29, 2005

Sometimes even if you don't deserve it, you get lucky anyway.

That's apparently what has happened to the members of the Maryland General Assembly and the administration of Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

Despite a lack of agreement over slot machines and other revenue-enhancing measures, the state's elected officials have managed to gather $400 million in uncommitted funds that they can use to ensure smooth sailing during the 2006 session.

That amount is over and above what is a required for the state's "rainy day" fund and according to The Associated Press, it happened not because of any grand strategy, but because the economy improved and citizens kept on playing the lottery.

What does that mean?

The Democrats, who have been pressing the governor to raise taxes to deal with the state's structural deficit, won't have to bring up that topic in an election year. And the governor, who has gotten nowhere with his plan to legalize slot machines, can skip that fight next year.

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But just because the state's elected officials have been lucky doesn't mean that citizens share in the good fortune.

The $400 million windfall means that some vital questions won't be solved until after the next election. That includes the slot-machine issue and the question of where the state will find money to fund the educational-reform recommendations of the Thornton Commission.

Those recommendations were approved just prior to the last election by legislators who knew that passing a cigarette tax increase would only fund the first two years of those measures.

Proposals to fund future years' reforms have included legalizing slots and raising the state's income tax, which was cut under former Gov. Parris Glendening. Democrats such as House Speaker Michael Busch want to tie slot legalization to a tax increase, but Ehrlich is having none of that.

The $400 million windfall means there probably won't be any solutions passed in 2006, but citizens ought to demand that candidates who want to be re-elected pledge to end the gridlock.

We believe the Democrats should pass the slots bill and then, if revenues are still insufficient, make the case for a tax increase. If someone has a better plan, it's time to let voters look at it.

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