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Cycle goes on and poor get poorer

April 14, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

· Commentary

Another session of the Maryland General Assembly, aka the Stick It To Bob Ehrlich 2005 Tour, is over, and we are the poorer for it.

I hate to see the end of any session that is summed up in newspaper accounts with words like "rancor" and "roiled." I shall miss picking up the paper every morning and seeing one group of adults calling another group of adults idiots. I will miss all that hatred.

I'll also miss watching a group of elected officials do not what is best for the people, but what will make the other party look bad in the next election.

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The Democrats, for example, passed a $1 increase in the minimum wage. That's nice. I'm sure the 10 remaining high school students who still earn minimum wage at their part-time car wash jobs are already calculating what they will do with the extra $15 a week. Open a Roth IRA, I suppose.

More importantly, this will make the Republican governor look bad if he vetoes it, and he will be portrayed as an enemy of the poor working man. Harry Truman once used the campaign line "Republicans believe in the minimum wage. And the minimumer the better." That's a good one. Keep your eye out for it next year.

Another "friend of the working man" bill the Democrats passed is one that would require Wal-Mart to provide its employees with a little bit of health insurance. I don't see why this is necessary, since Wal-Mart treats its employees splendidly. I know this, because Wal-Mart's own television commercials say so.

Let me say that again. These are Wal-Mart's commercials. So by the company's own admission it treats its employees well. Facts don't get any more solid than that.

By the way, I don't want to tell all these NIMBY goons what to do, but it seems to me that if you want to keep a Wal-Mart out of your neighborhood, the project should be easy enough. Just say, "Fine, we'd love to have a Wal-Mart right across the street; the only condition is that it has to be union." You saw what happened in Canada. The U word to Wal-Mart is like garlic to a vampire - you won't be seeing them around again anytime soon.

And speaking of hitting the highway, does anyone want to take a road trip with me to Montgomery and Prince George's counties? I want to see where my gasoline-tax money will be going for the next decade, in the form of the $2.4 billion Intercounty Connector highway, which is necessary to give suburban professionals faster access to their country clubs.

I haven't talked to our own local delegation yet, but I'm guessing they probably didn't land us any funds for widening Interstate 81. So it will be three lanes in West Virginia, three lanes in Pennsylvania, with Maryland like the neck of an hourglass.

If they can't get us money for I-81, maybe we could at least get a new sign for the border: "Welcome to Maryland: Not as Progressive as West Virginia, but Trying."

And finally, there was the annual failure of slot machine legalization.

Good.

More slots means more money and more money means more crookedness - to the extent that this is possible. I know there is a sound, moral obligation on the part of lawmakers to try to milk more money out of the people who can least afford it, but frankly I am flat sick of the issue.

And we shouldn't fear that poor people aren't paying the bulk of their meager paychecks to the wealthy, as they should, because we have plenty of mechanisms in place to assure their continued misery.

They can't afford a new car, so we soak them on tailpipe emission repairs. They can't afford to maintain their old cars, so a cop gives them a ticket for having a headlight out. They have to charge their groceries and then pay late, so the credit card company charges them a $30 late fee. They can't afford preventive care, so they have to pay for the full illness. And, as Gallagher once said, you bounce a check and what do they do? Charge you more of what they know you ain't got.

So relax, we don't need slots to further soak the poor. And we can maintain our plausible deniability at the same time, although sometimes it's thin. Like when a state says poker is illegal and then two weeks later introduces a new Texas Hold'em state lottery scratch-off game.

On the up side, they'll be able to buy an extra ticket an hour with their new minimum-wage pay hike.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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