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Politicians play blame games or race for credit

February 14, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

I love class and political warfare. It's bloodless, but it kills more people in the long run. It's like the Crusades, without the mess.

And we have a good one cooking in Washington County, one that pits city against county, county against state, brother against brother and Aunt Jemima against Mrs. Butterworth.

The war has been brewing for some time, basically because our own smart, moneyed people are moving out of the county, while smart, moneyed people from other places are moving into the county.

Our young people are off to test their wings and fulfill their dreams in some shining city on the hill. It is older people who are moving in, because they have already been to the city and discovered the hill is made of rat carcasses and the shine comes from tinfoil hung out to scare the pigeons.

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So to set the stage, we are left with rich outsiders who are resented by not-so-rich insiders. That's a good, incendiary start. And there's more.

The insiders cannot believe how crowded it's become.

The outsiders cannot believe how peaceful it is.

The insiders cannot believe how high our taxes are.

The outsiders cannot believe how low our taxes are.

Obviously, I could go on and on with these comparisons all day long. As a matter of fact, I think I will.

The insiders think real estate is obscenely high.

The outsiders think real estate is obscenely low.

The insiders are jealous of anyone earning $50,000.

The outsiders feel sorry for anyone earning $50,000.

Oh, it wasn't too terribly bad at first. We're friendly folk after all, so outside of a little grousing about the size of their SUVs, nothing much was happening.

And then we opened our new tax assessments.

All of a sudden came a ruckus that made the tsunami look like a joke; Katrina looked like a wimp.

The value of people's homes had thundered off the charts, driven by all the housing demand from the newcomers. And with that news came the grim and undeniable truth that soon we would all be forced to watch our state and local politicians try to out-pander each other for the title of "Best Use of Tax Hysteria to Promote One's Own Career."

In a horrible reversal of fortune, Del. Chris Shank found himself scurrying to catch some of the glow reflecting off of County Commissioner John Munson, who nimbly outflanked Shank and beat him to the "lower our taxes" punch. Shank, who had turned his undivided attention in Annapolis to sticking it to the gays, now has some catching up to do.

A rough job, that of delegate. One has to decide on a dime whether there is more raw voter emotion to be tapped in the gay-marriage issue or the high-tax issue. Apparently, money is thicker than marriage, because it was Munson who picked the right issue, and Shank was left at the podium before an empty auditorium saying, "Hey, look at me, I'm against gay marriage. Hello? Anybody?"

Yes, the peasants with their pitchforks were at the gate, led by Munson - who was in the curious position of having to storm his own castle, since he's a commissioner and it's the commissioners who had the power to lower taxes - a power that, as of this writing, is in no danger of overuse.

So J-Mun's message was this: Call your state lawmakers and make them make us lower our taxes.

The state lawmakers LOVE this because it's the best of both worlds. They get to claim credit for cutting county taxes, but at the same time they don't have to tighten their own belts.

Obviously the county is not pleased, because state lawmakers are in effect trying to cut the amount of funding commissioners can spend on roads and schools and $20 million radios. Oh, and when you find some county service to be lacking, the commissioners will be sure to remind you who is at fault.

So the war will heat up thusly. When your kids are sitting in classes held in trailers, the commissioners will tell you, "We would have loved to have built you a new school, but state lawmakers took away the funding." Every unfilled pothole, every unfilled promise and every unfilled charitable contribution will be blamed on Shank and the rest. But lawmakers will respond, "If it weren't for us, the county would have let the rich commuters drive up your taxes, because it has an insatiable appetite for money."

So on one side will sit the McMansion set, people who don't mind paying for progress. On the other side are the old-schoolers, who do not want to pay for progress, they just want to be able to pay for their own heating oil or medicine. And from the sidelines, you have the politicians, shamelessly placing bets and egging them on.

Smells like an election year to me.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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