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Legislature is good (not cheap) entertainment

January 11, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

With much anticipation, the Maryland General Assembly kicks off another session this week, and much can be expected of this group that in the past has provided such landmark legislation as the Boiler Vessel Pressure Act of 1992 and a law allowing people who are legally blind to operate an automobile.

For three months, the legislature will be an excellent diversion. It's kind enough to hold court during that dead time between the end of professional football season and Opening Day of Major League baseball - not that I am making any direct comparison between New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey and Senate President Mike Miller.

Just legislate, baby. It's entertainment, and as long as the public only gets mildly jagged, might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

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Granted, it may not be as interesting as past years, when former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R-Nuclear) and assembly Democrats fought like Itchy and Scratchy, but I wouldn't lower my expectations just yet.

Miller said, "Gov. (Martin) O'Malley has come into office, and he's got a lot of political capital. There's a sense of euphoria, even among Republicans, that there's this lack of tension. There's a sense that we can get things done."

Euphoria? Republicans? That's rich. They haven't been euphoric since the Clinton impeachment, and they're going to be euphoric about a donkey in the governor's crib?

But it's pretty much the same every year. Everyone's euphoric prior to the session. Then comes the posturing and agenda-setting, and the resulting pot-shots and bickering. A couple weeks in, the governor steps up for his State of the State address with its predictable bones tossed to "bipartisanship" and everyone goes back to being not quite euphoric maybe, but all weepy and conciliatory.

That lasts about 30 seconds until the committee meetings and political games begin, causing considerable agitation and neck rashes. It's interrupted, briefly, for the introduction of the budget, when they pass out all the loot.

But tension will rise when they realize they can't pay for it all, and then the citizens will add to the fray with their demonstrations ("Won't somebody think of the children?") and by the end everyone will just plain hate each other.

It's like the sun rising in the East. Every year the legislature has more mood swings than Carrie Bradshaw, and there is nothing to be done about it.

For added fun this year, the General Assembly is intent on "restructuring the tax code" to "make it more equitable."

We all know what this means: You and I will pay a lot more and the special interests will pay a lot less. Letting the Democrats rewrite the tax code is like letting a cannibal rewrite the buffet menu. Good things aren't likely to come of it.

It's great news for the lobbyists, though. Because every special interest with a tax number is going to need two or three of them, minimum. And the lawmakers all have great big ears and tiny little brains, and as they sidle up to the lobbyists' banquet table they will all say "Oh, all right, I can see the wisdom of giving tax credits to industries that are most successful at raking in profits and spitting out pollution; and to make up for the resulting shortfall in funds, we'll slap another tax on that guy over there who is living in the trailer. Thanks for the good idea. May I have another shrimp?"

Keep in mind, they had the blueprint for a major tax overhaul 15 years ago. It was called the Linowes Report. It taxed services that now pay nothing. It taxed dry-cleaning services, which was OK, because there aren't a lot of Koreans in the Assembly. But it also taxed legal services, and you can't swing a cat down there without hitting a lawyer, so the whole shebang was pretty much a nonstarter.

But the legislature always learns from its mistakes, right? Like electricity deregulation. How's that working out? And I'm sure we can expect the exact same success from the tax code overhaul. It's 2007 - tune in, and prepare to duck.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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