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Two states' budget woes and other assorted topics

July 11, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

· Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Republican legislative leaders both declared victory Tuesday, after crafting a budget deal that ended the furlough of 23,562 state workers.

Before anyone sprains their wrist patting themselves on the back, I suggest that they apologize to those they used as pawns in this affair.

Elected officials should also take quick action to compensate state workers for the wages they lost Monday. Finding $3.5 million in a $27.3 billion budget shouldn't be tough, given the fiscal expertise all were claiming on Tuesday.

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· Civic activist Ted Bodnar and Hagerstown officials deserve more praise than they've received so far for the July 4 celebration at Fairgrounds Park.

Rain threatened, but held off long enough for a crowd of thousands to hear some good old rhythm-and-blues music from The House Band from Clinton, Md., followed by a fireworks display that featured more than 15,000 shells.

People danced on the grass, then oohed and aahed as the fireworks display lit up the night sky.

· Washington County officials should pay close attention to the efforts by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's effort to close a $1.5 billion gap in the next state budget.

One ploy sure to be considered is a version of the old children's game called "hot potato."

Imagine this scenario: State-level officials determine that they must either cut spending or increase taxes.

But who wants to be labeled a tax-and-spend politician? Nobody, which is why at least some of the cuts could be passed back to local governments.

In a June 30 column, state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne's, said that one part of the solution could be "..sharing fairly with the counties the employer share of funding the teachers' pensions.."

What "sharing fairly" means for county governments is unknown, because what seems fair to state lawmakers might seem like an unfair, unfunded mandate to county officials. This issue must be closely watched.

· Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for Gov. O'Malley, said that the list of proposed budget cuts released Tuesday were just the beginning of measures to eliminate the budget shortfall the governor inherited when he took office.

Inherited? Gov. Robert Ehrlich inherited the responsibility of dealing with the Democrats' decision to approve the Thornton Commission's educational recommendations, with no identified source of funding.

To pretend that the impending deficit was only the legacy of the last administration is as ridiculous as the claim Democrats made in the last session that Ehrlich was responsible for rate increases related to electricity deregulation.

In fact, Democrats pushed for it in 1999, then lost interest in the issue until Baltimore Gas & Eletric proposed a 75 percent rate increase. Democrats might also have eased the state's budget woes by legalizing slots four years ago. Granted, Ehrlich's first bill was a mess, but a cooperative effort to pass a slots bill would have had money flowing in by now, as opposed to leaving Maryland where it is now - back at the starting gate.

So let's not kid anybody about whose "inheritance" Maryland is dealing with here.

· It might take a little extra time, but if you care about the fate of local farms and orchards, try to buy some produce at locally run fruit and vegetable stands.

Even if you have to pay more, you can console yourself with the knowledge that what you're buying is freshly picked.

Know also that your purchase supports some hard-working local families whose beautiful fields are part of what makes this area such a nice region in which to live.

· Isn't it about time for a visit from Maryland's newest U.S. Senator, Benjamin Cardin? Both Cardin and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski supported the immigration bill that failed last month.

In a statement issued last month, Cardin said the following:

"I disagreed with many provisions in the Senate bill, but I voted to move the process forward. All sides agree that our border security system and immigration system are broken today. The Senate should have had the opportunity to keep working on a tough, fair, and practical border security/immigration bill."

I'd like to hear more about what he would have changed to ensure the bill's passage.

· The Herald-Mail's editorial page is giving another trial to columnist Kathleen Parker, who appeared on our pages years ago after the death of Mike Royko.

For a while, Parker seemed preoccupied with the Internet and when we dropped her, few protested.

Now she's with a new syndicate and we're giving her another shot, beginning on Sunday, July 15. Please let us know what you think.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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