The argument the GOP hasn't made, sewer woes and more

October 31, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

In the special session of the Maryland General Assembly that began this week, Republicans may have staged a rally opposing new taxes, but they're unlikely to prevail unless they change their message.

Repeating the mantra of "no new taxes" may excite the party faithful, but it doesn't leave the GOP will any room to compromise, even though they have a good argument to make.

In August, Del. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, and the House minority whip, talked about the House Republican Caucus plan to close the $1.7 billion budget gap.


As presented then, the plan relied on legalizing slot machines, but its key feature was slowing - not stopping - the growth of the state budget for two years, until revenues catch up with expenditures.

There is no dispute that the problems Maryland faces are, in large part, the result of Democrats' previous passage of a tax cut and a large increase in aid to education.

But the lawmakers didn't make other cuts or raise taxes to cover those expenditures. Now the bill is coming due.

The Republicans' argument ought to be that when ordinary citizens help their children buy a car or make a down payment on a house, they're making a sacrifice that probably means they won't be able to afford that bass boat the same year.

Instead, the boat purchase is put off until the citizens' savings are replenished, or until revenues catch up with expenditures.

This message would be more difficult to deliver than repeating the "no new taxes" mantra, but Republicans should have faith that Maryland's citizens are smart enough to understand such an argument.

Recently Kelly Cromer, a member of the Hagerstown City Council and William Wivell, a Washington County Commissioner, wrote letters in an attempt to explain why the other side is wrong in the ongoing city-county debate over water and sewer service.

The two governments have continued the debate in court - at taxpayers' expense - through the Maryland Public Service Commission and in numerous public statements over the years.

After all that, the area is still at Square One, with the county refusing to share revenues from new development in areas where a judge ruled that the city can require new industries to sign a pre-annexation agreement.

For the affected industry, such an agreement means that if the city boundary is ever extended to its site, it would have to pay city taxes.

Since the boundary extension is not a sure thing, the county's economic development people must explain to new prospects that at some future, unknown date, they might have to pay city taxes.

That's not the level of certainty that most businesses want, which makes it difficult for those trying to sell the county as a good place to do business.

What puzzles me is that if there were new development, there would be new revenue. If it's cash you haven't had before - and that you might not get without cooperation - why not share it? I await the answer with great interest.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith spent much of 2005 in Afghanistan, working in a job that he still can't talk about.

But in a recent appearance, the chief said that one thing he could share was the troops' fondness for Oreo cookies, in part because they don't seem to go bad as quickly as other sweet treats.

Remember that when you're sending your favorite member of the armed forces a holiday gift package.

Beginning next week, we'll start reserving each Thursday's editorial page for letters about local issues. There are some lively, ongoing debates about subjects such as evolution versus creationism, but not so many about, for example, the best ways to control growth in Washington County.

Thomas Jefferson believed that if all opinions were shared in the public forum of a free press, the truth would prevail. But without those opinions, it's difficult to have a discussion. Please join in.

John Porcari, Maryland Secretary of Transportation, will be the guest at a Thursday luncheon at Hagerstown's Sheraton Four Points and will speak about the area's transportation needs.

I would be surprised if the outlook is positive, but curious to see if this administration is as committed as the last one to the Intercounty Connector, a 13.8-mile road slated to link Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The highway would cost at least $2.4 billion and possibly $3 billion, according to a 2006 story in The Washington Post.

That's enough to cover the state's current deficit and then some.

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

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