George Michael: Were you invited to secret meeting?

January 20, 2012|By GEORGE MICHAEL

A funny thing happened on the way to the governor’s gas tax increase. Actually, two funny things. First, State Comptroller Peter Franchot came out in opposition, as did several other Democratic legislators. In a one-party state like Maryland, this is huge.

Governor O’Malley, of course, is supporting a plan to increase the Maryland excise tax on gas. The current tax is 23.5 cents on every gallon of gas you pump, in addition to the 18 cents of federal excise tax per gallon. O’Malley is pushing for a 15 cents-per-gallon increase to be spread out over three years, a tidy 64 percent increase. 

“Take a timeout from draining money out of people’s pockets,” Franchot said last year at a town hall meeting in Timonium, Md. “Give businesses and consumers time to catch their breath.”

Franchot seems concerned about the fragile nature of the economy. As comptroller, Franchot has seen first-hand how several of O’Malley’s tax initiatives have affected the state’s budget — and it is not pretty. The “Millionaire’s Tax” is a prime example of the futile attempts of our Democratic leadership to improve the state’s finances through tax increases. Some of the millionaires, actually small-business owners who would like to expand and be successful, picked up and moved elsewhere. 

Franchot is a long-term party Democrat, elected along with O’Malley almost as a package deal in the last two election cycles.  In our county, Franchot received 40.3 percent of the vote in 2006 and 38.6 percent in 2010. If Franchot helps derail the O’Malley Tax Express, his local popularity would greatly improve.

Franchot also wants to defer any increase in the state’s “flush tax,” used to pay for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

“The problem is we have no fiscal discipline,” Franchot said. 

Conservatives could be heard to utter, “Preach it, brother!”

The very liberal Baltimore Sun almost went bonkers in its Dec. 26, 2011, editorial over his departure from standard Democratic orthodoxy.

“Did we miss the press release announcing that Peter Franchot had joined the tea party? The comptroller certainly sounded like he’d gone over to the side of anti-government activism Monday when he cast the lone vote against a proposal at the Maryland Capital Debt Affordability Committee to accelerate some of the state’s planned borrowing in hopes of spurring the economy through infrastructure spending” the Sun lamented. 

Really, is that the best The Sun can do? Accuse Franchot of joining the tea party? What a joke! Is Franchot a closet anti-government activist? Franchot’s liberal credentials go back many years in our state as the archetypical Montgomery County Democrat. But because he takes a realistic view of the potential negatives of tax increases, the Sun suggests he has gone over to the dark side.

The second funny thing happened here in Washington County. A semi-secret meeting of local gas tax supporters, friends of former delegate Bruce Poole, was held to decide how to divide up the booty. Several leaders at the meeting professed not being able to remember who attended the meeting, even two days later. 

Del. John Donoghue and Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis Metzner indicated the main purpose was to get a “wish list” of sorts together ahead of the expected tax increase. Nothing wrong with that I suppose, assuming the tax increase is a good thing.  But Donoghue made it clear that any constituent group that opposed the increase would not get any of the new money for its projects. A good example of “you have to go along to get along” in this one-party state. We play hardball here. 

No word that any of those present thought the gas tax was a bad idea. No one seemed to remember. Several County Commissioners were invited and if three of them were present, the whole gig would have violated Maryland law. But then, no one could remember. They did remember, however, a number of ways to spend your money.

So let’s see if it flies. It reminds one of that saying, usually attributed to Mark Twain, “Hold on to your wallets, the Legislature is in session.” And a liberal one to boot, not kindly disposed toward taxpayers.

George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is

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