Tamela Baker: If we're in this together, what's in it for us?

February 08, 2012|By TAMELA BAKER

Gov. O’Malley, it’s been a long, long time since you and I last spoke. In fact, I think it was when you were out here campaigning against Bob Ehrlich — the first time. And I suspect I probably remember more about those conversations than you do.

But if I could be permitted a brief word now, I have to be honest and tell you that from where I sit, parts of your State of the State address last week rang a little hollow.

For instance, right at the beginning you said this:

“Five years ago, in our first State of the State together, I declared before you the goals of this Administration, first among them ‘to strengthen and grow our middle class and our family-owned businesses and our family farms.’ This remains the single overarching indicator of progress for our State and the better future we seek for our children.

“There is nothing more important for a family’s security and future than a job. We are all in this together. And in this important work, the state of our State is strong.”

I note that in the written text, you’ve got footnotes with statewide statistics about job recovery to back up the claim. But I also note a couple of statistics are missing.

Here in Washington County, the unemployment rate — which has flirted with 10 percent for three years running but had been improving a little — crept back up in December despite reductions statewide. That’s one.

And nearly half of our public school students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. That’s two.

And it seems yet another family-owned business is closing its doors or cutting back here every week. That’s three.

Perhaps in this important work, the state of this corner of your state is not quite so strong.

Later in the speech, you listed a total of 434,400 jobs your fiscal 2013 budget proposal “invests to create and save.” But on closer inspection, most of them already exist, and 18,400 appear to be construction jobs attached to specific projects. Additionally, you reference “several thousand jobs” to be created by the Maryland Venture Fund (at a cost, according to the footnote, of $100,000 per job created) and 1,500 jobs to be created to install “smart meters” in homes “all over Maryland.”

So what happens to those jobs when those projects are finished? If you want to see what happens when you try to prop up the economy with construction jobs when there isn’t enough growth in other industries to sustain them, come on out here. Despite local policies that favored construction, construction workers are still among the unemployed — because other businesses haven’t expanded. It just doesn’t work. It’s only a temporary fix.

And those “smart meters?” If I’m reading your own notes correctly, they’re not really being installed all over Maryland; they’re being installed for customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric and Pepco, neither of which has any customers west of Frederick. And again, once those meters are installed, what happens to those 1,500 jobs?

Then there’s the bit that’s gotten so much attention: the gas tax.

No matter how you look at it, higher gas taxes — whatever form they might take — will hit regions without access to urban mass transit systems hardest. In other words, considering our median income is so much lower than in other parts of the state, it will do the most damage to people who can least afford it. And the worst part is they just don’t see much local return on that investment — the proportion of transportation funding returning here has steadily declined. In what state is this justified?

And we haven’t even gotten to the other taxes and fees, and I’m nearly out of space. So I’ll just repeat something I’ve said before: With so many people still reeling, this is not the time to raise taxes. Too many households have already reached the saturation point.

You asked the General Assembly to consider your proposals “without anger, fear or meanness.” But that works both ways. I can’t speak to what you haven’t said, but in what you have said, there’s just not much to convince anybody here that you see Western Maryland as much more than a place to exploit. If you don’t want rural legislators accusing you of “waging a war on rural Maryland,” you can’t give them a reason.

I understand that there are projects that have been postponed for way too long. I understand that a lot of state workers haven’t gotten raises for a few years and have had to take furloughs — which, incidentally, doesn’t make them much different from a lot of folks in the private sector. And I understand that it’s foolhardy for the minority party to spit in the eyes of those who control the purse and then whine when they get kicked to the curb.

But I also understand where the anger and fear come from. I’m just not sure if you do.

You might want to think about that before you go after the higher office to which we all assume you aspire.

Ignoring moderates and conservatives in Maryland might be easy. Ignoring them on the national stage won’t be quite so simple.

Tamela Baker is a former Herald-Mail reporter and editor.

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