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Home rule worthy of consideration

June 22, 2013

The form of local government known as charter home rule is one that is habitually thumped at the polls every so often, so why might we expect this latest initiative to be any different? Mainly because some leaders who have opposed it in the past now seem more open to the idea.

Home rule allows counties to have a greater say over local law without having to first seek approval in Annapolis from the entire Maryland General Assembly. This legal housekeeping is often somewhat trivial in nature, but takes up copious amounts of our lawmakers’ time, when they could be working on issues of greater import.

But with a new form of anything, there are going to be fears.

Primarily, opponents have fretted that home rule was code for higher taxes. There also has been suspicion that county councils would have greater power to seize private property under eminent domain.

We believe these fears have been overblown, but conservatives in particular have, rightly or wrongly, feared the worst.

What makes this latest chatter about home rule interesting is that it is conservatives who are leading the way. Del. LeRoy Myers, who is certainly no fan of government overreach, led a meeting this week to explore the concept, and, if attendance is a guide, he seemed to have a lot of Republican support.

A successful home rule initiative would almost have to be led by Republicans, whom the public will likely see as being more trustworthy on matters of taxation and property rights.

Which brings us to our central point: The benefit of home rule is very closely tied to the language in the home rule charter, which can be just about as lenient or restrictive as its authors want.

As such, we encourage the formation of a committee to put a written charter on the table and open discussion from there. It would be irresponsible to oppose or support the charter until we know what’s in it, but we are willing to keep an open mind and would encourage county voters to do the same.

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