Commentary by Ron Miller
(Oct. 7, 2009) Believe it or not, we're just over eleven months from the next primary election and just under 13 months from the next general election. I can imagine you scratching your heads, thinking "Didn't we just have an election?" Given the heated year we've already had in the political arena, I'm sure many of you are weary of politics and can barely muster the stamina for another campaign season.
Let me suggest, however, than the upcoming election will have a greater impact on the future of southern Maryland than the past presidential election, and that's saying a lot.
Maryland goes into the next General Assembly session with a $2 billion - yes, that's billion with a "b" - shortfall, and economic projections show a similar deficit the following fiscal year. That means massive spending cuts or tax increases are inevitable. As we've already seen, the counties are going to bear a significant share of the cuts as the state looks to offload its cost burdens.
Incumbent lawmakers are talking primarily about spending cuts today since it's an election year, but some have suggested quietly that they will consider tax increases after the election when they are least likely to be harmed politically. It's gamesmanship like this that makes voters cynical about politics.
I would ask that you put aside your cynicism, however, and make every effort to be engaged in this upcoming election. Decisions are going to be made this upcoming year and in the years to come that will affect your quality of life and that of your families for years to come, and you can't afford to get it wrong.
We need more than the piecemeal steps, stopgap measures, and unpleasant surprises of the past few years, where politicians wait until they've put enough distance between themselves and the election and then pull a fast one on the voters like, say, a $1.4 billion tax increase.
What we need is a fundamental restructuring of government spending and taxation in Maryland to keep government limited and taxes low. Why? Because limited government works better than one that is asked to do too much, and lower taxes mean more money in the pockets of the people, the only ones who've ever stimulated any economy.
It's people who save, spend, invest, pay down debt, and give to charitable causes. It's people who start businesses and create jobs, expanding opportunity and generating wealth for families and more tax revenue for the state. "We the People" are the solution - we always have been and always will be, and we need to return to the people if we're going to fix the spending problem we have in Annapolis.
California painted itself into a corner with its bloated government and so-called "progressive" tax system that progressively sped the state toward bankruptcy, and we are on the same path. Maryland's individual tax burden is higher than all but four other states, and it is among the worst states in the nation for businesses.
Maryland has a highly educated and skilled workforce, strategic geographic placement in the mid-Atlantic, and a high quality of life. None of that matters, however, because businesses are scared away by the anti-business tax and regulatory burden imposed by the 148 year old one-party monopoly in Annapolis.
We cannot spend or tax our way out of this economic crisis; we need to grow the tax base, and we can do it only by supporting existing businesses and attracting new ones to create jobs.
You'll be hearing a lot of suggestions in the next few months on how to handle Maryland's fiscal crisis but when you cut to the chase, it's going to take people with more money in their pockets to rescue our economy. Government can't do it; all it does is take the money we earn and redistribute it, and does so inefficiently and ineffectively at best. Here's a four-point plan I propose for aggressive and sustainable relief:
- Tax relief: Taxpayer protection to keep government out of our pockets and force spending discipline, tax cuts to put money back into the wallets and bank accounts of individuals and businesses and encourage legitimate stimulation of the economy, and tax reform to establish a new tax code that encourages job creation, personal industry, savings and investment.
- Budget reform: Our current budget is a mess; it is a disjointed collection of special interest payoffs, constituent payola for incumbency protection, and operating expenses of which not all are essential to the core functions of government. We need to rip it up and start from scratch, and we need zero-based budgeting on an annual basis to force programs to justify themselves regularly before the people of Maryland. We need outcome-based performance plans for every government program so their progress is measured and reported, sunshine laws for full transparency, and sunset laws to terminate programs that don't achieve the outcomes they defined in the beginning.
- Pocketbook relief: We need realistic solutions to the impact of health care and energy costs on people's personal finances, and we need to do as much as we can at the state level. For health care, tort reform, a dramatic reduction of health insurance mandates, decoupling of health insurance from employment status for portability, private or non-profit group health services like Calvert Healthcare Solutions, and the interstate purchase of health insurance will reduce costs for individual consumers.
For energy, we need to build the third reactor at Calvert Cliffs, develop as many additional sources of energy as we can, and halt Governor O'Malley's personal vendetta against Constellation/Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E) and instead collaborate with them to address the underlying energy acquisition costs that affect the rates they charge consumers. We need to encourage consumers to take advantage of energy provider choice provisions already available to them, and revamp regulations to allow more energy companies to come into Maryland and offer their services.
- Job Creation: Maryland is ranked 40th in the cost of doing business (Forbes), and 45th for its business tax climate (Tax Foundation). We need to shed our hostility toward the business community and compete for them to come to Maryland and create good jobs for our people. That means lower taxes and reasonable regulation that doesn't hinder growth.
When it comes to solving Maryland's problems, and our nation's problems for that matter, I trust the people. The people are why and for whom I am committing the next 13 months of my life. One of my favorite sayings is "Here the people rule." Let's make that a reality in Maryland once again.