Heads in the Sand - Southern Maryland Headline News

Heads in the Sand

Commentary by Ron Miller

Commentary by Ron MillerLast week, I attended the annual Legislative Evening sponsored by the League of Women Voters and hosted at the Calvert Pines Senior Center. I was there to speak on behalf of the Calvert County Republican Central Committee, and my statement can be found here. I wasn't feeling well so I left early, but I was there long enough to hear the opening statements from each member of the legislature representing Calvert County.

Although Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller spoke first, I'm saving his comments for last.

Senator Roy Dyson got up and did his normal non-controversial discussion of issues that either everyone agrees on (the Thomas Johnson Bridge), or no one had thought of (deer overpopulation?).

Delegates James Proctor and Joseph Vallario both alluded to the state's budget challenges. Delegate Proctor said that, as an educator, he would resist any reductions in the state's education spending. Vallario arrived late and tagged onto Delegate Sue Kullen's complaints about her "tattoo" bill. More on that in a minute.

Delegate Kullen, the "Energizer Bunny" of southern Maryland politics, rattled off a series of bills she hopes to sponsor this session on topics like human trafficking, domestic violence, and developmental disabilities. These are issues near and dear to her heart, and I know she'll fight passionately for them.

The only discordant note in her comments was her complaint that Republicans killed the passage of a bill she sponsored to require parental consent for a child under the age of 18 to get a tattoo by linking it to abortion. She and Delegate Vallario were indignant that the two issues would be linked.

Sue, you're much smarter than that. If parental consent is good enough for children seeking a tattoo, it is most certainly good enough for children seeking an invasive and life-altering procedure like an abortion. The principle of parental rights is applicable in both cases, and to promote parental rights in one instance and not in the other is insincere.

Senator Miller began his comments by acknowledging the difficulties we faced with the Maryland budget. The Board of Public Works had just introduced another $361 million in cuts to the current budget to keep it in balance, bringing the cuts made this year to $1.1 billion. He said that O'Malley has walled off education from future budget cuts.

He went on to say, however, that Governor Martin O'Malley had done a good job with the budget under challenging circumstances, and he pointed to the state's bond rating, the tuition freeze at our four-year colleges and universities, and Education Week's ranking of Maryland public schools as the best in the nation.

I recognize he has to say nice things about Governor O'Malley, but I'm not similarly constrained. The first thought that popped into my head was, "Do unemployed people know or care about our state's bond rating?" That is perhaps the most out-of-touch statement a politician could make in the face of the highest jobless rates in Maryland in 26 years.

Calvert County's unemployment rate is up 2.3 percent from just a year ago, and Charles and St. Mary's County have seen their unemployment increase by 2.1 percent and 1.8 percent respectively in that same time frame.

Anecdotally, I know several friends who've lost their jobs and I empathize with them because I've been out of work twice in the past two years.

County food pantries are seeing their highest demand ever; at our church alone, we're on pace to feed over 700 families in just one month.

I hear economists talk about a "jobless recovery" and I think that's the cruelest oxymoron of all. If people aren't working, it's not a recovery. Maryland's bond rating isn't putting food on the table, providing shelter, or putting gas in the car. When will these politicians come out from behind their mahogany tables and sit down with folks at their kitchen tables to listen to what really matters?

Despite the plaudits from Education Week, inconvenient facts continue to suggest we're not getting a sufficient bang for the considerable bucks we've spent on our schools. Maryland's average SAT scores rank 40th in the nation. Prince George's County and Baltimore City schools are still struggling, despite those school systems receiving more state money per student than any other jurisdiction in the state.

The "achievement gap" for low-income and minority students is still a reality in our schools, even in southern Maryland. Despite this fact, a highly successful charter school in Anne Arundel County with a significant minority student body is continuously harassed by public school system administrators who seem uninterested in the children's success, and more concerned with removing a threat to their hegemony.

The state spends billions of dollars on education without monitoring where it goes or how it's used, and relies on averages to boost the state's overall ranking, disguising the varying school quality from one county to the next. Education spending needs to be on the table to ensure full transparency, accountability and results for all of Maryland's children.

As for the budget, Miller pointed out that 67 percent of the budget is comprised of mandates, leaving a frighteningly small amount from which to make up a projected $2 billion shortfall in 2010 and $2.7 billion the year after that.

O'Malley mismanagement of the budget from his first year in office is appalling:

-- Depletion of the rainy day fund and spending increases in 2007
-- A $1.6 billion tax increase, the highest in Maryland history during the 2007 special session, with spending increases in 2008
-- The passage of the slots amendment to the Maryland Constitution with no revenues to date and spending increases in 2009
-- $2.3 billion in federal stimulus money to the rescue for only the next two years

Spending increases in 2010 and 2011? There seems to be a pattern here. Don't be bamboozled by claims that they've reduced "general fund" spending. If the overall budget increases every year, that counts as a reduction in spending only in Alice's Wonderland. Governor Bob Ehrlich's last budget was $29 billion. O'Malley's budgets have been $30 billion, $31.2 billion and $32.3 billion respectively.

Even if you remove the recent reductions, transfers and other accounting tricks accomplished to get the current budget in balance, state spending has still increased by over $2.3 billion during O'Malley's tenure. Maryland's budget is worse than 30 other states, our individual state & local tax burden is the 4th highest in the nation, and our business tax climate is 45th in the country.

"Marty, you're doing a heckuva job!"

Ron Miller, of Huntingtown, is a conservative blogger and activist, former and future candidate for the Maryland Senate, and communications director for the Calvert County Republican Party. Ron is a regular contributor to RegularFolksUnited.com, RedCounty.com, and ProLifeUnity.com. You can also follow Ron on his website TeamRonMiller.com, as well as Twitter and Facebook.

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