Commentary by Ron Miller
Today begins the rematch we all knew was coming. Former Governor Bob Ehrlich is in Rockville and his home town of Arbutus today to kick off his campaign, seeking to reclaim the office he held for four years. The current occupant, Martin O'Malley, the man who defeated him in 2006, is ready to defend his title. It's better than Ali-Frazier III, the "Thrilla in Manila." It's the Leprechaun vs. the Linebacker, Part Deux.
To be fair, there are others on the gubernatorial fight card. Brian Murphy, a young businessman from Chevy Chase who is making his first foray into politics and counts Jack Kemp among his political heroes - one of mine, too, by the way - is running for the GOP nomination and intends to continue his campaign despite Ehrlich's presence. I've met him and visited his website, and he's an impressive young man. I hope he stays active in Maryland GOP politics beyond 2010, because the party needs people like him to maintain its competitiveness in the future, and the state needs more business-minded leaders in government.
On the Democrats' side, we have southern Maryland's own George Owings who hopes to attack Governor O'Malley from the right flank of the party. George is a good friend and fellow veteran, and his record of service to his country and his state is unimpeachable. You will never hear a discouraging word from me about him. My only beef with him will have to be settled one day over a beer and soda - beer for him, soda for me - when I ask him why he continues to consort with a political party that has not only left the principles he espouses far behind, but mocks them and anyone who holds them.
The duel between Maryland's most prominent Republican and the Democrats' Golden Boy from Baltimore, however, is what has the Maryland press and pundits in a feeding frenzy. Many have ridiculed or become frustrated over the length of time it took for Ehrlich to make his decision, but anyone who thinks he was sitting on his hands the whole time sorely underestimates him. He will have the resources he needs to mount a serious campaign, and he's in it to win.
The Democrats, anxiously awaiting his announcement, have largely telegraphed their moves in a series of preemptive statements and fundraising letters to their donors, trying to frighten them into giving O'Malley money for his campaign. I don't doubt for a minute that the Ehrlich camp has dissected every one of these jabs and figured out how to block them.
The fact is both men have records to run on, and when Bob Ehrlich left Governors House in 2006, he left behind a $1 billion plus surplus in the rainy day fund, a balanced budget, and $1.4 billion less in taxation. His approval ratings were consistently over 50%, a solid achievement for a Republican governor in arguably the bluest state in the nation.
The Democrats carp about how he had no solution for the structural deficit, Maryland's negative expense-to-revenue ratio, and had he won, he would have had to raid the rainy day fund or raise taxes as O'Malley did. Speculating on the Hobson's choice he would have faced, however, had he been reelected is just that - speculation. He could also have proposed significant adjustments in spending to break Maryland's addiction to indiscriminate spending without accountability.
The Democrats have already swung their haymaker, decrying Ehrlich as an enemy of the middle class who raised fees for services and increased college tuition, and wasn't averse to government spending.
Ehrlich and his team will counter with a barrage of punches to the body - largest tax increase in Maryland history, the loss of over $1 billion in the state's tax base, the hemorrhaging of jobs and businesses, and the annual budget shortfalls and the slapdash measures employed to fill the gaps, just to name a few.
As these two slug it out, however, let me give you a test to help you make your decision in November.
Maryland's gravy train has derailed. The air cover we thought we had from our proximity to the federal government and our status as a dependent state - for example, nearly half the revenue for the 2011 budget comes from the federal government - is gone.
Budget analysts project annual deficits of $2 billion or more a year until 2014. Generous public sector pensions, and money spent on education and health care without any awareness or concern about how it's being used, have broken the camel's back.
That giant sucking sound you hear is the lost $1 billion in tax base, where businesses, tired of trying to make a go of it in one of the most anti-business states in America, and the millionaires that typically own them, are leaving.
Small businesses are suffering or closing because of the taxation and regulatory burden placed on them by a one-party monopoly that, in the words of Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, former Maryland GOP gubernatorial candidate and co-chair of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, "see business as a cow to be milked" rather than "the horse that pulls the wagon."
Many of our legislators or their family members have no clue about managing a payroll or making a profit-and-loss statement, but they know how to cash their government salary or pension checks. Not a single penny of those checks was generated by government, but from the wealth created by private businesses and individuals, and confiscated through taxes.
The wealth creators in Maryland are shrinking in number, and the political class and their dependents are left wondering why they can't pay the bills.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." Lord Rutherford, a Nobel-prize winning physicist, declared, "We are out of money, and now we must begin to think."
Here's the thinking part; if Governor O'Malley's current budget, which even the Washington Post said "is deferring pain, not curing the disease", is enacted, and that appears to be the case, we will need a revenue increase in excess of 30 percent to balance the budget next year. To the government, "revenue" means taxes.
Everyone knows that a significant tax increase is coming in 2011 after the election is over. The Democrats defeated a GOP proposal in the General Assembly last week that would have put them on record as opposing such a move. Despite the cause and effect of higher taxes and a shrinking tax base, which has actually caused the state to lose money, they have a feeble understanding of economics and don't know another way.
Bob Ehrlich has a blueprint to follow, thanks to the GOP legislators in Annapolis, which would allow him to balance the budget without raising taxes. In fact, that blueprint proposes lowering taxes to their 2006 levels, before O'Malley's record-breaking tax increase.
Would this be painless? No. Because no hard choices were made during the nearly four years of O'Malley's reign, the pain is inevitable. If O'Malley had enacted the budget proposals put forward by the GOP in the early years of his term, we would not have a budget deficit right now. That opportunity has passed.
We have to start somewhere, though, and if we are disciplined, if we manage the budget like a sound business would, if we account for every penny spent so they reach the intended recipients and achieve the intended objectives, if we open the government so everything they do is visible and accountable to the people, and if the pain is shared by everyone, including the political class, maybe we can turn this doomed vessel around.
Maybe we can start attracting businesses back to Maryland. Maybe our small businesses can start to dig out, and spend their time making money rather than filling out paperwork or paying taxes that keep them from hiring more people. Maybe we can restore the people's confidence that government gets it and wants to help them create wealth to benefit everyone.
That's the choice you have in November. You can validate the current approach, which is already causing our fiscal house to crumble and will eventually bring it down when the bills come due.
The alternative is a bold change in direction that signals Maryland will no longer squander the advantages of a highly educated workforce, high quality of life and strategic location just so more people can feed at the government trough.
Governors McDonnell of Virginia and Christie of New Jersey, in tackling their states' fiscal challenges, are being bold in their stewardship of the people's resources, and they have illuminated a path for Bob Ehrlich to follow - and I believe he will. He is determined to talk about solutions, not what he's done in the past. That's the focus we need and should demand in times such as these.
O'Malley, when confronted with a crisis, chose the path of least resistance. Anyone who says it takes courage to raise taxes is a fool. There is nothing easier for the government to do than to take and spend other people's money. We should know by now where that kind of cowardice leads. Ask the owners of the $1 billion in lost tax base where it led them.
In November, Marylanders will have a clear choice of what kind of leader they want in Governors House when the feces hits the fan. Let's get ready to rumble!
Ron Miller, of Huntingtown, is a military veteran, conservative writer
and activist, communications director for the Calvert County Republican Party, and executive
director of Regular Folks United, Inc., a 501(c)3
nonprofit organization. Ron is a regular contributor to
American Thinker, and
You can also follow Ron on his website TeamRonMiller.com, as
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