Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Herb McMillan Op-Ed

I have no idea which paper this will appear in, or if it has already appeared, but Herb forwarded this information to me and I shall forward it to you.

Boo! O’Malley’s Scary Budget Story

Give Governor Martin O’Malley credit. He knows how to tell a scary story. Last week, O’Malley announced that the failure to pass his 1.3 billion dollar tax package would result in deep cuts to education, public safety, and health care that would “irreparably damage” Maryland’s quality of life. Those opposed to a Special Session, slots, and higher taxes would bear responsibility for this tragedy.

O’Malley is hardly the first politician to use misdirection, fear, and a manufactured sense of urgency to push his agenda. But before we run screaming into the arms of some pretty frightening tax increases and slots, let’s unmask some of O’Malley’s Special Session goblins.

Misdirection is the most reliable trick in the tax increase playbook. Faced with a deficit, liberal politicians claim the most important, worthy, and politically leverageable programs are up for deep cuts. No one wants to irresponsibly cut these items. Tax Increases and slots are much easier to justify if people believe the gain outweighs the pain. By framing the debate this way, cuts to duplicative, ineffective, wasteful, and bloated programs aren’t debated because they aren’t even on the table.

O’Malley’s “Cost of Delay” Budget utilizes this tactic expertly. For example, O’Malley claims without tax increases and slots, he would have to cut University of Maryland funding by 10%, and Medicaid by $240 million. Of course, reductions of this type and size aren’t necessary to balance the budget. Earlier this year, the non-partisan Department of Legislative Services (DLS) developed a balanced budget without any new taxes or slots. As DLS Director Warren Deschemaux put it, “Our budgetary approach was to be as easy as possible on the programs that help people, and as hard as possible on the people that can help themselves”. The DLS Budget, which O’Malley ironically labeled a “doomsday scenario” would actually increase the University of Maryland budget based on enrollment growth, instead of an automatic inflation formula. This simple measure would save taxpayers 54 million dollars. And while O’Malley would arbitrarily gut Medicaid by $240 million, the DLS proposal would institute necessary reforms and prune it by $62 million. Common sense measures, like requiring non exempt Medicaid recipients to pay a small 2% premium and use generic drugs when medically allowable, are part of the DLS package.

But prudent and necessary cuts won’t sell a tax increase; only deep and threatening ones will get the job done.

The week prior to O’Malley’s “Cost of Delay” budget, a Democrat Senator said, “O’Malley needs to show people it’ll hurt. Closing police stations worked when Schaeffer was governor.” Sure enough, O’Malley’s budget proposed closing state police stations and parks. None of these deep cuts made the DLS budget.

Even the most liberal Democrats know O’Malley’s creating a false sense of urgency to push his tax and slots plan. Comptroller Peter Franchot, who as a delegate voted for every tax increase O’Malley’s proposed, stated in a letter to the legislators that, “I must question the timing and necessity of [O’Malley’s] approach…through June 30, 2008, Maryland has a balanced budget…the volatility of the US AND Maryland economies, the absence of an immediate fiscal crisis, and the lack of detail about the plan could all combine to create a perfect storm of unintended consequences”.

With the special session underway, O’Malley continues to create drama to keep up the pressure. One day, he proposes cutting Medicaid by $243 million; the next, increasing it by $743 million. Three weeks ago, he proposed a small property tax cut. This week, he tied the property tax cut to approval of slots.

Ironically, O’Malley’s property tax cut is a mirage anyway. The average Anne Arundel County homeowner will save $100 the first year. But within three years, rising property assessments automatically reduce O’Malley’s $100 cut to a $30 cut.

O’Malley’s tax and slots blitzkrieg is about using fear to expand the size of government and entitlements, not resolving the deficit As the DLS has demonstrated, we can adequately find our needs, provide a safety net, and balance the budget without tax increases or slots.

In reality, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Before we’re scared into giving government more of our money to “invest” for us, lets remember that the private sector provides far more jobs and health care for working families than government ever has. Why would we take more money from working families to “invest” in a government bureaucracy that has consistently failed to improve education, health care, or the environment, despite huge funding increases?

It’s time to put the needs of middle class families ahead of expanding government entitlements. Allowing these families to keep more of what they earn would be a good start.

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