- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

It is no exaggeration to say that Maryland General Assembly serves as an example of what happens when a state legislature is completely controlled by one political party that is dominated by ideologues. The lawmakers view a successful session as one in which they create new opportunities for vote fraud; abandon Baltimore schoolchildren to a dysfunctional bureaucracy that has failed them miserably; and pile on new taxes and regulatory dictate that will drive business out of state.

Lawmakers also passed legislation saying that Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s campaign finance director could not sit on a board to oversee state universities, but they failed to agree on legislation toughening penalties for sex offenders who prey on young children and did nothing to deal with the state’s lax standards for issuing driver’s licenses, which are helping to make the state a magnet for illegal aliens. The General Assembly also pushed through upwards of $100 million toward more generous pension benefits for state employees, but it failed to come up with a plan to pay for nearly $20 billion worth of health care due state retirees.

During the past three months, Marylanders witnessed one display after another of raw political power in the hands of Democratic Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch. Their party outnumbers Republicans by a whopping 131-57 margin in the legislature, and they rode roughshod over the Republican governor, overriding one veto after another. The Democrats have given Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Republican candidates running in November — when the governorship and all 188 seats in the General Assembly will be on the ballot — plenty of new examples to demonstrate why a continuation of one-party rule by Messrs. Miller, Busch and their loyalists would be disastrous. Following are just some of the examples of irresponsibility:

• Creating a hostile climate for business. The legislature overturned the governor’s veto of legislation to impose a special, punitive tax on Wal-Mart if it fails to provide a state-dictated level of health benefits for its employees. Lawmakers also voted to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour, a move that will raise costs to small- and medium-sized businesses and destroy entry-level jobs. On top of that, lawmakers’ efforts to undo a 1999 energy-deregulation agreement the Democrat-controlled legislature made with Baltimore Gas and Electric Corp. — and to blame the problem on the Ehrlich administration — will serve as another factor chasing businesses away.

• Election fraud. Lawmakers passed three bills over Mr. Ehrlich’s vetoes that, taken together, have the potential to undermine the integrity of state elections. One permits absentee ballots — which are highly susceptible to fraud — to be cast for any reason. A second would allow voters to cast ballots anywhere in the state using a provisional ballot — raising the possibility that someone could vote in several counties and that it would not be detected until after votes are certified. A third bill requires that counties allow voting up to five days before an election, raising questions about fraud and ballot security. In addition, the Democrats made sure to locate most of the early voting sites in predominantly Democratic areas.

• Baltimore schools. In a sop to Democratic Mayor Martin O’Malley, a gubernatorial candidate, state lawmakers overrode an Ehrlich veto of legislation preventing a state takeover of 11 failing Baltimore schools — including several in which 90 percent of students are failing in reading and mathematics. The legislation will cost Baltimore schools about $170 million due to noncompliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The 2006 legislative session ended around midnight Monday. What a disaster.

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