- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hot-button issues — including taxes, transportation, monitoring sex offenders, illegal immigration and the integrity of driver’s licenses — will be on the agenda when both the Maryland and Virginia General Assembly begin their 2006 sessions tomorrow.

In Maryland, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich and all 188 seats in the legislature (131 of which are held by Democrats) will be on the ballot in November. The two leading contenders for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, can be expected to work closely with the legislature, state Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman and organized labor to play the class-struggle card when it comes to economic issues: depicting Mr. Ehrlich as a malefactor who cares only about the rich.

The well-choreographed campaign against the governor could begin as early as today, when Democrats will likely attempt to override two of Mr. Ehrlich’s most important vetoes from last year’s session: the bill, pushed by the political odd couple of the Service Employees International Union and Giant Food, requiring that Wal-Mart spend a state-dictated amount on health care for its employees or pay a special tax into Medicaid. Even though the governor has driven home the point that the Wal-Mart bill could kill the state’s chances of getting the company to locate new facilities in two of the state’s poorest regions: Somerset County on the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, he will be hard-pressed to sustain his veto, which can be overridden by a three-fifths majority in both houses. Mr. Ehrlich also faces a difficult fight in sustaining his veto of a bill increasing the minimum wage. Look for the Democrats to attempt to override this veto today.

The governor’s call for a reduction in state property taxes during this year’s session has also met with jeers from Messrs. O’Malley and Duncan and other prominent Democrats, who are pummelling the governor in the press for proposing insufficient increases in spending on education.

Crime will also be a major issue, with Messrs. Ehrlich, Duncan and O’Malley each putting forward a different proposal aimed at toughening the state’s sex-offender laws. All of the politicians thus far have avoided dealing with an important homeland-security issue — barring Illegal aliens from acquiring state driver’s licenses and making Maryland compliant with with federal REAL ID act.

In Virginia, the dominant issue will be coming up with more money for transportation. Look for new Gov. Tim Kaine and Republican Sen. John Chichester to team up in an effort to push through increases in gasoline and other taxes to pay for that and new spending for everything from cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay to raises for state employees. With Republicans deeply divided on taxes and spending, and a liberal-leaning governor who generally sides with the high taxers, it is difficult to be very optimistic about this year’s session in Virginia.

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