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HOGAN: O’Malley’s ‘Ark of the Tax Coffer’

Governor hopes sequel session will ring up big bucks

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One of the rituals of summer is the arrival of big-budget blockbuster films to your local neighborhood multiplex. Sequels are a huge source of revenue for Hollywood. Unfortunately, they are a big moneymaker for Maryland's ruling political establishment in Annapolis as well. TheMarylandGeneralAssemblyandtheBudgetofDoom, the sequel to this year's legislative session, opened at a State House near you. Directed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, the special session will rake in hundreds of millions of dollars for Maryland's general fund. But there is no box office, and it is not up to you whether you buy a ticket.

I see a number of obvious parallels between Hollywood sequels and this legislative follow-up.

First, film sequels often feature the same cast from the original film. The same is true of the special session, which features the very same characters - Mr. O'Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who caused the train-wreck ending to the last one.

Second, sequels can be very expensive to make. In addition to the $25,000 a day it will cost to finance the special session, Maryland taxpayers will ultimately have to cough up an additional $500 million as they already struggle with high gas prices and economic uncertainty.

Third, sequels often center on an inventive device known in Hollywood parlance as a "MacGuffin." A MacGuffin is a plot element - like the lost Ark of the Covenant in the first "Indiana Jones" film, for example - that catches the viewers' attention or drives a film's story.

The fictional MacGuffin driving the special session: The belief that increasing state spending by "only" $700 million over the previous year - as does the budget passed by the legislature in April - is somehow a harbinger of doom.

Fourth, sequels often attract crowds, and so will the special session. Only the crowds gathered at last night's planned rally in Lawyers' Mall were not camped-out fans waiting patiently in line. Instead, they were representing the 96 percent of Marylanders who, surveys indicate, already feel like they pay enough taxes.

Fifth, a sequel can be a repetitive and predictable rehashing of previous films in the series.

If the special session concept seems familiar to you, it is. This is the second time Mr. O'Malley has convened a special session for the specific purpose of drastically increasing taxes and passed off huge increases in state spending as "cuts" in order to justify their actions.

Sixth, sequels often beget more sequels. Indeed, another special session focusing on the question of gambling is already on the horizon for later this summer.

Lastly, sequels are often very successful. Indeed, I have no doubt that "TheDarkKnightRises"will triumph at the box office. Similarly, I'm afraid that the special session will be a "success" in that Mr. O'Malley, Mr. Miller, Mr. Busch and their legislative and special-interest allies will finally achieve the drastic tax increases they failed to pass last time.

But for the vast majority of Marylanders - who do not want new taxes, but will be forced to cope with them anyway - the special session will have a sad ending.

Often you will hear film critics bemoaning Hollywood's preoccupation with sequels. It is time Maryland's taxpayers made the same demands of Annapolis.

Recently, two Maryland employers announced layoffs affecting 400 jobs. At the same time, a new Brookings Institute report found that the number of Baltimore-area manufacturing jobs shrank by 35 percent since 2000. Chief Executive Officer magazine ranked Maryland the 40th best state in which to do business, three places lower than 2011.

If you're looking for proof of doomsday coming to Maryland, statistics like these - not the fiscal 2013 budget increase passed in April - are all the evidence you will need.

Perhaps it is time for state leaders to call a special session - or, better yet, to devote time during the regular session - to improving Maryland's business climate and enhancing Maryland's sagging job retention and recruitment efforts.

When it comes to legislating, state leaders should leave the sequels behind and get some new material. Recycling yesterday's ideas is no way to move Maryland forward.

Larry Hogan, a former state Cabinet secretary, is chairman of ChangeMaryland.org and founder of a group of companies headquartered in Annapolis.

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