- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

In one of the few pieces of good news to come out of Annapolis in recent months, the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates ended their session Monday night before they could do any more damage to their docile constituents. A few productive things did get accomplished during this year's session. The General Assembly, for example, raised the maximum penalty from life to life without parole for sexual predators who target children under 16 and increased penalties for habitual drunk drivers. On taxes, lawmakers rejected efforts by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to repeal a scheduled 2 percent income tax cut and a veritable crusade by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley to raise just about every tax known to man. Unfortunately, it was downhill from there.

Education, in fact, was one of the General Assembly's most egregious failures. Lawmakers opted for cosmetic changes that will enhance their own power. In Prince George's County, for example, members bowed to the order of the legislature's most powerful Democratic Party boss, Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. and voted to replace the elected school board with an appointed one (which will almost certainly be dominated by Mr. Miller) and to abolish the school superintendent's job.

Legislators voted to increase Annapolis' aid to public schools by $1.3 billion over the next six years, in compliance with the recommendations of a panel known as the Thornton Commission. That panel, headed by liberal Prince George's County activist Alvin Thornton, originally recommended spending an additional $1.1 billion over six years, ostensibly to help poorer jurisdictions like Prince George's County and Baltimore City. For good measure, lawmakers threw in nearly $200 million more, much of it to buy off whining politicians from Montgomery County, the wealthiest jurisdiction in the state.

The General Assembly's performance was generally abysmal on other issues. On crime, for example, lawmakers expanded the franchise to enable twice-convicted felons to vote, but did nothing to reign in Attorney General Joseph Curran's efforts to take away guns on the basis of decades-old misdemeanors. One of the most depressing things is that, even before the ink was dry on the legislature's "accomplishments," lawmakers like Mr. Miller's opposite number in the House of Delegates, Speaker Casper Taylor, and other lawmakers, were talking openly about the possibility of further increases in sales taxes. If Marylanders like this sorry state of affairs, they can thank Mike and Casper.

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