- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

The Maryland and Virginia general assemblies, which begin their sessions today, both confront many difficult challenges, ranging from taxes to new security challenges stemming from the September 11 terrorist attacks. For all intents and purposes, Maryland is a one-party state, completely dominated by Democratic Party machine apparatchiks based in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore. Maryland's current governor, Parris Glendening, is a doctrinaire liberal who has never seen a tax or spending program he didn't like. Today, Mr. Glendening will present his legislative redistricting program to the General Assembly. The governor's plan is likely to antagonize prominent black Democrats like state Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV of Baltimore, one of the most outspoken liberals in the legislature. Mr. Mitchell is threatening to bolt to the Republican Party because the Glendening plan fails to sufficiently reward blacks for repeatedly voting en masse for politicians like Bill Clinton, and even worse, because it will likely force Mr. Mitchell into a competitive primary with a white incumbent from a neighboring district, Sen. George Della.

Aside from redistricting, one of the most contentious issues is likely to be education, where a political brawl is certain to be triggered over a formula proposed by a Glendening-appointed state commission charged with correcting funding "inequities" in state aid to education. It is purely a fight over pork, stemming from Montgomery County officials' complaints that the formula should funnel a greater share of taxpayers' money to bureaucrats in Rockville, as opposed to the ones who've made Baltimore schools the "success" story they are today. Taxpayers should not be surprised if, at some point during the session, powerful Democrats like Mr. Glendening and House Speaker Caspar Taylor seek to increase taxes in the name of balancing the budget. Look for plenty of political grandstanding in favor of a death penalty moratorium, which nearly passed the General Assembly last year. Unfortunately, there will probably not be much in the way of legislative oversight or action when it comes to serious problems like the state's disastrous juvenile justice system, which Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the prohibitive favorite in next year's gubernatorial race, was supposed to be reforming. Mrs. Townsend's political chances could be helped by the fact that her most bitter Democratic rival, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, has embarked on a campaign to pressure city pension boards into making some questionable investments in a number of minority-owned businesses, including one that has been in danger of being fired for poor performance as a manager of the state pension fund. But don't expect to see much in the way of oversight anytime soon from the Democratic politicos in Annapolis.

Unlike Maryland, Virginia has been growing increasingly conservative and Republican in recent years to the point that Republicans now comprise a 22-18 majority of the state Senate and hold nearly two-thirds of the seats in the House of Delegates. It is also about to swear in a new Democratic governor, Mark Warner. Mr. Warner has reached out to Assembly Speaker Vance Wilkins and other Republicans in an effort to find common ground. Both men are talking seriously about the need to scale back the size of state government and, in a recent interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Wilkins warned that there might be efforts to reverse some welfare reforms. There are also likely to be contentious debates over granting Northern Virginia's request to hold tax referenda to pay for transportation or education projects, and Mr. Warner's efforts to eliminate or roll back tax credits. In any event, the next 60 days are likely to be quite interesting in Richmond.

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