- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan has made little secret of his desire to become governor of Maryland. Democratic Party bosses dissuaded him from challenging Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the gubernatorial primary last year. But Mr. Duncan is widely viewed as one of the leading candidates to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich in 2006.
To put it bluntly, the theme of the Montgomery County Democrat's campaign is likely to be something along these lines: Never mind messy facts like a sluggish national economy or the economic mess left by Mr. Ehrlich's spendthrift Democratic predecessor, Parris Glendening. Virtually every financial problem state and local governments now face is Mr. Ehrlich's fault because of his refusal to acquiesce to tax increases pushed by General Assembly Democrats.
Mr. Ehrlich's victory at the polls last year began a process of wide-ranging change in the way that Maryland governments both state and local manage their finances. Gone are the days of one-party Democratic rule in which politicians went to Annapolis, made expensive promises, demanded that state taxpayers fork over the dough and bragged to their constituents about how successful they were at bringing home the bacon in the form of pet projects. Mr. Ehrlich is determined to force these politicians to justify new spending schemes, and Mr. Duncan and lots of other county politicians don't like it one bit.
That's understandable. For years, Mr. Duncan and his fellow Democratic Party politicians were able to follow a familiar routine to achieving political success: fund every nice-sounding program they could think of to make their liberal constituents feel good, yet bring back enough dough from Annapolis to keep local taxes relatively low. Clearly, those days are over. Mr. Duncan proposed a balanced budget last month which included a 3-cent increase in the property tax and increased the income tax rate from 2.95 to 3.2 percent. And the Montgomery County Council is considering an array of other tax increases, including a more than doubling of the monthly phone tax, and imposing a tax on high-speed Internet and other telecommunication taxes which may come on top of Mr. Duncan's proposed tax increases.
"For those of you who want to see tax increases, you're going to get your wish several times over," says Montgomery County Council President Michael Subin, a Democrat. "There are going to be significant tax increases, but they're not going to be enough."
Mr. Duncan is decidedly unhappy about this state of affairs and he has lashed out at the governor, accusing him of "actively working to undermine transportation" for opposing yet another initiative proposed by the county executive: letting the county impose a $27 per vehicle fee every year to pay for new roads.
This is a bum rap: Mr. Ehrlich has joined with Mr. Duncan to support building the Intercounty Connector a new major east-west route linking I-270 with I-95. Mr. Duncan knows this. But he's already in 2006 campaign mode and that means Mr. Ehrlich can look forward to a continuing litany of specious complaints coming out of Rockville.

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