- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

Sober-minded Marylanders can breathe a sigh of relief, now that the General Assembly has ended its 2007 session, the first in what appeared to be a new era of one-party liberalism under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Judging from what took place at the session that just concluded, however, a lot of people are reluctant to enact large new spending programs and raise taxes to pay for them; to put out the welcome mat for illegal aliens; to continue parole for violent sexual predators and in general do a lot of “progressive” things that will make the state a much more expensive, less desirable place in which to live.

To be sure, the legislature enacted some bad economic and regulatory measures (which The Washington Post, as if reading from the governor’s talking points, described as “benefits for the working class.”) These included a first-in-the-nation law mandating that state contractors pay employees a “living wage” of at $8.50 or $11.30 an hour depending on which part of the state they operate in, something that, by raising the cost of performing state services, will act as a de facto, back-door tax increase on Marylanders. The legislature also enacted a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants that has the potential to put hundreds of jobs of bartenders, busboys and waiters at risk. The “record $400 million in school construction funding” touted by The Post lavishes more money on the dysfunctional public-school monopoly the governor left behind in Baltimore. Mr. O’Malley’s “freeze” on college in-state tuition sounds wonderful —except for the fact that in the real world of education, costs are rising, so the tuition freeze makes it more likely that other state services will be cut, the state rainy-day fund will be raided or taxes will go up.

Other ill-considered measures became law during the 2007 session, including a bill making second-time drug offenders eligible for parole and legislation imposing expensive new emissions requirements on new vehicles sold in Maryland. But considering the ambitious and very liberal political agenda of Mr. O’Malley, House Speaker Michael Busch and allied left-liberal interest groups like Casa of Maryland and Progressive Maryland, the 2007 session could have turned out much worse. In the end, there were a number of surprisingly positive developments, including passage of legislation abolishing parole for violent sex offenders. Thanks in large part to the efforts of talk radio (in particular WBAL in Baltimore), the governor’s efforts to pass legislation granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens died in the final hours. Mr. O’Malley’s was also unsuccessful in his efforts to abolish capital punishment and increase taxes on cigarettes to finance an expansion of Medicaid.

The biggest story of the session was the transformation of Senate President Mike Miller. Last year, Mr. Miller made little secret of the fact that he had no interest in cooperating with Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich on legislative matters, and made overriding gubernatorial vetoes of legislation ranging from the Wal-Mart tax to early-voting legislation a top priority. This year, by contrast, Mr. Miller (who has said he probably will not seek re-election in 2010) behaved like a man who has been liberated from the need to cater to a very liberal Senate Democratic Caucus. Throughout the 2007 session, the Senate president was the responsible adult who reined in a governor and House speaker who were determined to steer the state far to the left. Time and again, on issues such as in-state tuition, abolition of the death penalty and expanding Medicaid, Mr. Miller made clear his disagreements with the governor and with liberal orthodoxy.

The most dramatic example was Mr. Miller’s action on “Jessica’s Law” — legislation abolishing parole for violent sexual predators. Sen. Brian Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a staunch foe of the bill, had forced Marc Klaas, the father of a murder victim who had come to Annapolis to testify, to cool his heels for five hours before testifying while less consequential legislation was considered. Mr. Miller (who, like Mr. Frosh, was said to be opposed to the bill ), publicly rebuked the chairman for treating Mr. Klaas so shabbily. Within days, opposition to the legislation in the House of Delegates collapsed and the legislation was on its way to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Unfortunately, much of this is likely to change between now and January, when the 2008 session gets underway. Messrs. Miller and Busch are talking about increasing taxes to close to close the state’s “structural deficit” (itself the result of politicians making all sorts of spending promises they cannot keep without bankrupting the state). And Mr. O’Malley and the General Assembly failed to address a potential time bomb during this year’s session: Maryland’s failure to comply with the federal Real ID Act’s minimum requirements ensuring the integrity of driver’s licenses. If this isn’t changed, Marylanders next year will lose their ability to use their driver’s licenses to board planes and enter federal buildings. The state’s failure to address this issue is shameful.

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