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OUR SAY: Doomsday Budget Shows Dearth of Leadership, direction

Friday, April 13, 2012

A ‘doomsday’ budget scenario shows Md.’s dearth of leadership, direction

Date: Friday, April 13, 2012, 6:00am EDT

Baltimore Business Journal

I am still trying to figure out what’s so “doomsday” about a budget that cuts spending and causes the General Assembly and governor to re-evaluate Maryland’s priorities in these tough fiscal times. If I were a gambler, I would bet there is a better than two-to-one shot most of this will be resolved in a special session anyhow. It is not consistent with the philosophical underpinning of Maryland’s leadership to allow a budget like this to take effect. More importantly, though, what this session clearly highlighted was a lack of leadership all around.

“There was 90 days to work this all out,” Governor O’Malley was quoted as saying in Marylandreporter.com, as he walked away in frustration.

We agree. Ninety days that took focused, dedicated leadership of all parties and stakeholders. Ninety days of addressing the business of the state.

Instead, what Maryland voters and businesses got was a legislature (especially in the House) fractured early in the session by deeply-rooted moral and social issues, property rights issues that played government-centralized power grab games, and gaming issues borne from individual agendas that emerged in the final hours of the session that would serve only to muck up the process.

Add to that the confusion two prominent business lobbies created among the business community and for legislators when they urged legislators early in the session to support a gas tax increase only, though, with certain caveats.  It seemed as though they failed to get full buy-in from the governor from the start. To many legislators, it appeared as if these two organizations failed to have the solid backing of even their own memberships. It is difficult to understand the tentative message coming from especially the business community of “increase my taxes, please, but only if....” In the end, it was a risk legislators didn’t seem comfortable taking.

And the schism in the business community over collecting tax from out-of-state retailers certainly didn’t help further unify Maryland’s business community. Amid a protracted and fierce battle surrounding this issue that started long before the 2012 Maryland General Assembly began, lawmakers during the session decided to take a wait-and-see approach and were rightly concerned about the intended and unintended consequences and scope of this proposal as it emerged.

The final product sent anything but messages of certainty and stability in Maryland’s regulatory and economic climates.

The issues in Maryland aren’t easy. The business community needs to come together within itself, with Maryland’s political leadership and with other stakeholders to truly find long-term solutions to Maryland’s multi-dimensional problems. Until this happens, there is a real risk to Maryland’s ability to foster economic growth and create jobs.

On its current path, Maryland will continue to advance short-term solutions that trump the health of democracy and the integrity of our state government. And, we’ll likely find ourselves in a place where special and extended sessions will become the rule and not the exception.

Kimberly McCoy Burns, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, can be reached at kmb@mbrg.org.


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