Volume 14, Issue 2 ~ January 12 - 18, 2006


In Annapolis, Keep Good Lawmaking Center Stage — Not a Sideshow

We’re fairly good at math, but we’re having trouble adding up the numbers when it comes to tuition at Maryland colleges and universities.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich last week said he would back $117 million more for Maryland’s university system, a welcome proposal given deep cuts during his administration.

Yet University of Maryland regents voted last week to raise tuition at most campuses by 4.5 percent next year, a depressing thought for students with part-time jobs and parents scrambling to pay tuition.

Why, with a $1 billion surplus, do we need another tuition hike when tuition at College Park has increased more than 40 percent in three years?

Funding for higher education will be one of many thorny matters in need of attention in the new General Assembly session, which began this week.

But for folks who like to keep an eye on Annapolis, tracking the General Assembly may be like watching a three-ring circus given the likelihood of a session dominated by politics.

2006 promises to be an election year in Maryland like none in recent memory, with Ehrlich and the GOP battling against the odds to hold the governor’s office won after trying four decades.

Add to that Maryland’s open Senate seat from Democrat Paul Sarbanes’ retirement mixed with the usual scrap for county and legislative seats, and what you wind up with is action on so many fronts that the main act in the General Assembly may get sideshow billing in the players’ minds.

We’re hoping that members conclude at the outset that enough time has been wasted on legalizing video gambling. Like many Marylanders, we have long since grown weary of the brain drain in Annapolis of the slots debate.

With the exploding lobbyist scandal in Washington — much of it stemming from influence-peddling related to Indian gambling — Ehrlich and General Assembly leaders would be daffy to try to factor gambling proceeds into funding formulas.

Yet there’ll be temptation with gambling lobbyists promising fat checks to finance campaigns.

But rather than kowtowing to gamblers, giant retail chains and other special interests muscled up with high-priced lobbyists, this General Assembly had better keep voters in mind.

To us, that would mean a higher education funding plan that enables a freeze on tuition hikes, at least $350 million for school construction and ample funding for Maryland to establish itself as a national leader in stem-cell research.

A pro-voter session would override two of Ehrlich’s vetoes on two of last year’s bills. Overriding one veto would raise the minimum hourly wage by $1 to $6.15. Overriding the second that tells Wal-Mart it must stop forcing its employees onto public assistance and taxpayer payrolls with miserable health care benefits.

Likewise, members should say no to the restaurant chains seeking multiple liquor licenses. Allowing multiple licenses to many-headed chains would doom both local eaters (to coast-to-coast monotony) and locally owned eateries.

Lawmakers will be motivated even more than usual by politics this session.

But they would also be wise to keep in mind the mood of voters, lest 2006 turn into an anti-incumbent year they won’t forget.

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