Picket line and dueling rallies to punctuate Maryland Special Session

Editor’s note 5/27/2022: I have brought this home from the dead Examiner.com pages.

One participant only expects it to last two days, but the upcoming Special Session of the Maryland General Assembly may have just as much action on the outside as it will on the inside.

As currently scheduled, events outside begin with a “picket line” being organized by the “We the People” group of Carroll County at 9:30 a.m. That effort – complete with “union dues” which will be collected for donation to the Maryland Food Bank – will give way to a noontime press conference by the Maryland chapter of Americans for Prosperity at the State House in Annapolis.

Later on, dueling – but not simultaneous – rallies will inhabit Lawyers Mall outside the capital late Monday afternoon. First will be a “Last Chance Rally for Tax Fairness” hosted by Progressive Maryland, beginning at 5:30 and lasting about an hour. They will be urging the General Assembly to pass the tax hikes necessary to forestall the so-called “doomsday budget” which only increases spending by $700 million over last year’s expenditures, as opposed to the $1.2 billion spending hike originally envisioned by Governor Martin O’Malley. Along with a significant increase in tax rates on high-income earners progressives would also like an increased tax on non-cigarette tobacco products, a toll which was included in the budget reconciliation bill which died along with the regular session at midnight April 9.

After the liberal side yields the field, once again those who oppose the prospect of tax hikes and believe the state can do more with less will begin their affair, the Rally Against the Doomsday Session. The event is scheduled for two hours, and is slated to start at 7 p.m. Obviously there could be a few counter-protestors at each event who stand in opposition to the side then holding court at Lawyers Mall.

While it was expected the legislature would reconvene at some point in the wake of the confusion of the Maryland General Assembly’s last regular session day, Governor O’Malley presented his case in his announcement regarding the Special Session: “There is too much at stake not to move forward. I’m confident we can…complete this most important work for the people of our State,” claimed the governor.

But other voices beg to differ. Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, a Republican, criticized O’Malley as having “shown a breathtaking inability to manage the fiscal matters of state” in his six years as governor. He also complained that legislators won’t have time to review new spending bills before their hearing, noting “there is no legislator in the world capable of reading and analyzing this mass of material in a few hours.” Said Pipkin,“The unheard speed with which this legislation is being forced to passage makes it clear the powers-that-be do not really want to give legislators time to study the proposals,” adding this was a “cruel mockery” of the normal legislative process.

Even some Democrats dislike the idea. State Comptroller Peter Franchot, a likely 2014 candidate for Governor, called the Special Session a “black eye” that takes the state “100 miles per hour in the wrong direction.”

Most who will attend the latter rally Monday night would tend to agree with Pipkin and Franchot. This sentiment was also echoed in remarks made by Delegate Mike McDermott at a Wednesday meeting in Wicomico County, where he stated the belief Democrats “have already cut the deal” on a tax increase in closed-door meetings last week, making the Special Session perfunctory.

A prospective 2014 GOP gubernatorial candidate also questioned the need for an income tax increase, pointing out the state already has a high reliance on its income tax. Larry Hogan, speaking on behalf of the group Change Maryland, said that the state’s Department of Legislative Services reported the news at length prior to the 2012 session. “One has to wonder if the Governor, Senate President, and House Speaker are reading the reports provided for them,” said Hogan.“This report raises red flags about Maryland’s over-reliance on the income tax to support state spending.”

Polling also suggests those who oppose the “doomsday session” may have the public on their side. In January House of Delegates freshman Republicans commissioned a Gonzales Poll, a survey which found 63% of Maryland respondents believed their taxes were too high, with an additional one-third describing them as just enough. (The specific poll questions and results are not available online.) Those who responded in the negative regarding taxes weren’t given options as to what spending would need to be trimmed in order to match any revenue shortfalls, though.

But it’s likely the hundreds who show up from around the state on Monday for the Lawyers Mall events will have their own sets of solutions for the General Assembly to consider.