By Marta Mossburg
— Maryland made national news recently for a "rain tax" to start July 1.
The tax, an unfunded mandate originating with the Environmental Protection Agency and cemented by the state legislature and governor last year, means homeowners, businesses, and non-profits in certain counties will pay a fee based on the amount of "impervious surfaces" on their property. It is supposed to raise about $482 million annually.
Satellite imagery will help counties comply with the law, designed to reduce runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.
Call it the "Drones for the Bay" program. The "Free State" is a Petri dish for progressive causes and perpetually tries to out-California California for increasing the size and reach of government, so the new law is not surprising to those who live in Maryland even as it may seem laughable to people across the country.
What's next, 'a tax on sun?' the masses in other states might snidely remark. Yes, and it will be coming to a state near you if Martin O'Malley has his way. So pay attention to the Democratic governor who said in August 2010 that "Maryland will lead the country, not only economically, but morally."
In six and a half short years in office, Gov. O'Malley has transformed the tiny state from a comfortable suburb of Washington to a model of progressive orthodoxy, high taxes, and crony capitalism in a bid to take his show on the road to the White House.
Two stints as head of the Democratic Governors Association raised his national profile and the buff governor, who fronts a rock band called O'Malley's March, could be coming to a bar near you if you live in a politically important primary state. Last Friday he polished his international credentials in Denmark speaking as a panelist on "progressive governance" with Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark.
The Washington Post and Politico place him in the top tier of Democratic candidates vying for the White House in 2016, or at least vice president if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decides to run.
He's been working hard to be in that pack. In the last two years alone he won big battles in the state legislature to allow same sex marriage, give some illegal immigrants in-state tuition, end the death penalty, underwrite an offshore wind farm, ban certain guns, and make gun licensing requirements stricter. He also pushed to raise the gas tax, and won. It is one of the 37 tax and fee hikes enacted during his administration totaling $3.1 billion, according to research by Change Maryland.
Through executive order he has also limited growth in rural counties, along with property, income, and sales taxes in those areas to push development into areas friendlier to "transit-oriented development" - otherwise known as government-directed development or more simply, crony capitalism.
In his words, it means the government is not going to subsidize "stupid land use decisions."
Gov. O'Malley says he is not driven by ideology but by what "works." As he said in a recent Politico article, "We're not arguing for bigger government. We're arguing for more effective government, and also smarter investments."
But everything he calls for means bigger, more expensive government - without an economic payoff for the masses.
The state needs to add 157,000 jobs to get back to pre-recession levels of the percentage of people working, according to the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, and has lost about 6,500 small businesses since he took office. The state also consistently ranks near the bottom of surveys on business friendliness and was put on a credit watch by Moody's because of its dependence on the federal government, "above average debt burden and large unfunded pension liabilities relative to the size of its economy."
Even his success stories are not successes. He loves to talk about Education Week's top ranking of Maryland's public schools, for example. But that publication's report weighs spending more than achievement. Test score data shows Maryland has some of the largest gaps between white and low-income minority students and the number of remedial classes offered at community colleges and the state's flagship school, the University of Maryland at College Park, is skyrocketing under his watch because students are graduating from high school without basic knowledge of math and writing.
So go ahead and laugh at the foibles of liberal Maryland. But if Mr. O'Malley's political trajectory, which started at the Baltimore City Council, continues apace, the last laugh may be on America.
- Marta H. Mossburg is an independent columnist. Contact her at email@example.com.