Clayton Mitchell: The Conservative Doomsday Masquerade

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By Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr., Esquire

The State Legislature did not raise sufficient revenues during the 2012 Session to avoid the “Doomsday Budget”. When Session ended sine die, many of the Governor’s priorities were in danger of elimination. The Republicans cheered.

Meanwhile … on the other side of the Bay … my Eastern Shore conservative friends seemingly embrace the “Doomsday Budget”. They appear comfortable with cuts to local governments, public education, higher college tuition rates and a curtailment of public works projects. For ostensible well-articulated reasons, they fill the radio airwaves and the blogosphere with a quasi-Austrian school of economics rationale for slashing the State budget to prevent tax and fee increases. Their express disdain for the May 14 special session to raise revenues is loud and clear.

Dissent and debate is the American way. It forges our public policy and shapes our collective future. I respectfully dissent with those who profess that the Governor is embarking on the wrong fiscal course. However, regardless of how I explain the need to fund Mr. O’Malley’s priorities in this 21st Century economy, I am continuously attacked with empty platitudes like “tax and spend…that’s all you Democrats do”. Little do they know they are casting stones from their glass houses.

In the post-Session fog of conservative criticism, I was utterly flabbergasted to learn that in anticipation of cuts in State aid to the counties, local Eastern Shore governments were preparing plans to “increase revenues” to fund county programs and local school system budgets. This is especially shocking in light of the fact that the Shore’s county governments are predominantly operated by Republican county commissioners. What I do not understand is how my conservative Eastern Shore neighbors can on one hand condemn the Governor for supporting raising revenues while on the other hand support local Republican officials who advocate the very same solution.

The purest example of this hypocrisy is the Republican solution for the 2011 Queen Anne’s County budget crisis. Queen Anne’s County faced a potential 2011 budget deficit in excess of $10 million (for Western Shore readers – that’s considered real money here on the Shore). Notwithstanding, and in the face of advance notice of falling tax revenues, in 2010 the Queen Anne’s County voters removed the Democrat Party dominated County Commission with a five-member Republican County Commission in reliance upon the candidates’ traditional conservative mantra that they would “cut taxes and government waste”. The Republican control of Queen Anne’s County governance was plenipotentiary.

In the beginning, the Republican Queen Anne’s County Commissioners appeared to be men of their word. In an initial move to address the looming fiscal problem, they appointed a committee of intelligent well-meaning citizens to recommend an austere budget that did not raise taxes and that sufficiently cut spending in order to balance the county’s books. What the committee proposed was the “Mini-Me” version of the State’s Doomsday Budget. It was conservative nirvana.

However, when faced with the proposition to adopt their own committee’s proposed Doomsday Budget what did the Republican County Commissioners do? They unanimously voted to raise taxes, fund the school system budget and keep important local programs in place! The conservative dogma is a masquerade.

If there was any doubt that the Republican “cut taxes and eliminate government waste” pledge is anything more than an empty campaign promise, all doubt has been removed. The lesson that Republicans learn when they control the sovereign reins of power is that governing is not so easy because it is accompanied by responsibility. Even former Governor Bob Ehrlich refused to sign the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” in 2010.

It is superstition that Republican governments have ever simultaneously cut taxes and the size of government. If there is to be any credibility with the conservative criticism of Governor O’Malley, it can only come after the Republican-controlled local governments have fully implemented their own Doomsday Budgets – without asking for State aid from the Democrats in Annapolis. Who doubts this will not happen?

Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr. is an attorney in Stevensville and regular contributor to Center Maryland.
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