David Nitkin on state politics issues

Millie, Taneytown: As in individual with individual health insurance, I am interested in any of the 2007 legislation that might impact my coverage.

Nitkin: We expect health issues to be a dominant topic of the 2007 session. Health insurance and related issues are heavily regulated in Maryland and all other states, so, annually, scores of bills are filed dealing with health topics. Many seek to expand the services that health insurers that do business in Maryland must provide. It's too early to say which will pass, and thus which may impact you -- as a person with health insurance.

Others seek to provide coverage to those without health insurance. Del. Peter A. Hammen, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Health and Government Operations Committee, and his counterpart in the Senate, Thomas M. Middleton, have both talked about expanding access to those without insurance.

Carolyn, Joppa: According to Andy Green's article ('Md. tax reform gains ground'; Dec. 19, 2006), Sen. Ulysses Currie (Prince George's Co.) -- "There's no appetite for it" (raising taxes). "We've got to look first at spending before we take a look at revenues." Cut spending before raising taxes! That should be their mantra.

Nitkin: The prospects for tax increases looks shaky for this year, although there will be a lot of discussion about a $1-a-pack cigarette tax increase. Aides to Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley and legislative leaders are talking about a "comprehensive" solution to a structural budget problem (expenses outpacing revenues) next year, and that could include either new taxes or an expansion of the sales tax base.

As Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. discovered in facing the last fiscal downturn, it's hard to cut from the state budget. Many programs are mandated. The largest discretionary item is higher education spending -- and many lawmakers want to spend more in that area, not less, to keep tuition down. While the rhetoric of spending cuts and efficiencies sound good on the campaign trail, the reality of making cuts (which really means eliminating jobs, since much of the budget is employee personnel costs) is much more challenging.

David, Berlin: Isn't what the Republicans are stating right off the top, before the legislature even opens, divisive politics doomed to cause gridlock at all costs? Instead of how best to govern the state in the interest of all Marylanders, they still espouse to divide the deliberations based on party-tics alone. Who cares what party good governance comes from? That's exactly why the former governor is where he is today -- arrogance. He was right, Democrats were wrong, in a Democratic majority state no-less. No wonder nothing gets done.

Nitkin: Actually, Republicans in the legislature -- a shrinking minority after the last election -- don't want gridlock. They've been saying all the right things in recent days and weeks. Republican leaders say they will work with majority Democrats where and when they can, and will stand on principle when they feel that is appropriate. That sounds like the right formula to me. There's a reason there are two major parties (and many people would like even more): voters need a choice.

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