xml:space="preserve">

In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley. As punishment for a lifetime of greed and lack of charity, Marley now walks the earth in chains dragging cash boxes, padlocks and ledger books. Marley tells Scrooge that he can escape the same fate by listening to three spirits who will soon be visiting him: the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.

As Christmas Eve in Carroll County fast approaches, another important day will arrive soon thereafter. On Jan. 8, the 2020 session of the Maryland General Assembly will convene in Annapolis, and delegates and senators will consider legislation that will affect all of us.

Advertisement

The bills passed each session that become law influence Carroll County’s past, present and future. In the 2019 session, 2,497 bills were introduced with 866 of them passing both chambers. Each bill, if passed and enshrined in the Maryland Annotated Code, could have benefited or harmed the citizens of Carroll. On the flip side, 1,631 bills were stopped that could have potentially helped or damaged our county.

On July 1, 2020, the first spirit, the Ghost of Session Past, will leave a stain on our county worse than spilling eggnog on your favorite Christmas sweater. In the previous session, both chambers of the General Assembly passed a bill banning polystyrene, or foam, containers, often referred to as Styrofoam. This summer, Maryland coffee shops, bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and other establishments will no longer be able to sell or provide food or drinks packaged in Styrofoam. To make matters worse, a local manufacturer of polystyrene, Dart Container Corporation, made the decision to close its nearly 1 million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center in Hampstead after the bill passed.

We should be thankful that our Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has the common sense to disapprove of this new state mandate. At a recent BOCC meeting, the commissioners expressed frustration with the new requirement that the county must enforce the ban. “I’ve got a real fundamental problem with this,” said Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5. The new law says that local jurisdictions may impose a $250 fine for violations. Ed Singer, the county health officer, made it clear that the county will not be issuing any fines, but they are required to report violations to the Maryland Department of the Environment. “I will continue to say that this is absurd,” said Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, and that “it is an extremely small fix to the overall environmental issue here.”

The second spirit that visited Scrooge was “Christmas Present.” The Maryland General Assembly’s present state is one of fluctuations. There has been more change in leadership in the past nine months than in the past three decades. House Speaker Mike Busch was the longest-serving speaker in Maryland history when he passed away in April after serving in that position since 2003. Del. Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County will start the upcoming session as the new speaker.

State Sen. Mike Miller became Senate president in January 1987, when I was four months old, and went on to become the longest continuously-serving legislative leader in the entire country. Due to health issues, Miller stepped down from his role in October and Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore city was chosen to replace him. Although a Democrat, Miller was not a favorite of progressives due to his more moderate views. As president of the Senate, Miller was known for allowing Republican senators time to voice their opinions on the floor. It is well established that Ferguson is far more left-leaning than Miller and will champion more liberal causes.

For the past five years, Sen. Bobby Zirkin of Baltimore County has served as the chair of one of the most powerful committees in Annapolis: the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Much like Miller, Zirkin was a Democrat known for his moderate views and for playing a significant role in stopping some of the more far-left-leaning bills from passing in the Senate. Some of the bills that were either killed or gutted in the Judicial Proceedings Committee include 2017’s “Sanctuary State” bill and 2019’s medically assisted suicide bill. Unfortunately, Zirkin announced last week that he will be stepping down from his role as chair and from the Senate as a whole. Carroll County’s Sen. Justin Ready currently serves on the same committee and tweeted that Zirkin “was very fair in how he worked with members from both parties” and that “this is a huge loss for the Maryland Senate.” Zirkin has already been replaced by Sen. Will Smith of Montgomery County. With Smith now running this influential committee that oversees bills involving criminal law and gun control, it is more likely that progressive legislation passes.

The third and final spirit represents what is “yet to come” from the General Assembly. When discussing the upcoming 2020 legislative session, there is little doubt that the number one subject will be the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission. The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, more commonly referred to as the Kirwan Commission, recently approved a plan to improve education across the state that will require $4 billion more to be spent each year on public schools. The commission’s recommendation is that by 2030, the state should kick in an additional $2.8 billion each year, and Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore city should drop an extra $1.2 billion altogether annually. The recommendation now goes to the General Assembly for consideration.

The $4 billion dollar question that nobody has been able to answer is how will the state and counties pay for this? While the counties are left to fend for themselves, the Democrats in Annapolis think that by legalizing sports gambling and recreational marijuana use that the state will be able to cover its $2.8 billion tab each year. The reality is that each county and the state will need to raise taxes to cover these costs. Gov. Larry Hogan has estimated that Maryland families will need to pony up an extra $6,000 each year to cover these expenditures. When The Baltimore Sun asked new Senate President Bill Ferguson if taxes would have to be raised, he replied, “What we need to do is have a conversation about values.” To that I say Bah! Humbug!

After this Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come showed Scrooge what might come to pass if he continued down his current path, Scrooge decided to change his ways. I hope that the members of the General Assembly each experience his or her own version of “A Christmas Carroll” and take a hard look at the past and present to carefully consider how his or her actions on proposed legislation will affect Marylanders for good or ill.

Christopher Tomlinson, a member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, writes from Melrose. Email him at CCTtomlinson@gmail.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement