Two months after the primary election, septuagenarians Thomas V. Mike Miller, who has headed the state Senate since 1987, and Michael Busch, speaker of the House of Delegates since 2003, finally acknowledged the Bernie Sanders offshoot in their midst: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous.
But the joint endorsement seemed more like an effort to save face than to promote the man on their party’s ticket. Mr. Miller spoke less than three minutes and said Mr. Jealous’ name only once before rushing back to his day job.
Messrs. Miller and Busch are ultimately the ones to blame for Gov. Larry Hogan’s double digit lead in the polls. They, as the longest-serving top state legislative team in the country, led the transformation of Maryland into a place that has been shedding people for over a decade, producing students unprepared for work or college and taxing people by default to solve chronic overspending.
It’s an ugly legacy worth revisiting so that legislators don’t repeat the same mistakes.
For starters, more people have wanted to leave Maryland than move here for almost two decades. From 2000 to 2010, the Tax Foundation found that “only seven states lost more taxable income than Maryland.” The total taxable income lost for that time period: $5.5 billion, which equates to roughly $330 million lost each year in annual tax revenue. And it is the wealthy who left — and are still — disproportionately leaving those behind a larger tax burden. Maryland may be the richest state in the nation, but it is pushing away the people who create jobs and wealth.
Second, it’s an open secret that Maryland’s top ranked public schools aren’t very good. Since 1998, the percentage of students who are proficient at basic math has dropped. This happened despite increasing spending by $3.8 billion on K-12 education from 1998-2014.
As a result of student underachievement, 71 percent of students in state community colleges needed some type of remedial education in math and English in the 2010-2011 school year, the most recent data available from the Maryland Higher Education Commission. And, unfortunately, students at the state’s flagship campus suffer from the same problem. New results show more than half of public school students are failing state tests — with achievement gaps not budging between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers.
Messrs. Miller and Busch’s solution to the problem? Both want to increase spending to support findings by the Kirwan Commission. That group in large part wants to accomplish the same things as the 2002 Bridge to Excellence in Public Education Act, which at the time was applauded by Messrs. Miller and Busch. Déjà vu, anyone?
And we can’t forget taxes. For almost two decades Maryland legislators have relied on raising them to remedy shortfalls in the budget. With Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley as their guide, Messrs. Miller and Busch pushed through over 40 new tax and fee hikes from 2007 to 2014, including raising the sales, gas and income tax on those earning more than $100,000 and doubling the Chesapeake Bay Restoration fee, a.k.a. the “flush tax,” and vehicle title fees. Ironically, in 2012 Mr. Miller told The Baltimore Sun, "We both have strong democratic and progressive values, but at the same time we are fiscal conservatives."
The memory of those taxes still generates so much anger that Governor Hogan is currently running ads against the O’Malley tax hikes in his current re-election bid against Ben Jealous.
Messrs. Miller and Busch may have wanted to distance themselves from a candidate whose overtly socialist policies, including health care for all and “free” college, will require massive tax hikes. But their record shows they are the ones who both made him possible and made his ideas unpopular in a state that four years ago said it wanted more growth and opportunity and less of the big government they delivered. May their skepticism of Mr. Jealous and that of many top Democrats lead to a more fiscally responsible future for Maryland.
Marta Hummel Mossburg (email@example.com) is a visiting fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute.