Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"Kids on spring break" or effective legislators?

With the legislative session over since midnight Monday, one can find a steady stream of assessments and comments across all the media. But the key question, whether legislators are like kids on spring break or whether they are responsibly governing the State remains unanswered.

"It's like they're on spring break," Hogan said on the C4 Show on WBAL-AM Radio. "They come here for a few weeks. They start breaking up the furniture and throwing beer bottles off the balcony."

Governor Hogan
Democrat Zirkin who led complicated negotiations about judicial reforms in his committee said. "I'm insulted and I think every one of us should be insulted".

As it has been ever since the Governor took office, he is popular with the public and there are certainly plenty of people who eye the annual legislative period with suspicion and a sense that this is nothing but a big circus with more drama than effect. Those folks probably agree with Hogan's assessment. But some political observers see it differently. They observe that Maryland's charter gives the initiative to the Governor and that Hogan failed this year to set the session off with a meaningful agenda and a set of bills that had a chance to be considered. Barry Rascovar said on the radio show Midday on Tuesday that Hogan entered the session with only a few bills that were so purely Republican ideology that they had no chance in the Democrat controlled House and Senate.
Throughout Maryland’s history, legislatures have let the governor take the lead in setting the agenda for the state’s annual General Assembly session. Lawmakers followed the old adage – the governor proposes and the legislature disposes.
But this time Hogan failed to lead. His 13-point initiative was long on Republican talking points featuring lots of tax cuts, fee cuts and tax credits for businesses as well as impossibly idealistic conservative goals such as wiping away state spending mandates and stripping the Democratic legislature of any power over the decennial redistricting process.
It’s no surprise Hogan met failure on the majority of these items. (Rascovar)
Senate Session (photo Dru Schmidt Perkins)
Hogan, by contrast, chided the Speaker of the House Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller for not passing the tax relief he had initiated and that House and Senate had modified so differently that they couldn't agree on anything before the clock struck midnight. "Those folks just don't have their act together" the Governor grumbled. But yesterday, at the bill signing ceremony he said that the session showed that in Maryland folks can work together.
“I am proud to sign bills that demonstrate our administration’s commitment to creating opportunities and improving the lives of those who need it most,” said Governor Hogan. “These important pieces of legislation will help a wide range of Marylanders, and I want to thank the legislature for working with us to support these common sense initiatives.” (Hogan)
Bills the Governor disliked, such as performance metrics for transportation projects (HB 1013), he instantly vetoed and the veto was overridden in the same session. This showdown was part of an unusual well-scheduled power showdown which the Governor lost.  Another bill he disliked was alos part of the transportation package. It requires an oversight board for the State-run MTA and thus gives the City a bit more say in the transit that serves Baltimore. That bill passed with a full 23 minutes to spare on Monday night but will likely be vetoed.

The most amazing example of the muscle and initiative of the legislature, but also a case of collaboration, maybe the about $300 million mini Marshall Plan that the legislature bundled as aid for Baltimore including money for parks and community development corporations. Collaboration also resulted in a justice reform package finally aiming at lower incarceration rates and an approach that considers drug use more as an illness than a crime.
"This is truly a bipartisan effort' [This is] "a game-changer in terms of our criminal justice system.'' (Sen. Robert Zirkin, Democrat Baltimore County, chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.)
Voting score board
Ridiculing the theatrics of the legislative process, which are certainly there, runs the danger of making fun of democracy itself. The House and the Senate are nothing but the assembly of the people's representatives which were elected in free and democratic elections. That is at least what most Americans think and hope, even though the amounts of money in play during elections makes even the most upstanding citizens rightfully jaded. 

The introduction of bills, the committee work, the reconciliation of bills between House and Senate, the veto power of the chief executive and the ability to override such a veto are all part of the checks and balances that overall have worked quite well for this State and for the country even if one would occasionally wish to see governance with fewer bills and less grandstanding. 

The idea that the Governor can now return to true governance and "the real work of leading Maryland" has a strong authoritarian flavor; as if things would be so much better if a Governor or President could just go ahead and do what he thinks is right. This top down line of thinking gets air under the wings when the legislature is unable to get much done as is the case in Washington. By contrast, the legislature in Annapolis showed this year that it can introduce and pass bills that will be good for Maryland, some with support on all sides. No, this wasn't kids on spring break.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


SUN editorial with an overview of what was passed
2016 EnvironmentalLegislative Wrap-Up  (League of Conservation Voters)

League of Conservation Voters

League of Conservation Voters