Annapolis Report - Week 2: Pragmatism and Balance

I apologize in advance for the extended length of this report, but there is so much to discuss this first full week of session. On Wednesday the Governor released his 2013 budget. With the help of my Legislative Director and her team: Yousuf from UMBC, Christine and Jonathan from the University of Maryland School of Law, we have begun to digest the more-than 2,000 page document. It is as much an art as it is a science to evaluate the numerous difficult issues that come before the General Assembly with an eye for both principle and compromise. My goal -- to strike a balance among achieving long-term fiscal responsibility, spurring sustainable growth among our local businesses and communities, and preserving the standard of living we Marylanders are proud to enjoy. This includes maintaining and improving our transportation infrastructure as well as protecting our invaluable natural resources and fresh water systems.

In prioritizing our state spending to accomplish growth, preservation, and balance, we are faced with difficult choices. The easy path is to say no to any and all proposed solutions, regardless of the long term sacrifices of clean water and adequate transportation, for example. At the same time, we cannot make life impossible for today's citizens with only a hope (and no certainty) that the investment will brighten the future of our grandchildren.

The sad condition of our state's transportation infrastructure and other essential services is one challenge that will come before the General Assembly this year. This is a complex and highly contentious matter, and it is no secret that these funds have been mismanaged in the past. As proposals for revenue enhancements begin to surface, we legislators must carefully consider solutions and tease out the unintended consequences of both passing and killing such legislation. I remain open to all proposals, and I am committed to studying whether such revenues would be properly dedicated to the intended outcomes.

Although no such bill has yet to make it into the hopper, from the multitude of calls and emails we realize a potential gas tax is a matter of great concern to everyone. I have heard from many of you both in support and opposition to the concept. On one hand, a gas tax would provide the state with capital to make up for the trust fund's shortfalls and fund job-producing transportation and mass transit infrastructure improvements. This is essential to the growth Maryland continues to endure. On the other hand, any increase in gas taxes disproportionately burdens those struggling most in today's economy. Please continue to share your thoughts with my office as we continue to weigh all sides and come up with our own unique ideas on the many difficult issues slated for debate.

There are so many other important issues that my office is working on, and I sincerely hope they are not overshadowed by a few oxygen-sucking issues such as the gas tax. For example, my staff and I are working with Bike Maryland to build upon our success last year in passing the "3 Foot Rule." We are now formulating legislation to further improve the safety of all parties when cars lawfully pass cyclists on shared roadways. I am also re-introducing a bill to exempt pensions of military health care providers from taxation, as an incentive to expeditiously move recently homebound veterans into workforce shortage areas where the great need for qualified employees is immediate.

I was pleased to see many of my colleagues and constituents at last weeks rally calling for a Constitutional Amendment to reverse the Supreme Court's dangerous decision in Citizens United (2010), which displaced centuries of legal precedent, constitutional interpretation, and statutory law to grant corporations the right to spend unlimited funds influencing elections. Polls consistently show a vast majority of the American people, including citizens from all political affiliations, strongly disagree with this damaging ruling. As is becoming increasingly evident this election season, the new Citizens United doctrine has opened the floodgates of corporate influence on our democracy through unrestrained campaign financing and secretive "Super PACs." To protect the integrity of elections here in Maryland, I have been fighting to enact a voluntary Public Funding option to allow candidates to transcend the influence of special interest money. Once again, Senator Paul Pinsky and I will introduce this bill as the best defense again the high-jacking of elections by a powerful few.

Thank you to economist Morris Segal, our friends from the Federation of the Blind, the Association of CPAs, the Council of Engineering Companies, the Boy Scouts, the Tech Council, the Association of Car Dealers, and the Israel Ambassador for visiting this week. Please make a regular visit and keep an eye on our calendar of events. I was again challenged by my republican colleague Herb McMillan to raise more donations for Special Olympics Maryland before we jump into the Chesapeake on January 28th for my 10th annual Polar Bear Plunge. To that end, please check out my Special Olympics Maryland donor page.

Jon S. Cardin