Policy Leaders Talk Budget, Cooperation, and “Reforms” Ahead
At MACo’s Winter Conference, the General Assembly forecast is always a closely-watched forum. Just as the shape of the coming legislative session is forming, policy leaders stand before a statewide audience to share their views on the top issues lying ahead. Last week’s renewal was no exception.
Here are three items that seem to loom large over the coming session, all evidenced at the conference session in Dorchester County:
#1 – Budget and Fiscal Issues Stay Atop The Watch List
Nothing shocking here, but all parties talked lots of numbers. The current year “surplus” and what to do with it. The longer term structural deficit, and what (if anything) to do about it anytime soon. The multiple options for spending and tax cuts that could arise to lay claim to some of the fiscal improvements in the economy and state revenue streams. How important is stability as a goal of its own? What long term changes to spending obligations might happen in a year without an immediate pressing budget crisis?
#2 – The Tax Cut Debate Still Isn’t Clear At All
For mid-December, there’s remarkably little consensus on what may lie ahead as a focus for improving Maryland competitiveness via tax changes. Changes in tax rates, or targeted relief for pass-through entities? A focus on income taxes, or also some narrower issues like the estate tax? Or will local property taxes be on the table, too? The local income tax? Just tax cuts, or a mix of cuts and tax hikes? Senator Kasemeyer himself sits on the Augustine Commission, the high profile who is even now refining its final report. But even he, as a true insider, wasn’t able to pinpoint the specifics of the debate obviously lying ahead. And no players are talking about the effect on the spending side from substantial revenue reductions – other than to note the lack of that attention.
#3 – The Politics of Co-operation Will Remain Its Own Issue
In coverage of the event, one item that struck a chord with reporters was some back-and-forth about the Governor’s “honeymoon” period – and whether it’s over. Both Administration Policy Director Joe Getty and Speaker Busch responded to Senator Jennings’ suggestion that the “honeymoon is over” — but the main takeaway is that these issues have a life, and audience, of their own. Much like the poll-watching in an electoral campaign sometimes overshadows the actual policy debate – expect much Annapolis attention to land on matters of protocol and appearance as their own topics.