While you were sleeping

We all know what the problems are. You’ve heard it here before but it bears repeating: Maryland has the 4th highest tax burden in the nation, is the 5th least friendly to businesses, and has the 6th highest cost of living. Yet our government in Annapolis has no plan or solutions for our state's long-term fiscal health. Every year, they spend more money despite the economic climate and hope for a rescue.

In 2007, it was the rainy day fund that Governor Ehrlich had built up to well over a billion dollars. In 2008, it was a $1.4 billion tax increase, the largest in state history. In 2009, it was more than $1.4 billion from the federal government's so-called "stimulus" package where they're spending money borrowed from our children and grandchildren with no guarantee of repayment.

Let's not forget they strong-armed the voters into putting slot machines in the Maryland Constitution as a source of revenue. How's that working out so far?

They increased spending in the fiscal year 2010 budget by $1.1 billion despite the fiscal crisis in which we find ourselves. The projected deficit for fiscal year 2011 is at least $1 billion, and they have no idea how they're going to deal with it. Maybe they're hoping we  won't notice and will re-elect them before they have to raise taxes or make dramatic program cuts, or they're hoping for yet another rescue of undetermined origin.

I propose we take the following immediate steps to get the state’s financial house in order:

- A taxpayer’s bill of rights should be instituted to require that tax increases be limited to the percentage of increase in the inflation rate or population or some other objective measure. Tax increases should never outpace the people’s ability to pay.

- We should implement zero-based budgeting so that every year, every program is required to justify its entire budget, not just the increases to it. It’s more rigorous than incremental budgeting, but the people’s money deserves the closer scrutiny, transparency and testing that zero-based budgeting brings to government.

- Every program should have a performance plan that describes its expected public benefit, potential risks and risk mitigation strategies, outcome-based measures of success, and corrective actions for when programs are not realizing their public benefit, to include termination after a specified period of time.

- The state’s tax code needs a complete overhaul and the new code should be designed to foster business growth, job creation, personal wealth building, and investment.

These budget process reforms aren’t easy to implement, but aren’t our public officials elected to do the hard things for the people’s benefit?

We can't keep kicking the can down the road. Leadership requires honesty with the people about our problems and collaboration with them to find sound and lasting solutions. For all their years of experience, the one-party monopoly in Annapolis has failed the people when it comes to leadership. It's time to turn the page.