AFTER THEIR customary eleventh-hour round of legislative devastation, the lawmakers in Annapolis loosed their balloons, congratulated each other for this or that and mercifully terminated a disappointing session of the General Assembly.While the senators and delegates will be quick to recite their particular versions of this year's accomplishments - and certainly there were some - they leave behind a dismal record. The legislators failed to deal with political corruption and financial inequities, neglecting measures that would have revised the tax structure and the pension system covering state employees and teachers.
Gone was anything resembling a reasonable or necessary response to the opening call of Acting Gov. Blair Lee III for new laws to help improve the rotten nationwide reputation of Maryland as a scandal-torn state. Instead, the members of the assembly preferred to weaken and finally talk to death an ethics bill dealing with conflicts of interest, financial disclosure requirements, moonlighting activities and gift taking. The bill would have addressed precisely the sorts of activities that have led to troubles for all too many prominent Maryland officeholders already.
Incumbents seeking reeelection may have you believe that this and other measures to clean up politics were merely public-relations gimmicks or even invasions of their privacy. But voters may just decide they want better explanations for their elected officials' opposition to such basic improvements as financial disclosure requirements or a ban on gifts from lobbyists. Similarly, the legislators' failure to force a floor vote in the House on a modest campaign financing bill was a poor performance.
Among those laws that actually were enacted, one of the worst was the revival of the death penalty for certain types of murders. Also, by taking advantage of a quirk in the state law, the legislators managed to give themselves a fat 48 percent pay raise over the next four years.
The assembly did succeed in agreeing to some important property-tax relief that should return some $30 million in credit to lower-income homeowners. Also, the budget approved this year does include some impressive amounts of state aid for eduction, police protection and medical programs for the local jurisdictions - which should translate in to moves by local governments to lower their property-tax rates in the coming year.
But until a majority of the legislature takes a stand in favor of serious income-tax revisions to make the system progressive - and in favor of higher standards of conduct for all elected officials in the state - the accomplishments in Annapolis will continue to be outweighed by the failures.