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We Should Have Higher Expectations Of Legislature In Election Year

Tom Chalkley

  Expectations for the recently concluded legislative session were low. Lawmakers about to face voters want to avoid anything controversial.

Which is not to say, of course, that there were no important issues to address. The minimum wage, for example. Lawmakers might well have found it in them to make this issue urgent.

Too many of us, including workers in this wealthy state, work for wages that leave them right at or well-below the federal poverty line. You would think this would have been seen as an emergency – a situation that seriously threatens our consumer-based economy. And, of course, families are struggling to make ends meet.

News from Annapolis focused primarily on balancing the concerns of the business community with the needs of their workers. That exercise led to the usual round of threats: business will leave the state, opponents cried. A minimum wage increase will reduced the number of jobs, and so on. It’s become the anti-progressive instinct.

Call it the sky-is-falling approach. It’s part of the playbook that always seems to work. Higher taxes on the wealthy means millionaires will leave. Less money for the movie industry means the movie industry will leave. A higher minimum wage for workers means employers will leave.  Works every time. Lobbyists don’t need much more than a “will leave” sentence.

The wage increase did pass. But a proposal by Governor O’Malley to peg increases to the cost of living was stripped away. We can all watch the buying power of workers decline even further.

It’s time for a change in the historical pattern. There’s nothing in the oath of office that provides for election year vacations.

The opposite should be the rule.