September 20, 2007

The Old Yawn of $1.5 billion

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D) has proposed a revision of the income tax to make it more progressive, as part of his larger strategy of handling the massive budget deficit.

If it passed the legislature, it would be the first overhaul of the income tax code in 40 years.

Even though Maryland Democrats hold a commanding lead in the state legislature, taxes are taxes and when you need 'em to go up once in a while they're slow as molasses runnin' up a hill. Florida Democrats were not less trouble when Governor Lawton Chiles challenged them in the early 1990s.

As many interesting similarities as there are between the approximately $1.5 billion deficit in Maryland now and Florida then, I find one difference to be the most compelling.

That is: the age of the governor managing it.

MD Governor Martin O'Malley is 44 years old, and will be 52 at the end of two terms--if he chooses to go that route. Plenty of time to run for the U.S. Senate or become a Cabinet Secretary under a Democratic White House, or run for president himself.

Lawton Chiles aged from 60 to 68 while governor of Florida from 1990 to 1998. He knew he had miles to go in his political career, and was working with Bill Clinton on a Latin American envoy post at the White House. Mainly though, he was looking forward to Christmas with his family. He never wanted to call the White House home, and by the time he was governor he had served in the U.S. Senate for three terms already.

I suspect that Florida always got Chiles' full attention every minute he governed. And he made decisions with the smiling confidence of a man at the end of a long career, sure of his cause, and ready to dig in for a fight with the Marlboro Man, the Democratic legislature, and the Republican legislature. Not every 60-year-old claims the activity of conscience that thrived in Governor Chiles, and that makes his enterprise all the more satisfying from the point of view of a reader and writer. With nothing at the end of the road but a happy family life, he could shut out Big Sugar, Big Citrus, Big Real Estate, and every other angling interest and just do the job that he had walked a thousand miles to do.

To pull it together, you might say Governor Chiles governed with the energy of a 44-year-old and the wisdom of a 60-year-old.

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