Retroactive Poison

John J. Walters Apr 10, 2012

Sometimes, when I play games with my 5-year-old stepson, I find him changing the rules to suit his needs midway through. I usually let it slide because, well… he’s five. That’s something that little kids do. It is not, however, something that we should stand for in our government.

You remember the $1.5 billion state center project? Here’s a quick refresher. Baltimore City wants to rebuild the state facilities downtown. The project would be a public-private partnership and would cost taxpayers $127 million at a time when there are so many other pressing needs in Baltimore City and Maryland in general.  For more details, please read our policy report: “State Center, Phase I: The $127 Million Taxpayer Handout.”

Last year, a bunch of Baltimore-area businesses sued the city, alleging that the contracts awarded for the construction were not competitively sourced (not to mention that the project is totally unnecessary and would serve to further increase downtown vacancy rates). The lawsuit is still before the courts.

The lawsuit against the state center project doesn’t exactly suit the powers that be. They’re so keen to move forward that the House even tried to pass a retroactive law that would allow them to move the state center lawsuit to a more favorable court venue. Fortunately, it looks like the Senate had more sense than to try to change the rules of engagement mid-stream. Still, the fate of the state center project remains in question.

But that’s not the only situation Maryland is facing where the rules of the game might abruptly be changed to suit those in charge. The budget is another source of perennial problems for this spend-happy administration, and when the going gets tough the O’Malley administration gets taxing. Usually these taxes are phased in after they have been voted on. But not in this case.

We grant the government the right to tax us. They are supposed to use those taxes to serve the common good. And they are supposed to do this within budget. If a certain administration tries to raise taxes too much, we can push our elected representatives to vote against the increases. But what are we supposed to do when we agree to pay a certain amount and then find out that we actually owe more?

If Comcast used this strategy to price their cable service, they would be sued.

We tolerate rule changes and similar silliness when we’re playing games with children. We don’t tolerate it in “the real world.” And we shouldn’t have to even think about it when it comes the our government.