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Maryland Takes On Big Blue

Maryland is one of the bluest states in the union. Obama won nearly 62 percent of the vote against McCain in 2008. Both of its senators and three-quarters of its representatives are Democrats. At the state level, Democrats control both houses with supermajorities, and its governor, Martin O’Malley, is a Democrat.

Yet Maryland has just joined the fight against big blue. The Washington Post reports that Maryland Democrats are considering adopting public-private partnerships as the model for future infrastructure projects. In a radical departure from Democratic orthodoxy, the bill, which is advancing in the Maryland house, would

[m]ake it Maryland’s policy to seek out private partners to build, operate and maintain roads, bridges, schools, government buildings and most any other public asset.

The practice, long supported by lawmakers in more conservative states such as Virginia, could allow Maryland to move forward with billions of dollars in projects that, because of debt limits, the state could not otherwise afford.

To be sure, there are distinctly Democratic fingerprints on the bill. To appease the powerful public-sector unions, provisions have been attached to ensure that “any jobs generated as the state hands off public assets would carry requirements that private enterprises pay living wages, ensure minority business involvement and put in place other labor-friendly protections.” Somewhat ironically, opposition has emerged from Republicans and from the state’s Chamber of Commerce, who fear the bill would reduce transparency in the bidding process.

We’ll reserve judgment on whether this particular plan is a good idea until more facts are in, but it’s safe to say this is another sign of things to come. As states continue to suffocate financially, they will have to get more creative in their policy solutions. Maryland is not the first blue state to challenge the tenets of the blue model, and we suspect it won’t be the last. Rabid social Darwinists aren’t killing the blue social model; it is dying because it is too primitive, inefficient and crude to meet the needs of the contemporary world.

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  • vanderleun

    The mostest blue? Humm, I wonder what accounts for that? At any rate, the Maryland method of private-public partnership was previously demonstrated very, very well in the first two or three seasons of “The Wire.” No reason at all to think the internal elements of these private-public partnerships will be any different.

  • Jbird

    Probably somewhere near 70% of the state is dependent on government for it’s day to day sustenance as state & federal employees, government contractors, government lobbyists, or on the dole. The other 30% is then dependent on the 70% (from janitors at the NSA to engineers for Northrup Grumman) to keep building houses, frequenting restaurants, and patronizing retail shops. That’s why Maryland has been so insulated to the current economic crisis, and why it will resist any attempts to rollback the role of government until it absolutely has to.

  • Jeff Medcalf

    Of course, by putting such restrictions on the partnerships, it becomes harder for those partnerships to innovate away from the weaknesses in the model that are forcing the partnerships to begin with. The same problem has hit a lot of charter schools, which are founded to get around the problems of education law, then immediately saddled with the same problems. Then, when they fail, it’s somehow always “market failure,” and the response is somehow always bigger government.

  • Tom Gates

    As a Virginia boy growing up during the 1960s I frequently heard my elders say: “If the Lord ever gives the world an enema, He will stick the tube in Maryland”. Some things never change.

  • Allen Mitchum

    At the same time, there’s talk about increasing the gas tax, increasing sales tax, and imposing a whole sort of other taxes. I agree w/vanderleun above – someone in MD discovered there are new graft opportunities from this type of arrangement and that’s the only reason it’s being explored.

  • Kris

    “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.”
    ― Winston S. Churchill

  • Corlyss

    “the bill, which is advancing in the Maryland house, would [m]ake it Maryland’s policy to seek out private partners to build, operate and maintain roads, bridges, schools, government buildings and most any other public asset.”

    Well, that’s nice. But what they need is a private partner that will pay the exorbitant pensions, salaries, and benefits the state contracted for and now can’t pay. I suggest China, but I doubt they’d go for the deal.

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