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Maryland’s Freedom Problem: There Isn’t Any

The Not So Free State

April 8, 2013

How can one not appreciate the irony? Maryland was first recognized as a “Free State” on November 1, 1864 when the Maryland Constitution of 1864 took effect. By the provisions of that Constitution, slavery within the state’s borders was abolished, and that emancipation truly made all Marylanders “free.”

In 1919, Congress passed a law prohibiting the sale and use of alcohol. Marylanders believed that Prohibition – otherwise known as the Volstead Act – violated their state’s rights, and citizens began arguing that Maryland should challenge the federal government’s right to prohibit the sale of liquor.

Hamilton Owens, then editor of The Baltimore Sun (when the paper was a respected news publication as opposed to just being a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party), drafted a mock editorial entitled “The Maryland Free State.”

And although the editorial – which also argued that Maryland should secede from the Union – never saw print, Owens would use variations of the “Free State” in future editorials, and the state’s second nickname (the first being the Old Line State) was born.

The irony, you ask? The people of Maryland have been losing their freedoms since 1933, the year the 21st Amendment repealed the Volstead Act.

Obviously, inhabitants of the formerly Free State are well-aware of their vanishing liberties, but sometimes it takes an outside source to confirm the suspicions.

For the third time in the last six years the Mercatus Center at George Mason University has released “Freedom in the 50 States” (Ruger/Sorens), a collection of data that scores the states on over 200 policy variables.

Using a system that measures both economic and personal freedoms, “50 States” calculates the information in order to evaluate the state’s freedom for the average resident.

And had the study included a “disdain for its citizens” category Maryland would have ranked 50th instead of 44th.

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While the Mercatus study notes that Maryland’s tax burden is average (as compared to what? Europe?), it also shows that the state has fallen two places since 2009 thanks mainly to regulatory policies.

The tax burden, by the way, is measured by calculating state and local tax revenues as a percentage of the state’s personal income. Mercatus arrived at the ‘average’ burden description by not including motor fuel, mineral severance, alcohol sales, and tobacco sales taxes.

Why, that would be like the federal government not counting food and energy prices when measuring inflation… oh, wait….

And let’s not overlook the numerous taxes raised during the current General Assembly session, including the grievous gas tax that will increase the burden on the lower- and middle-class exponentially.

Maryland’s first real shaming comes via regulatory policy; Mercatus cites centralized land-use planning, local rent controls, eminent domain abuse and the lack of a right-to-work law as a main element for the state’s low ranking.

Worse, health insurance mandates add 57 percent to the cost of non-mandated policies – another example of the over-reaching arm of government increasing the yoke on both business and the taxpayer.

But for all the regulatory strangulation perpetrated on both the public and private companies it is in the control of personal behavior where Maryland fails most miserably in living up to its nickname.

And while Governor Martin O’Malley can paint his barnyard tripe in roseate hues when it comes to skewing favorable economic reports, there aren’t enough rose-colored glasses in all of Utopia to disguise our loss of liberties – and that was before this year’s gun ban, regulating of payroll service companies and even more anti-smoking legislation.

On just the personal freedom segment of the Mercatus report, Maryland is the second-worst-ranked state. Prior to the recent passage of Senate Bill 281 (crossfiled as House Bill 297, the “Firearms Safety Act of 2013”) Maryland boasted the seventh-strictest gun control laws in the country.

The liberties of Marylanders are lessened – and in some cases non-existent – thanks to the state allowing police to collect DNA from particular felony arrestees, tight gambling laws (unless the state gets its cut), very high drug arrest rates, extensive auto/road regulations, and onerous home school laws and government intrusion into private school curricula.

Even if one is no more than a casual observer of our ruling (political) class then one must know that the Mercatus study adds monetary measures: a free people cannot have political freedom without the accompanying financial liberation.

When a citizen spends more than half of his working life sending the government behemoth their hard-earned wealth that citizen is far from free… especially when that wealth is lessened due not only to arduous taxation levels.

Worse, the return on that investment is barely measurable. Your money supports government inefficiency and unions that work to make sure that ineffectiveness remains the status quo. Regardless of the continual tax increases (under O’Malley nearly 40 taxes and fees have been increased) public schools are still failing and state infrastructure is still crumbling.

Wasting your money, remember, is one of the few things government does well.

For all of the data available for mining in the latest Mercatus study, it is the information that is not included that ups Maryland’s authoritarian cred.

Speed cameras, red light cameras, outdoor smoking bans, street surveillance cameras, audio shadowing on public transportation, lack of transparency regarding state agencies, gerrymandering, and the aforementioned disdain for the citizenry also contribute mightily to the oppression running rampant in the formerly Free State.

“Freedom in the 50 States” tells the citizens of Maryland little more than they already know: Martin O’Malley and the state’s General Assembly would make George Orwell proud.

We “the people” lose our freedoms every time the ruling class dictates policy, regulates behavior and changes the system to ensure only the continuation of their political careers.

And when they do so with no respect for the people’s opinions, they will certainly disrespect the people’s right to freedoms and liberties.

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of the opposition, it has only one way to go,” President Harry S. Truman once said, “and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

Be afraid, Marylanders, be very afraid.

Categories: Must Read, Policy, Politics, Taxes
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