This is the winter of major changes for Maryland. First, the sales tax increased earlier this month from 5 cents to 6 cents on the dollar (it’s 7 cents for any business selling food and beverage in Ocean City to pay off the bond for the 1995 convention center expansion) and the smoking ban kicks into law in a couple weeks. These are passionate issues. Let’s face it there are not many matters that cross all segments of society. While increasing the cigarette tax and other service taxes only impact a portion of state residents, the sales tax jump and the smoking ban impact us all. For what it’s worth, I think the legislature was right to cut off smoking in bars and restaurants. Some businesses in this area were already smokeless long ago and they should be applauded for making that decision on their own accord without fear of business losses. Everyone must get on the same page in a couple weeks. That’s a good thing in my mind, but it’s not without its headaches for those establishments having to force customers and employees to go outside with their cigarettes. Some would argue the smoking ban is bad government, but the sales tax increase is government at its worst in my mind. Frankly, this decision will do little to impact my spending habits, but it’s wrong to compensate for legislators’ bad decisions and inaction in the past on the backs of all Marylanders, particularly those who were struggling to get by as it was. It’s those people that are most affected by this sales tax increase because they feel the increase in their expenses.
Staying in Annapolis, some legislators have been quoted of late as saying they were not exactly sure what they accomplished in that ill-conceived special session last fall. After all, the state is still hundreds of millions of dollars in the red for the next fiscal year, meaning more increases and funding cuts are ahead. The session was sold as critical to get the state’s finances in order for the next year. It’s now being said the goal was not actually achieved. For numerous legislators to say they need to hear a speech from a financial expert to discover exactly what was accomplished in that session does not sit well with me.
There are obvious inconveniences and business concerns associated with the Route 50 Bridge closure, but there truly is no better time than the present to do this work. I am sure anyone living, working or owning a business in the affected areas may take umbrage at that. Regardless, here are a few things I will be keeping an eye on over the next month:
— Traffic: It’s currently the dead of winter, but I think there will be some traffic backups on Route 90, particularly on the weekends. Reducing six lanes of normal ingress, egress (combined Routes 50 and 90) to two (Route 90) will have an impact. It will not be the types of backups commonly experienced on Route 90 in high season, but it’s going to be a little slow going at times.
— The Idiot Factor: Will any bored, lamebrained souls try to do anything stupid during the closure? It’s always possible someone will get Evil Knievel and show off some daredevil skills or at a minimum vandalize some of the blockades.
— Mother Nature: The extended forecast for this portion of the country is for below-average precipitation and normal temperatures. That’s good news, if it holds true. However, with the tightness of the schedule, all it takes is one nasty Nor’easter to bump this work off schedule, pushing the closure into Presidents Day weekend and that would be bad news. Of course, snow and freezing rain are other factors.
Any drive along Coastal Highway this time of year can be quite revealing. The most obvious conclusion is how affordable it is to eat out this time of year. Just about every restaurant and bar seemed to be offering food and drink specials every day of the week. For those businesses already closed, other messages dotted their marquees. One simply said, “Gone Fishing.” Another simply said ‘lose’ (apparently the ‘c’ and ‘d’ were blown off). Another said “Go Redskins” for some strange reason. Perhaps my favorite said, “Gone Sleeping.”