Sunday, September 30, 2007


Some things never go out of style. Take the shell game for example. You may have seen this game—or a variation of it such as “3 Card Monte”—on the midway of a fly-by-night carnival. The concept is very simple: the slyly smiling con artist running the game shows you a pea, puts it under one of three shells lined up in front of you, mixes up the shells with lightning fast moves, then challenges you to find the pea. You are certain you followed the shell with the pea and you confidently point to it. He lifts the shell to reveal it is empty! Stunned you try again—same result, no pea! No matter how many times you try it, the guy’s hand is always quicker than your eyes.

They must teach this game at orientation classes for politicians. Many political leaders do this regularly. Our taxes are collected for worthwhile and noble purposes. Yet, so many of those promised noble services are never delivered while our taxes never seem to be sufficient. Like the shell game operator, no matter how carefully government operations are watched by the public, we never can find the elusive pea of fiscal responsibility.

Which brings me to the situation in my state of Maryland. We are told that there is a $1.7 billion deficit in this year’s state government budget. Our erstwhile Governor O’Malley has proposed that the solution is raising taxes and finally getting approval for state-sponsored slot machines.

When an individual or family faces a budget deficit—more month than money—they look at both sides of the budget equation. They look at ways they can get more income. They also look at ways to reduce spending in order to restore budget balance. Individuals and families recognize they can’t do everything they’d like to do and still live within their means. They make hard spending decisions based on what is more important to them. In this way, they learn to live within their income.

Government always looks at ways to get more income—taxes and gambling are always the prime methods. However, I never hear discussion about reducing spending. It’s as if the thought never occurs to the smartest minds in Annapolis. It seems our political leaders are never willing to acknowledge they can’t give us everything everyone wants. Their solution is to keep the shells moving, all the while taking more money out of our pockets. As I said, some games never go out of style.

Governor O’Malley has called for a special session of the legislature to enact this latest round of shell manipulation. It’s great timing for such action. Most of us will pay no attention to what’s going on in Annapolis. We’ll be too busy getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas to notice the games being played with our money in Annapolis.

In my next posting I want to talk about shell game of state-sponsored gambling.

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