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How will Maryland fund state's budget?

June 27, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Like the charcoal briquettes in your backyard barbecue that stubbornly refuse to catch fire, the Maryland governor's race hasn't generated much heat yet. Citizens need to push the two top contenders to speak up now about where they stand on the race's key issue - how to fund the next few years' state budgets.

Democratic contender Kathleen Kennedy Townsend got the ball rolling Tuesday when she said that to deal with the state's budget woes, she would freeze spending at current levels for one year, except for education and crime-prevention efforts.

And, for the short term at least, she said she would oppose new taxes and fees - and Republican opponent Robert Ehrlich's plan to fund the Thornton Commission's educational initiatives by putting slot machines at the state's horse tracks. Kennedy Townsend's solution, apparently, is an economic turnaround that would fill the state's coffers again.

"Economically, we are poised to take off," she told The Associated Press's Tom Stuckey.

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But as Stuckey noted in his analysis, the state faces a deficit of as much as $1 billion for fiscal 2004, which begins in July of next year. Only half that amount remains in the state's Rainy Day Fund.

For his part, Ehrlich says that his status as a Republican member of Congress will put him in a good position to see that Maryland gets the maximum amount of federal aid. He also says his experience as a member of the General Assembly from 1987 through 1994 will give him a better working relationship with lawmakers than Kennedy Townsend would have.

The governor's extensive budget power will help either candidate cultivate lawmakers, but both need to convince voters of their fitness for office by answering two key questions: What happens if the economy doesn't rebound quickly? What programs will be expendable and what revenue-raising measures would be acceptable?

We await the candidates' answers with great interest.

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