Advertisement

Townsend, Ehrlich offer budget plans

September 30, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Facing a $1 billion-plus hole in the state's budget, Maryland's gubernatorial candidates last week offered the first real details about what they'd do to bridge the gap. Neither is completely satisfying and whoever is elected will likely see his or her plan undergo substantial alterations.

Kathleen Kennedy Towsend would raise the cigarette tax another 36 cents per pack, borrow from the state's transportation fund and the state's Rainy Day Fund, while slowing the growth of higher education spending. She would also use some of the state's tobacco settlement to close the current year's deficit.

Ehrlich would legalize slot machines at the state's race tracks, ask state agencies to take across-the-board cuts and reduce the governor's and lieutenant governor's staffs, as well as do away with some so-called luxury items, such as the state's nine-passenger jet and sky boxes at Camden Yards and the Ravens Stadium. He would also reduce the state's work force over time, by not replacing employees who retire or leave state service.

Advertisement

Townsend's approach is similar to that taken in Pennsylvania this year, where that State's Rainy Day Fund was halved to avoid a tax increase. Borrowing from funds that are supposed to be dedicated to certain purposes is an old trick in Maryland, but we still don't like it.

As for using tobacco settlement money, this may provide a short-term fix, but as Tom Stuckey, the veteran state capital reporter for the Associated Press pointed out, Townsend's approach depends on the hope that the economy will rebound in 2003.

As for Ehrlich's plan, there's a question as to whether slots could be installed quickly enough to provide revenue for next year's budget. And cross-the-board cuts hit good programs as well as those with lots of bureaucratic fat.

But given the growth of government during the past eight years, it's time to trim some agencies.

We predict slots will come regardless of Townsend's opposition, because although she said the legislature won't pass such a bill, it will. And it will be an easy choice, because the alternative is raising taxes.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|