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Cutting Maryland's budget

August 05, 2003

With the exception of Del. John Donoghue, members of the Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly last week said that the $208 million in budget cuts made by Gov. Robert Ehrlich were a necessary evil.

Given the fiscal mess he inherited from his predecessor, Ehrlich may have little choice at this point, but we hope Ehrlich is ready to follow through on his plan to streamline government.

Doing that would avoid some of the most damaging cuts, like those to higher education that will increase tuition at state institutions again this year, and in the area of corrections, where overtime for correctional officers has been cut.

How important are the cuts to education? There is now $3.6 million less for college scholarships, meaning, as Donoghue noted, that some students who might otherwise go to college may write it off as unaffordable.

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About $2.8 million in prison overtime has been cut, which means that there will be fewer officers available to deal with those sentenced under Ehrlich's plan to incarcerate more people who commit crimes with guns.

As we've said many times previously, we believe across-the-board cuts are a way for elected officials to avoid the hard choices they face when forced to make cuts. It's much easier to tell all agencies to cut budgets by 10 percent than to do the work of determining which programs are effective and which aren't

Across-the-board cuts also avoid battles with interest group members, who can be told that no one agency is being singled out for a greater share of the pain.

Singling out agencies - and programs that don't work or have outlived their purpose - is just what needs to happen. It's what Ehrlich promised would happen, in a streamlined government crafted with the help of people like former Gov. Marvin Mandel.

Gov. Ehrlich has had little time so far to put that effort together. Delegation members who see these cuts as a necessary evil should push streamlining and government reorganization in 2004 as a necessary good.

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