State budget offers much, if legislators can retain it

January 19, 2006

The budget released Tuesday by Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich was filled with good news for Washington County - nearly $150 million worth, in fact.

That's how much total aid has been alotted to this county, an increase of 16.7 percent over the current year's appropriation.

Much of this cash will be distributed based on pre-set formulas, but there is some that is discretionary. To keep that portion of the funds, it's up to members of the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to fight for it if the leadership decides that the budget must be cut.

After the budget announcement, Maryland's top Democrats made it clear that they felt the $29.6 billion budget was too large and would jeopardize the state's fiscal future.


The protest sounds a bit hollow, given their complicity in the spending habits of former Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening. But while lawmakers in Maryland cannot propose new expenditures, they can cut the budget.

How much might be cut? House Speaker Michael Busch told The Associated Press that the budget exceeds the recommendations of the Spending Affordability Committee by $250 million.

According to the Web site of the Maryland Legislative Information Service, the affordability committee was created in 1982 and consists of 20 legislative members, including the presiding officers, the majority and minority leaders, the chairs of the House and Senate fiscal committees and a four-person citizen advisory group.

For 2006, the affordability committee recommended a ceiling on spending growth of 8.9 percent, while Ehrlich's budget proposed a 10.5 percent boost.

This could be dismissed as just election-year squabbling, but the state's $1 billion surplus doesn't look so large when compared to the proposed budget. And lawmakers are looking ahead to 2007 and 2008.

Earlier this month, the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute issued a brief on the spending affordability issue.

While Maryland's economy is rebounding, the brief says that in fiscal years 2007 and 2008, "the expected growth in revenue will not be sufficient to fund the state's anticipated operating expenses ..."

Why not? The brief says that full implementation of educational spending mandated in the Thornton law will add $955 million to the state's deficit during those years.

So what can the local delegation do? Set priorities, realizing that the Democratic leadership may feel compelled, by politics and the need for fiscal responsibility, to make cuts.

The bottom line: If the county can't get everything it wants, it should at least be able to get everything it needs.

The Herald-Mail Articles