O'Malley outlines possible budget cuts

Potomac Center would merge under plan

Potomac Center would merge under plan

October 24, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS ? Washington County would face about $19 million in cuts under a $1.7 billion budget-deficit-erasing plan Gov. Martin O'Malley released Tuesday as a contrast to his previously proposed tax package.

Some statewide cuts would have implications here, such as possibly merging the Potomac Center in Hagerstown with another state center for people with mental disabilities.

O'Malley, a Democrat, presented the list to show what would happen if the Maryland General Assembly doesn't pass tax increases and changes during a special session that starts Monday.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, dismissed O'Malley's proposal for cuts as a political ploy to justify raising taxes.

"I think it's meant to inflame public opinion," said Shank, the second-highest ranking Republican in the House, where Democrats dominate.

Republicans have blasted O'Malley for trying to eliminate the structural deficit through an increased state sales tax ? from 5 percent to 6 percent ? and other tax measures.


Shank said the GOP believes restrained spending is the answer, not new or higher taxes.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said "doomsday" budget proposals probably are meant to be a lesson about a legitimate deficit problem.

He said O'Malley likely has the votes lined up for his tax proposals.

On Tuesday, O'Malley outlined about $800 million in cuts to state agencies and programs and about $866 million in local and county cuts.

'Everybody's going to share in the pain'

An estimated $19 million in cuts affect Washington County, including frozen education funding and slashed health and library grants.

Another cut is aimed at a state program championed by Munson: the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp. (MARBIDCO), which offers financing programs for agricultural operations.

Its funding would shrink from $3.5 million to $2 million.

"When you have a huge structural deficit, everybody's going to share in the pain," said its executive director, Stephen McHenry.

McHenry said MARBIDCO just approved its first award ? $111,000 ? under a program for farms affected by drought. The money will go to a Washington County farm, although McHenry declined to say who because the farmer hadn't been notified.

O'Malley's new alternative also calls for merging the Potomac Center for mentally retarded people with the Joseph D. Brandenburg Center, a similar facility near Cumberland.

James Johnson, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's deputy secretary for operations, said the new deficit-reduction plan includes "pretty Draconian measures that affect pretty vulnerable populations," so the proposed revenue package would be better.

It's not clear whether Brandenburg, with 18 clients, or Potomac, with 52 clients, would close under a merger, Johnson said.

The Potomac Center's 52 clients include nine diverted from the troubled Rosewood Center in Baltimore County, which the state ordered to stop taking new clients.

Johnson said those nine clients have been in court for charges such as attempted robbery, assault, disorderly conduct and drug possession.

They are generally segregated from other Potomac Center clients, said Carolyn Brown, the director for both the Brandenburg and Potomac centers.

Possible cuts

On Tuesday, Gov. Martin O'Malley outlined a way to cut Maryland's $1.7 billion structural deficit through cuts, if his proposed mix of tax increases and changes fails.

Washington County would face $19 million in cuts or eliminated increases, including:

· $6.2 million in frozen education funding

· $6 million for Medicaid

· $1.4 million in frozen teacher and library pensions

· $782,000 for Hagerstown Community College

· $259,000 for local health

· $138,000 in police aid

· $119,000 in library grants

Also, Maryland State Arts Council funding that totaled $13 million statewide this year would be eliminated. The program helped fund Western Maryland Blues Fest, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

Source: governor's office

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