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OPINION: What Makes for a Doomsday Budget?

Marylanders need to understand the magnitude of cuts on the table—as well as the revenue proposals up for debate—as our legislature goes back to work on the state budget.

Since the Maryland General Assembly adjourned at midnight on April 9——there has been extensive debate as to where things really stand. With legislators reconvening today to assess the situation and consider alternatives, it is vital for all of us to understand the stakes. 

By now, everyone realizes that the budget that ended up being approved on the last day of session was actually never meant to succeed. Legislative leaders introduced the "doomsday budget," which contains a host of unpopular program cuts, in order to pressure lawmakers to approve a range of revenue enhancements, as well as a shift of teacher pension costs to the counties. Here is a quick look at the package of cuts that make up the heart of the doomsday budget.

Doomsday Budget Cuts by Functional Area

  • K-12 Public Education: $225.7 million (principally per pupil funding reductions)
  • State Workforce: $78.8 million (elimination of COLAs, reduction of state funding for employee healthcare benefits, elimination of 500 jobs)
  • Higher Education: $74.1 million (cuts to funding for public colleges/universities, aid formula for private colleges, aid formula for community colleges, and elimination of legislative scholarships)
  • Across the board 8% State Agency Cuts: $50 million
  • Supplemental Support for Local Governments: $31.6 million (disparity grants)
  • Incentives for Economic Development: $25.4 million (elimination of certain tax credits for business activity)
  • Healthcare: $21.7 million (funding cuts for support to the physically, mentally, and developmentally disabled citizens, cuts to benefit levels for foster care recipients, etc.)
  • Public Safety: $20.8 million (elimination of Local Law Enforcement Grants)
  • Libraries: $5.0 million (cuts to state library aide formula)

Total: $512.3 million

In considering the budget, neither chamber of the legislature viewed the cuts noted above as attractive. However, the state Senate and the House of Delegates ended up putting forward differing approaches to the budget, and consequently had . Unfortunately, when a consensus was finally reached, the extraneous issue of possibly expanding gaming in the state derailed this process. 

Essentially, this year's budget process (and the gambling entanglement) turned into a game of chicken, where in the end, neither player chose to flinch. As a result, we now face the prospect of living with a budget that doesn't really make anyone happy. I have even heard a number of Republican legislators publicly state that, even though they support state budget reductions in principal, they wouldn't have wanted to cut from most of these areas, but from others instead.

So, unfortunately, we are now left with a choice between: 1) living with an unpopular budget, which threatens the success of many essential programs, or 2) approving a modified budget that on certain Marylanders.  Neither option is ideal. I think Marylanders would have been better served had the advice of Comptroller Peter Franchot been followed. He has repeatedly called for a "comprehensive and critical examination of both state spending and state revenue." Perhaps after this year's mess, this common sense idea might actually be put to good use.

Paul Amirault May 14, 2012 at 11:14 AM
The inherent problem with the proposed tax (not revenue) increases is readily apparent in wake of increases in fees and taxes over the Ehrlich and O'Malley administrations as there is always a "need". These "needs" are always there and always will be. The continual increase in tax rates is very troublesome, albeit small. Just as concerning are the "fees" which naturally do not increase as they are not indexed for growth like sales or income taxes. Thus every several years fees are increased substantially. The simple question is when does it end? How does it end? But the government's continual need for new "revenue" has to end.
Mark Patro May 14, 2012 at 11:34 AM
As a Democrat I want my neighbors to know that I too am concerned with this seemingly endless increase in taxes. We cannot afford to pay any more taxes. This talk of more tax increases will work against the improvement of our community-wide economic recovery. If the cuts outlined above are a reduction in the increase over last year's budget, I say it’s time for Annapolis to hear us. We have had to cut back on our household budgetary increases because, in most cases, we have less income and more debt. Let us recover. It’s time for a flat budget with NO increases.
JD1 May 14, 2012 at 11:34 AM
Also keep in mind that in many cases these are not "cuts.". They are a reduction of spending increases over last year. You can look at the budget specifics at the maryland.gov site. The governor has been purposeful in his misleading language wit the intent of convincing everyone that our schools will collapse and babies will starve with our hie proposed taxes. Intelligent people should be able to realize that this rhetoric is largely untrue. As is the case at the federal level, no law makers want to be responsible to shrinking or eliminating pet projects that bloat the government. It is politically easier to blame new taxes on others than to trim the fat. Anyone who works in a state or local agency or office knows that there is tremendous waste that could be easily trimmed with a careful audit. But hey, I don't make over $100k, so for those who do, get ready to dig a little deeper. We can only thank our wonderful democratic state for putting these idiots in office year after year!
Greg Redmer May 14, 2012 at 11:35 AM
The budget was increased by 700 million over last year. The "doomsday" stuff is just a scare to grab more money. They need to cut spending accross the board.
Hugo Cabret May 14, 2012 at 01:08 PM
This is a great op-ed with nothing but excellent comments following. The consensus is a fine indicator of how out-of-touch the majority of legislators in Annapolis are. The good people of Maryland, regardless of individual political views, have had enough of bloated government waste and endless taxes and fees.
Kat O'Connor May 14, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Nice thoughts, but are you ready to stop voting them into office year after year, as our state sinks further and further into the abyss of spending and higher taxes? This should be a no brainer to ALL Maryland taxpayers as demanding fiscal responsibility and common sense are not partisan issues. Please share your observations and concerns with your Dem. friends and neighbors so we can get our state back to a place we (and our children) can afford to live.
Deane. May 14, 2012 at 01:30 PM
As Greg said, there is a $700 million increase in spending over last year! But the legislature wants $1.2 Billion!! So, to them, that is a cut and therefore "doomsday"! Call your legislator and tell them you're not falling for it!
Jeffrey Smith May 14, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Thanks for the kind words ... you have gotten to what was my real point in writing this column. It is important to clearly illustrate the inherently dysfunctional manner in which our state approaches the budget process. We would be much better served through a more analytical methodology. Other government entities, most notably the State of Iowa, use a process called Outcome Budgeting. Instead of starting from last year’s spending and adjusting agency allocations up or down, Outcome Budgeting starts with what results matter most to citizens, and requires agencies to justify their spending, and show how their agencies actually meet citizen needs. Here is an article that highlights what happened when Iowa introduced the Outcome Budgeting process: http://www.hfrp.org/evaluation/the-evaluation-exchange/issue-archive/results-based-accountability-2/iowa-s-budgeting-for-results
Mike the house buyer May 14, 2012 at 02:27 PM
We're at 50% critical mass of folks receiving benefits and not paying into the system. We're cooked. You can never ever eliminate "benefits". And I just LOVE the Billions on FREE cell phones...My tenants have new numbers every month and they tell me when I inquire why, "it's those govment phones" and I asked how much they were and they said, free. They have a ton of them. But, we CAN'T cut that benefit, can we.
Paul Amirault May 14, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Just curious Mike, where do your tenants get the money to pay the rent?
Mike the house buyer May 14, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Paul, more of that "free Government" money. LOL.
Paul Amirault May 14, 2012 at 02:42 PM
;-))
Neil B May 14, 2012 at 02:46 PM
The doomsday budget was created to be unpopular and force us to think it is the only option. They need to take a real look at the budget. We need to end subsidy's and support of non profits. Let the free market sort that stuff out.
Jeffrey Smith May 14, 2012 at 02:58 PM
I would encourage Patch readers to take a look at the message that Comptroller Peter Franchot has for citizens, as the Special Session of the legislature begins today. Here is a small excerpt ... please go to this link for the complete text of the letter: http://www.franchot.com/SpecialSession "Today, the Maryland General Assembly will reconvene in a special session, and is expected to pass a Fiscal Year 2013 budget by raising income taxes on middle-class families throughout the State. As Maryland’s Chief Fiscal Officer, however, I respectfully believe this is simply the wrong approach at the wrong time." "Instead, I would ask that you demand that our state government follow the lead of working families throughout Maryland by living within its means. We must seize this opportunity to deliver a better product to the taxpayers of Maryland for less money through technology, sensible priorities, innovative management and a renewed commitment to old-fashioned customer service. We must also remember that Maryland’s fiscal well-being depends entirely on the strength of our economy, and that a true economic recovery cannot be achieved through state government spending, but rather, through meaningful private sector growth." Excerpt from Comptroller Peter Franchot's message to taxpayers, May 14, 2012
MikeyG May 14, 2012 at 04:08 PM
You can get a free phone at north and gay weekly. The van looks like a slice of pie near an ant hill. Can't miss the swarm. Just show I.d. they are supposed to check other info but don't. MOTO razors and the like. 150 min preloaded with option to add on very very cheap. Go get em....
Mike the house buyer May 14, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Lili, how did you know that I'm a Gay, Black person? Thank GOD somebody put RACE into the picture.
GHCinNottingham May 14, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Our local representatives are on the same page as us. I give them credit. The problem is big spending representatives for Anne Arundel, Charles, Montgomery, Prince Georges and Baltimore City outnumber the fiscal responsible representation of the remaining Counties.
LiLi Taylor May 14, 2012 at 05:25 PM
LOL! Do you have one, Mikey???
Deane. May 14, 2012 at 05:25 PM
The problem is that every time the government takes a dollar (haha) out of your pocket, that is one less dollar that the citizen of MD can spend on a new car, a new home, car repairs, meals out, vacationing in Ocean City, etc. You get the idea. And every time that happens, it hurts working individuals and business owners. Less income for your mechanic, your realtor, your handyman, the local waitress, the local car saleman and so on and so forth. All Annapolis cares about is their budget and how much more can they spend. They don't even think about the private sector that has been decimated by this recession.
LiLi Taylor May 14, 2012 at 05:26 PM
You're welcome, Mike, of course... ;-) And note, I offered I could be wrong. I just suggested that we not all get too foaming-at-the-mouth about "the other", that's all.
Tim May 14, 2012 at 05:44 PM
The irony, as I just learned myself last week, is that under Ehrlich state spending balooned twice as much as under O'Malley. It was absolutely shocking to me, but then again, I wasn't paying that much attention to these things 5-10 years ago.
Tim May 14, 2012 at 05:48 PM
and see, THIS is the key isn't it. A cut is an actual reduction over previous FY spending. You can't sit here as a governor and propose 1.2 billion more in spending over last year, then compromise by 'cutting' it by 500 million. That's not a cut, that's a reduction in overspending compared to last year's budget.
LiLi Taylor May 14, 2012 at 05:58 PM
For the most part, I agree that the legislature is out of whack on this spending. However, I would gently ask for a thoughtful review from the commenters. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but were you all white, middle-aged, college-educated males, enjoying the benefits society has conferred upon you under the tacit social contract? Even if you have been genuinely touched by the current recession through unemployment or an increase in medical coverage, do you really believe you have been laboring under the same set of disadvantages as a poorly educated black woman living in Park Heights? Again, yes, we DO have to be more rational about spending. I agree with Jeff's comments on Outcome Budgeting as a vehicle for such a rational examination. But I caution against oversimplification based on a judgment of personal circumstances rigidly fixed to an overly limited sense of reality.
LiLi Taylor May 14, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Also... busted on all counts, huh? (wink!)
Paul Amirault May 14, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Deane, the only issue with your analysis is that instead of the individual spending the dollar, the government spends the dollar and that benefits whomever they then spend the dollar on. The overall economic effect is similar, it just no longer benefits you but benefits someone else.
JD1 May 15, 2012 at 04:48 AM
LiLi - Ben Carson grew up in Detroit and was raised by a single Mom. If you are "poorly educated" is that someone's fault? Convince me that you deserve any fraction of any penny that I earn because you didn't take advantage of the opportunity to learn and achieve. The only schools that I have taught in over the past 20 years serve the offspring of pathetic parents who care more about their nails than if their kids eat agood breakfast. And yet, I have witnessed countless examples of kids who rise above it all and achieve. You clearly illustrate why our state is in such bad shape - we have a culture of entitlement and one that does not promote personal responsibility. It is the job of the " white, middle aged, college educated males" to take care of the folks waiting in line for their free cell phone. If you are in need of job skills, CCBC is a great place to start. I tutor several working adults who have decided to stop whining and to make themselves more marketable in the current economy.
LiLi Taylor May 15, 2012 at 10:55 AM
Hi There - I applaud your dedication to serving your community. As someone who is NOT a white male, and who has faced some serious adversity, I have overcome some of the obstacles about which you speak. I'm genuinely grateful to folks who were willing to reach out and help me, (although I must say, none of them came across as angry and judgmental, as you, at least in print). Further, I should hope I am not emblematic of social disorder: I only seek to point out that by thoughtlessly "cutting" for the sake of cutting, in some cases, you cut off your nose despite your face. Those who suggest such drastic, arbitrary cutting have no concept of the chaos that would ensue – for everyone, including you. I am one of the public sector employees so constantly vilified by the right wing. I work hard every day to serve the community - - specifically, to help people prepare for honest work. Their disadvantages are not an abstraction for me: they are very, very real, and quite overwhelming, at times. To say everyone should be Ben Carson, and to assume you would be among his ranks were you faced with his circumstances is just a bit arrogant. It reminds me of the angry actor who ranted on Fox: "I was on food stamps and nobody helped me!!!" Yes, we are spending too much money, considering what we are getting for it. But do I think every poor person is poor by choice? And that all that would be involved in rising above their circumstances is their own elbow grease? Come on.
Mike the house buyer May 15, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Lili, I was kidding when I said I was a Gay Black Male. Usually, race is injected in a conversation as a mean ploy to discredit others. Character overcomes color in every field with effort, determination and a will to win. Mike
LiLi Taylor May 15, 2012 at 01:54 PM
I agree 100%. I had no intent of unkindness in my remark. I am genuinely concerned that polarization is pushing us (as a group) to make levels of budgetary cuts we may well regret, once we're stuck with their consequences.
Tim May 15, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Lili: I agree. Especially considering it wasn't the "poor" that led us into this recession...

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