- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

Maryland's robust economy will provide state leaders with $330 million more than expected to dole out in next year's budget, according to estimates from legislative budget analysts.

"We've really just been doing especially well in the revenues," David C. Romans of the Department of Legislative Services said yesterday.

But expenditures from the fiscal 2002 general fund based on past commitments and ongoing costs are still expected to exceed revenue by $433 million, Mr. Romans said.

That could necessitate dipping into the Rainy Day Fund for the extra money. That fund, by law, needs to stay at 5 percent of the $10 billion general fund. During these fat times, taking $433 million would leave the fund $177 million over the 5 percent mark.

Warren G. Deschenaux, the legislature's chief policy analyst, gave the Joint Spending Affordability Committee a rosy economic outlook this week, noting that the state took in about $280 million more than expected this year and $150 million more last year.

For the first time since the late 1980s, Maryland significantly outperformed the U.S. economy in 1999, the legislature's fiscal advisers reported.

However, Maryland's tax burden last year ranked 18th among the 50 states, according to new Census Bureau statistics.

Kenneth Timmerman, vice president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association, a private group that lobbies for tax cuts, said the statistics are more evidence that Maryland taxes are too high.

"Spending has clearly run amok in the state," Mr. Timmerman said.

Michelle Byrnie, a spokeswoman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said it is too early in the fiscal 2002 budget process to discuss specific spending proposals or any possible tax relief.

She noted that the Democratic governor's priorities are "investing in education, improving quality of life and working to ensure that the economy remains strong."

During the last budget process, Republicans said Mr. Glendening and the Democratic majority largely ignored working people and businesses that fill the state's coffers and favored special interests.

Aside from a broad, yet incomplete, repeal of the inheritance tax, tax relief from the $1 billion surplus was scant.

Mr. Glendening's $19.5 billion fiscal 2001 budget which took effect in July uses about 60 percent of the surplus for capital-construction projects that include the largest college-building program in state history and a $262 million school-construction program.

Some measure of tax relief will surface in August, when the state will eliminate its sales tax on clothing and shoes priced under $100 for one trial week.

The state's total budget for next year, including federal and other special funds, is expected to exceed $20 billion.

"The economy is good. The spending is starting to get a little loose," Mr. Deschenaux told the committee. "That's what we have to watch, that we don't get ahead of our bustling economy."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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