- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2004

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has advised his Cabinet heads to prepare spending plans that cut services by as much as 12 percent in an effort to balance next year’s budget almost entirely with cost savings and cuts.

Instruction manuals, called “strategic budgeting guides,” were distributed this week laying out a step-by-step process for outlining spending priorities and finding programs that are expendable, Budget Secretary James “Chip” DiPaula said.

Attached to the surveys are letters that tell department heads, “In order to afford the services Marylanders need most, peripheral, underperforming programs need to be identified and reduced or eliminated.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s office is projecting an $830 million shortfall in the $24 billion 2006 budget.

“What the governor is trying to do is bring Maryland’s government spending to within our means,” Mr. DiPaula said. “He’s instructing every agency to conduct a top-to-bottom review of every program and every position in state government to make sure it’s necessary to carry out the function of government.”

In the budget to be presented to the General Assembly in January, Mr. Ehrlich will not attempt to build revenue by increasing sales or income taxes or by restructuring the tax burden — as Democrats proposed in the legislative session that ended in April.

The Republican governor “feels Maryland is a high-tax state, and doesn’t need to solve our problems with more revenue,” Mr. DiPaula said.

Administration officials said they hope the review will be an exhaustive self-examination of Maryland’s bureaucracy and will force agency heads to prioritize each of their departments’ programs based on how crucial they are to the lives of Marylanders and by how well they adhere to Mr. Ehrlich’s goals.

The review, to be concluded in September, should yield a long list of programs that can be slashed, Mr. DiPaula said.

Warren Deschenaux, director of the office of policy analysis at the Department of Legislative Services, said the process, if taken seriously, will be broader in scope than any review conducted under former Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The budgeting guide includes a questionnaire intended to help department heads determine whether the programs they oversee warrant current levels of spending.

It asks whether a program “directly serves a critical life, health, or safety need,” whether it has “demonstrated effectiveness” and whether it is “integral to the state’s strategic priorities as represented in the five pillars” of the Ehrlich administration: education, public safety, health and the environment, commerce, and fiscal responsibility.

The surveys ask agency chiefs how much money they want for each program by checking one of three boxes. One allows for the same amount allocated in 2005. The second allows for a reduction. The third is checked if the program is eliminated outright.

Mr. DiPaula said agencies should count on being allotted 88 percent to 95 percent of what they were granted for the 2005 fiscal year, which begins this summer.

Democratic leaders are seeking more of a “comprehensive approach that also addresses the revenue needs of the state,” Isiah Leggett, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said.

“To have people coming in on hands and knees, begging him not to make cuts, that’s not productive, and ultimately it’s going to shortchange the people of Maryland,” Mr. Leggett said.

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