- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — State budget leaders warned Gov. Martin O’Malley yesterday that they will cut his school-construction funding and reinstate college tuition increases unless he is prepared to raise taxes or legalize slot machines this year.

“If the governor doesn’t want us to go forward with revenue increases, then surely we must go forward with cuts,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat. “The public is going to have to feel the pain before the General Assembly can make gain in terms of identifying new revenue sources.”

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat who took office last month, has given top budget priority to a freeze on tuition rates and $400 million for school construction.

Budget leaders for the General Assembly session have increased pressure on the governor to resolve the state’s $4 billion structural deficit.

Mr. O’Malley has said he will not consider new taxes or legalized slots gambling until next year. He transferred $1.2 billion from state reserves to balance his 2008 budget but has not said how he will balance future budgets.

“Our members say that’s not enough,” Mr. Miller said. “The cliff is too tall. Next year it’s going to be too tall, and we need to move forward right away.”

Administration officials said Mr. O’Malley will stick with his plan.

“The governor has submitted his budget and looks forward to working with the Senate president on funding Maryland’s priorities, like school construction and making college more affordable,” said O’Malley spokesman Rick Abruzzese.

Budget watchdog groups expect tax increases in the next session, saying Mr. O’Malley has run out of quick fixes for the budget.

“Like a family that has run up their credit cards, [then] reined in spending and raided their savings, the state has exhausted most stopgap fiscal options and should examine and address structural budget issues,” said the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.

Dee Hodges, president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association, said Mr. Miller is using his power to leverage taxes and legalize slots.

“It sounds like a little threat,” she said. Mr. Miller “is putting people on notice if he doesn’t get taxes.”

Public school officials said budget cuts would force them to defer new construction.

“It’s very, very painful,” said David Lever, executive director of the Maryland Public School Construction Program. “The need is still there.”

William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said tuition would be increased if the freeze is lifted.

Said Mr. Miller: “Rest assured it’s not going to be $400 million [for school construction] next year, [and] rest assured this tuition break we’re getting this year is not going to occur next year.”

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