Maryland’s government spending rise ranks seventh in nation

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Maryland increased government spending this year more than any state in the mid-Atlantic region, according to a study released Tuesday.

The Fiscal Survey of the States found that Maryland is slated to spend $14.7 billion in general funds during fiscal 2012, a $1.5 billion increase over the previous year. The 11.4 percent increase is the seventh-largest, compared to the other 49 states, according to the twice-annual study, which is sponsored by the National Governors Association and National Association of State Budget Officers.

State budgets throughout the country increased by an average of just 2.9 percent this fiscal year.

Maryland officials disputed the study’s findings, while conservative business groups seized upon the results as proof that Democratic leaders in the state have avoided making necessary cuts to help residents rebound from the economic downturn.

“These numbers clearly show that Maryland has a spending problem,” said Kim Burns, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government. “Maryland’s political leadership continues to feed the beast with hard-earned taxpayer dollars through tax and fee increases instead of looking for cost savings in the budget.”

The 100-page study found most states have made small spending increases in the past year, as the economy has shown modest signs of recovery. However, it also noted that states are hampered by lagging revenues, continuing infrastructure and education needs and a murky federal budget picture that could bring more cuts.

Last year, Maryland was one of just 12 states that cut general-fund spending - reducing it by 1.4 percent. But this year’s 11.4-percent increase outpaced such neighboring states as Virginia, which tacked on 7.1 percent in spending this year.

Delaware increased its spending by 9.3 percent in this year’s budget, while West Virginia upped spending by 8.2 percent. Pennsylvania reduced expenditures by 4.1 percent.

Nevada and California instituted this year’s largest spending cuts, trimming 6.9 percent and 6.1 percent from their respective expenditures.

Alaska and North Dakota had the largest spending increases at 21.3 percent and 20.7 percent, respectively.

Representatives for Gov. Martin O’Malley, Democrat, said the study’s results were “distorted” by the state’s need this year to replace lost federal stimulus funds. They also said Maryland has curbed spending more effectively than many of its neighbors over the past two years.

O’Malley spokeswoman Takirra Winfield said Maryland spent nearly $900 million in stimulus funds for education and public safety in the past two years, forcing the state to use its own funds to replace the federal dollars this year.

She also said many states burned through most of their stimulus dollars two years ago, forcing them to replace the funds and increase spending last year - one year earlier than Maryland.

“Maryland chose instead to prudently spread the dollars over two years, which allowed the governor to fully fund the growth in education aid in both years,” Ms. Winfield said.

In the past two years, Maryland has raised spending by 9.8 percent, which is less than four of its five bordering states, according to data provided in the study.

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