- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — State budget analysts Tuesday suggested nearly $800 million in potential cuts as part of a “doomsday” budget that Senate leaders have vowed to consider if lawmakers cannot agree on a mix of cuts and revenue increases in this year’s spending plan.

The analysts briefed the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on the reductions, which include cuts to education and health services, elimination of 500 state jobs and more than $300 million in cuts of local aid to counties.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said lawmakers are determined to make more aggressive cuts than those in Gov. Martin O'Malley’s proposed budget but that the doomsday proposal is meant to show some tax hikes also are needed.

“It’s huge cuts to Medicaid, huge cuts to higher education and hopefully we can avoid that,” said Mr. Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat. “And the only way you’re going to avoid that is with revenues.”

The General Assembly is charged this year with not only passing a balanced budget but also cutting at least half of the state’s $1.1 billion structural deficit, which measures expected revenue shortfalls in future years.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, proposed a $35.8 billion budget this year that has drawn resistance from Republicans and many Democrats who say it leans too heavily on raising taxes and shifting $239 million in teacher pension costs onto counties.

The doomsday budget would forgo the governor’s proposed tax increases on income, Internet purchases, cigars and other items and instead cut $130 million from agency expenses, $185 million from higher education and $101 million from Medicaid.

It would also cut local aid to Baltimore and the state’s 23 counties by slashing $205 million from local education, eliminating grants for law enforcement and reducing disparity grants for less affluent counties.

Prince George’s County would stand to lose the most funding, $77 million, while Baltimore would lose $60 million and Montgomery County would lose $51 million.

Democratic leaders argued the cuts could hurt the state’s quality of life, but some Republicans praised the proposal as a step in the right direction for a state that has increased spending by nearly $6 billion since Mr. O'Malley took office in 2007.

“A conservative Republican might call it living within your means,” said Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Dorchester Republican. “Everybody else is tightening their belts and this tightens a lot of belts.”

Senate budget subcommittees are currently reviewing potential cuts and are expected to make their recommendations this week to the full Budget and Taxation Committee.

Mr. Miller said he still expects revenue increases to be a major part of the equation in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly but that lawmakers could take a different approach than the governor.

Mr. Miller thinks the Senate will eschew the governor’s proposed tax hikes on the top 20 percent of income earners in Maryland and instead consider a proposal by Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery Democrat, to increase income-tax rates by 0.25 percent in every bracket.

Mr. Miller added that lawmakers may also add to state spending by choosing to gradually phase in a shift of teacher-pension costs to counties, rejecting the governor’s plan to institute an immediate 50-50 split that would save the state money but cost counties an extra $239 million.

“We have a spending problem that we need to bring in line,” said Sen. George C. Edwards, Garrett Republican. “I think if they just raise taxes to balance things out, there are going to be a lot of people in for a rude awakening.”