- - Monday, December 22, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Larry Hogan, the incoming Republican governor of Maryland who understands the value of a nickel (and dollars counted in the billions) will inherit some expensive baggage when he takes the oath on Jan. 19. It’s the state budget, including a $1.2 billion deficit, the price of expensive goodies from the eight years that Martin O’Malley was the governor and the CEO of the state.

Voters painted Maryland an interesting shade of purple in November, and Mr. O’Malley has given everyone the idea that he’s not afraid of Hillary Clinton, and is more interested in lining up a presidential run than in leaving Maryland’s state finances in good shape.

Cleaning up the mess then falls to Mr. Hogan, who warned during the gubernatorial campaign that Mr. O’Malley was misleading the citizens by not telling them that his tax increases, together with tighter regulations, were responsible for the loss of 6,500 businesses, 40,000 jobs and 31,000 taxpayers who moved away.

Now comes what Mr. Hogan warns are the “tough choices” necessary to cut spending and roll back regular taxes and the taxes conveniently called “fees.” With the full brunt of the $1.2 billion deficit anticipated to bear down in less that two years, it’s important that Mr. Hogan lighten the load on taxpayers by balancing his first budget.

Trimming the state workforce, finding and implementing efficient and effective cost-saving measures, and pushing the proceed-with-caution buttons on some pending economic development projects must be on the table when deliberations begin. Mr. Hogan can propose reorganizing state departments and agencies, and freezing spending levels. He must be prepared to hear a lot of loud squawking.

Unfortunately, the projected billion-dollar-plus deficit means Mr. Hogan must further ponder a long-term plan, one that keeps spending in check and boosts revenue. Keeping spending in check will be the most difficult to achieve with a deep-blue General Assembly lying in wait, and a state law that makes 81 percent of the budget safe from cost cutters, including money for schools.

Putting, let alone keeping, that 81 percent on the table means persuading legislators to go along with changes in the budget formula, something the legislature won’t be eager to do. Mr. Hogan nonetheless should try. There’s some good news waiting for him. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has informed the governor-elect that $800 million in prospective spending cuts is on the table, put there by the General Assembly’s Spending Affordability Committee. Half of that is marked for cutting in the new year.

Still, that number falls short and it’s not just the dollar figure Mr. Hogan must be mindful of. The good news comes with strings. Time, as it usually is, is of the essence. The General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 14, and Mr. Hogan takes office five days later, with his proposed budget due two days after that. The next governor is known for a good work ethic, and a good thing, too. He has a big job ahead of him.

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