- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

The Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates yesterday said the state is expected to collect $274.8 million less than lawmakers counted on when they approved the $20.5 billion budget in April.

That means lawmakers will have to cut about $156.8 million from the 2002 fiscal budget, which ends June 30, and about $520 million from the 2003 budget, which they must approve during the 90-day General Assembly session beginning next month.

"We are in for some tough economic times," said Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, adding that leaders need to make hard choices and curb spending.

The pinch would have been more acute if Mr. Schaefer had not transferred $119.5 million to the General Fund from a $1 billion surplus of income taxes the state has collected for local governments.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, yesterday said lawmakers will have to make some difficult decisions.

His staff said the governor will offer no new initiatives but will fight to sustain spending on his priorities: education, health care, the environment and helping the needy .

Mr. Glendening insisted as he has since lawmakers balked at his ambitious spending plans in January that Maryland is faring better than other states and that its economy will rebound quickly.

The governor said the budget he will present next month will put the state "considerably in the black" with reserves on hand to meet even tougher budget problems predicted the following year when he expects Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to succeed him.

"The more we put in reserve this year, the less painful cuts will be next year," said Glendening spokesman Mike Morrill.

Still, the administration's response didn't satisfy legislators critical of Mr. Glendening's spending tendencies and priorities.

"It's total mismanagement," said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, lower Eastern Shore Republican, who also blamed the Democratic-controlled General Assembly for approving the spending.

"We have been totally spineless in the face of an executive who has made it a high art form to overspend and coerce legislators," said Mr. Stoltzfus.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of state senators tried but failed to take away some of the power the state constitution gives the governor over the budget.

Legislators are considering postponing the final 2 percent reduction of a 10 percent income-tax cut approved in 1998 and borrowing against the remaining $1.2 billion bond ceiling to pay for some of capital projects that otherwise would be deferred.

In October, Mr. Glendening announced a hiring freeze for all state jobs, except public safety. He has also put on hold about $133 million in construction projectsin the state and ordered agencies to cut by 1.5 percent any costs that are not fixed.

Since then, he has asked agencies to withhold about 15 percent of their spending "as a fiscal management tool," Mr. Morrill said. Localities will lose some money they expected this year because of cuts in state programs, he said.

Current and proposed federal-tax cuts would cause the state, which bases its income tax on the federal levy, to lose about $115 million over the next three years, according to Mr. Glendening.

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