- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland wound up fiscal year 2002 in the black, but the surplus was smaller than expected, compounding the budget problems that will face the next governor and legislature when the General Assembly meets in January.

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer yesterday said the gap between projected revenues and expenditures for next year's budget now stands at just over $1 billion.

He blamed the deficit on Democrat Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who he said has created "a monumental problem for the next governor and the people of Maryland."

"This is nothing more than a pre-primary political press release," said Glendening spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "The comptroller needs to stop his whining and focus his attention on the shortfall in the pension system."

Mr. Glendening said the national recession is causing state budget deficits across the country and "Maryland is doing better than most because it was well-positioned for an economic downturn."

Mr. Schaefer, a Democrat, said the surplus, projected earlier to be $427 million, stood at $309 million when the books were closed at the end of June on fiscal year 2002.

Mr. Glendening and the legislature used $413 million of the expected surplus to balance the current $21.6 billion budget, leaving it about $104 million in the red.

A decline in income-tax revenues was the major reason for the smaller surplus, Mr. Schaefer said.

Republicans hope to make the looming deficit a major issue against Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Paul Schurick, gubernatorial campaign spokesman for U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the state is facing a fiscal crisis because of excessive spending over the last eight years by the Glendening-Townsend administration.

"The lieutenant governor and her people can no longer say that the state does not have a deficit," Mr. Schurick said.

"It's here. It's real."

Mr. Schaefer said the blame falls on Mr. Glendening and not Mrs. Townsend.

"I honestly don't believe he ever let her in on the budget at all," the comptroller said. "She's not a spendthrift. She doesn't just spend money for the sake of spending it."

Balancing next year's budget will be difficult, but "I think Kathleen can do it," Mr. Schaefer said.

Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Townsend campaign, said the national economy is in bad shape "and as a result of that, state governments and local governments, not to mention the federal government, are all struggling with huge challenges."

"For those who would play the blame game in a partisan way, let's point out that there is a conservative president and a conservative House of Representatives" in Washington, he said.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office now estimates the federal government will be $157 billion in the red in fiscal 2002, compared with a $127 billion surplus in fiscal 2001.

The national recession has forced governors and legislators across the country to scramble to keep their budgets balanced in the face of falling revenues.

Mr. Schurick said he does not care about what is happening in the other 49 states.

"The state of Maryland's budget has grown 61 percent in eight years. The growth has been unaffordable," Mr. Schurick said. "The deficit has been coming. [Mrs. Townsend] has been denying it. She can no longer deny it."

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