- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Some legislative committees got their first detailed look at Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed $22 billion budget yesterday, and one key lawmaker said it gave her a headache.
"It's painful," Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said after listening to fiscal analysts explain the way Mr. Glendening balanced his budget and some of the difficult choices lawmakers will face as they deal with the budget over the next 11 weeks.
"This is going to be the toughest budget we've ever done," Mrs. Hoffman said.
Warren Deschenaux, the legislature's chief fiscal adviser, told the House and Senate committees the Democratic governor used a variety of methods to close a $1 billion gap between revenues and expenditures. The governor has proposed delaying an income tax cut, dipping into state reserve funds and borrowing money from various special programs scattered throughout the budget.
And while Mr. Deschenaux said the budget for fiscal 2003, which begins July 1, is technically balanced, Maryland faces a budget gap of $1 billion again the following year unless there is a quick, sharp turnaround in the economy.
"The budget cannot be sustained beyond 2003 as it is currently structured," he said.
Mr. Glendening said when he proposed the budget last week that it is fiscally sound, and that Maryland is "in a much better position than just about all of the other states in the country."
He said his budget is balanced and will preserve a "rainy day" fund of about $500 million to maintain the state's AAA bond rating.
But many members of the budget committees do not share the governor's positive outlook.
"We really did run into an iceberg back there, and the ship is sinking," said Delegate Robert Flanagan, Howard Republican and a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
He criticized Mr. Glendening for raiding a fund that is intended to help people get off welfare and for using transportation revenues for expenses not related to transportation.
Mrs. Hoffman predicted the legislature will not agree to some of the methods chosen by Mr. Glendening to balance the budget, but she would not say which ones might be rejected.
"The biggest kicker is the income tax," she said.
Mr. Glendening proposed delaying the final 2 percent of a 10 percent state income-tax cut for at least the next 18 months, but Mrs. Hoffman said it is "clear to me the governor thinks we should stay at 8 percent."
She said that the legislature has never gone back on a promise, and that Maryland taxpayers "will get a 10 percent reduction in your income tax."
While Mr. Glendening cannot run for re-election, Mrs. Hoffman said as leader of the Democratic Party he should have been more sensitive to the problems Democratic candidates for the legislature and statewide office will face if they renege on a tax-cut pledge in an election year.
Mrs. Hoffman also said she thinks the governor is taking an unduly rosy view of how soon Maryland will emerge from recession and tax revenues will begin to climb again.
Mr. Glendening really believes that the economy will turn around soon and is betting in his budget that that will occur, she said.
"We cannot build a budget on wishful thinking," Mrs. Hoffman said.

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