- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

ANNAPOLIS As Gov. Parris N. Glendening's fiscal aides scoured the state budget looking for pots of money they could use to keep the budget balanced, no target was too small.
They took $21,224 from the Board of Physical Therapy Examiners; $15,014 from the Board of Chiropractic Examiners; and $26,175 from the Board of Examiners for Audiologists, Hearing Aid Dispensers and Speech-Language Pathologists.
Those boards had more money than they needed to operate for the rest of this year, the governor's communications director said yesterday.
"We went through the budget line by line to make sure the money we are taking will not cut back on services Maryland needs," spokesman Mike Morrill said.
With state revenues stagnant because of the recession, the budget department's goal was to find enough money to increase spending on the state's two most important priorities education and health programs.
The budget was not balanced, of course, with cuts of a few thousand dollars here and a few thousand dollars there.
The governor's plan also proposes taking $20 million in surplus funds and borrowing another $50 million from the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, which insures high-risk drivers who can't obtain private insurance.
It would divert $30 million from the fund used to buy forest and park lands, $8 million from the Waterways Improvement Fund and $5 million in excess revenues in the fund that pays for the state's 911 emergency system.
The Budget Reconciliation Act presented to the legislature last week provides a $952 million blueprint for how Mr. Glendening plans to balance the budget for this year and the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Mr. Glendening says the plan is fiscally responsible and will leave the state in good condition as it emerges from the recession.
Legislators are not so sure.
"I think it uses gimmicks to balance a structurally unsound budget," said Sen. Patrick Hogan, Montgomery County Democrat. "While it may solve short-term problems, it doesn't solve the budget's structural problems and may make them worse."
While Democratic fiscal leaders worry about the potential impact on state government, Republicans are even more critical, with some labeling the governor's budget a disaster.
"The budget is irresponsible and I believe violates the spirit of a constitutionally balanced budget," said Delegate Alfred Redmer, Baltimore County Republican and House minority leader.
Budget committees in the Senate and House of Delegates will spend the next two months examining the budget in detail, looking for alternate ways to avoid a deficit.
In the end, they probably will have to accept most of what Mr. Glendening is proposing, although some elements of his plan may be rejected.
A prime target is his proposal to delay the final 2 percent of an ongoing 10 percent reduction in the state income tax. If lawmakers go ahead with the cut, the $177.4 million in tax revenues will have to be cut elsewhere in the budget
The same is true with all of the governor's budget-balancing measures because the constitution prohibits a budget deficit.
"If they don't do any of these particular items, they will have to cut somewhere else," Mr. Morrill said.
That could result in loss of funding for education and health care that legislators asked to be included in the budget, he said.


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