- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

While eight Maryland legislators loll in the Virgin Islands at taxpayer expense, discussing “fiscal policy” with colleagues from other states, the latest projections from Annapolis show Maryland’s budget crisis is worsening. In a letter to the General Assembly leadership on Thursday, the legislature’s top budget analyst warned that Maryland will probably end the current fiscal year with a budget deficit — the first time this has happened in more than a decade. The deficit on July 1 is projected to be $65 million, and the shortfall for fiscal 2004 is likely to reach nearly $1 billion.

The Democratic leadership, which has consistently sought to sandbag Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich into increasing taxes since he took office in January, immediately seized on the worsening deficit figures to urge the governor to sign their tax bill, which includes increases in tax rates on corporate income and higher taxes on HMO premiums. Mr. Ehrlich is rightly promising to veto the tax-increase bill by May 27 — the legal deadline for him to make a decision.

Senate President Mike Miller — who joined Gov. Parris Glendening during the days of one-party Democratic rule to take Maryland on the spending binge that created the fiscal mess the state faces today — called the new estimate “dire news.” Mr. Miller says he is concerned that with a Republican governor and Democratic General Assembly, “this could get caught up in politics.”

Imagine that. Of course, Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch would have a great deal more credibility in opining on these issues if they were more responsible in spending taxpayer dollars. But, as The Washington Post reported yesterday, the Democratic duo are defending their decision to authorize airfare for eight state lawmakers and up to $205 each per day for the delegation to stay at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef in St. Thomas in order to discuss budget problems with their colleagues from other states. Taxpayers will be delighted to learn that Messrs. Busch and Miller are scaling back out-of-state travel — after the Virgin Islands confab, of course.

Even so, Mr. Miller acknowledges that “I’m sure the reason they scheduled it in the Virgin Islands is because nobody would go to Pittsburgh” for such critical discussions of state fiscal woes. Taxpayers should keep Mr. Miller’s words in mind during the coming weeks, as they hear plenty of gloom and doom from the Democrats about the painful budget cuts to come.

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