Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The state government’s budget crisis has lawmakers looking everywhere for cuts, including an unlikely scourge: reports from task forces, study groups and blue-ribbon commissions.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, told his colleagues yesterday that the state should examine how much it spends on reports to the General Assembly.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of these things, and somebody has to do them,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

The state’s policy analysis shop is set to issue 170 budget reports and 153 new legislative reports, all of which cost tax dollars.

Other lawmakers said the reports often cost little and are needed by policy analysts to provide information to lawmakers.

“The majority of the time it’s a one- or two-page letter back from these analysts,” said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, Montgomery County Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee. “I don’t know that it’s that big an issue as some people might think.”

Neither lawmakers nor the head of the state’s Department of Legislative Services knew how much reports cost because most are completed by existing staff, using funds that have been budgeted.

The state’s looming $1.5 billion structural budget deficit and its proposed cures continue to dominate discussions in Annapolis.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, announced last month that he would make $200 million in cuts to the budget and received recommendations from his Cabinet last week.

He is expected to decide soon.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, outlined a “doomsday” budget scenario of across-the-board budget cuts.

“The question is, ‘What happens if we don’t raise revenues, what actions do we take?’ ” Mr. Busch said. “At the end of the day I’m convinced that we’ll balance our budget and continue to maintain our AAA bond rating.”

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, announced last week that sales tax revenues had slowed compared with the same time last year. Lawmakers are considering a sales tax increase of 1 cent on the dollar, among other options.

Mr. O’Donnell said scaling back the number of reports issued by the state should be considered, too.

“I think the first step is acknowledging you have a problem,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

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