- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — House Republicans urged others members of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to begin fixing the state’s structural deficit this year to avoid tax increases next year.

The party’s budget leaders said they will consider this week efforts to amend the budget to require the state to cap spending growth at 1.5 percent from 2007 budget levels, slicing $800 million from the 2008 budget proposal.

“You will see tax increases next year,” said Delegate Gail H. Bates, Howard County Republican and ranking member of the chamber’s budget panel. “I dare say we will see a doomsday scenario.”

The state is expected to face a deficit of more than $1.4 billion in next year’s budget, and at least $4 billion over the next four years, all of which could cost Maryland families $500 in new taxes each year, said Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee.

A structural deficit is the result of projected spending outpacing projected income.

Maryland’s budget troubles are “probably realized by many, but voiced by few,” said Delegate Susan L.M. Aumann, Baltimore County Republican.

Democratic lawmakers responded yesterday by questioning how Republicans would cover mandated spending for children and public schools if they cut nearly $800 million from the budget.

“People like to dance around these things,” said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, Montgomery County Democrat and vice chairman of the chamber’s Budget and Taxation Committee. “Do you want to cut kids on Medicaid?”

Republicans did not say exactly what cuts they wanted, though they have targeted $680 million in new education funding and money for new corrections officers.

Such decisions would fall on the Cabinet secretaries.

“When you have serious [budget problems], you have to make serious choices,” Mrs. Bates said.

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican, proposed cutting $230 million from the 2008 budget, including $159 million next year from the public-school funding initiative known as the Thornton Act.

“We’re in a crisis,” he said. “We should not be increasing our budget so drastically at a time like this.”

A spokesman for Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, said he was surprised that Republicans would ask for a cap on spending increases after voting to increase spending by 12 percent last year.

“That’s an interesting about-face,” said spokesman Steve Kearney. “It’s just politics.”

Budget tensions have divided House and Senate leaders this session, cutting into the unity of one-party rule in Annapolis.

House leaders have largely abided by Mr. O’Malley’s request that the state wait one year before legalizing slots or raising taxes, despite pushing to double the tobacco tax.

However, Senate leaders have requested more-immediate action, including a special General Assembly session when the regular one ends in mid-April to resolve budget issues.

Senate and House budget leaders also have split on whether to fully cover Mr. O’Malley’s $25 million request for stem-cell research.

The House budget includes the money, while the Senate version cuts $10 million.

House leaders have started debating the budget and are expected to pass it by the end of the week.

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