- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Budget forecasters yesterday urged the governor and lawmakers to address the state’s looming structural deficit in the wake of the latest round of sluggish revenue projections.

“The issue is large, and we should be rolling up our sleeves right now because it’s not going to be easy,” Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot said.

Members of the Board of Revenue Estimates said the state will bring in $50 million less in tax revenue than expected during last year’s budget process. The figure is smaller than estimates projected in December but adds to the state’s existing $4 billion budget gap.

“It’s clear that we will not be able to grow our way out of the structural deficit mess that we find ourselves in,” Mr. Franchot said. “Much work lies ahead, and — make no mistake — the task will be difficult.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, transferred $1.2 billion from the state’s reserves to cover the budget gap, saying he did not want to raise taxes or legalize slots in his first year in office.

But state lawmakers have split on whether to wait a year or tackle the issue now. Senate leaders have pushed Mr. O’Malley to call a special session to legalize slots and raise taxes, but House leaders have taken Mr. O’Malley’s tack, preferring to wait a year.

Two members of the board — which is made up of the comptroller, the state treasurer and the secretary of budget and management — urged the governor and legislators to start working on closing the gap this year.

“I think there should be a sense of urgency, we should not be losing time,” said Mr. Franchot, a Democrat.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, also a Democrat, agreed. But the other board member, Mr. O’Malley’s budget secretary, said the administration was aware of the problem.

“The administration recognizes that the deficit imbalance is a huge one,” said T. Eloise Foster, budget and management secretary.

The House is set to vote on the budget next week, then it will move to the Senate.

State law requires lawmakers to pass a balanced budget by April 2.

Mr. O’Malley also introduced his first supplemental budget this week, amending his 2008 budget to include more money for the public safety and juvenile services departments.

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