Wednesday, October 3, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley‘s plan to close the state’s five-year, $6.9 billion budget shortfall would raise $3.6 billion more than necessary, according to an analysis of figures released by the governor’s office.

About $2.5 billion of the additional money would go to new spending and tax cuts, although it is unclear how the additional $1.1 billion would be used.

Mr. O’Malley and his office have not discussed the net effect of their budget plan, but numbers used in The Washington Times analysis are those he has presented in public over the past two weeks.

The administration responded by saying that Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, “put forward a comprehensive, long-term plan to address the structural deficit that reduces spending growth by more than a billion over two years.”

O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the plan “makes our tax structure fairer for working families.”

The analysis uses numbers presented by the governor’s office over the past two weeks and represents the five-year impact of the governor’s plan.

Mr. O’Malley has not filed his proposal with the General Assembly, but state budget analysts said his estimates appear to be sound.

“I think we have a pretty good idea about what the magnitude should be,” said Warren Deschenaux, chief budget analyst for the General Assembly.

Mr. Deschenaux said analysts are awaiting bills from the governor’s office and that it is too early to judge Mr. O’Malley’s unsupported assertion that 83.5 percent of Marylanders would pay less under his plan.

Republican leaders this week called the O’Malley’s budget “deceitful” and said they would oppose two key proposals: legalized slot machines and a special session of the General Assembly to resolve the shortfall.

“I think they’ve cloaked this plan in a wrapping that hides the true nature and extent of these massive tax increases,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican.

House Republicans who presented a budget balanced on slots revenue and spending limits were kept out of Mr. O’Malley’s private budget meetings in recent weeks with Democratic leaders.

Mr. O’Malley proposes to help raise $8.2 billion in revenue over five years by increasing the gas, sales, tobacco, corporate and personal-income taxes, as well as legalizing at least 9,500 slot machines. The plan also includes higher car-titling fees and closed corporate loopholes.

The governor included about $1.9 billion in new spending over the next five years on school construction, transportation projects and expanded health insurance, as well as $581 million in tax cuts for seniors, homeowners and back-to-school shoppers. The cuts would be in addition to the restructured personal income tax.

Mr. O’Malley is asking state lawmakers to approve the plan at a special session this fall, instead of during the regular session that starts in January.

The administration introduced the budget plan in stops across the state last week but did not release key details, such as where the slot machines would be placed and the impact of the sales tax.

The governor’s special session and slots proposals have strong support from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, but House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, continues to oppose a special session.

“I’ve counseled the governor that I don’t think this is a good idea,” Mr. Busch said Monday. “I don’t think it’s in everyone’s best interest.”

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