- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The budget cutting will continue in Maryland in coming months as state officials search for another $50 million in spending reductions to help make up for the repeal of a never-implemented computer services tax.

State budget officials will be taking a three-pronged approach, Maryland Secretary of Budget and Management T. Eloise Foster said.

First, the state plans to make up some of the money in state agencies through reversions. That means state budget officials will ask agencies to find money that hasn’t been spent and apply it to the $50 million in cuts.

“The budget is built on the assumption that we’ll have some reversions,” Mrs. Foster said. “We’ll just try to ask people to tighten up their belts a little bit more for this fiscal year.”

Mrs. Foster discussed plans to make up the extra $50 million after Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation to repeal the tech tax, which was set to take effect in July and would have brought in an estimated $200 million. Sustained outcry and aggressive lobbying from the information technology industry led to the repeal.

A surcharge on people who make more than $1 million a year will fill about half of the $200 million hole. Another $50 million will come from the state’s $400 million in transportation money.

In addition to reversions, Mrs. Foster said the state will continue a hiring freeze into the upcoming fiscal year, and budget officials will make targeted reductions to the agency budgets.

“It’s through those three mechanisms that we’ll come up with the $50 million,” she said.

The changes will need to be made by July. Mrs. Foster said they will likely be made official at the last June meeting of the Board of Public Works.

Mr. O’Malley, speaking to reporters after a bill signing on Tuesday, said he’s hopeful the cuts won’t cause any serious disruptions in the lives of Maryland residents.

“Hopefully, if we’ve done our job, we’ve been able to do these cuts without biting into our priorities,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said his administration has worked hard to avoid cuts across the board.

“If we want to do a 5 percent across-the-board cut, we could do that,” Mr. O’Malley said, “and what would happen is that we would undermine the very priorities that make us a strong state and make us better able to weather a national downturn.”

Republicans, however, are not holding back in criticizing the budget decisions made in the session.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, described the session as “another disappointing example of Gov. O’Malley’s failure to provide responsible fiscal leadership.”

“The Democrat leadership is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the taxpayers with empty rhetoric about spending cuts and sound fiscal management,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “For virtually every cut that has been made, the governor has found somewhere else to spend those dollars.”

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