- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gov. Martin O’Malley, trying to burnish his fiscal credentials amid new budget troubles, claims he has made $1.8 billion in budget cuts since taking office in January last year.

But figures provided by his administration to The Washington Times show the governor was responsible for less than two-thirds of the cuts, and that sizable increases in spending and a $1 billion withdrawal from the state’s rainy-day fund are not reflected in Mr. O’Malley’s accounts.

“That $1.8 billion is nonsense,” said Delegate Steven R. Schuh, Anne Arundel Republican.

Mr. Schuh, a personal financial adviser and budget expert, said that while Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, trumpets that figure, the governor rarely talks about how it was offset by increased spending on transportation, health care and education.

“It’s quite misleading and incomplete, in light of the equally large and almost offsetting increases in spending,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley’s $1.8 billion figure, which has become commonplace in his speeches and public comments over the past few months, combines cuts made by the General Assembly.

The figure does not include the $1 billion he took out of the state’s rainy-day account to balance his first budget as governor, or the $563 million in new spending approved during the special session of the General Assembly last year, which more than offset the $550 million in budget cuts passed during the same session.

The debate has highlighted a larger truth in state budgeting: Numbers are ephemeral, highly political - and sometimes hotly disputed.

Mr. O’Malley’s budget officers, as well as budget analysts with the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) who report to the General Assembly, routinely differ on the level of growth in Mr. O’Malley’s spending increases, and what counts as a cut.

When Mr. O’Malley presented the Board of Public Works with $280 million in cuts, DLS analysts pointed out that he included $34 million in funds not spent during the previous fiscal year — funds that had already been accounted for by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and that only $128 million reduced the deficit.

“It’s not comparing apples to apples to say you cut $280 million in all funds,” said David Juppe, a senior analyst with DLS. “There were definitely some discrepancies on the BPW cuts.”

The O’Malley administration said discrepancies were natural when talking about estimates from two different branches of government, and argued that Mr. O’Malley has been open and honest with voters.

“No governor has communicated more, no administration has been more transparent and more open about the challenges that we face as a state and the solutions and hard decisions that were needed to address those challenges,” said O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

The two budget shops have also parted ways on how much the governor has increased spending, differing by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mr. O’Malley increased spending 5.6 percent in his first budget and 3.7 percent in his second budget, according to the DLS. The administration said it increased spending 3.5 percent in its first budget.

And both estimates for the governor’s first budget differ from public comments by Mr. O’Malley, who said at different times that he increased spending in his first budget by 1.9 percent, 2 percent and 2.5 percent.

“There are a lot of ways to parse the state budget, using varying definitions as suits them for the occasion,” Mr. Schuh said.

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