- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brace for deep cuts to reduce billion-dollar deficits, and the proposed federal-stimulus package would be a welcome relief.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, said the budget he will give lawmakers next week will include laying off state employees to help trim a projected $1.9 billion budget shortfall. He said he has made no final decision on the number of layoffs.

Mr. O’Malley and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine hope President-elect Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus package will help them minimize the most drastic responses to the recession, or at least provide some relief to struggling state finances.

Mr. O’Malley said the amount of federal money the state receives will play a big role in determining the number of layoffs.

“If there’s more assistance from the federal government, than we’ll be able to do less on layoffs,” he said.

Mr. Kaine, who was recently selected by Mr. Obama to head the Democratic National Committee, hopes the money will help with infrastructure - which could include road projects in congested Northern Virginia.

He said he is working closely with the new administration to help develop an economic-stimulus package that will invest in new infrastructure and create jobs, and he expects the package to be acted upon soon after Mr. Obama’s inauguration Tuesday.

“Since the budget that I introduced in December did not factor in any federal stimulus, the package should help ease some of the budgetary challenges in Virginia at the same time as it spurs the economy forward,” Mr. Kaine said in his final State of the Commonwealth speech last night.

Mr. O’Malley was reserved about whether Congress will approve Mr. Obama’s plan, which includes money for state governments, before Maryland’s budget is approved and the Assembly session ends in90days, according to the Associated Press.

The O’Malley administration already has eliminated 1,500 jobs through attrition and will call for an additional 700 through attrition. The governor also wants to keep a tuition freeze at Maryland’s public colleges and universities for a fourth year.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, questioned whether the state’s dire fiscal condition would allow tuition to be frozen again.

Lawmakers also will be considering reductions in aid to local governments, with debate over whether to shift some costs for teacher pensions to the counties.

Mr. O’Malley said he will be supporting legislation to prevent a repeat of the covert surveillance of activist groups conducted by the state police in 2005. The governor also said he’ll be pushing to repeal the death penalty.

Mr. Kaine and Virginia lawmakers face a projected $3 billion deficit, and acknowledge the budget is a priority for their legislative session.

Everything else it seemsjust kind of rolls into it,” said House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican.

The governor - whoin his address last night to state lawmakers stressed green job creation and continued investments to bolster the economy - has proposed making up for the shortfall through measures that include raising the state’s cigarette tax by 30 cents and cutting more than $400 million apiece in state Medicaid spending and direct aid to public education.

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