- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland legislators could ramp up spending next year on schools, roads and infrastructure to create jobs and drive down future spending, state officials said Thursday.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said lawmakers are considering raising short-term capital spending to pay for backlogged projects and take advantage of currently low interest rates and labor costs.

The approach would be in line with one supported by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, who says he will introduce a jobs package in next year’s General Assembly session that would call for new infrastructure projects to create temporary and long-term jobs and help revive construction-dependent businesses.

“Our goal is to try and see how many jobs we can create and what type of community benefit we can undertake,” Mr. Busch said Thursday after a meeting between legislators and state budget analysts. “We’re going to look at all the different options.”

State analysts briefed the lawmakers on the state’s budget climate, which they said could be worsened by looming federal funding cuts and steady declines in transportation and property-tax revenue.

The state will face an anticipated $1 billion budget deficit next year and could face similar shortfalls in each of the next five years — even if the General Assembly approves more than $800 million in revenue increases proposed this year by a transportation-funding commission.

Warren G. Deschenaux, the state’s chief budget analyst, said more capital spending now could create jobs and allow for less spending in future years, but warned that relying too heavily on revenue increases to support spending could draw the state closer to its debt limit.

“There are lots of things that need doing,” he said. “How you choose among of them and prioritize will be very important, but there are various approaches you can take to increase funding for infrastructure.”

Mr. Busch said infrastructure improvements are a major priority, but acknowledged that another difficulty lawmakers could face is an unwillingness by many local governments to partner on projects. He said many counties, which split many project costs with the state, have in recent years been forced to make cuts of their own.

He added that many recent projects have come in under budget owing to low material and labor costs, which could help legislators make their case.



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