Op/Ed: Maryland Lawmakers Are Not Running for Cover
(ANNAPOLIS - November 13, 2008) - Maryland lawmakers are not running for cover in the face of tough economic times. Despite speculation that the Governor and legislature have taken the easy way out in reforming Maryland’s tax code and squandering the surplus, one only has to read a newspaper to see that our country is facing one of the worst economic crises in a generation. If we had not had a special session last year, Maryland would be facing a $2.5 billion deficit today.
Maryland is not alone. Every state in the country is being impacted by the slowing in the nation’s economy. This is a time in our State’s and our nation’s history when we must set aside the criticism and the mudslinging and come together to develop real solutions.
Here are the facts:
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 39 of 50 states across the country have or continue to face deficits for this fiscal year (FY09). For instance, Virginia is facing a $2.5 billion deficit and Pennsylvania is facing the largest first quarter shortfall in 30 years.
- According to the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services, which advises Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike, we have cut $1.803 billion from the budget. This includes a total $1.450 billion in cuts from the State’s General Fund.
Our State has consistently made prudent fiscal decisions and retained a triple-A bond rating from the independent Wall Street rating agencies for over 40 years. In fact, Fitch commented that Maryland “has taken prompt and repeated action to preserve operating balance, through enactment of an array of tax increases, a draw on the rainy day fund and several rounds of spending cuts.”
We have continued to focus on funding our priorities, like K-12 and higher education. This year, the State funded $5.3 billion to local school systems to support classroom teachers, buy textbooks and intervention services. We froze tuition for the third consecutive year to give students the opportunity to attend the college of their choice. During the previous Governor’s term, spending increased 30.1% over four years, with a 12.5% increase in the last fiscal year of his Administration. Each of these increased budgets had support from a majority of Republican lawmakers. By contrast, the Governor O’Malley has limited budget growth to 5.4% and 3.9% during the first two years of his term, according to the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.
As chair of the Capital Budget subcommittee, I am proud that we have provided almost $750 million for new school construction and renovations to give our students the best possible learning environments.
Each year, the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Budget & Tax Committee review every line of the budget to ensure that State government is operating efficiently and effectively. Our annual review includes budget planning for the future. In 2008, the legislature did not raid the State’s $749 million savings account, called the “Rainy Day Fund,” and made practical budget decisions to leave an additional $243 million that the Governor and Board of Public Works have strategically used to keep up with the slowing economy.
Maryland’s constitution requires that lawmakers balance the budget every year. By law, we cannot carryover debt year after year. The slowing national economy and cuts to federal programs will require our State to cut $1.3 billion in order to balance next year’s budget. We are in this position, like every other state in the union, mainly because our country is facing the largest federal deficit in United States history.
Now is the time to set aside the criticism and attacks of the past. We must look to the future and continue to make prudent decisions to protect the priorities of our communities: good schools, affordable colleges, safe neighborhoods and quality healthcare.