State budget "Doomsday" has arrived
The Dundalk Eagle on April 22, 2012
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Budget balanced solely through spending cuts
by Bill Gates
For Maryland, “Doomsday” is here. And not the villain who (briefly) killed Superman back in the 1990s.
This “Doomsday” is much scarier.
“Doomsday” is the nickname given to the state plan that balances the budget using nothing but spending cuts.
It was created to show the state legislature the alternative to passing revenue increases such as higher income taxes on people earning over $100,000 a year.
But the House of Delegates and the Senate couldn’t agree on the revenue bill or the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act before the session ended at midnight on Monday.
The House then voted to go into an extended session to resolve the budget issue, but the Senate did not.
So now, the worse-case scenario is the state’s only budget option (the Maryland state constitution requires the budget to be balanced by the end of each legislative session).
“We have a balanced budget,” Del. John Olszewski Jr. (6th District) said. “It’s balanced entirely through cuts.”
No taxes were raised whatsoever. The proposal to shift the responsibility for teacher’s pensions to the counties also will not happen.
Anyone who thinks state spending is out of hand and the budget can be balanced by cuts: well, this one’s for you.
“As people contemplate what these cuts mean, perhaps [Gov. Martin O’ Malley] will call the legislature back into a special session between now and July 1 so we can find a way for all cuts to be partially or wholly restored,” said Olszewski, the chairman of the Baltimore County House delegation.
The “Doomsday” budget has school aid reduced by $204 million; local aid (most directed at police aid, law enforcement grants and library funding) is cut by $102 million; higher education loses $185 million, in addition to $38 million to private colleges (mainly for financial aid to Maryland residents) and $11 million for legislative scholarships.
Medicaid will take a $100 million hit, environmental programs will lose $25 million and state employees will lose pay, see their health care costs increased and 500 positions eliminated.
“On July 1, all these cuts will happen,” Olszewski said.
“But it’s all on the governor now. The divide between the House and the Senate is pretty substantial. But the feeling is we need to take a little breather, cool down a little bit.”
The core of the disagreement between the House and Senate, Olszewski believes, is the Senate wanted to allow a casino in Prince George’s County and expand gambling in the state to allowing table gaming in all casinos.
“Senate President Mike Miller wanted it, but House Speaker Michael Busch wanted to just focus on the budget,” Olszewski said.
No elected school board in Baltimore County
The bill that would have created a hybrid Baltimore County school board — some elected, some appointed — was a victim of time running out in the last day of the legislative session.
The House of Delegates passed a bill which would have turned the county school board — currently all appointed — into a board with nine elected positions.
Due to concerns over elected school board members not reflecting the racial and ethnic diversity of the county, the Senate approved a bill which would have six elected members and five appointed members.
The House Ways and Means committee voted to approve the Senate version at 11:30 p.m. on Monday, Olszewski said.
“But it was never called for a vote before we adjourned,” he said. “That killed the bill; now we’ll have to start all over again.”
Flush tax rises
One increase of a sort did get through the legislature: sewer bills for homeowners will be doubled, from $30 to $60 annually.
The increase is intended to pay for upgrades at sewage treatment plants like the one sitting off of Eastern Boulevard on the Back River.
“The Back River Sewage Treatment plant needs a required $500 million upgrade,” Olszewski said. “[Paying for it] was coming, one way or another.”