January 5, 2010

Analysis: Maryland has company in its fiscal trouble

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As we wait for this year’s General Assembly session to begin next week, Maryland is preparing to face down a $2 billion budget deficit. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget is due soon, and he is trying to keep some of his policy goals in place with little fiscal flexibility.

Maryland awmakers can take comfort in the fact that other states are also dealing with the same issues. Legislators in 13 states are hunkering down this week to get started, according to an article on Stateline.org that predicts “brutal” legislative sessions.

The article quotes a piece from Nebraska, which has some familiar sentiments from a legislator in Lincoln. Heard anything like this before?

‘”The word around here is that if your bill has a fiscal note’ — costs money or results in a loss of tax revenue — ‘it’s not going anywhere,’ ” a lawmaker the Lincoln Journal-Star.

I think I have that exact quote in one of my notebooks from a legislative leader last year. Maybe it was two years ago. We’ve been here before, but what the article points out is that the 2010 election year is making things more difficult. It refers to infighting in Illinois between the governor and the comptroller, who is challenging him this year.

So far, O’Malley doesn’t appear to be facing opposition from a high-ranking state official. Most of his prospective challengers are out of office at the moment, though Del. Pat McDonough is putting together a Republican run. There could be some interesting election-year politics within the General Assembly, though.

Republicans have already been calling for deeper cuts than Democrats want to recommend, while Democrats are trying to put the pressure on the GOP to identify specific programs they want to cut. Budget cutting has become increasingly painful and controversial as the year has gone on, so it will be interesting to see how the two parties position themselves.

As for the issues the state is facing, the National Conference of State Legislators has a roundup that indicates Maryland’s not alone there, either. The top issue is balancing budgets. Number two is managing the cost of health care. The third? Lowering unemployment. You get the idea. Check out the list.