May 19, 2010

Analysis: Another way to look at spending by Ehrlich, O’Malley

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Following up on the gubernatorial spending analysis we published Tuesday, I got an e-mail from Joe Bryce, the governor’s chief lobbyist and policy guy. He alerted me to a chart I hadn’t noticed before prepared by the policy wonks in the Department of Legislative Services.

The chart describes state spending without counting the money put into the reserve funds – the rainy day accounts.

In my story, I used the gross budget numbers to say Ehrlich’s set asides were counted as spending, and O’Malley’s use of the money was not.

The alternative chart shows what Gov. Bob Ehrlich put aside, and doesn’t count it as spending, as the other charts do.

The bottom line, even with the new chart, shows how Ehrlich was spending quite a bit. Adjusting for inflation – which most folks never do – spending under Ehrlich went up about 12%. Under O’Malley it has gone up about 10%.

Any way you slice and dice the budget numbers, Ehrlich raised spending more than O’Malley has been able to do. That was O’Malley’s fate in the Great Recession.

What of O’Malley’s claim that he cut $5.6 billion from the budget that went up $4 billion in his first term? Reporters have heard the number so often that they don’t pay much attention to the assertion.

What O’Malley means is that he had to cut planned spending mandated by law by $5.6 billion in order to balance the budget as required by the state constitution. Some legislators have tried to describe these mandates as “wants,” “desires,” or “aspirations,” but they are required by law as passed by the General Assembly and signed by a governor. O’Malley proposed cutting them as required by the need for a balanced budget.

Bob Ehrlich likes to say: “The numbers are the numbers.” If only that were so.

–Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com