Republican delegates Tuesday will be offering their annual dose of “tough medicine” in the form of perhaps $1 billion in budget cuts, but it is unlikely that Democrats are any more willing to swallow the bitter pills than they were in past years.
Trotting out charts showing the steady uphill climb of state spending, House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell said, “it’s always going up… it’s always growing … it never stops, it never gets cut.”
Even in the face of an economy that is barely growing, the overall state budget of $34 billion is still up slightly from last year, but without the federal aid that helped avoid major cuts the last two years.
General Assembly leaders have already pledged to cut $670 million this year and for the next two to eliminate the state persistent $2 billion “structural” deficit due to future spending established by law. At the same time, the Democratic leadership rejected GOP efforts to totally eliminate structural deficit in the coming year.
The GOP leaders did not specify what they would propose to cut at Tuesday’s budget hearing, but said they spending cuts would lead to “a significant fund balance” in future years.
Using the same “tough medicine” language last year, Republican leaders proposed 1,500 layoffs of state workers and over $800 million in education spending cuts to fix “the long term affliction” of overspending and deficits. They also wanted to get rid of another 1,000 people in the state university system, which had seen its employees grow by 2,800 in just three years.
A year ago, the House GOP also proposed eliminating the $11 million legislative scholarship program, cutting the travel budget in half at the universities ($27 million), abolishing a $20 million Chesapeake Bay fund and stem cell research funds ($12 million), reducing the salaries of all executives who get more than the governor’s $150,000 salary, and eliminating $100 million in highway funds for Baltimore City.
They may propose similar actions Tuesday. Because Maryland has such a strong “executive budget,” only allowing lawmakers to cut from the governor’s proposal, the Republicans have to work with what Gov. Martin O’Malley has put on the table.
“If we were rewriting the governor’s budget from scratch, it would be dramatically different,” O’Donnell
As might be expected, on Monday, O’Donnell said, “We think all the talk of taxes is exactly the wrong prescription.”
Given the Democrats’ unwillingness to swallow the GOP medicine, why do Republicans keep pushing the cure?
O’Donnell said the Republicans were willing to “try again and again and again” to get the majority party to listen, rather than standing on the sidelines and throwing bombs, as he admitted they have done in the past.
They’re hoping some day the Democrats may come to their senses and take what’s good for what ails them, but at least “we’re back at the table again,” O’Donnell said, even if Democrats don’t like what they’re dishing out.