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Published on January 24th, 2012 | by Len Lazarick

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Total state budget: How big is it really?

By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

Gov. Martin O’Malley used a 38-page PowerPoint presentation full of numbers, charts and graphs to unveil his fiscal 2013 budget plan last Wednesday. But one key number was missing.

What is the total budget?

money stacksThe PowerPoint on page 18 did say that the total funds budget was growing 1.9%, but how much is total spending?

Warren Deschenaux, the legislature’s top fiscal expert, told lawmakers Monday that they have a choice of numbers for the elusive figure.

“If you want to say the government is shrinking, I can show you that,” Deschenaux said. If you want to say it’s growing a lot or a just little, he could also show you those numbers too.

None of the three numbers Deschenaux offered was exactly the same as the number found on page 7 of the official Budget Highlights book, the relatively slim publication that summarizes the three-volume, 2,300-page official budget.

Page 7 says the total is $35,511,000,000, up 2% from last year, rounding up from the 1.98% growth that the governor’s PowerPoint rounded down. (The elusive ‘total funds” number typically found on page 7 of each year’s Budget Highlight was totally missing under the usual pie-charts in last year’s Budget Highlights. It has been restored in this year’s document.)

As the legislative analysts crunch the numbers, this year’s total funds budget is actually about $45 million less than that, and the budget grows by 1.8% if you count the money needed to fund unbudgeted expenses (deficiencies) and higher revenues (more tuition than expected, for instance) from this year’s budget. These adjustments actually show that last year’s budget was really higher than enacted, which is what page 7 in Budget Highlights also shows.

“Pick your number,” said Deschenaux. Whichever you pick, the total funds budget is higher than last year and 19% higher than when O’Malley took office.

What cuts?

So what’s with all this talk of “cuts, cuts, cuts” the governor insists he’s made over the years, as he repeated to reporters yesterday? (See video clip.)

Did O’Malley and the legislature actually make $7.5 billion in cuts, as the PowerPoint claims?

In at least one year, O’Malley and the Board of Public Works did actually have to cut planned spending. Some state workers have been laid off, and many positions have gone unfilled after they became vacant, leading to staff shortages in some departments. Legislative audits have documented environmental inspections that have not been made and accounting measures left undone due to staff shortages, for instance.

But most of the “cuts” have been reductions in future spending that have been mandated in law by the legislature. In most cases the spending has gone up or stayed flat compared to what was pledged. To keep the budget balanced, the governor had to propose “cuts” in these spending formulas, and the legislature had to approve them.

These mandates are not just vague “promises” but required spending required that must be reduced because money is not available. Hence the “tough choices” the governor constantly talks about. But most of the “tough choices” have gone in favor of increased funding for public schools, and most of that money has gone for teacher salaries.

As the budget PowerPoint says, “General Fund spending on K-12 education has increased by almost $1 billion – or 22% – while General Fund spending on everything else increased by less than $400 million – or 4%.”

See MarylandReporter.com’s 12-minute video for a further discussion of the governor’s budget with Republican Sen. David Brinkley and Neil Bergsman of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.

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  • Anonymous

    O’Malley has presented another version of his smoke & mirrors balanced approach for spending. That his staff didn’t present a bottom line figure isn’t surprising. Figures in budgets & polls can & are manipulated to prove requested outcomes. The real question is how is the MD legislature going to justify an ever increasing budget & the additional hikes in taxes & fees that accompany O’Malley & the Dems largess? Keep asking the hard questions Len.

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