House Republicans offer a budget plan, with Del. Kathy Szeliga at podium.

House Republicans offer a budget plan, with Del. Kathy Szeliga at podium.

In their annual exercise in futility, House Republicans offered an alternative budget Tuesday that does not increase spending and level funds most programs from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2013.

“It is a level-headed idea to level fund,” said Del. Sue Aumann, R-Baltimore County, a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Here is Duane Keenan’s podcast of the news conference.

The House Republicans presented a chart showing how much the overall state budget had grown from when Gov. Martin O’Malley took office in 2007 until his proposal for the coming fiscal year. The total funds budget grew from $28.8 billion in Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s last budget to $35.9 billion in the proposed spending plan, despite O’Malley’s persistent claims of $7 billion in “cuts,” which were largely reductions in mandated future spending.

Bar graph shows spending growth from fiscal 2007 to 2013.

Bar graph shows spending growth from fiscal 2007 to 2013.

“Do you see any spending cuts?” asked Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore County, another Appropriations member. “Where are the cuts? We’d like to see less spending.”

Many areas of the state budget have grown dramatically, particularly spending for K-12, higher education, and Medicaid. Other programs have taken real cuts, particularly local aid for roads, police and health departments. The Republicans did not discuss those cuts, but emphasized the overall growth in spending.

“It is not a revenue problem, it is a spending problem,” said Del. Gail Bates, R-Howard, ranking Republican on Appropriations.

Year after year, state spending has outpaced state revenues, creating a persistent structural deficit, as shown in these charts prepared by the Department of Legislative Services, the General Assembly’s nonpartisan staff.

“My constituents feel they’re being nickled and dimed to death,” said Del. Addie Eckardt, R-Talbot, referring to income, sales, gas and flush taxes O’Malley has proposed to help balance the budget. One of the more obscure levies he’s proposed would tax Medicaid-funded adult day care centers. “Not even our most vulnerable citizens are immune from these taxes,” Eckardt said.

In the House Republican plan, which is short on detailed specifics, there are no tax hikes and no shifting of the cost of teacher pensions to the counties. Many of the cuts to O’Malley’s budget mirror a “doomsday” scenario that would become part of a Senate budget plan being debated this week if the senators do not approve a slight increase in income tax rates.

The biggest GOP cuts come from school aid (a total of $208 million), a slew of cuts proposed by the Legislative Services staff ($180 million), aid to local governments ($56 million), and higher education ($31 million). The GOP would also apply 2% across-the-board cuts in agency operating budgets ($12 million), elimination of stem cell research ($10 million), tax credits for historic buildings ($7 million), and biotechnology ($8 million), the last three cuts all found in the doomsday budget.

Del. Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, said the Republicans would offer their budget plans as amendments to the state budget when the House Appropriations Committee makes its decisions on the O’Malley budget Friday.

The Maryland General Assembly is only permitted to cut the governor’s budget, not increase items or move money around within the budget.

–Len Lazarick