By Len Lazarick

Del. Kathy Szeliga at podium

Del. Kathy Szeliga at podium

In an annual exercise in fiscal futility, House Republicans unveiled their alternative to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2014 budget Thursday, this time calling for zero growth that would require the governor to cut 2% from his request.

The 2% cut in general fund spending corresponds to the 2% increase in federal payroll taxes Congress allowed in January, returning rates to their 2010 level.

The GOP delegates also released the results of a January poll showing a majority of Maryland voters think taxes are too high.

Del. Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, said O’Malley’s budget “leaves us too exposed” to the impact of federal sequestration. “The economy is still not out of the woods.”

“Government spending way out paces income growth,” said Del. Addie Eckardt, R-Talbot.

As if to confirm the GOP assessment of the state’s economy, the Board of Revenue Estimates on Thursday afternoon reduced its revenue estimates for this year and next by $115 million. Comptroller Peter Franchot observed: “It’s particularly troubling that $85.5 million of the projected decline … comes from our broadest and most indicative economic indicator, the sales and use tax.”

Budget Growth vs Personal Income GrowthTrying to be party of solutions

Year after year, the Republican delegates on the House Appropriations Committee offer an alternative budget plan that relies on cuts rather than taxes. Some of their proposals get accepted by the Democratic majority, but most are not.

Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore County, said this year’s alternative budget is an effort to show “we’re not just a party of no, but a party of solutions.”

“We know that every one of [O’Malley’s] department heads can find 2% to cut,” Szeliga said. “This is a decrease in the increase.”

In past years, the Republicans have offered specific budget items to be reduced. But Democrats would accept just a few to show they were listening to the opposition, the Republicans said.

“We’re not going to pick and choose in the budget” this year, Szeliga said. “We’re not going to micromanage the budget.”

Their proposal would allow O’Malley to choose where to come up with an overall 2% reduction.

Poll questions: taxes too high

It was Szeliga who commissioned two questions on the Gonzales Research poll.

With results the same as the same question produced last year, 96% of Maryland voters said taxes are too high (53%) or about right (43%).

Pollsters also read respondents a rather loaded statement:

“Since Martin O’Malley took over as governor, state spending has increased by more than a billion a year to nearly $36 billion per year. Some people say Maryland government should stop spending more money every year because taxes are already too high in this state.”

Sixty-four percent agreed (46% “strongly” agree and 18% “somewhat” agree”) while 27% disagreed (10% “strongly” disagree and 17% “somewhat” disagree.)