By Len Lazarick
There’s something for everybody to hate in the doomsday budget with $720 million in cuts previewed to Senate budgeters Tuesday.
Most of these are real cuts, not just reductions in future spending increases. School aid gets chopped $204 million. Local aid, already cut in previous years, is slashed $102 million, the bulk of it by totally eliminating of police aid and law enforcement grants. Library funding is sliced, too.
Higher ed gets whacked $185 million by reducing state funds for all universities and community colleges by 10%. The doomsday plan says goodbye to all aid to private colleges, $38 million largely spent on financial aid to Maryland residents. The cherished legislative scholarships that senators and delegates can hand out to constituents are wiped out completely, saving $11 million.
Medicaid, already cut by $200 million in the governor’s proposed budget, takes another $100 million whack. Cuts would reduce outpatient hospital visits and reduce reimbursement to health providers who are already squeezed.
Gone are also smaller programs such as stem cell research ($12 million) and biotechnology tax credits ($8 million).
State employees lose raise, pay more for health care
State employees who had their pay cut by furloughs for three years until they got a one-time bonus of $750 this fiscal year would go another year without a promised 2% cost-of-living increase. They would also see their health insurance premiums go up, as would retirees.
“Welcome to Maryland,” said Warren Deschenaux, the legislature’s chief fiscal analyst, who prepared the list of cuts at the request of Senate leaders,.
The idea was to share the pain, since “the problem is everyone’s,” Deschenaux said. “The impact has been distributed as widely as possible.”
The reductions in the doomsday budget are options for what would happen if the Senate does not raise revenues. The focus for revenues is on an across-the-board income tax hike proposed by Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, repealing a 15-year-old tax cut that would add a quarter of a percent (.25%) to everyone’s tax return.
“This is going to be a daunting task to get 24 votes” for such a tax hike, Senate President Mike Miller told reporters. He initiated the doomsday scenario to show what would happen without a tax increase.
Majority of local cuts from PG, Montgomery and Baltimore
It was not lost on the senators that the bulk of the local cuts would impact three of the largest jurisdictions, with Prince George’s County taking the biggest hit ($77 million), followed by Baltimore City ($59 million) and Montgomery County ($51 million).
“It would be very difficult to balance the budget without going into local programs,” Deschenaux said.
Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said the doomsday budget proposal “goes to the very heart of services to the poor.”
For their part, Republicans will not support a general tax hike, but they can support even a doomsday budget.
Republicans OK with cuts
“I think many of us can live with these,” said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin. “Enough is enough.”
With Pipkin, Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, has proposed GOP alternative budgets in past years. He observed, “These [cuts] look pretty familiar. These were proposed in previous sessions.”
“We could go further if the votes are there,” Brinkley said.
Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, said, “We cut the easy stuff years ago,” and “We’ve cut a lot of hard stuff. This is really what’s left.
“It would be a different world for public services in this state,” Deschenaux admitted. By doing just some of these proposed reductions, “you will continue to have a budget problem,” and again kick the can down the road.
“You would be well advised to eliminate the structural deficit and get on with the problems of the future,” Deschenaux advised.