Budget Cuts Pass

Governor O’Malley won a victory yesterday:

The Board of Public Works unanimously approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed budget cuts Wednesday despite Comptroller Peter Franchot’s concerns that reductions in Medicaid, foster care, higher education and other programs will hurt the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Wednesday’s vote marks the completion of O’Malley’s first step in addressing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall expected for next year, a problem known as the state’s “structural deficit.” Though the governor said he will continue to look for efficiencies and restrain spending growth, debate in Annapolis is now likely to turn to ways to increase government revenue such as higher taxes and slot machine gambling.

While I am all in favor of cutting budgets it is pretty obvious that this is not a victory of any sort for Maryland taxpayers. Reducing a budget shortfall from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion is pretty close to meaningless. Follow that up with weasel words about “efficiencies” and restrain[ing] spending growth” and even the dimmest bulb should be able to write the end to this story. Tax Increase.

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According to the Sun, some of our legislators are sounding the alarm:

Del. Steve Schuh, an Anne Arundel Republican who serves on the Appropriations Committee, said the cuts are a good first step — so long as the rest of the shortfall isn’t closed by tax increases alone.

“That would roughly translate to $700 more per Maryland family if the remainder of the budget problem is solved by increasing taxes,” Schuh said. “In light of the very substantial increases in energy costs, gasoline, property taxes and water bills, another $700 on Maryland families would probably not be prudent.”

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, said Wednesday that O’Malley appears to be using “strong-arm tactics” to get local leaders to support tax increases. He circulated an e-mail from David Bliden, the executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, encouraging local leaders to provide the governor’s office with examples of services that could be eliminated if the budget is balanced through cuts.

“The e-mail lays out an arrogant and shameless blueprint for getting locals to back tax increases,” Pipkin said.

One hopes that we can avoid being steamrollered in the legislature and having this monumental tax increase pass but let’s not pretend that the fight will be easy, pretty, or sure of success.

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