Just Another Payoff

The O’Malley administration is showing itself adept at making lemonade out of lemons. Taxes are going to be raised but to do so and avoid the political equivalent of a sucking chest wound he needs cover. Part of that cover is going to be provided by the legislature, including a willing Republican caucus.

There will be spending cuts that will be ballyhooed. So far, a handful of currently unfilled billets have been designated for elimination. But painful cuts are going to be avoided. But to appreciate the mastery of the man one should look at how he is managing to finesse the looming avalanche of that lefty Holy of Holies, the Thornton Plan.

More hijinks below the fold.

When one is looking for the source of the “structural deficit” in Maryland’s budget one needs look no further than the gaping maw of the education establishment.

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With Maryland facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall, Gov. Martin O’Malley said yesterday that the state should consider curtailing the growth of education spending required under a landmark law designed to ensure adequate funding for less-affluent school districts.

State spending on public education has swelled by more than $1.3 billion since lawmakers passed the so-called Thornton plan in 2002, with the largest of those increases — $580 million — coming this year in a budget introduced by O’Malley (D).

With a $1.5 billion deficit, a $580 million increase in education spending scheduled it would seem that freezing state education aid would get you over a third of the way home without doing anything else.

During a radio interview, O’Malley questioned whether it would be “prudent” to include the full amount in the fiscal 2009 budget that he is required to submit to lawmakers by January.

“Whether we’re able to do the sort of inflationary kicker at the degree to which it was originally locked in five years ago . . . remains to be seen,” O’Malley said on “The Marc Steiner Show” on Baltimore’s WYPR (88.1 FM). “I’m not sure it would be prudent to do that, given the $580 million that just came in. But that, again, is something that has to be worked out with the General Assembly and leaders there.”

The educational establishment is apparently fine with this, though one has to wonder how they would have reacted to such an action from an Ehrlich administration.

Educators who learned of O’Malley’s comments expressed concern but also some degree of understanding.

“He is diminishing yet-to-be received funds, and that’s better than a take-away,” said John E. Deasy, superintendent of Prince George’s County schools. “You can deal with that.”

What is interesting, though, are the education increases O’Malley is willing to support.

O’Malley also reaffirmed his commitment yesterday to phasing in funding for a geographic component of the Thornton plan that would steer tens millions of additional dollars a year to those jurisdictions, including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, where the cost of an education is considered more expensive.

That part of the plan, which is labeled discretionary under the 2002 law, allocates additional funds to counties based on a formula that considers housing costs, the percentage of students receiving subsidized lunches, the rate of violent crime and commuting times.

If you need to know who benefits from this increase you need look no farther than the map of the 2006 gubernatorial election. Which counties do you associate with housing costs, subsidized lunches, violent crime, and high commuting times? The counties that went for Bob Ehrlich or those that went to Martin O’Malley?

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