Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
Maryland lawmakers blissfully signed off on the 2008 fiscal year budget in April, which included new funding for school construction and stem cell research, without major cuts or new taxes. Now, the 2009 budget looks scary.
As the Baltimore Sun reported, legislators say that, barring new revenue, the '09 budget will "cut grants for police officers, force tuition increases at state universities, freeze state workers' salaries, eliminate hundreds of state jobs and close some state institutions..." Oh, and it would require $500 million in reduced funding for public education.
Shocking? Certainly not. Lawmakers knew they were creating this problem when they tapped $1 billion in reserve funds in April -- the political equivalent of getting an extension on a term paper.
But why not just deal with the problem as soon as you know about it? The answer: Connecticut.
You might remember the story of Jodi Rell, who one short-sighted blogger suggested "may be the nation's most liberal governor." In February, Rell, in spite of a surplus, was calling for major income and cigarette tax increases because the long-term budget prognosis wasn't good and because she wanted to increase education spending by $3.4 billion over five years.
Rell changed her tune in May, adopting a no new taxes stance. She said that new budget projections, which predicted $1.2 billion more in revenue over the next two years than February's projections, made tax increases unnecessary.
I'm a tad bit skeptical of this explanation, seeing as $1.2 billion over two years won't pay for $3.4 billion over five years (did I mention that Rell's initial plan only had the support of 16% of Connecticut residents?). The Democratic legislature did pass a budget with income tax increases for the wealthiest Nutmeggers, but Rell vetoed it. After much acrimony and a special session, the final budget boosted only the cigarette tax.
This goes to show something that Maryland's leaders already know: Political will to fix structural deficits rarely exists until those deficits manifest themselves as immediate shortfalls. That's a better excuse for procrastination than wanting to spend the night at a frat party.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.