Southern Md. would get more state money under budget plan

By Alan Brody
Maryland Independent
Thursday, February 4, 2010

Despite steep cuts in local aid in recent months and the threat of more reductions, all three counties in Southern Maryland would see a slight increase in state support under Gov. Martin O'Malley's fiscal 2011 budget plan.

The proposed capital budget also includes funding for several much-needed projects in the region.

Total aid to Calvert County would grow by 2.6 percent to just more than $109 million over the current fiscal year. In St. Mary's County, state aid would increase by 3.1 percent, to $115.6 million, while in Charles County it would grow by 2.4 percent, to $187.3 million.

Nearly all of that growth would come in K-12 education funding, according to budget figures. Most other categories, including community colleges, public safety and transportation, are flat-funded. In addition, legislators are likely to identify hundreds of millions of dollars in additional reductions before adopting an amended version of the spending plan in late March or early April.

In the days since O'Malley (D) unveiled his budget proposal, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) has continued calls for local governments to shoulder a larger share of the state's fiscal pain. For example, a proposal to shift at least some of the cost of teacher pensions to the counties, which Miller supports, will probably be considered during the legislative session.

However, county officials have pointed to steep midyear cuts that nearly wiped out highway user revenues, which fund local road projects, and significantly trimmed aid to local law enforcement units, health departments and more. In addition, decreased property assessments and high unemployment have led to falling property and income tax revenues.

As a result, several jurisdictions already have laid off or furloughed employees, tapped reserve accounts and taken other drastic actions to balance their budgets. Local officials say their finances are no better than the state's and that further cuts would be devastating.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) blamed O'Malley's fiscal policies, for putting counties in such a tough position. Although the administration claims to have reduced spending since taking office in 2007, O'Donnell said state dollars have been supplanted with federal aid and overall spending has continued to grow. Specifically, he pointed to the state's dependence on federal dollars to fund the 2007 expansion of Medicaid to 100,000 Marylanders.

"You can get into all kinds of little bumps up and bumps down, but the fact of the matter is this governor has put the fiscal health of this state in jeopardy," he said. "Government does a lot of good things, but in my opinion Gov. O'Malley has put it all at risk."

O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec disputed that, saying the administration has cut spending by $5.6 billion and reduced the state workforce by roughly 3,500 jobs since 2007.

"For the first time since the Great Depression, general fund spending is lower today than it was four years ago," he said. "There is not an ounce of wasteful spending in this budget. Gov. O'Malley has returned fiscal responsibility to Annapolis after the previous governor proposed the biggest spending hike in Maryland history."

The proposed $3.2 billion capital budget funds several projects in Calvert County, including the construction of Calvert High School, an upgrade of the Chesapeake Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the ongoing development of the College of Southern Maryland's Prince Frederick campus. For St. Mary's, the budget includes money for an upgrade of the Marlay-Taylor Wastewater Treatment Plant, the renovation of Leonardtown Middle School and the expansion of the county detention center.

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