Maryland Republicans propose cuts in state government, education grants

By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Saying the state can no longer afford many Democratic initiatives, Maryland Republicans on Tuesday called for cuts to education, layoffs of 500 state workers and suspension of state funding of abortions, stem-cell research and union-backed living-wage programs.

The party's assessment of Maryland's budget problems, far more dire than the one presented last month by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), came in response to an invitation by Democratic legislative leaders to present an alternative to the governor's budget. It was the first time in more than 10 years that the legislature's budget committee chairmen have called a hearing on the GOP's budget proposals.

The Republicans contend that O'Malley's plan to close a $2 billion budget gap leaves tough choices for later. Democrats had charged before the hearing that Republicans had offered few concrete ideas for balancing the budget any differently.

The Republican Caucus of the House of Delegates and two Republican senators responded with plans that would rely on more than $1 billion of the same one-time fixes included in O'Malley's plan but that would also cut an additional $750 million from the budget. They characterized the added cuts as the first steps in a competing "vision" for one of the nation's bluest states.

Republicans' plans would shrink the state's executive branch; shift more pension costs onto government employees; and severely constrain state government budget growth for the next five years in hopes of saving enough money to lower individual and corporate tax rates to a level close to those of neighboring Virginia.

"This is an important and very serious situation, and the state needs a long-term antidote to overspending," said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert). "We have a vision, and it is a vision of hope."

Sen. David Brinkley (R-Frederick), who offered a second proposal with Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's), was more confrontational with the nearly 50 legislators who crowded into an Annapolis hearing room. "If you are not going to support these reductions, then tell the people where you are going to raise their taxes, because there will be no choice," Brinkley said.

The question built on a growing election-year theme pushed by Republicans. They say that if O'Malley is reelected, he will probably seek to raise taxes to fuel government growth. O'Malley has not said he would raise taxes, but in comments he has left the door open to future state revenue increases.

Democrats and the state's largest public employees' union sharply criticized the Republican proposals, saying they would cut deeply into education and other public services valued by Marylanders. The union said the Republicans' plan to end furloughs for 80,000 and lay off 500 workers would do more damage to employees' morale.

Del. Melony G. Griffith (D), chairman of the Prince George's delegation, specifically took Republicans to task for proposing to eliminate of a set of education grants that benefit Prince George's and Montgomery counties more than any other areas. "Did you not consider that reducing funding . . . would lower the gains we've made?"

Brinkley responded by saying that the grant is optional and that it is time for the state to rely on local districts to figure out how to maintain gains they have made. "If the underlying premise is we throw a lot of money and [the gains] will remain, I disagree."

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