ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 5 -- In a further gloomy sign, Maryland officials said today that sales tax receipts were down again last month, bolstering predictions that state spending may have to be trimmed again as the state's recession deepens.
"Obviously, this increases the probability we'll have to have further spending reductions this year," said William S. Ratchford, the legislature's chief budget adviser.
State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein (D) said January sales taxes, largely reflecting activity during the holiday season, plummeted 3.9 percent from their level a year ago. Income tax revenue was one percent lower than January 1990.
Goldstein blamed national economic conditions, which he said were complicated by trouble in the banking, savings and loan, and insurance industries; the Persian Gulf War; and the federal deficit.
Charles L. Benton Jr., Maryland's secretary of budget and fiscal planning, was reviewing the latest figures today to determine their impact on the state's shaky budget. A spokesman noted that Benton earlier had left open the possibility of additional cuts in the current budget.
State budget analysts have been watching tax receipts for signs that the economy is stabilizing. Their forecasts so far have been overly optimistic for the current budget year, and lawmakers want a firm grip on revenue projections before they approve the budget for the year that begins July 1.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer already has ordered $353 million cut from planned spending for the year ending June 30. Further reductions also would affect the 1992 budget proposal that Schaefer sent to the General Assembly last week.
Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said the revenue report offers little hope for a quick turnaround in the state's financial fortunes.
"We need a whole set of contingencies so we can shift gears and go into deeper cuts if we need to," Levitan said.
Levitan also said the latest numbers may increase pressure for tax increases, perhaps temporary ones to help the state get through the recession.
Schaefer spokesman Paul E. Schurick said the governor was briefed on the new tax report, but that no immediate steps are planned in response.
In his report, Goldstein said consumer spending in Maryland continues to be weak. January was the fourth straight month in which sales taxes were lower than the same month of the previous year. "This phenomenon was unheard of until last year," Goldstein said.
From last July through December, state and local income-tax revenue was up 2.4 percent, Goldstein said. However, he added, the estimated income tax payments that were due Jan. 15 were off by nearly 12 percent. The drop indicated fewer year-end capital gains transactions as a result of stock market conditions, the comptroller said.
"The continued conflict in the Persian Gulf makes economic and revenue forecasting extremely difficult, especially when combined with the domestic economic situation," Goldstein said.