Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening will release a proposal this week to wipe out a nearly $600 million projected shortfall in the current fiscal year with cuts affecting all areas of state government, aides said yesterday.
After months of inaction on the budget crisis, Glendening (D) plans to mandate cuts in every state agency, but he is not expected to reduce pay for employees, an administration official said. His plan would transfer money among state funds but leave largely untouched the rainy day reserve, which has about $500 million, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Under state law, the governor has authority to reduce agency budgets as much as 25 percent without legislative approval. Glendening's plan goes nowhere near that far, the official said.
At the same time, the governor, who cannot increase taxes without the General Assembly's nod, can raise certain fees to help fill the hole in the current fiscal year's budget. The shortfall for the fiscal year beginning in July is now estimated at nearly $1.2 billion.
Charles Porcari, a spokesman for Glendening, said the governor's budget staff has spent several weeks working up a list of proposals and discussed them with the governor last week. Glendening shared the plan with Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) on Saturday night and will present it to legislative leaders early this week.
Porcari declined to detail any proposed cuts, but he said: "I can say that they are comprehensive. No areas have been left out."
Some Democrats questioned whether Glendening could address the state's budget woes without making significant cuts in agency budgets or in state aid to local governments. They also asked why Glendening did not reveal his plan earlier, when it might have helped Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's struggling campaign for governor.
"He could have made such proposals prior to the election," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "It might have helped the lieutenant governor to be the next governor of Maryland if he had."
Leaving office with a balanced budget, Rawlings added, "would be a foreign behavior for him." Eight years ago, when Glendening went from being Prince George's county executive to governor, the county budget had a projected shortfall of more than $100 million.
This year, except for a hiring freeze ordered in September, Glendening has declined to take any steps to trim spending. Porcari said Glendening made it clear that he would wait, "as a matter of courtesy," until after the election when a new governor could assess the plan.
"It was also clear from the beginning that the governor was not going to leave the projected shortfall" for his successor to clean up, Porcari said.
During the campaign, Ehrlich hammered Glendening and, by extension, Townsend, on a shortfall that has grown to nearly $1.8 billion as he urged voters to end the Democrats' long rule in Annapolis. Polls shows the fiscal crisis weighed heavy on voters' minds.
Yesterday, Ehrlich would not share any details of Glendening's plan. But a spokesman said the governor-elect "is pleased with the direction that Governor Glendening is going. He's pleased that he's stepping up and making cuts that need to be made."
Rawlings said Glendening has few options for dealing with the deficit and would have to make significant cuts.
Last week, members of a special state commission studying Maryland's fiscal structure received a briefing from policy analysts for the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services that included a list of potential cuts, such as reducing aid to local governments by more than $190 million over two years and cutting the salaries of state workers by 1 percent.
"That's the only way that I can see that he can bring the costs of the budget down," Rawlings said. "Those are certainly options that he's going to have to consider."