THE LATEST estimated revenue flow to Maryland, revised from the last projection in March, is pointing to a $925 million surplus as Gov. Glendening heads for the cash drawers to prepare his annual budget proposal. As usual in these unusual times, the governor is not without suggestions from the local governments and individual state lawmakers about how to lighten the deep pockets. State Budget Secretary Fred Puddester says he expects more spending on capital projects, especially for school and road construction.
The state's school and road needs ought to be paramount. Localities are looking at exploding school enrollments, and citizens in the most populous areas are desperately seeking road relief as well as major mass transit improvements -- all of which require huge outlays. Still other programs could be improved through greater investments, particularly those aimed at Maryland's poor.
But absent any guarantee of huge increases in revenues into perpetuity, the emphasis should be on one-time needs that won't commit the state or local governments to heavy spending when boom times fade. That's good reason, too, for using half the additional revenues for the state's reserve funds as a buffer and for help in paying for the final phasing-in of a 10 percent income tax cut approved by the General Assembly three years ago.
If Maryland continues to be awash in cash for yet another budget cycle, consideration of still more tax relief may be in order. But as former governors William Donald Schaefer of Maryland and Doug Wilder of Virginia can recall all too well, a recession can force severe cuts in state spending in a hurry -- and seeking tax increases at those times to make up for budget shortfalls is unpopular and painful.