WITH TOO LITTLE too late -- and too patchy to help his successor in any substantive way -- Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening has finally presented a bag of fiscal tricks as his parting shot to "fix" this year's budget deficit. This after stiffing his own lieutenant governor early last summer, when he refused her request for budget cuts that could have had a greater impact not only on the this year's revenue gap, but also on the projected deficit for the following year. Now his plan to save the financial day for successor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. leaves the heavy lifting for the governor-elect and the legislature next year. Mr. Glendening's boast that his proposals will cover the current shortfall and leave the state with a "hefty reserve" is simply deceitful; what he leaves is a reserve of government IOUs, due after he's gone.
For starters, Mr. Glendening erases $100 million from the projected deficit of nearly $600 million with a wave of his gubernatorial wand. He dismisses the estimate of state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and legislative analysts, declaring that the figure will be closer to $500 million. After saying earlier this fall that he would not dip into the state's rainy day fund, Mr. Glendening now proposes to tap it for close to $200 million, which the comptroller and legislators fear could harm the state's AAA bond rating. Mr. Glendening says not to worry. In addition, the governor would transfer $57.8 million from various other reserve funds and about $20.6 million for excess taxes collected from property sales.
An additional $100 million in the plan would come from one-time accounting maneuvers that would speed up collections to bring them into the current fiscal year. By withholding an extra $1.50 a week from most Marylanders' paychecks -- they would get it back later through tax refunds -- the state would temporarily have the use of $45 million. But such maneuvers only deepen next year's budget hole.
The governor does propose cutting $172 million from programs and services, specifics not included. That leaves much more cutting for Mr. Ehrlich and the lawmakers, who are not in any great mood to raise taxes next year and who will be looking at a nearly $1.2 billion hole projected for the fiscal year that begins July 1. If the draining of the rainy day fund is approved, they will have to devise a way to replenish it. Something will have to give, and the state agencies and their advocates aren't going to like it. But neither Glendening smoke and mirrors nor Ehrlich slot machines will do the job.