WITH NARY a drum roll -- not even to jar the several Maryland legislators caught napping during this formal state occasion -- Gov. Harry Hughes delivered a budget and a State of the State address in one fiscal swoop this week -- along with a bundle of unanswered questions about where much of the money might come if it ever does.
With curtains and mirrors to disguise some of the more gaping financial holes, Mr. Hughes rolled out the numbers that in effect told the General Assembly to hope for better days ahead -- to look for the bottom lining along about March, when new revenue estimates are due. In the meantime, the word for the day is retrenchment. The governor avoided calls for any new taxes or for that matter, initiatives of any kind. The only new revenue source of consequences is one Mr. Hughes made public earlier this month: an "instant lottery" game in which (unlike politicians with a budget to approve this year) participants can find out immeidiately if they are winners. Three of these games are to be held over the next 18 months, with an eexpected yield of $30 million.
None of this addressed the governor's own previously announced priority items -- pay raises for state employees, increases in welfare payments and education aid for Maryland's poorer school districts. Also unmentioned in his budget but still under consideration by Gov. Hughes is a request to the legislature to $40 million in grants to local governments -- which his aides have suggested could help finance pay raises.
Is this any way to run a sound spending proposal through the General Assembly? No -- but it is typical of the way Harry Hughes has run his low-key, low-profile administration, with little or no nudging from the executive branch. But given the politics of austerity, the lawmakers may well be looking for him to act when push really comes to shove.