Another billion in the pipeline

Today the state’s Spending Affordability Committee allowed Maryland to increase its debt load another $75 million and to grow the state’s budget by 4 percent, both over Republican objections. This comes from the House Republican Caucus Facebook page, a note which will likely be prominent in an upcoming release:

Today Republican leaders in the House & Senate voted unanimously AGAINST supporting dramatic increases in state spending & debt.

Ultimately the Spending Affordability Committee passed a resolution to support allowing state debt to increase by another $75 million and spending in the state budget to increase by 4%. “After nearly 80 increases in taxes, tolls, and fees over the last seven years it is irresponsible to lay the foundations for yet another tax increase”, said Delegate Addie Eckardt of the Appropriations Committee. “Voting to expand our debt is basically voting to increase Maryland’s property tax; maybe not today, but certainly in the not-so-distant future.”

With structural deficits widening and lackluster growth in Maryland’s economy, Republicans also supported a measure for zero growth in the State’s operating budget.

While the state struggles with the aforementioned structural deficit – predicted to be nearly a half-billion dollars despite gleeful assurances we had eliminated it, both after the 2007 special session and after another series of tax hikes last year – the decision by the Spending Affordability Committee means that spending can increase as much as $1.5 billion next year, based on last year’s $37.3 billion state budget. Needless to say, the slow growth in the state’s economy will likely force the O’Malley/Brown administration and Democrats in the General Assembly to conjure up new sources of revenue.

It’s also likely the Republicans in the General Assembly will put together their own budget alternative which holds the line on spending, only to be ignored as they always are. A 2% across-the-board cut in this year’s budget would have saved Maryland taxpyers around $750 million. With that savings, for example, the sales tax could have reverted back to 5%, as it brings in $4.3 billion annually.

Eckardt, who represents a portion of Wicomico County as well as parts of Caroline, Dorchester, and Talbot counties in the General Assembly, isn’t the only local member of the SAC. Democrat Norm Conway is also an ex officio member based on his being Chair of the Appropriations Committee, and I’m told all the Democrats voted for this budget busting.

While the budget is created by Governor Martin O’Malley, it’s considered one of the most executive-heavy budgets in the country because of the lack of power the General Assembly has in changing it. Thus the emphasis on winning back the governor’s seat next year.

Since Martin O’Malley introduced his first budget one day after taking office in 2007 (the FY2008 budget) the FY2015 budget he’ll introduce early next year will be his last. Whether a dose of sanity is present for the FY2016 budget will be up to voters next November.

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