An April 18 Baltimore Sun editorial argues that while not all of the “doomsday” budget cuts are bad ideas, the Maryland General Assembly should still reconvene in a special session as the cuts envisioned by the “doomsday” budget were designed to motivate legislators and are not actually the cuts State legislators would have made if they had truly intended to balance the budget through spending reductions.
Using the word “doomsday” to describe a 1 percent cut is certainly a bit of an exaggeration, particularly compared to what other states have endured since the beginning of the recession. And not all of the cuts it forces are truly devastating to core government services. Among them are eliminating for a year the state’s stem cell and biotechnology tax credits and reducing aid to the state’s private colleges. That’s not ideal, but it’s not “doomsday.” Eliminating the scholarships that delegates and senators are allowed to hand out to whomever they wish — another of the “doomsday” reductions — is an idea that’s long overdue.
Others exact a tougher toll. If the “doomsday” budget goes into effect, state employees, who have effectively seen their pay cut by furloughs in recent years, would lose their first raise since 2008 — a 2 percent cost-of-living increase that would have only kicked in halfway through the year. They would also be forced to pay more for their health insurance. Education aid to local governments would be cut by more than $200 million — including money targeted to help the state’s poorest jurisdictions. And community colleges, which are struggling as it is to cope with increased enrollment sparked by the economic downturn, would see their funds reduced by 10 percent.
Those and the other “contingent reductions” are not the ones that lawmakers would have chosen if they were making a serious attempt to balance the budget with cuts alone; they were designed as a motivator to get the House and Senate to agree on a broader tax and spending plan, including income tax increases totaling about $247 million. Moreover, the failure of accompanying legislation that modifies statutory requirements for certain kinds of spending leaves something of a mess. Program Open Space, for example, is now double-funded through both the operating and capital budgets. The plan to start shifting some of the responsibility for teacher retirement costs to the counties and Baltimore City was a casualty of the inaction. Other spending that the legislature had agreed to cut, including millions in reductions to Medicaid and state agency operations, stays in the budget.