By Raymund Lee Flandez
ANNAPOLIS – With the state’s projected budget deficit grown this week to more than $1.3 billion, the two gubernatorial candidates announced Thursday prelimary plans for fiscal fixes.
Gov. Parris Glendening, facing criticism for failing to curb the deficit and leaving it to his successor, also released his own program to reduce the shortfall.
Tax estimates released Wednesday show revenues for this year will be $309.7 million lower than the previous estimate of $9.8 billion in March. The state’s shortfall in this year’s budget is expected to be about $414 million, with next year’s gap ballooning to $1.3 billion, according the Bureau of Revenue Estimates.
The weak stock market, and the state’s stuttering economy, is fueling a shortfall could grow to $1.7 billion in the next two years.
“We’re facing now what many other states were facing last year,” said David Roose, revenue estimates bureau director. “Now, it has just come to us. We were going into recession more slowly.”
Glendening had previously asked state budget officials for about $150 million in cuts to deal with the problem. But now he is planning to use sharper methods.
“The governor, along with the secretary of budget management, will be looking carefully over the budget to determine where adjustments can be made,” said Raquel Guillory, the governor’s spokeswoman.
Many have lambasted Glendening for failing to curb spending on his favored projects, such as education and the environment. But they are “sound investments” that are important to Marylanders, Guillory said.
“That’s where those investments had to be made and that’s what we’ve had to do,” she said.
Those who want Glendening’s job will have to be more creative in the next few months on targeting spending cuts to close the gap.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, urged state budget officials in Annapolis Wednesday to find cuts of another $150 million.
“Yes, we’re going to have tough news,” Townsend said. “But Maryland is a tough state and we’re a strong state. And we will be able to deal with it.”
Townsend proposed a top-to-bottom review on the budget and state spending, said spokesman Peter Hamm.
“We have a difficult budget situation coming up that is going to require a lot of hard work and require a lot of tough choices,” Hamm said. He was not specific about where the candidate might trim.
Townsend, however, is adamant about protecting her priorities in education funding, public safety, health care and the environment. Projections of where necessary cuts in other areas will be announced in the next few weeks, Hamm said.
Ehrlich, however, was prepared with his budget framework Thursday, proposing plans that “will provide $385 million in new revenue and hundreds of millions in savings,” including installing slot machines in race tracks and getting rid of the governor’s plane, yacht and stadium boxes.
“This just a framework,” said spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver. “There’s a lot to be done.”
Neither of the candidates wants to consider the next option: increasing taxes. Both candidates said they have no plans to take such an action.