ANNAPOLIS – Advocates for Children and Youth, a child policy group, Wednesday joined a host of organizations trying to protect their programs from anticipated budget cuts to close Maryland’s $1.2 billion 2004 budget gap.
The group said during a conference call that revenue options should be the preferred method for balancing the budget, including slot machines, increasing property and sales taxes and closing corporate loopholes.
“There are a range of revenue options and none should be off the table. The other option is to cut services,” said David McNear, director of the group’s Sustainable Funding Project.
Advocates For Children and Youth joined state workers, supporters of the mentally ill, senior citizens and other organizations in urging state officials to replace budgets cuts with more revenue.
The groups are banking, in part, on approval for slot machine installation at the state’s racetracks, something Gov. Parris N. Glendening has strongly opposed, but his successor, Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich supports.
“Installation of slots machines at race tracks is a common sense solution,” said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell.
The state’s human resources budget, which funds some children and youth programs, was cut $7.8 million, a 2.8 percent reduction, in the current fiscal year. A range of services for low-income families is being affected, said Jann Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth.
Glendening has asked state government to cut a total of $172 million in spending by the end of the fiscal year to close this year’s $500 million shortfall. Next year, the governor and General Assembly will need to find $1.2 billion to cover all the state’s expected spending.
“Maryland doesn’t have a spending problem. We have a revenue problem,” said McNear. The Maryland After School Opportunity Fund is one program Advocates For Children and Youth said could be in jeopardy. The program was created to assist parents in providing after-school programs for children throughout the state.
“The (fund) provides opportunities for tens of thousands of children and could lose $12 million — 60 to 70 percent of all parents are in the workforce and you can’t put children on the street,” Jackson said. The group also set about debunking what it says are myths about the state’s spending on children. Maryland ranks 50th, with 50 being the lowest, in the nation in total public spending as a percentage of state personal income and 44th nationally in education spending, McNear said.
If the state increases school spending by $1.3 billion, as recommended by a special study panel dubbed the Thornton Commission, Maryland would move up only to 35th in the ranking.
“We need more money and the myth is that Maryland is a high-spending and high-tax state,” said McNear. “Some people say if we raise taxes we will drive business out of the state, but taxes are only one factor that businesses look at.”
Ehrlich has already promised there will be no new taxes imposed this year, however he’s not ruled out a gas tax increase for transportation projects. “He has no intention of raising income or sales tax,” said Fawell. “I think the results on Election Day say the residents of Maryland don’t want to raise taxes, if they did then they would have chosen someone else.” There have been other suggestions as to where Maryland will get the money to pay for programs. On Tuesday, Progressive Maryland, a coalition of thousands of Maryland residents, faith, community and labor organizations, cited 52 corporate loopholes that could be targeted to raise revenue. They too, are supporting a tax increase to protect program funding. But the Ehrlich administration will take some significant persuading if that is to happen, said Fawell. “Their goal is to raise taxes in a already overtaxed state,” he said. “He is taking a look at all options that are on the table. The bottom line is this government has to shrink.”