ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Martin O’Malley increased education and public safety spending, while calling for $550 million in cuts in his budget for fiscal year 2009 released Wednesday.
The general fund budget calls for a 2.9 percent increase in K-12 education spending to $6.6 billion. That increase is slightly lower than had been planned years ago.
O’Malley’s budget includes cuts of 500 positions statewide, all vacant, which are expected to save $21.5 million. In addition, the governor made a number of other cuts, including reductions in the budgets of independent agencies and the departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
O’Malley also said he plans to ask the General Assembly to continue an in-state tuition rate freeze at Maryland’s public universities for a third straight year.
The proposed capital budget would include $628 million to construct new, or improve existing, education facilities.
Over the past few days O’Malley has announced several public safety initiatives, including $1.3 million for the elimination of a 24,000-sample backlog of convicted felons’ DNA to be entered into a database for analysis. O’Malley also wants $3.1 million for a High Risk Offender Supervision Program, which includes a GPS system to minimize repeat offenses.
“It’s amazing how much information we have in different departments,” he said. “And yet we do nothing to target repeat offenders.”
O’Malley outlined more than $4.8 million to fund behavioral health programs and scholarship opportunities for Maryland veterans and National Guard members returning from overseas. He also included $124.5 million to expand health care coverage and $50 million for the new Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund.
At the end of the day, O’Malley said, the state will be able to add $177 million to its rainy day fund, which has been drawn down in recent years. That will bring the fund balance to $739 million.
The budget comes in the wake of polls showing a drop in O’Malley’s approval rating and voter disapproval of tax increases coming out of November’s special legislative session. The state faces a $1.7 billion budget shortfall which will be met through taxes and the spending cuts, some of which were proposed by the legislature during the special session.
Though he acknowledged the unpopularity of the taxes O’Malley stood by them, saying the decision behind the hikes was made for the long-term benefit of Maryland residents.
Despite the governor’s talk of reductions in spending, Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert, said the proposed budget would surpass the previous budget by $1.8 billion.
“After taxing the hell out of the citizens of Maryland, how can they come in here with a budget that grows by $1.8 billion?” O’Donnell said. “It’s outrageous.”
But O’Malley and his supporters said the budget invests in programs that will benefit the state in the future, including education, the environment and public safety.
“I think that it’s fiscally responsible while at the same time providing the necessary funds for the state’s priorities,” said Sen. Robert Garagiola, D-Montgomery. “Obviously there were a lot of difficult decisions that were made during the special session that set forth the long term budget balancing both in additional revenue and in reductions.”
Total spending for the general budget is $15.2 billion, which, under Maryland law, legislators can reduce but not increase. Including the capital budget and other funds, the total budget is $31.5 billion.
The governor’s cuts are in addition to $280 million in reductions made in July through the elimination of 147 state government positions, 130 of which were already vacant, and 35 contractual positions.
-30- CNS 01-16-08