By Erich Wagner and Erika Woodward
ANNAPOLIS – As Gov. Martin O’Malley prepares a 2010 budget with hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts, groups across Maryland are jockeying to secure whatever funding they can.
With a $400 million shortfall this year, and a projected $1.9 billion deficit in 2010, advocates for education, social services, health care and the environment all know cuts are coming. They just don’t want the budgetary axe to fall on them.
Health care activists held a press conference Thursday to lobby for continued funding of the Working Families and Small Business Health Care Coverage Act of 2007. The law provides Medicaid to poor children and parents, and is scheduled to expand to all poor adults July 1st.
More than 25,000 Marylanders are enrolled in the program, and more than 100,000 will ultimately be eligible, said Vincent DeMarco, president of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.
Funding the program would actually save money in the long term since uncompensated medical care increases insurance premiums, DeMarco said. The proposed $87 billion in federal stimulus money flagged for state Medicaid also encourages renewing the program’s funding at the state level, he said.
“It makes no sense to cut when the federal government is helping us to fund it,” DeMarco said.
Angela Newman, a 40-year-old Baltimore resident and mother of two, said the program saved her family when she lost her job last year.
“It’s so important for parents to have health care,” Newman said. “We have to be healthy to be able to care for our kids.”
The threat from budget cuts is real for teachers and students who will likely face layoffs and tuition hikes if lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t back the House-proposed $825 billion stimulus, said Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s.
“If the federal stimulus package in the way that the House Democrats proposed it is not passed, there is a serious danger of tuition increases and cuts to local schools,” Rosapepe said.
Rosapepe expects the state’s share of the stimulus to be more than $2 billion. That may be enough to keep teachers from joining the 500-1,000 state employees rumored to be in line for layoffs, and to keep in-state college tuition frozen for the fourth straight year.
Daniel Kaufman, spokesman for the Maryland State Teachers Association, said he is also worried that if county governments don’t get federal and state help jobs may be in jeopardy.
“We certainly hope layoffs are not the answer,” he said.
Rev. Andrew Foster Connors of Baltimore was one of hundreds who attended a rally in Annapolis Thursday to urge government leaders to dedicate a third of the stimulus package to education.
“Let’s do it in a way that directly benefits the people who are shouldering the burden of the borrowing we are going to do, and those people are our children and grandchildren,” Connors said. “Hey, there’s two thirds left for people to do what they want to do.”
Environmental groups also are worried about losing funding for critical conservation projects, but are waiting for the governor’s budget proposal.
“We’re certainly educating our members and letting people know what’s at stake,” said Cindy Schwartz, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “But these are issues that legislators and the governor care about too, so at this point it’s incumbent on them to figure out how to deal with them.”
Cristine Marchand of the Arc of Maryland, a statewide advocacy organization for people living with disabilities, said her group needs part of the federal bailout, too. Close to 19,000 people are on a waiting list for services, including family support and early intervention, she said.
“Even what we have now is not close to meeting our needs, so when you talk about budget cuts now, it’s just devastating,” she said.