ANNAPOLIS – Proposals to close the state’s budget gap met with fierce resistance Wednesday from dozens of college administrators, local government representatives, environmental activists and myriad others who came to testify against reductions to their own organizations.
Nearly 100 people signed up to offer oral or written testimony at the hours-long Senate hearing discussing Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed series of budget transfers and cuts, along with two alternatives offered by Republican senators.
O’Malley’s plan hinges on hundreds of millions of dollars in transfers from designated funds and the capital budget into the state’s operating budget, but also includes reductions of aid to local governments and eliminates or reduces a variety programs and grants.
The governor’s 41-page Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act – or BRFA, referred to as “burfa” – includes dozens of small cuts lumped together into categories of “other” or “miscellaneous.”
People supporting many of these “others” appeared at the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hearing to plead their cases about the importance of their programs and their need for state funding.
“This program is the goose that laid the golden egg,” said Mosi Harrington, of the Housing Initiative Partnership homeless aid group, saying that the organization has turned many homeless Marylanders into employed taxpayers. “It is inconceivable that having conceived of it, put it into effect and watched it thrive and save the state money and prevent family tragedies that you would let this program go down.”
Many speakers followed a standard formula: they promised to be brief, said they understood the state’s financial picture, discussed their organization’s achievements and said that they could not provide the same level of service if they suffered state cuts. Many further quoted folksy expressions to support their causes. One invoked the Bible.
Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, called out one witness — who was speaking against reductions in tax credits for home energy-efficiency audits — to ask him about this style of testimony.
“I can’t help but comment on that you are advocating preserving your chunk of money for efficiencies and things like that, and I recognize people want to protect their turf. But if we do that, where are we going to get the money from?” Brinkley said. “You know we’re going to hear from some more people — a lot of people — ‘protect our turf.'”
“Some of us are trying to advocate for some things that save the damn state’s finances and you’re not helping us do that,” Brinkley added.
Brinkley had joined Sen. E. J. Pipkin, R-Caroline, last week to present their plan for trimming hundreds of millions of dollars from O’Malley’s proposed budget. At Wednesday’s hearing they said the move would be necessary to protect the state’s future finances.
State budget analysts project a long-term structural deficit, in which state costs will continue to exceed revenues. Brinkley and Pipkin repeated their calls for the additional cuts as they spoke at the hearing in favor of their proposed bill, which includes major reductions to higher education and passing half of teacher pension costs to local governments.
Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, also discussed his own BRFA at the Wednesday hearing — his plan includes a large cut in aid to local governments and the University System of Maryland.
One of the most controversial aspects of O’Malley’s proposed BRFA legislation — the hundreds of millions of dollars in fund transfers from the Transportation Trust Fund and a local income tax reserve — had not yet been raised more than three hours into the hearing by any of the witnesses who came to defend their particular programs.
Opponents of the moves have said that the transportation money should be reserved for transportation projects and that the required repayment plan of the income tax money could cause the state harm in upcoming years.