William S. Ratchford II, the General Assembly's budget adviser, has estimated the state's projected budget deficit at $322 million, an increase of $72 million above his projection earlier this month.
Although Gov. William Donald Schaefer's budget experts have called his earlier estimates too pessimistic, Ratchford, director of the Department of Fiscal Services, said yesterday the numbers may not have been gloomy enough.
"It strikes me that the risk of being pessimistic is somewhat less than being optimistic," Ratchford told the Spending Affordability Committee, a joint panel of House and Senate lawmakers.
Charles L. Benton, Schaefer's chief budget adviser, said he would not argue with Ratchford's estimates, although he said he believes his department's $180 million shortfall estimate is more accurate.
"It's hard to disagree with him," Benton said after listening to Ratchford. "But that doesn't mean I agree with him."
The governor's advisers continue with plans to cut $180 million from the budget to balance the state's books when the fiscal year ends June 30.
Meanwhile, advocates for Maryland's poor and homeless, although alarmed over the state's projected budget shortfall, are gearing up for a battle in Annapolis over the shrinking money pool.
The advocates are preparing to intensify their lobbying as the 1991 legislative session approaches.
"It's imperative that [the lobbying activity] increase," said Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Dowling said the MCC has hired an additional staff worker to help persuade lawmakers that the state should spend more on (( services for the poor.
"The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the most grease," he said.
Del. Charles J. "Buzz" Ryan, D-Prince George's, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said he expects calls from lobbyists to begin flooding his office next month, well before the session begins in mid-January.
"They'll all come in and say, 'Don't cut him and don't cut me. Cut the guy behind the tree.' "
Although many advocates are expected to lobby harder just to keep their budgets intact next year, Dowling said he will ask for more money, as he has in previous years.
"I think we have to go for more," he said. "If we were to merely maintain status quo, that's an admission against our interests."
Dowling said Maryland falls far short in providing low-income housing for the needy. He said many families in Baltimore may have to wait as long as 15 years to be placed in government-assisted housing. In Prince George's County, he added, the wait can be 10 years.
"The Schaefer administration has done more than any administration in years," he said. "And yet is hasn't done enough."
Jack Neil, a lobbyist for environmental groups and various social causes, said he expects lobbyists to push for legislation increasing state revenues in order to generate more money for human resources projects. Advocates for the poor would be naive to think they will get a bigger share of the budget without finding ways to increase revenues, Neil said.
"I think it's safe to assume we're going to see fiscal year 1992 [spending] levels at the same levels provided in fiscal year 1991," he said.
Bruce Bereano, Maryland's highest paid lobbyist, agreed that lobbying activities are likely to intensify. But the upcoming session may not be the best time to promote increases or changes in the state's tax system, he said.
The Linowes Commission, appointed by the governor to recommend ways of restructuring Maryland's taxes, is scheduled to release its findings after the Nov. 6 general election. But already some legislative leaders have suggested they will not act on the report and may assign it to a 1991 summer study.
If that occurs, said Bereano, lawmakers may not be ready to listen to calls from advocacy groups to create new revenue sources.
"If leadership puts it off," he said, "then it would not be logical to tinker with it."