Budget hostages

March 13, 1991

In announcing a cut in support for the state's poorest and most vulnerable citizens, Human Resources Secretary Carolyn Colvin has done some fancy footwork in placing the blame. The (( cuts are necessary, she says in a letter to welfare clients, because the General Assembly has "refused to raise taxes." That charge, of course, ignores the fact that any tax increase the legislature does enact will affect only next year's budget -- not this year's deficit.

Currently, the Human Resources Department anticipates a shortfall of about $9 million, but a reduction in grants beginning in April will save only about $1.7 million. The move speaks volumes about the state's priorities.

Unlike other states, Maryland has not given its legislature the power to re-allocate funds among different agencies and departments. That prerogative lies with the governor. But instead of scouring the entire budget for the relatively small amount needed to close the Human Resources budget gap, the Schaefer administration seems to think the department should solve its problems all by itself -- even though it is besieged by applicants who are suffering from the downturn in the state's economy. Perhaps it is understandable that Colvin would not want to blame her boss for her predicament, but the fact is that he -- not the legislature -- has the power to solve the immediate problem. Pointing fingers at the legislature solves nothing.

It won't be pleasant for the governor to find the spare change for Human Resources; after all, what department ever feels it can spare any funding? But there's a vast difference between cutting money from already-inadequate welfare grants and the kinds of cuts most other departments or agencies would be asked to absorb. Samuel Johnson once said that "a decent provision for ** the poor is the truest test of civilization." What would he say now about a state that cannot resolve to meet the basic needs of its most vulnerable citizens?

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