Md. spending study moves legislators to support tax increase Budget chiefs warn alternative is cuts in programs, layoffs

August 27, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Legislators concluded a three-month study of how the state spends its money yesterday, an exercise that the chairmen of the General Assembly's two budget committees said convinces them a major tax increase is needed.

The alternative, Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, and Delegate Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's, agreed, will be deep cuts in programs that send aid to Baltimore and the state's 23 counties, reductions in programs financed by the state, and layoffs of state workers.

But Mr. Levitan, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, and Mr. Ryan, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, also agreed that no tax increase will be possible without broad support from other legislators, local government officials, business and labor groups and rank-and-file citizens.

"We need the county executives, and we need the guy on the street who realizes his services are going to be cut," Mr. Levitan said after a joint committee that he and Mr. Ryan chaired released its report on state expenditures.

That report contained some bold proposals for the state to spend its money in new ways, such as expanding the use of "boot camps" for prisoners as a less costly alternative to incarceration, and one that appears to reduce recidivism.

Other proposals would transfer some civil and juvenile cases from the state's crowded circuit courts to the district courts, and transfer minor traffic cases from the district courts to administrative law judges.

But the report also reaffirmed support for -- and even recommended expansion of -- some of the state's most expensive programs, such as Maryland's aid to the public schools.

The report, produced by three House-Senate subcommittees that reviewed spending by all agencies of state government, also offered an array of large and small recommendations intended to save money, but which could affect everyday life for Marylanders. The recommendations include:

* Shifting vehicle registration from annual to biennial.

* Requiring one, rather than two, license plates per vehicle.

* Increasing fees at state-run marinas or elsewhere to help defray costs.

* Reducing state subsidies for the arts from 10 percent to 8 percent of operating costs of eligible organizations.

* Discouraging new highway construction, but encouraging creation of toll roads if such construction must occur.

* Terminating the northern end of the Central Light Rail line through Baltimore at Timonium, rather than Hunt Valley.

* Eliminating state support for Maryland Magazine, a glossy state promotional magazine produced by the Department of Economic and Employment Development.

Because cost and savings figures were not available for all recommendations, it was impossible to tell if the report's recommendations would actually increase expenditures or decrease them.

But Mr. Ryan said the study was never intended as a way of determining how the budget can be cut, but rather was designed to get a handle on the extent of spending the state faces over the next decade under current policies.

Beginning next week, the lawmakers will turn their attention to a study of the revenues the state takes in and, by mid-October, they will attempt to put the two parts of their study together into a package of recommendations, Mr. Ryan said.

Whatever the long-term costs, the General Assembly's budget advisers are giving lawmakers the same dreary short-term news Gov. William Donald Schaefer's advisers are giving him: That the state faces a deficit this fiscal year that already exceeds $300 million and, for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 1992, the projected deficit is in the range of $600 million to $700 million.

To illustrate how serious that is, Mr. Levitan said the state could lay off 4,500 employees effective Oct. 1 and only save $100 million -- "only one-third of the problem."

At a meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties over the weekend, Mr. Levitan suggested a special legislative session may be necessary in November to enact a tax increase that could go into effect Jan. 1. Only by acting so quickly can this year's deficit be reduced to a manageable level, he said. Mr. Ryan cautiously joined Mr. Levitan yesterday, but acknowledged that he has not discussed the issue with his boss, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent.

Mr. Mitchell said over the weekend that it is premature to discuss a special session until the revenue side of the study has been completed.

His counterpart, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, agreed yesterday that discussion of a special session is premature, but for a different reason. Mr. Miller said talk of a special session on taxes should wait until the political dust clears from the already scheduled Sept. 25 special session on congressional redistricting.

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