Maryland's estimated budget deficit seems to increase so quickly that lawmakers had barely begun to plan to fill the fiscal gap when suddenly, unpredictably, it widened. The latest figures put this year's shortfall at $450 million -- a whopping $100 million more than was projected just months ago, which means the state could face a $2 billion deficit by the end of the decade.
Maryland's dire fiscal straits are, in part, a consequence of the sluggish economy -- which has brought a precipitous decline in income and sales tax revenues. But it is also a result of the bogus notion, perpetuated by the Reagan and Bush administrations, that more and better services can be provided without increasing taxes. In real fiscal terms, that merely translates into passing the buck. For the past decade federal officials have managed revenue problems by whittling away at grants to the states. For the impact on Baltimore of these draconian policies, see Jack Levin's article on the opposite page.
It is little consolation to Marylanders that the majority of statenow are swamped in red ink. But it ought to make the dilemma more clear: Services like education, roads, Medicaid and a host of other amenities that taxpayers have come to expect simply do not come free, and the federal government is an increasingly reluctant partner. In one plan, fashioned to close the gap in Maryland, every state department would face a nearly devastating 4 percent budget cut that would eliminate not only services but also scores of jobs. There would be painful cuts of 25 percent in selected aid programs to the counties as well. The new $450 million deficit estimate finally, if inadvertently, puts the lie to Reaganomics. Taxpayers must subsidize government services; the only real question is whom they will pay -- federal, state or local government.
Governor Schaefer and the members of the General Assembly are, unfortunately, going to have to take the heat and restructure the state's tax system, or Marylanders will suffer the loss of many programs and services on which they now depend.