Hard times

October 02, 1991

In real and palpable ways, nearly a quarter of a million Marylanders are now being held hostage. To describe the deep budget cuts Governor Schaefer unveiled Monday as devastating, as so many officials have, is to sorely underestimate their impact.

Tens of thousands of Marylanders, those receiving General Public Assistance, are literally going to be out on the streets. So, too, many of the men and women at the state's halfway houses, which are slated to be shut down Nov. 1. Thousands of families who receive Aid to Dependent Children, many of whom now get by only with the help of local soup kitchens, will find that the safety net has been ripped out from under them. School breakfast and lunch programs, money for local health programs, police departments, residential drug- and alcohol-addiction programs, mental health services -- all will be cut to the point of virtual irrelevance. Many of the 1,700 state workers whose jobs the governor eliminated surely will slip into poverty, further burdening a social service system that will be, for all practical purposes, impotent.

Is this the kind of state any of us wants to live in?

In fairness it must be said that Schaefer's options were limited: 80 percent of state spending is mandated, which left only 20 percent of the budget to soak up a $450 million shortfall. Still there is an element of political posturing here. Schaefer, after all, had warned lawmakers last session that revenues were falling off and asked them to approve tax restructuring to stave off precisely the kinds of Draconian cuts he proposed this week. The choice is still the same -- cut services or raise taxes -- but the stakes are substantially higher. If the General Assembly doesn't approve a quick tax increase, the governor's plan will take effect.

Still, there is the nagging question of priorities. Maryland is essentially locked into the new stadium, for instance, and $24 million in lottery revenues every year are being funneled to the new ball park even as many of the state's poor go hungry and homeless. If the time has come for lawmakers to ask the working people of this state for more money to stave off suffering, then so be it. But it would be unconscionable to do so without a thorough re-evaluation of the way they manage that tax money.

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