Budget-cutting fiasco

October 11, 1991

Under pressure from a horde of state troopers, armed and sitting in the Senate gallery, lawmakers succumbed to what they are touting as a "compromise" budget-cutting plan. But the plan they hammered out with Governor Schaefer is by no stretch of the word a compromise. It is, pure and simple, a cave-in.

Though the jobs of 59 troopers have been restored, 24-hour Med-Evac service will continue and money for a parade of social services has been resurrected, not one new penny has been found. In exchange for preserving these jobs and services, everyone living on AFDC or General Public Assistance will find their monthly check slashed, and $183 million in state aid that the city and the counties were counting on no longer will be available.

Police and emergency medical care are crucial to the quality of life in this state, as is our ability to help the poor and disabled; certainly the importance of the restored jobs and services cannot be understated. But also important are 1,500 state workers who still are going to be laid off, the checks of welfare recipients that will no longer stretch to pay the rent and buy the food, the libraries that will be closed and other services that will be curtailed.

Despite the back-slapping rhetoric in Annapolis today, it is a farce to imply that this budget "compromise" is a solution. In reality, it merely passes the deficit to local government officials, trades off the suffering of one group for that of another and gets state politicians off the hook.

But not for long. There will be at least one more round of budget cuts this fiscal year, and somehow the state will have to absorb $500 million to $700 million in cuts next year as well. It stretches the imagination to think local governments can bear that kind of burden -- or that they should have to.

Already some state politicos are whispering the T-word and pondering the possibility of restructuring Maryland's tax system. This is the most hopeful sign to come out of Annapolis this week. If lawmakers are finally beginning to show a little insight, can backbone be far behind?

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