ANNAPOLIS -- Republican delegates, certain that the Democrats who control the General Assembly are plotting to raise taxes, have announced plans to hold their own budget hearings to solicit taxpayers' views on ways to cut government spending as an alternative.
"We hope to focus the debate on how to downsize government," said House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County, on Thursday. "Imagine that you were governor for a day. . . . Where would you cut the budget?"
The Republican hearings, to be held in Arnold, Towson, Rockville and Salisbury, may well overlap with as many as three budget hearings the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate have tentatively scheduled for later this month and early December.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, saw no conflict in the parallel sets of hearings, saying, "The more input we can get from constituents, the better off we are. I just hope [the Republicans] share their thoughts [from the hearings] with us."
Spending and tax options identified through a monthslong study of government expenditures and revenues will be the subject of the Democratic leadership's proposed hearings, but Mr. Mitchell said he, too, believes the public wants government to do what it can to avoid raising taxes.
However, Mrs. Sauerbrey said, "The thing that was very troubling about our revenue/expenditure study is that it was more one of laying a groundwork for tax increases than a serious effort to find ways to reduce the size of the budget."
She also complained that average taxpayers were rarely if ever heard. Instead, she said, lengthy hearings were dominated by elected officials fearful of further budget cuts, agency heads seeking to keep their departments intact, or special interest groups hoping for more money from the government.
"Whoever comes is going to be heard, but we're not going to be putting the organized interest groups ahead of everybody else," she said, adding that no money-saving idea would be considered too small, or too large, to be aired at the hearings.
She said the GOP lawmakers especially want to hear from state employees, who "are on the inside [and] are the best able to identify ineffective programs and areas of waste."
Republican senators have been invited to attend the hearings, she said, although the fact that the hearings were scheduled by XTC the delegates alone highlights the different approaches taken in recent years by House and Senate Republicans.
For example, Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, has said the state's budget crisis -- a total shortfall this fiscal year alone of approximately $600 million plus another $700 million projected for next year -- cannot be solved by budget cuts and will require some sort of tax increase.