ANNAPOLIS -- The General Assembly's Republican minority hit Democratic leaders yesterday right where it hurt: in their carefully crafted budget and tax proposal.
The increasingly assertive Republicans said they had a plan to balance Maryland's budget next year without raising taxes and without "cataclysmic consequences."
The GOP attack touched a nerve among Democrats long accustomed to having their way. Within three hours, the Democrats had thrown together a written response, and Democratic leaders were eager to pitch some choice words at the Republican alternative:
"This budget is a fairy tale," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee.
"You cannot do it," said Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. He said the GOP plan would lead to thousands of layoffs of government workers and a drastic reduction in services.
"It is unrealistic and an insult to the people of Baltimore," said Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore. Local governments would have to increase property taxes and lay off government workers and teachers, or both, he said.
"It continues life as usual for the richer counties and alienates Baltimore," he said. "It will force higher property taxes in the city, which will drive the taxpayer away from the city and eventually make Baltimore the home just for poor people who can't pay taxes."
Outnumbered by more than 4-to-1 in the legislature, Republicans have long contented themselves with minor partisan sniping at a Democratic leadership whose good will they needed to get anything done.
But GOP leaders smell blood on the issue of higher taxes, and they said yesterday that the Democratic proposal was an effort to continue government spending at a pre-recession pace, with taxpayers picking up the tab.
"Clearly, our economy is in the doldrums," said House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County. "The worst thing wecan do is pile more taxes on the private sector."
GOP lawmakers argued that Democrats are starting with a phony "baseline budget" that assumes the revenues and spending patterns of a "normal year." Those assumptions would increase spending by 17 percent, or more than $1 billion. That made it appear that the Democratic plan would trim government spending by a hefty $700 million, Republicans said.
They argued that a big chunk of that $700 million is a "paper cut." They said it was a reduction in a fictitious spending increase that no one thinks the state can afford.
Instead, Republicans said, the starting point should be the current fiscal year 1992 budget, already revised downward sharply from the spending plan the legislature adopted a year ago.
The state is getting along just fine with that budget, Mrs. Sauerbrey said, so there is no reason to change it until the economy improves.
But Mr. Maloney disagreed, saying cutbacks have already left prisons and state hospitals chronically understaffed. Severely disabled Marylanders are on long waiting lists for treatment, the state's universities are losing faculty members, libraries are being shut down, and school systems can barely scrape up enough money to stay open the required 180 days, he said.
The Republican budget, he and other Democrats said, would mean no staffing for new state prisons, elimination of rape crisis centers, theclosing of facilities for the retarded, higher college 11 tuition and a widening gap between rich and poor jurisdictions.
"It is a deception. They are giving the impression you can get something for nothing," Mr. Maloney said.
And despite Mrs. Sauerbrey's contention that the Republican budget could be adopted "without cataclysmic consequences," others are unlikely to see it that way.
For example, backers of a scheduled $184.4 million increase in state aid for education, a program known as APEX, are expected to oppose the GOP plan to delay the increase by at least one year. Community colleges also will be upset at a proposed $18 million reduction in funding.
Carroll Hynson, a spokesman for the State Lottery Agency, said lottery players will be upset by the GOP's plan to reduce prize money by $59 million and divert the money to the general treasury.
He and others said the reduction would translate into fewer players and, in turn, less money for the state. In fiscal 1991, prize money totaled $409 million, he said.
PTC The Republicans also produced a four-page list of smaller cuts, including limits on car phones and travel to out-of-state conferences, reductions in professional dues and subscriptions, and cheaper in-house printing.
They suggested converting state scholarship grants to loans that could be repaid upon graduation.
They also said they want to sell the state yacht, scrap the governor's "Maryland You Are Beautiful Program" and eliminate cover sheets from faxes sent by state agencies.
* The budget would be balanced without raising taxes.
* A schedule $ 184.4 million increase in aid for education would be postponed. Current school aid would be increased only to reflect enrollment.
* The amount of money available for lottery prizes would be reduced by an estimated $59 million, with the money diverted to general state uses.
* Payment of at least &70 million in fiscal year 1992 Medicaid bills would be posponed until fiscal year 1994, a year later than the proposal by the legislature's fiscal leadership.
* A scheduled $18 million increase in community college aid would be elimated.
* A plan to replenish the state's depleted "Rainy Day" emergency fund with $25 million would be reduced to $2 million.
* "Pay-as-you-go" capital construction of government facilities would bereduced from $27.5 million this year to $4 million.
* Police aid to local subdivisions would be increased from $4.4 million this year to $7 million.