It pained Gov. William Donald Schaefer to unveil his plans for cutting $450 million from state and local governments yesterday. And no wonder. As many as 2,500 state employees (or as few as 400) could lose their jobs. Hundreds of thousands of ill or poor Marylanders will lose some or all of their state benefits. College tuition will soar.
That's the reality of Maryland's budget picture. The recession has taken the air out of this state's economic balloon and pTC recovery is still not yet on the horizon. Spending has far outstripped the cash flowing into the state treasury. And unlike Washington, where deficits are routinely ignored by Congress and the president, Maryland officials must take their obligations seriously. The state constitution mandates a balanced budget each year.
Yet even the bleak options outlined by the governor may not end the state's budget crisis. Demands for services are so great and pressures on legislators from interest groups are so intense that a true downsizing of the government in Annapolis may not occur. Many of the cuts soon to be implemented by the governor could be restored by the legislature next year or the year after. There is still no consensus on making the kinds of structural changes that are needed to narrow the scope and expense of government to affordable levels.