Trimming Schaefer's Budget

January 28, 1993

State legislators should not hesitate to cut back the budget proposed last week by Gov. William Donald Schaefer if they are persuaded the governor is spending more than what this state is likely to receive in revenues. Caution should be their motto.

There is much dispute over the governor's spending package. While the state's revenues are expected to grow by a measly 2.3 percent, Mr. Schaefer's spending plan calls for a far bigger increase of 4.3 percent. But this appears to be the result of budgeting technicalities.

The governor's fiscal aides say they have avoided gimmicks or one-time windfalls and have balanced this $12.7 billion budget with additional user-fees, a modest increase in on-going state revenue and $100 million from the dangerously addictive and fiscally unpredictable keno lottery game.

Our concern is that the expansion of state aid in this budget may not be warranted by the sluggish local economy. Assistance to the city and counties would increase a giant $185 million -- more than offsetting the big aid cuts made last November.

Much of this money is earmarked for quality programs -- promising health-care initiatives, crime prevention and money for poorer schools. But can Maryland afford all these expenditures right now? Or is Mr. Schaefer setting the stage for another flurry of overspending, disappointing revenue collections and budget deficits later this year?

The bulk of the Schaefer budget is admirable for its focus on prevention programs that could save millions in future years. It is a forward-looking document that attempts to deal with the perplexing problems government faces from a growing elderly and a growing school-age population, both of which consume immense sums of tax dollars.

Most state agencies are far smaller today than they were before the recession. What has driven up the cost of government has been recession-driven demands for medical and welfare benefits and large increases in aid for localities. Finally, the recessionary expenses are starting to level off. But lawmakers should not take this as a sign that happy days are here again. We are in a period of slow economic recovery. The last thing this state needs is a budget wildly at odds with fiscal realities.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.