Ignoring Maryland's Deficit

June 26, 1994

The seven main candidates for governor so far have done a marvelous job ducking an unhappy reality that will greet the winner on inauguration day: Maryland faces a $1.2 billion budget shortfall over the next four years.

Instead of telling voters the truth -- that unpopular choices await -- these candidates are suggesting new and improved programs that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. No one wants to add up the bills for taxpayers.

Simplistic answers are offered for Maryland's chronic budget woes. Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening would "grow the economy" to create jobs. Rep. Helen Bentley would "streamline" government. Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg wants to wipe out the entire state Department of Personnel. It is all campaign rhetoric.

Economists say state spending is increasing 2 percent faster than revenues. That's the first thing the next governor must address, like it or not. Yet every candidate mumbles "no new taxes." The winner will be forced to find other ways to close that $1.2 billion gap. It won't be easy, or pleasant.

That probably explains why the deficit is being ignored. Who wants to alienate public employees by letting them know thousands of them may be laid off? Who wants to offend groups by announcing that programs dear to their hearts could be cut?

Voters are hearing a litany of trite "solutions." Mrs. Bentley says she would sue the federal government to stop mandates that cost the state millions. That's impractical grandstanding. How will she deal with the deficit in January? She says she'd tell legislators to reduce state mandated programs. What if they don't? She's stuck with all that red ink and no plan.

Meanwhile, Mr. Glendening says a growing economy can help balance the budget. What if it doesn't? He says he will reduce operating costs 2 percent in 1995. That saves only $31 million. Besides, he's never explained how he would pay for his $225 million in campaign commitments.

As for Mr. Steinberg, his plan to shut down the personnel department is political hokum. He'd have to create costly separate personnel agencies in each department. What a mess! He's on firmer ground calling for managed-care health insurance for more Medicaid recipients.

Other suggestions are fluff. Sen. Mary Boergers wants to trim the governor's police detail. Del. Ellen Sauerbrey wants to sell the state yacht. Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski suggests employing bilingual economic development officials to avoid hiring interpreters. Bill Shepard says he'll review past efficiency reports. Only Ms. Sauerbrey talks about big spending cuts -- but just in the first year. She is as reluctant as the others to get specific.

Voters have had it with evasive campaign language. It is time for a truthful discussion of Maryland's billion-dollar deficit. Will any of the candidates face up to this unhappy situation? We await their responses.

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