Taxing Sauerbrey and Glendening

October 09, 1994

Until she fills in the gaps, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey has a credibility problem in her grand-sounding plan to cut state income taxes 24 percent. Her failure to indicate how and where she will slash programs to pay for her tax reductions makes it impossible to judge if this is an election-year shell-game or a viable approach to shrinking government sensibly.

Mrs. Sauerbrey's opponent, Democrat Parris Glendening, is no XTC paragon of virtue on fiscal questions, either. He has proposed some $300 million in new programs for the state -- but refuses to detail where the money will come from. He says Maryland's tax revenues grow by $300 million every year. What he doesn't say is that $120 million of that increase is swallowed up in higher Medicaid costs; $120 million is diverted to local school-aid programs and new federal mandates consume much of the remaining funds.

For the moment, Mrs. Sauerbrey's call for 6 percent yearly cuts in state income taxes is setting the mood of this campaign. Yet she never says what sacrifices are needed to make the first year happen. She is even more evasive in discussing how she'll pay for tax cuts in later years. We know the good news. How about the bad news?

Mrs. Sauerbrey's approach appears to leave the state in the hole in the initial year. She has made no plans to close the budget gap for next year -- somewhere between $80 million and $150 million. She has not taken into account deficiency appropriations of $20 million to $25 million. Her revenue estimates are $60 million higher than State House figures. As best we can tell, the Republican candidate needs to come up with at least $350 million to make her first-year tax-cut possible.

Freezing agency spending at current levels won't suffice. A hiring freeze doesn't provide a big enough savings. Turning to an HMO program for all Medicaid recipients doesn't save much money. And the Sauerbrey budget hasn't even taken into consideration the opening of new buildings, such as the city jail addition in Baltimore that will add $11 million to operating costs.

Voters need to know what programs Mrs. Sauerbrey is going to cut. Kidney dialysis for the poor? College scholarships? School construction? Or does she have more palatable reductions in mind? Until the nominee lets us know, many Marylanders will fear the worst.

In the final month of this campaign, both candidates have an obligation to give voters specifics on their fiscal proposals -- not snappy sound-bites. Mrs. Sauerbrey ought to be forthcoming on where the budget cuts will come to finance her tax reductions while keeping the state's finances in balance. Mr. Glendening must explain himself more explicitly: How will he reduce spending -- without raising taxes -- to make room for his new initiatives? Then and only then can voters make a valid comparison between the two candidates on tax and spending issues.

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