Irresponsible duo costing us dearly

February 12, 2002|By Kenneth R. Timmerman

BETHESDA - Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend proposed spending $22.2 billion this year to fund lavish new government spending and handouts to their political allies.

To balance this rich budget, they have announced plans to raid the state's "rainy day" fund, deplete the transportation trust fund and cancel the last 2 percent of the 10 percent state income tax cut promised during their 1998 election campaign. This amounts to an immediate tax increase that will cost taxpayers an estimated $175 this year alone.

Consider: This time last year, Governor Glendening began the budget season with a tax surplus of $936 million and a rainy day fund overflowing with past surpluses that stood at $919.2 million. This was money that Maryland taxpayers had overpaid the state government.

The rainy day fund was set up to pay for vital government operations in times of economic downturn, not as a slush fund to promote cancerous growth of government. And yet, in the fat times of last year, our governing duo raided the rainy day fund of $581.9 million for pet projects and political payoffs. They plan to draw down the fund by an additional $612 million this year.

Consider: This year's budget calls for $94 million for college construction projects that include such nonessential items as a policy institute and yet another arena for the University of Maryland, College Park and expanding a fine arts center at Towson University. Do we all want a world-class state university system? Sure. Must we absolutely spend this money now? No way.

Over the past five years, according to a Nov. 20 briefing by the Department of Legislative Services, our governing duo has swollen the state work force by 11.1 percent while seriously underfunding federally mandated programs such as Medicare, for which Maryland receives federal payments.

In presenting his budget, the governor explained these pay increases and new proposals that would impose collective bargaining on virtually all remaining non-union state employees. "We have to take care of our people," he said. "His" people are the big union bosses, who have lavished campaign contributions on the governor and his political allies. The paybacks have been constant and costly.

Consider: Closed union shop requirements pushed by the Glendening administration have added an estimated 15 to 20 percent to school construction costs. When so-called "prevailing wage" legislation was proposed two years ago, state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer warned that the scheme "does damage to the welfare of our children" and would result in a reduction in the number of classrooms to be built or the rehabilitation work to be performed.

His predictions have come true. In some districts, new schools have been canceled because the governor and his acolytes refused bonding authority to their political opponents in the General Assembly. Even taxpayer-rich Montgomery County is now complaining that rising construction costs and union pay demands will account for $66 million of the projected $71 million school budget deficit this year.

And then there's the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Just last year, state engineers estimated the cost of building the bridge superstructure would be $487.2 million, according to a Jan. 8 budget briefing by the Transportation Department. When the state finally awarded the contract on Dec. 12, only one bid had come in - for $859.9 million. That amounts to a massive 76.5 percent cost overrun. Why?

"It's clear that the Glendening-Townsend administration's threat to impose a Project Labor Agreement scared away many potential bidders," says Russell Roeding, executive director of the Chesapeake chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. The threatened PLA, averted only by intervention from the Bush administration, would have limited bidding to closed union shops, imposed crippling work rules on contractors and driven up costs.

These are just a few examples of what amounts to gross mismanagement of public funds. The Glendening-Townsend duo has violated the trust of the taxpayers, families and wage-earners of Maryland by putting special interests ahead of the public interest. It's time for a little budget sanity in Annapolis.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association Inc.

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