Pound foolish

August 29, 2005

WILLIAM DONALD Schaefer made news last week by acknowledging that Maryland had a $1.2 billion budget surplus on June 30. But how many heard Mr. Schaefer's full explanation? Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has already committed half that money to balance the fiscal 2006 budget that began July 1. In the long term, red ink looms. State spending is growing at a pace that the current tax structure cannot support.

Mr. Ehrlich claims to be fiscally responsible, yet he continues to misrepresent his own government's finances. Even Mr. Schaefer, a staunch Ehrlich supporter, couldn't help but scold the governor's staff for asking him to trumpet a nonexistent billion-dollar surplus. "They thought the billion would look better, and it would," the comptroller said, "but that's not what we're here for."

Let's not ignore good news - higher tax revenues have helped Maryland (and most other states). But the public needs to understand the big picture. Mr. Ehrlich has spent several years taking from Peter to pay Paul, shortchanging transportation and land conservation programs that deserve to be restored. Worse, much larger costs loom, including Medicaid's growing burden. And then there's the state's education deficit - the extra $2 billion or so needed for school construction that the state hasn't yet financed.

Mr. Ehrlich would clearly like to rescind his 55 percent state property tax rate increase. We would too. But it's not prudent to cut taxes until there's a viable plan to solve Maryland's long-term structural deficit. This governor has earned a reputation for bringing Capitol Hill-style politics to Annapolis. The state doesn't need Washington's irresponsible budgeting practices, too.

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