State Digest

STATE DIGEST

June 07, 2007

Miller, Busch plan `doomsday budget'

Maryland's legislative leaders are preparing a "doomsday budget" to show how much would have to be cut to eliminate the state's $1.5 billion shortfall without raising new revenues.

Both House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller have called for tax increases -- and, in Miller's case, for legalizing slot machines -- to balance the budget without resorting to deep cuts.

Rather than a blueprint for how to solve the fiscal problems, the "doomsday budget" is more likely to be used as a scare tactic to show legislators and voters how much pain they would have to endure if no new revenues are approved.

"Would it have a severe impact if we had to cut 10 percent of our budget to balance it? You bet," Busch said. "The schools across the state would be affected. The enforcement of environmental regulations would be affected. The health care delivery system, all the way down the line."

Their letter, addressed to the General Assembly's chief fiscal analyst, Warren G. Deschenaux Jr., asks the Department of Legislative Services to determine the impact the cuts would have on the public, including reductions in staffing levels, cuts in programs or increased costs of services for the public.

The letter also asks for an estimate of layoffs or furloughs of state employees that would be required.

Gov. Martin O'Malley asked his department heads to find $200 million in budget cuts as a first step in addressing the expected gap between revenues and expenditures. He said layoffs of state workers were possible. The state is required by law to adopt a balanced budget.

"The governor is very interested in developing a comprehensive solution to the structural deficit," O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said. "To that end, he has already asked state agencies to make $200 million in cuts. This is a useful and valuable exercise that can help us find out what else might be out there in terms of possible cuts."

Sen. David R. Brinkley, the minority leader from Frederick County, said the "doomsday budget" is helpful for those who want to find items to cut, but he said he suspected that the Democrats have additional motives for publicizing it.

"It's a marketing ploy," he said. "They're trying to gin up support for tax increases."

Andrew A. Green

Maryland

: Environment

Bold steps on pollution urged

Maryland's elected leaders need to take quick, drastic steps to reduce pollution and protect state residents from the impact of global warming, according to a report released yesterday.

Blueprint for Action, released by the advocacy group Environment Maryland, says the state is ahead of many others in cutting emissions from power plants, addressing sea level rise and making sure cars run more efficiently. But nationwide, scientists have recommended emissions reductions of 20 percent by 2020. For Maryland to meet that goal, the state would have to do more to encourage energy conservation.

Among the report's recommendations: buying energy-efficient cars for state fleets, making low-resistance tires available, changing building codes to promote "green" buildings and encouraging telecommuting.

"It is very urgent that we act quickly," said Brad Heavner, the group's executive director. "We absolutely have to commit to this and achieve the targets, and we are hoping that a commitment comes right away."

Heavner said Maryland is "about a third" of the way there. The Clean Cars Bill, passed last year, requires a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Maryland's Healthy Air Act, approved this year, aims to cut pollution from coal-fired power plants by more than two-thirds.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat who sponsored the air act, said yesterday he would use Environment Maryland's report to guide him when he crafts legislation next year. "I don't want to wait much longer. I want to see a commitment when we leave next April," Pinsky said. "I think our bill will be similar. I'm not sure that I would suggest we put in the exact blueprint."

Rona Kobell

Maryland

: Planning

Costello to direct growth

David A. Costello, a former Baltimore community investment official, is Maryland's new director of Smart Growth in a rejuvenated operation within the state planning agency, Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday at a luncheon in Columbia.

"We want predictable growth and sustainability in an intelligent way," O'Malley said, praising the late James Rouse, Columbia's developer, as someone "who understood the height of human dreams and aspirations."

Costello, 47, director of Baltimore's Office of Community Investment when O'Malley was mayor, has been working in the state planning department for the past few months, O'Malley said.

The Baltimore resident will head a beefed-up office of six people, although Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall said existing state employees might supplement the five new positions the General Assembly approved for the office. Under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Smart Growth was disbanded as a separate office. The decade-old initiative had one employee when O'Malley took over in January, Hall said.

Hall said the much-ballyhooed base realignment and closure process, predicted to bring thousands of new federal jobs to Maryland, will be a central part of Costello's mandate.

"Baltimore City is right in the middle," between the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel, so the city could absorb some of the new residents the suburbs can't accommodate, Hall said.

Larry Carson

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