When better than on Friday the 13th to lampoon Doomsday, or more specifically Maryland's so-called Doomsday Budget.
First target: A special session of the Maryland General Assembly.
Going back about two weeks before the latest 90-day regular session of the Maryland General Assembly was slated to draw to a close, there was talk of a special session being called, either right after the regular session that ended at midnight Monday into Tuesday, or possibly in the fall.
There's only one good reason to have a special session, and that reason has been in place for decades. The reason is simply that while Maryland's delegates and senators are theoretically part time citizen legislators, they draw pay checks for the job that about half of the citizens of Maryland would regard as equal to or more than their full time salaries. Plus, they receive the generous state benefits package, not to mention a substantial retirement draw provided they are re-elected enough times. We're paying our legislature for what amounts to full time work for most of us, so the idea of having them work full time has a bit of merit.
There's a really good reason, however, for not sending them back to Annapolis to deal with the Doomsday Budget that supposedly goes into effect on July 1. The reason: the only thing they'd be likely to accomplish is raising taxes, and a tax increase just isn't called for.
The reason for the budget being referred to as a Doomsday spending plan doesn't hold water. The shortfall amounts to about $500 million, which is a lot of money to an individual, or even to a county, but a relatively small amount compared to the nearly $36 billion state budget as a whole.
Many of the projected cuts to the budget, as have been widely publicized, will come nominally in education and higher education spending. No doubt this is by design because these are hot button issues, kind of like when schools say they'll be cutting art and music classes to make their numbers, or when library systems or fire departments announce plans to close branches when faced with budget restraints.
In other words, ensuring that cuts are being made in the education categories is enough to enrage a share of the electorate, but probably in a way that rather smacks of demagoguery. Consider that the whole of Harford County's school system budget is a bit more than $500 million. Also consider that Harford County with its roughly 250,000 residents is less than 5 percent of Maryland's total population, which is roughly 6 million.
This means the hit to Harford County, on a straight scale, would amount to $25 million. It's still a substantial sum, but it would be extremely unlikely Harford County would see that amount (or that any county would see a comparable straight cut based on population) if the $500 million were put back in the state budget thanks to income tax increases.
More likely is the bureaucratic enterprise known as the Maryland Department of Education — an entity that's not designed to run schools, but rather to dole out money to the county school systems, set standards and make sure those standards are met — would get the lion's share.
Also in line for a share of the money would be the state's college and university system. While the system, like any worthy enterprise, can make a good argument it is deserving of more state funding, there's something to be said for allowing families to keep the money and potentially use it to pay college tuition bills, which have gone up substantially in recent years at our state colleges and universities.
It's worth noting that, on a per person basis, raising taxes to cover the $500 million shortfall would amount to about $83 (or $332 for a family of four), it's also worth noting that in a state budget of $35.8 billion, $500 million amounts to roughly 1.3 percent of the total.
Cutting 1.3 percent hardly constitutes looking down the barrel of Doomsday, and it's hardly a good reason to bring our part time legislators back for a special session, even if they are drawing full time pay.