The 426th Maryland General Assembly session is underway. It will be dominated by hard decisions needed to balance the state’s books in order to account for a $1.9-billion budget deficit. Maryland’s constitution demands that the legislature pass a balanced budget. Veteran lawmakers say the current budget crisis is at least as bad as the recession Maryland weathered in the early 1990s when lawmakers were able to raise revenues to address the problem.
There is little appetite for tax increases this time after a $1.4-billion tax hike a little over a year ago. Lawmakers are even talking about using a little-known reserve account containing $366-million in the comptroller’s office. The account was created decades ago to ensure money would be available for tax refunds, but it has not been needed.
Governor O’Malley says education initiatives may see an increase in funding, but most other areas will have to deal with steep cuts. The governor also indicated as many as 1,000 state workers could be laid off as a result of the state’s budget deficit. Senate President Mike Miller countered by arguing local governments should bear some of the responsibility by slashing their budgets instead of cutting state jobs. Lawmakers plan to tackle other high-profile issues such as repealing the death penalty, Bay cleanup and changes to Maryland’s medevac helicopter program.