By RICK DOCKSAI, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Park rangers, police, social workers and teachers will all be hit with funding cuts if the General Assembly does not settle on a budget plan in the upcoming special session, Gov. Martin O'Malley warned Tuesday.
Speaking outside the State House with members of his Cabinet behind him, the governor presented a "cost of delay" budget that cuts $1.7 billion from a variety of state and county programs in fiscal 2009 if lawmakers do not agree to his plan to raise taxes.
"There is a price to doing nothing," O'Malley said. "There has always been a price to doing nothing."
The General Assembly will meet in special session Monday to consider O'Malley's plan to close the projected $1.7 billion gap in next year's budget by cutting $280 million in spending and raising the rest through legalized slot machines and higher income, sales and other taxes.
The "cost of delay" budget would freeze teacher retirement funds for a $63 million savings, cut $27 million from community college and abolish state-aided educational grants, to the amount of $6.2 million.
State police lose would lose $6.5 million in funding and two barracks, one in College Park and one in Annapolis, while drug treatment funding would be cut $22 million, or 25 percent.
O'Malley also said he would have to cut $5.4 million from libraries, $7 million from local health funding and close eight state parks.
Republican lawmakers at Tuesday's event dismissed the presentation as a scare tactic meant to raise support for the governor's budget plan and its tax increases.
"The big new horror movie of October is Nightmare on State Circle. It stars Martin O'Malley trying to scare Marylanders into accepting new tax increases," said Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne's, said that neither tax cuts nor slots are necessary for a balanced budget. All that is needed would be to cut spending and transfer more expenses to the county governments.
"We can stop the spending increase, shift some of the responsibility to the counties, and this so-called crisis is over," Pipkin said.
But David Bliden, the executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said the amount of money that would have to be cut to balance the state budget is too great for county governments to make up the difference.
"What is on the table is reductions to funding which are directly linked to critical services on which citizens rely. It's not realistic to expect counties to raise property taxes to make up for these cuts," Bliden said.
He called the governor's cost-of-delay budget "a reality check."
"You have to fill the budget hole somehow. Something is going to have to give," said Bliden, who added that people's everyday lives could be impacted greatly if the governor's warnings came true.
"What citizens should be fearful of is a busy signal when they call the roads department to get a pothole fixed, when they call the health department for a vaccination, when they call the 911 center because of a robbery," Bliden said.
The cuts in education and libraries could be particularly acute.
"You go to the library now and find an open door—those doors could now be closed," he said. "Those class sizes could grow without more state support to education."
State Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick echoed those concerns.
"Schoolchildren will suffer because there won't be the resources we need to support them," said Grasmick, who was backing up O'Malley at Tuesday's event.
But Republican lawmakers were not impressed by those arguments, which they called administration scare tactics.
"He's trying to scare the citizens of Maryland into thinking that if we don't have these tax increase we're going to be harmed," said Kittleman, "when actually if we do have these tax increases, we will be harmed."