By KAREN ANDERSON
ANNAPOLIS (Dec. 2, 2009) - Even with all the painful reductions to this year's budget, next year's revenue shortfall is predicted to be nearly twice as large, as much as $2 billion, creating a real challenge for Maryland legislators assigned to draft a budget the state can afford.
To make up for it, the legislature will have to find ways to spend less since many state leaders are against imposing additional taxes to generate revenue.
"We're not going to raise any taxes next year," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., at a legislative preview he and House Speaker Michael Busch hosted in Annapolis Tuesday evening.
"So we're going to have to do less with less," Miller said.
Both Miller and Busch made it clear that K-12 education, which grew in spending by roughly $700 million since fiscal 2007 while the rest of the state's general fund budget shrank, should remain a top priority for Maryland.
"We believe that's our No. 1 investment to make here because we think the future of our economy is going to be directed by an educated workforce," Busch said.
To make up for the deficit, Miller said the state would issue more furloughs and position cuts for government employees. This year, Maryland has furloughed employees and eliminated more than 500 state jobs.
"We're going to have to go to the superintendents of schools and say 'Listen, you're going to have to find us some administrators, some bureaucrats, some public relations people that we can cut because we're not going to furlough teachers, we're not going to cut teachers as they're doing in California, New York and some other states,'" Miller said. "But we're going to have to make those tough decisions because we've cut everything else."
Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, said education spending will have to be reevaluated this legislative session.
"Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed concern that we can't continue to cut everywhere except education," Kittleman said. "We can't continue to fix our problems by avoiding the biggest single item in our budget ... that's something that's going to be put on the table."
Such reductions, Kittleman said, would address what he called Maryland's spending problem, which, he said, overshadows the state's revenue problem.
Miller said government should focus first on providing the "core basic government services" and shed staff positions such as press officials.
Some in the audience Tuesday night said Busch and Miller did not address their immediate concerns for the state—such as health care, private sector joblessness and inflated property taxes based on home values that often have dropped significantly in recent years.
"They didn't talk about the issues that people care about. That's the bottom line," said Bellaire resident Dave Schwartz, the state's director for Americans for Prosperity.
Tuesday's preview offered little room for follow-up questions to those that were asked of Busch and Miller by a moderator.
Busch sounded optimistic that Maryland's current fiscal troubles are a factor of the national recession, not a fundamental flaw in the state's government.
"We believe our infrastructure and our revenue structure is one that will fund our priorities very well when the economy starts to return," Busch said. "But until that time, everybody's going to have to tighten their belts a little bit."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.