By ABBY BROWNBACK
ANNAPOLIS (November 4, 2010)Gov. Martin O'Malley and his cabinet members gathered around the kitchen table to discuss options for closing the state's budget deficit at their first post-election meeting Thursday morning.
"The kitchen table was dragged all over our great state," the governor said, pointing out the stickers on the table that accompanied O'Malley on his campaign bus tour.
The table, O'Malley said, symbolizes how he makes decisions.
"How's this going to impact the most important place in our state?" the governor said. "That's our families as they gather around their kitchen table."
The meeting was intended to set the tone for O'Malley's second term and to refocus on state agencies' core missions, said spokesman Shaun Adamec.
The state will be on "a constant diet of cuts, cuts, cuts" - but the governor will not propose any tax increases - as officials look to close a $1.2 billion deficit, O'Malley reiterated.
The legislature, at O'Malley's behest, tackled an initial budget deficit in a late 2007 special session with a one-cent increase in the sales tax, among other measures designed to generate revenue. Since then, furloughs and layoffs, decreases both in assistance to local governments and in Medicaid payments to hospitals, and transfers from accounts designated for capital projects all have contributed to slicing $5.6 billion from the budget during O'Malley's tenure.
Thursday's cabinet meeting was closed to the press after the governor's opening statement, but Adamec clarified afterward that cuts will not be "draconian, 10-percent, across-the-board."
Instead, agencies are being asked to give their top priorities and key initiatives, said Christian Johansson, the secretary of business and economic development.
T. Eloise Foster, the secretary of budget and management, said the administration will look to cut unfilled jobs first as it carries out directions from the General Assembly to eliminate 500 positions.
In the next month, Foster will meet with department heads, review revenues, and discuss recommendations with the governor - but it's "premature" to say what those recommendations might be, she said.
"It's going to be difficult," she said. "Each time you try to cut a billion, it gets more and more difficult. We've got a tough job to do."
Senate President Mike Miller, who met with the governor Thursday to review concerns about continued furloughs for state employees, said the state's transportation budget could not be cut, but the governor will have to decide what priority he will put on the environment and obtaining land for conservation.
"The human value has got to trump progress and acquiring open lands," Miller said.
Republican Delegate Nancy Stocksdale, the assistant minority leader, declined to speculate where budget reductions might be made.
"Everybody has to look at their budgets and tighten their purse strings," she said.
On top of deep cuts, Stocksdale said she has no doubt Marylanders will end up paying higher taxes - if not at the insistence of the governor, then at the hand of the legislature.