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'Doomsday' budget would slash education, police aid

State aid to public schools and universities could be slashed, 500 state jobs abolished and local law enforcement grants eliminated under a "doomsday" budget prepared for the Maryland Senate to show the impact of a budget balanced without tax increases.

The budget cutting would especially be hard on Baltimore, which would lose almost $75 million in state aid — including $34 million for education and $10 million for law enforcement.

The $720 million in cuts are part of what Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has called a doomsday budget, prepared for the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee as an alternative to Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to raise about $300 million in additional revenue, largely through an increase in the income taxes paid by Marylanders earning $100,000 or more.

The budget proposal, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, is one of several versions of a plan relying entirely on cuts to achieve a balanced budget. The Department of Legislative Services is scheduled to brief the Senate committee Tuesday.

The governor and General Assembly are struggling to close a $1 billion shortfall in the budget year that begins July 1. Under Maryland's constitution, the state budget must be balanced.

O'Malley said the doomsday proposal shows why the tax increases he has proposed are needed.

"There comes a point where you can't responsibly cut any further without undermining the very things that people expect of their state," O'Malley said. He noted that education, public safety and health services account for 84 percent of the state budget.

In part, the budget proposal is a device being used by the Senate leadership to force wavering Democrats to consider the implications of a refusal to raise taxes. But in the event that the House and Senate cannot muster the votes to approve a tax increase, cuts much like those in the doomsday scenario could become a reality.

The impact of the cuts would be felt by each of Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore — with some of the heaviest reductions affecting aid to schools, libraries and community colleges.

Under the proposal, Baltimore County would see a reduction of almost $45 million in state aid, with $28 million of that from O'Malley's proposal to shift teacher pension costs to county governments. Anne Arundel would lose $45 million, Howard $24 million, Harford $14 million and Carroll $10 million.

In addition to the cuts in local aid, the budget proposal outlines such options as cutting higher education by 10 percent, or $115 million, and eliminating 500 jobs in state government.

The budget proposal sends a dire message to the state's leading Democratic strongholds. In addition to the cuts to Baltimore, Montgomery County would lose $122 million and Prince George's would see a $98 million reduction in state aid.

For some senators, the cuts are more palatable than the tax increases that would be required to avoid them.

To Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, doomsday doesn't mean the end of the world. He said such a budget would force the counties, as well as the state, to live within their means.

"We can't afford to be everything to everybody in state government," he said.

Sen. David Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, said the proposal sounds similar to the alternative budget he and Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin have proposed in past years.

"The fact is, this is part of the tactics to say why some of the Democrats have to vote for a tax increase. ... The Republicans aren't going to vote for them," he said.

Baltimore would be especially hard-hit by the budget proposal's elimination of local law enforcement grants. The $10 million it is scheduled to receive under the O'Malley budget is more than half of the statewide cost of the program.

"Doomsday is absolutely the correct description of what's called for here — particularly on its impact on Baltimore City," said Ryan O'Doherty, spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said he does not think a doomsday plan could pass if it takes big cuts from Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

"Some people might think that Miller is threatening these jurisdictions: 'Either sign up for increased taxes or I will make sure that your area gets cuts,'" Norris said. "It's highly doubtful that senators from those jurisdictions would accept that threat."

Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

'Doomsday' budget cuts

The $720 million in cuts called for in one Senate budget proposal include:

•K-12 education, $206 million

•Higher education, $151 million

•Local law enforcement grants, $21 million

•Medicaid, $100 million

•Eliminate 500 positions, $30 million

•Eliminate cost-of-living raise, $34 million

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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