Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has had a rough go of it, budget-wise, during his ongoing four-year term. Maryland's economy, like the nation's, was jolted by a crisis on a scale unseen in generations. As a result, the state's revenue growth ground almost to a halt, increasing only 1.4 percent between fiscal years 2007 and 2011. The state's proposed operating budget—the normally ever-growing pot of money that funds day-to-day government activities—actually shrank this year, while the number of state employees declined for the second year in a row.
By comparison, former governor Robert Ehrlich (R) had a cakewalk. After his election in 2002, the economy shook the doldrums and started booming. Personal income in Maryland jumped skyward, helping fuel a nearly 40-percent increase in state revenues between fiscal years 2003 and 2007. Much of the money boosted the government's operating budget, which rose nearly 28 percent during those four years. After initially cutting the number of state jobs by eliminating vacant positions, Ehrlich increased them again until, in his final budget, the number was greater than under his predecessor, Parris Glendening (D).
The two governors, who are running against one another for the second time, handled two vastly different sets of budgetary circumstances. But analyzing how they handled them, by comparing the way they divvied up the budget that funds government operations, reveals much about their priorities. While the campaign rhetoric whips to a frenzy in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 general election, there's one foolproof way to gauge how the candidates governed: Follow the money.
City Paper relied on state budget documents to analyze two operating budgets for each governor: the one his predecessor handed him, and the final one of his term. In any given year, the size of a given slice—the environment, for instance, or health—is measured by dividing the amount it received into the total budget. Determining how much that slice grew or shrank over each four-year period is then a matter of comparing its size in the first year to its size in the final year.
For each governor, City Paper identified the three slices that grew the most and the three that shrank the most. Ehrlich's most-favored slices were the environment, education, and health, while his hardest-hit slices were transportation, human resources (the "safety net" for Marylanders in crisis), and business-related agencies. Under O'Malley, health, education, and human resources grew the most, while the environment, transportation, and business-related agencies shrank the most.
Thus, the two governors shared much in common: They both favored education and health and they both de-emphasized transportation and the state's business-related operations. Where they differed was on the environment, which Ehrlich boosted the most and O'Malley hit hardest, and human resources, which O'Malley favored and Ehrlich cut.
Ehrlich campaign spokesperson Andy Barth writes in an e-mail response to City Paper 's findings that Ehrlich "has always been totally committed to providing quality education for all our children," so he "provided the biggest funding increase for K-12 education of any governor ever, $1.4 billion." While governor, Barth writes, Ehrlich "also provided historic improvements for the Bay and Maryland's environment" by taking measures that Barth credits for producing "a substantial increase in the crab population and harvest in the Bay." Barth adds that, while Ehrlich "worked hard to keep spending in check for all agencies, including business related activities," the former governor claims to have run "the most productive and cost-effective" business-related operations "in Maryland's history, and will fund those programs that produce the best return on investment."
"Under Governor O'Malley, we have made the tough but smart decisions to invest in the most critical priorities for our families, education, public safety and job creation, while at the same time restoring fiscal responsibility in Annapolis," O'Malley spokesperson Rick Abbruzzese writes in an e-mail response. "Governor O'Malley has cut $5.6 billion in state spending. He abolished 4,200 state positions, and today, Maryland's General Fund is smaller than it was four years ago (for the first time since the Great Depression), and we have the lowest number of state employees per capita since 1974." He says the governor addressed the $1.7 billion "structural deficit" and reduced general fund spending overall by 3 percent while submitting balanced budgets. "While making these tough and fiscally responsible decisions, we have also moved our state forward with record investments in public education and school construction, made college more affordable at Maryland universities, . . . [and] provided health care for more than 200,000 more Marylanders."
What follows is a closer examination of each governor's most-favored and hardest-hit budget slices.