Trying to navigate your way through the facts and rhetoric about Maryland's budget is kind of like trying to find your way through the Labyrinth without a ball of yarn. And the monster we are avoiding? The structural deficit.

What exactly is the structural deficit? Simply put, a structural deficit is created when the state's ongoing spending is higher than its income. This can be caused by any number of factors. Economic cycles, like the recent recession, have a major impact on the structural deficit. When the costs of state programs rise faster than projected income, the deficit rises.


This seems simple enough, except for one very important fact. The Maryland Constitution requires that the state budget be balanced every year. Some analysts argue that the structural deficit only exists on paper because of this requirement. The structural deficit is calculated on budgetary projections -- estimates of future gaps between revenue and spending. When the final budget is enacted, these deficits must be resolved. How do lawmakers seemingly pass a balanced budget while also incurring a deficit? That's where it gets tricky.

Historically, governors and legislators from both parties have moved money around from department to department, program to program, basically robbing Peter to pay Paul. Gov. Robert Ehrlich did it with the Transportation Trust Fund and Project Open Space. Gov. Martin O'Malley did it with state pension money. Gov. Larry Hogan will be doing the same, borrowing from the Transportation Trust Fund, Project Open Space and county piggyback taxes.

What's the difference this time? The Republicans have sounded the doomsday alarm about the structural deficit to justify cutting funds to those who need them most. Carroll County Public Schools alone stands to lose $4.3 million. Across the state, funding for public education, community colleges, state universities, private colleges and libraries would be cut. This budget even reduces Medicaid coverage for low income women who are pregnant.

Perhaps what is most disturbing is that the current budget crisis is more a matter of perception than reality, in large part created by the Hogan election campaign. Looking back, Maryland's budget grew 47 percent larger per year under Ehrlich than O'Malley. O'Malley inherited a $1.7 billion – yes billion with a B – structural deficit, which he reduced to about $750 million. Folks may not like some of his budget cutting tactics, but the mythology of Democratic out-of-control spending simply is not true. To justify cutting education funding and state employee salaries based on partisan campaign spin is wrong.

The current budget will negatively impact Carroll County in several ways. Not only will the budget hurt Carroll County Public Schools, but Carroll Community College will also be hit hard, resulting in higher tuitions. The municipalities across the county desperately need to have the funds from the Highway User Fees restored to them. Our parks and recreation areas depend on Project Open Space funding. Law enforcement and public safety are crucial to a thriving community, as are our non-profits. The list could go on, but the point is all of these things cost money -- money from local and state taxes.

And what do our representatives in Annapolis have to say about this? Del. Haven Shoemaker said, "I fully support" Hogan's budget. Newly appointed Sen. Justin Ready, as a leading contender to fill Joe Getty's seat, certainly didn't want to offend the governor. His innocuous statement of "trying to balance the budget" certainly won't rock any boats, but it does nothing to address the important issues we are facing. At least Del. Susan Krebs has expressed her disappointment at the cuts in education funding.

Our previous delegations to Annapolis repeatedly voted against the O'Malley budgets as a matter of conscience, as a protest against out of control spending that didn't exist. Over the years Carroll was repeatedly denied beneficial legislation, some would argue as political payback for their intransigence. Today, Carroll County desperately needs more funding for education, public works and public safety. The request for $500,000 for The Arc of Carroll County is a good starting point, but our county needs much more. Now that we have a Republican governor, will our delegation fight for Carroll County or simply follow the party line and vote for a budget that harms Carroll?

Tom Scalan, of Westminster, is a member of the Carroll County Times Op-Ed Writers Group.