"There are no options but bad options," said state Treasurer Lucille Maurer of the painful decisions Gov. William Donald Schaefer is about to make in cutting $450 million from the state's current budget to balance the government's books. There will be layoffs, major cuts in social programs and big reductions in aid to schools, colleges and libraries. Even worse, far larger cuts may have to be made in social programs to eliminate an $800 million deficit next year.
Yet the state of Maryland is trapped in a vicious cycle. Demand for government assistance is up substantially, but the state has to cut off services to wipe out its growing deficit. The situation in the Department of Human Resources is typical of the dilemma. Welfare applications are up 70 percent since 1988 and now top 240,000 people. Yet even as a depleted corps of social workers tries to help these Marylanders, the department may have to cut $178 million from its budget to help the government wipe out its red ink.
This scenario is being repeated in numerous other state agencies: Officials are being told to end services and fire workers just as more and more people are seeking help. As DHR secretary Carolyn Colvin put it, the situation is "desperate."
As distasteful as these decisions are, Governor Schaefer realizes he has no choice. The General Assembly has tied his hands by refusing to consider tax increases. But the sweeping nature of the service reductions soon to be announced by the governor may send shock waves through the city and counties. Legislators may quickly have a change of heart.
We earnestly hope that is the case. The worst thing that General Assembly leaders could do would be to wait until next year to raise new revenues. By then, the mounting deficits will probably exceed $1.2 billion and deep service cuts will have harmed many of the most vulnerable and helpless among us. That is unacceptable. Legislators should convene another special session this fall to find ways to help the state tread water during this economic recession. It is the least lawmakers can do to assist Marylanders who suddenly find themselves seeking government's helping hand.