Gov. Martin O¿Malley unveiled the final budget of his term last week, and as is his custom, he spent much of his presentation touting his austerity credentials. Budget growth under his administration, the governor averred, was at the lowest rate of any governor since at least Marvin Mandel, thanks to his efforts to cut a cumulative $9 billion in state spending. To his critics, this is pure balderdash. The total state budget in the year before Mr. O¿Malley arrived, they note, was $29.4 billion. Now it¿s $39.3 billion, an increase of nearly $10 billion, or more than twice what might have been expected because of inflation. That difference would seem to belie the assertion that the governor cut anything. Quite the contrary; total spending increased by more than a third during his tenure. How austere is that? The reality is complicated. Governor O¿Malley did cut spending from the levels it would have reached if all state laws, policies and funding formulas had been left alone. At the same time, he did support large new spending for expanded Medicaid coverage, environmental clean-up and higher education, among other things, and he enacted a broad series of revenue measures ¿ including tax and fee increases and legalized gambling ¿ to pay for it. The important question, though, is whether Marylanders feel they are getting their money¿s worth from the state government. To that end, it¿s worth examining where Mr. O¿Malley¿s extra $10 billion came from and where it went. On the whole, we think most would conclude, his spending priorities reflect wise investments in the state¿s future, and the revenue increases under his watch have represented a fair way to pay for them.
Baltimore Sun graphic by Andrew A. Green and Patrick Maynard