'Doomsday' budget lays out grim choices

Senators from Baltimore and the state's largest counties reacted with dismay Tuesday as the General Assembly's chief policy analyst laid out the details of what has been dubbed "the doomsday budget."

Warren Deschenaux walked the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee through a list of deep cuts to state and local programs that would be necessary if legislators don't vote to raise taxes and shift some teacher pension costs to the counties — measures proposed by Gov.Martin O'Malley.


In all, Deschenaux outlined $795 million in potential cuts to the state's roughly $14 billion budget.

"I'm not going to say the world is going to come to the end if all of this were to come to pass, but it would be a different world for public services in this state," Deschenaux told senators.

For some senators, the list of proposed cuts — particularly to state aid to their home jurisdictions — was enough to make them think favorably about voting for a tax increase.

But if some Democrats found the numbers unpalatable, Senate Minority LeaderE. J. Pipkin said he liked what he saw.

"I don't think it's such a doomsday budget. I think it's a live-within-your-means budget," said Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican who opposes tax increases.

What Deschenaux described was a revised version of a contingency budget reported Tuesday in The Baltimore Sun. Some options were even starker than those in the earlier version, with deeper cuts to law enforcement, severe reductions to education aid for poorer jurisdictions and a bigger decrease in funding of colleges and universities.

The all-cuts scenario envisions more than $300 million in cuts to state aid to the counties and Baltimore City.

Baltimore would absorb almost $60 million in cuts under the contingency budget, while Prince George's would see a reduction of $77 million and Montgomery $51 million. The delegations from the three jurisdictions are entirely Democratic and together make up 22 of the 24 votes needed to pass a bill in the Senate.


Deschenaux told lawmakers that 42 percent of the state budget goes to local government units, primarily school boards. "It would be very difficult to balance the budget without going against local government programs," he said.

The biggest cuts would come from the heftiest area of state spending, K-12 education. Public schools would bear the brunt of $205 million in cuts.

Other proposals would hit hard at higher education. Spending on both public universities and community colleges could be cut by 10 percent to save $115 million. "Inevitably that would reflect in higher tuitions, higher fees, larger classes and other undesirable outcomes," Deschenaux said.

Meanwhile, the Sellinger aid program for nonpublic colleges, which largely provides scholarships for Maryland students, would be eliminated entirely to save $38 million. Even the $11.8 million in scholarships awarded by senators and delegates would be on the chopping block.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, called the budget scenario "depressing to say the least."

"The impact it'll have on the city, on Prince George's and Montgomery is in my estimation totally unacceptable," he said.


Sen. Roger Manno, a Montgomery County Democrat, said he believes tax increases are preferable to the doomsday cuts. "I just can't see any more cuts to our safety net. It's cut to the bone," he said.

Manno is the sponsor of a bill that has the tacit backing of Senate leaders that would raise the state income tax by one-quarter percent across the board, in effect rolling back the income tax cut pushed into law by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 1997.

Senate PresidentThomas V. Mike Millerpredicted that the Senate will adopt some form of income tax increase. He also predicted that the pension shift would be approved, though on a phased-in basis rather than the immediate shift the governor proposed.

SenCatherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who earlier this session said she would not vote for higher taxes, said Tuesday that she was talking about O'Malley's proposed increase in gas taxes, not the revenue-raising measures it would take to avert drastic cuts for Baltimore. She said she's on board with the emerging Senate income tax plan.

"The doomsday budget did just what it was designed to do," she said.