Thursday, January 11, 2007

What's So Funny About Budgets, Taxes, and Spending?

(originally posted at The Old Line.)

Maryland's General Assembly convened yesterday. Both the League and the Post give good rundowns on the items likely to be on the legislative agenda, among them reforming the archaic ground rent system, raising vehicle emission standards, dealing with the possible abolition of the death penalty, and amending the state constitution to allow early voting.

Looming over all this, I think, will be the coming budget deficits, and the prospect of either cutting programs, raising taxes, or both. Like many states, and unlike the federal government, Maryland effectively cannot run deficits: The Governor must submit a balanced budget to the General Assembly, which in turn can only delete appropriations from the budget, not add to it; and should a special session be called, any new appropriations must be matched with new taxes or other revenue sources. (See this for more details). This restriction, I think, hampers the ability of the state to adequately respond to the needs of Marylanders. Not that I'm advocating being fiscally irresponsible, à la the Bush Administration, but rather that a modest, manageable deficit might be preferable to, say, having to yet again put off support for education, especially in Baltimore. Paul Krugman, BTW, made a similar argument a while back with respect to the new Democratic Congress.

Speculation aside, I think Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly will need to take a good, hard look at both Maryland's spending commitments and its tax code before they can make headway on any major policy initiative, of which there are a few. No doubt also Comptroller Peter Franchot will weigh in on the matter as well.

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