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July 12, 2012

Getting Away With Waste

Amanda Haddaway

Many opponents of “big government” cite concerns about how government dollars are spent – and often wasted. In Maryland, it seems that their concerns are indeed justified.


A recent report by Baltimore news station WBAL-TV 11 discovered that as much as $63 million may have been wasted over the past three years.


The most alarming part? At least $15.8 million of this waste was uncovered in previous audits and nothing was done to correct the problem. Furthermore, now that the waste has been discovered, the majority of this money cannot be recovered.


According to the report, the state health department issued $2.5 million to dead Medicaid recipients. Maryland Transit Authority paid $744,000 in gas taxes even though it is exempt from the tax. University of Maryland Baltimore County, a state-funded university, failed to properly charge tuition and gave improper refunds, but an exact figure wasn’t mentioned in the report.


The $63 million is actually a “soft estimate,” meaning that the waste could be grossly understated as a part of this routine audit by the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits. Such reviews are conducted every three years.


To fully understand the level of waste, consider it in this context: $63 million is more than the recently increased flush tax ($53 million), vehicle titling tax ($52.4 million), vanity plate fees ($2.5 million) and birth certificate fees ($4 million). It begs the question of whether Maryland’s fiscal plan is to continue to increase taxes to make up for its lack of budgetary oversight and control.


There’s also a lack of enforcement. The Maryland Office of Legislative Audits conducts the audits and, if an agency has five or more repeat findings, they must submit quarterly reports to the auditors. However, there’s no punishment if they fail to do this. Instead, the enforcement power lies with the General Assembly.


A few members of the General Assembly believe action should be taken to reduce this egregious waste. Del. Gail Bates (R., Howard) believes that the only way to get the attention of these state agencies is to hold up to five percent of next year’s budget money for agencies that have three of more findings.


The money would be held until the problems are resolved. The State of Maryland clearly needs more elected officials like Delegate Bates, who have clear thinking on this topic and understand that taxpayers’ wallets aren’t a bottomless source of dollars.


The Joint Audit Committee plans to consider various options to curb this problem at its meeting in October. Our own Sen. David Brinkley (R. Frederick-Carroll), and Del. Galen Clagett (D., Frederick) serve on this committee.


All Marylanders should pay attention to their discussions. We simply can’t afford to continue down this current path much longer.


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