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August 21, 2003

The Impending Budget Showdown Draws Near

John P. Snyder

Fundamental policy issues regarding taxes and the role of government in our lives is being discussed by our elected officials across the state. Some Democrats, led by the far left speaker of the State House, Michael Busch, are rolling the dice on their futures by assuming that the voters of Maryland enjoy being taxed and would like to be taxed more.

He is, of course, wrong.

Next year the State of Maryland is facing a $1 billion deficit. It represents nearly 10% cent of the total $23 billion budget. How we got there depends to whom you talk.

Those who were there are sensitive to the charge of reckless spending. Some point to the 10% income tax reduction that they claim cost the state revenue. Still others offer the traditional "every state has a budget deficit" excuse. Hovering over the carnage is the promised $1.8 billion Thornton Funding obligation to state schools.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich, that lucky fellow, inherited the whole mess. So far he has been the lonely voice of reason and shows immense amounts of good manners and willingness to work with the Democrats to solve the budget impasse.

Michael Busch, on the other hand, seems to have taken a few pages from the Gov. Gray Davis of California play book. To him, raising taxes is courageous. To solve the budget deficit the thought of cutting spending first is totally lost on him. No, he would prefer to pick on the businesses in Maryland and raise their taxes. He wants to raise taxes across the board on hardworking Maryland families. Aside from the tonier neighborhoods of Montgomery County, where is the support for higher taxes?

To Busch, and his amen corner in the State House, the tax base in Maryland needs to expand. Higher sales taxes, higher taxes on business services, higher personal rates. It doesn't matter where as much as how much. He hasn't budged an inch on slots. News that the Maryland tax base is too small may come as a surprise to those who view the growth of spending as alarming.

Pragmatic, as always, Governor Ehrlich has shown the courage to cut spending. He is not about to give up the idea of slots no matter what ultra liberal State Sen. Peter Franchot (D., Montgomery) has to say. The first round of cuts weren't as bad as feared. The next time around, more state job cuts are in the offing, as well as big cuts in state operations.

Who will prevail? It's hard to say. But given the atmosphere regarding higher taxes in California and elsewhere, who wants to represent big tax-and-spending policies?

In Maryland, Mike Busch and his wing of the Democratic Party.

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