MD Unions, Advocates: More Cuts Alone Can't Fix State Budget
Maryland's largest public employee union and advocates for the disabled, mentally ill and residents struggling with substance abuse rallied in Annapolis today, demanding Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and state lawmakers consider tax increases and dipping into the state's untouched rainy-day reserve fund rather than further cut state health programs or state employees' pay to balance the budget.
Though O'Malley and leading Democrats in the General Assembly have offered no indication that they will support new taxes, the advocates cautioned that cuts alone will only further erode core state services.
"It is time to dip into the rainy-day fund because it's raining out there and we need shelter from the storm," said Patrick Moran, Maryland director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). "Mr. Governor, please, please consider your rainy day funds," added Mary Townes, an employee at the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, who said workers there are staying late into the night, and struggling each day to find enough resources to identify and protect the city's most vulnerable children. "It's unfair to say we care about the children and then not invest in enough people to protect them," Townes said.
Maryland has barely touched its rainy day fund (now about $650 million) even as many other states have depleted theirs during the recession. O'Malley is expected to propose nearly another $300 million in cuts next month as part of an effort to curb state spending expected to outpace revenue by nearly $2 billion in the fiscal year beginning next summer.
Before the rally, O'Malley told reporters at an unrelated event that he is still inclined to protect the rainy-day fund.
"It's always tempting to say, 'It's raining really, really hard,'" O'Malley said. "I think we still need to protect it. ... Part of the reason that we have a AAA bond rating is because we've protected our rainy-day fund. That's an important consideration."
Moran said he was tired of the bond-rating argument, "I've heard this over and over. I think we need to look beyond that. ... it's going to be harder for residents to get services they need with more and more cuts." The union also advocated closing corporate-tax loopholes, such as requiring so-called "combined reporting" for businesses' related subsidiaries, extending the state's millionaire's tax, which is scheduled to sunset after next year, and increasing the gas tax by 5 cents.
Recovering drug addicts, severely disabled Marylanders and parents of children suffering from extreme mental illness offered often emotional pleas for help today at a capital news conference intended to spark new support for a bill to replenish funding cut to Maryland health services through a new 5-cent tax on alcohol.
The Maryland Developmental Disabilities Coalition along with drug and alcohol abuse counselors, and advocates for the mentally ill said a new poll should convince lawmakers that the tax would not be villanized before an upcoming election year.
According to the groups, 83 percent of Marylanders favor either "an increased tax on alcohol in Maryland to improve access to alcohol and drug treatment," or "a five-cent per drink increase in the alcohol tax to fund services for people with developmental disabilities," The groups paid for the poll conducted last month by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies.
Maryland's public health department has been subject to 4 mid-year cuts in the last twelve months totaling $45 million. More than a third have affected mental health and community programs, the groups said, even as the recession has caused enrollment in those programs to increase 7 percent to 8 percent over the past two years. Intensive outpatient programs, for example, are no longer available to anyone not eligible for Medicaid.
The bill that failed to reach a vote last year will serve as a model for one Delegates Bill Bronrott, Karen Montgomery and Sen. Richard Madaleno and others have promised to introduce when the General Assembly reconvenes early next year.
It would generate an estimated $80 to $90 million annually.
-- Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner
Aaron C. Davis
October 15, 2009; 5:02 PM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis , Maryland State Budget
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