The opening of the 2009 session of the Maryland General Assembly is less than two months away and, of course, the maneuvering has already started. As expected, the early action is all about money.
Over at the Maryland Politics Watch, Adam Pagnucco reports that Rich Madaleno has become chairman of the Montgomery County State Senate delegation. Madaleno wastes no time in setting out his priorities for the year - make sure Montgomery County doesn't lose any money in the upcoming session. He wants to be sure that the state formula for funding teacher retirement (which primarily benefits Montgomery County) isn't changed and he wants to be sure that Montgomery County's school construction allocation is not less than the $46 million they receive this year.
The Baltimore Sun reports today that 'education advocates' including the Maryland State Teachers Association, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and others are already running ads encouraging the General Assembly not to cut state education funding (which has increased by $1.3 billion over the past six years. In fact, they go beyond advocating that funds not be cut, they want an increase.
Now, readers of this blog know that I support education - it's the key to success in a global economy and the source of much of the prosperity Maryland enjoys. And certainly Montgomery County has a lot of needs, and their legislative caucus has the clout to get what they want, by and large.
But the state is facing a deficit of $1 billion or more in the coming fiscal year. When the richest jurisdiction in the state announces that it won't accept any cuts to the largesse it gets from the state, what is the message to the poorer jurisdictions - curl up and die?
I'm not thinking here of my own county. Worcester has sufficient resources for the time being even though the county commissioner just postponed $100 million in school renovations due to falling revenue. $100 million is nothing to sneeze at in a county with only 50,000 residents. But I'm concerned about Somerset, Dorchester, Garrett, Queen Anne's, Allegany and Caroline counties.
By and large these counties have average wages between 50% and 60% of the average wage in Montgomery County. But if we protect the big, wealthy jurisdictions then I guess the small, poor jurisdictions will take it on the chin in the budget game.
It's the same situation with education funding. Education is critically important. But primary, secondary and higher education account for about 37% of the state budget. Protecting the education budget, or even increasing it as the advocates demand would mean that all of the cuts would come somewhere else. So I guess that means the education advocates want to slash funding for health services for the uninsured and underinsured, cut funding for natural resources and protection of the environment, reduce transportation funding even further and cut funding for public safety.
So let's stop drawing lines in the sand and trying to bully our way to getting a bigger piece of the state pie. The Governor and the General Assembly are going to have a tough enough time trying to deal with the fiscal realities we are facing. Don't make it harder.