Pressure mounts for special session from groups impacted by budget cuts

By Len Lazarick

The pressure is mounting for a special session to raise the taxes that failed to pass as the legislature adjourned April 9 and “fix” a “doomsday” budget with cuts that had been specifically designed to scare up votes for tax hikes.

Details have not been worked out, but legislators have been advised that Gov. Martin O’Malley will likely call a special session for the week of May 14.

Almost 60 groups have signed a letter to O’Malley, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch, urging them to bring back legislators to Annapolis to resolve “Maryland’s ongoing budgetary crisis now.”

Many of the signers are directly affected by the budgets cuts, including the largest public employee unions and teachers unions, which are sponsoring the “doomsday clock,” ticking down next to the letter.

But they are also joined in signing the letter by dozens of social service organizations that serve the developmentally disabled, families in need, the mentally ill, child care, struggling schools and health care.

“Leaving the doomsday cuts in place,” says the letter, “would mean increased class sizes, fewer educational resources, laid off teachers, higher college tuition, 500 state employee layoffs in 2013, collateral cuts made by other employers who fail to receive state funds, less money for foster care, less funding to help the disabled, stressed public safety budgets, and many more negative consequences. These cuts would come on top of approximately $2 billion in state budget reductions since FY 2009 and $375 million other reductions for 2013.”

This morning (Monday), the organizations advocating the special session will be joined by representatives of eight faith groups, representing Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Jews, inner city pastors (BUILD), the United Church of Christ and Seventh-Day Adventists.

The push for a special session, largely to pass tax increases and shift teacher pension costs onto the counties, has gotten some pushback from Republican legislators and conservatives who scoff at the idea that the budget is being cut drastically when the total $35 billion budget actually increases almost $700 million, despite the cuts.

Americans for Prosperity, a leading Tea Party organizer, is circulating its own letter petitioning O’Malley, Miller and Busch not to call a special session.

“Instead of responsibly balancing the budget, like I have to everyday, you chose to play political games,” the letter says. “You increased spending by $500 million, raised taxes (and fees), and wasted your time and my money.”

“Now you want to go back to Annapolis to spend more of my money and pass new tax hikes,” the short letter concludes. “I’m signing this petition to tell you: NO more spending, NO new tax hikes, and NO SPECIAL SESSION.”

Charlie Cooper of the Maryland Education Coalition, which advocates for higher funding of the neediest schools, debunks some of the arguments against the special session.

“The budget has been rising only if one applies the unrealistic standard of absolute dollar reductions,” Cooper said in his analysis. “Here are two ways to measure the size of state government that show real reductions.”

According to Cooper: “The state workforce is shrinking:  The total permanent and contractual workforce (including higher education) shrank from 90,084 in 2008 to 88,166 in 2012, a 2.1% decrease while the population of the state rose 3.4%. The ratio of state workers to population fell 5.4%.  (This calculation does not include cuts of several hundred positions that would occur in 2013 under the enacted [“doomsday”] budget.)”

“The state General Fund is not keeping up with inflation and population growth.  In fiscal 2007, the General Fund stood at $14.2 billion. To keep pace with inflation and population growth, it would have to have risen to $16.6 billion by 2012.  The actual figure, however, was $15 billion. This amounts to a 9.6% drop and yet does not include the huge cuts in the “doomsday” budget.”

The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, headed by Vinnie DeMarco, is particularly anxious to have the General Assembly return and pass the tax package, which includes a 70% increase in the taxes on cigars and smokeless tobacco designed to increase health care spending but also reduce usage among price-sensitive young consumers.

Here is the full list of groups signing the letter asking for the special session.

ACE-AFSCME Local 2250
ACLU Education Reform Project
Advocates for Children and Youth
AFSCME Council 67
AFSCME Council 982
AFSCME Retiree Chapter 1
American Association of University Women – Maryland
ARC of the Central Chesapeake Region
ARC of Maryland
Association of Community Services of Howard County
Baltimore Child Abuse Center
Center for Children, Inc.
Citizens Review Board for Children
Communities United
Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland
Community Health Action Team – Baltimore
Community Law In Action, Inc.
The Coordinating Center
East Baltimore Youth and Family Services
Family Services, Inc.
The Family Tree
Guide Program, Inc.
Human Services Coalition of Prince George’s County
Impact Silver Spring
Job Opportunities Task Force
Just Kids Partnership
League of Women Voters of Maryland
Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth
Maryland Alliance for Retired Americans
Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute
Maryland CASH Campaign
Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative
Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Maryland Disability Law Center
Maryland Education Coalition
Maryland Independent College and University Association
Maryland Nonprofits
Maryland Out of School Time Network
Maryland Retired School Personnel Association
Maryland State and DC AFL-CIO
Maryland State Conference NAACP
Maryland State Education Association
Medicaid Matters Maryland
Mentoring Male Teens in the Hood
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Maryland
National Association of Social Workers – Maryland Chapter
Primary Care Coalition of Montgomery County
Prince George’s County Child Care Association
Progressive Maryland
Public Justice Center
Safe and Sound Campaign
SEIU Local 400
SEIU Local 500
SEIU MD/DC State Council
South Baltimore Learning Center
Special Olympics Maryland
UFCW Local 1994
Volunteers of America Chesapeake, Inc.