O'Malley: Fed stimulus could reverse layoffs, school cuts
Gov. Martin O'Malley today outlined the aid Maryland would get under the federal stimulus bill as it currently stands, saying the state could be in line for as much as $3 billion over the next two years. Seems like that would go a long way toward wiping out the $2 billion budget shortfall Maryland is facing for the budget year that begins in July. But there are a few catches:
- There's not guarantee that the state will actually get the money, and if it does, when it will come. O'Malley said he's in constant contact with the state's congressional delegation, and given that it includes two of the top leaders in the House of Representatives, that should give him pretty decent intel. O'Malley is hoping the bill will pass by the middle of February, which would leave plenty of time to adjust this year's budget, but if things get bogged down in Congress, it could get messy.
- The money comes with strings attached. Some of it looks like straight-up budget balancing assistance, and some of it is targeted to things the state is now planning to cut, such as community colleges and K-12 education funding. Other parts of it -- say, the funds for school construction, or broadband Internet infrastructure -- may augment programs Maryland already has but may not help fill the particular holes we have at the moment.
- Depending on what happens with the economy, the aid could just have the effect of kicking the problem two years down the road. If the economy recovers, the aid might be just the bridge we need. If it doesn't, we may find ourselves in the same position in 2011 or 2012.
When asked about it at a news conference today, O'Malley didn't promise that a substantial federal aid pacakge would allow him to avoid the 700 state worker layoffs he's planning as part of the coming budget. But he called reversing them "a top priority." Ditto for the cuts to school spending. One practical upshot: O'Malley had been planning to have votes at Wednesday's Board of Public Works meeting on tens of millions in cuts to the current fiscal year's budget, but now he's putting that off until after President's Day, when he thinks he might have specifics on the federal stimulus package.