GOP lawmaker wants his say on state budget cuts
A leading Republican lawmaker accused Gov. Martin O’Malley of a “power grab” and said the legislature should have had a role in several rounds of recent state budget cuts that the Democratic governor took to the Board of Public Works for approval.
Sen. E. J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, noted that Gov. William Donald Schaefer called special sessions of the General Assembly during the recession of the early 1990s to address budget gaps. O’Malley should have done the same, he contends.
“When budget cuts of this scope and size are needed, it is customary for the governor to call a special session for legislative approval of the cuts,” Pipkin said in a statement. “No other governor in modern history has made such severe budget cuts without the approval of the General Assembly.”
With this recession taking a bite out of tax revenues, O’Malley has been forced to trim the budget by hundreds of millions of dollars since the General Assembly approved the budget and the fiscal year began in July. The governor has characterized recent budget cuts as fiscally responsible and contends that he tried to minimize state employee layoffs and spare social services that are in greater demand with the economic downturn. O’Malley did call a special session in 2007 to enact budget-balancing package that included $1.3 billion in tax increases.
State law allows the governor to make midyear cuts after the legislature adjourns in April with the approval of the Board of Public Works, which also includes Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. In general, the governor can’t cut more than 25 percent of the budgeted appropriation.
Pipkin said he would introduce legislation limiting the Board of Public Works to 10 percent in cuts each year. He has been particularly upset with one of O’Malley’s budget cuts that targeted the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center in Chestertown for closure.
One thing’s for sure: Pipkin and all other lawmakers will get their chance to cut the budget when the General Assembly convenes in January and another shortfall of up to $2 billion must be addressed.