Maryland budget analyst criticizes unspecified cuts across the board



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ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Gov. Larry Hogan's proposal for a 2 percent cut across the board for state agencies without specifying what the cuts will be is "a very dangerous" approach to balancing the state's finances, a top Maryland budget analyst said Monday, but the governor's budget secretary said the idea was to give agency leaders more time to find efficiencies.

Warren Deschenaux, the director of the Office of Policy Analysis for the Department of Legislative Services, told a panel of lawmakers he believes lawmakers should know details about the cuts as they work on finalizing the governor's budget plan by the end of the legislative session in April.

"This is a very dangerous, in my estimation, approach to budgeting," Deschenaux said. "It's too easy. It doesn't let you see what you're doing and what the impact of what's going to happen will be."

David Brinkley, Hogan's budget secretary, said the idea was similar to one used by former Gov. Martin O'Malley earlier this month, when he brought 2 percent cuts to the Board of Public Works for the current fiscal year.

"The secretaries will be able to identify areas of efficiencies, and we'd rather give the secretaries discretion over a 12-month period to make some reductions as opposed to a five-month period, which is what they have in the current budget," Brinkley said.

Hogan campaigned on bringing greater fiscal restraint to Annapolis, and his budget plan closes a budget gap of roughly $750 million. Brinkley also said it remains to be seen what the final budget will be.

"You know, it's a dialogue," Brinkley said. "It's a dynamic, and our mission is to cap the increase in growth and get our hands on the spending that's going on."

Hogan, a Republican, submitted his budget to the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on Friday, just two days after he entered office.

Deschenaux noted that time constraints may have played a role in the lack of detail about what the cuts will be, but he said there are several months between now and when the budget is supposed to be passed, and he hoped lawmakers would get more information about the 2 percent reductions.

Maryland's governor has strong budget powers. The Legislature can only cut — not add — to the budget. However, Deschenaux said lawmakers still will have a lot to say, because about $500 million in budget transfers and reductions will require legislative approval.

"It's going to have to be a partnership," Deschenaux said.

Hogan also has proposed eliminating a 2 percent salary increase that took effect in January for state employees as a cost-of-living adjustment. State employees would receive the increase until the start of the next fiscal year, July 1, when it would be cut. Sue Esty, the legislative and political director for AFSCME, a labor union for state employees, said union officials met with the Hogan administration and proposed alternatives.

"I certainly hope that they will negotiate with us in good faith," Esty said.

Lawmakers also have expressed concern to cutting in half money that goes to Maryland jurisdictions where education costs more, as well as other cuts to education aid. However, the Hogan administration pointed out that despite the cuts, the state still will be making a record investment in education in his budget plan.

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