A House-Senate conference committee will meet very soon to work out a final budget for Maryland through June 2013. The choices they make will affect local governments’ ability to fund education, public safety, environmental protection and other services in 2012. It will also affect the state’s ability to continue funding education, access to healthcare, college affordability, and many other community services for the next three years. If the legislature does not approve adequate revenues this year, they are likely to face severe cuts in these functions next year and the year after that.
The Senate and House have each now settled on their respective budget packages. Both versions include budget cuts, progressive revenue measures, and a shift of a portion of the cost of teachers’ retirement to local government budgets. Significantly, the Senate has a larger revenue package, which would leave a smaller revenue shortfall in the 2013 and future sessions. The Senate package also leaves a larger fund balance at year end. In the event that Maryland’s finances are affected by an economic downturn or federal budget cuts, we are less likely to need mid-year budget cuts under the Senate proposal.
The Senate scheduled the teacher retirement shift evenly over four years. The House version does it in just three years, and it’s “front-loaded:” passing ½ of the cost to counties in the first year. Both versions increase the tax on cigars to be more comparable with the tax on cigarettes. The House version includes a significant tax increase on chewing tobacco, whereas the Senate version increases chewing tobacco taxes only slightly.