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Nov. 12, 2009

Education budget protected

by Jialin Quinlan, Page Editor
Despite the recent budget crunch, Governor Martin O'Malley refused to cut funds that have been set aside for education, due to a $2 billion state budget deficit.

The governor also announced that the budget shortfall will rise to approximately $2.5 billion by the 2011 fiscal year, according to Marshall Spatz, director of the Department of Management, Budget, and Planning.

According to Spatz, both the state and county governments have restricted funds that are set aside for use only in a dire situation.

The governor decided against using the "rainy day" funds at this point, because using the funds could not cover the entire deficit. "While raiding the rainy day fund would solve a short-term budget problem, it could actually cost taxpayers more in the long term without implementing sustainable budget solutions for future years," Shaun Adamec, press secretary for O'Malley said in an email.

Additionally, using the "rainy day" funds would require the consent of the General Assembly, which is out of session until January 2010, Adamec said.

Adamec acknowledged the challenge of making the ever-shrinking budget fit the needs of the state. "In difficult economic times such as these, we have passed the point of "trimming the fat" from the state budget and the budget reduction decisions we are making now are painful and they affect the very services we have fought so hard to protect," Adamec said in an e-mail. For the first time in at least thirty years, state spending will be less than it was three years ago, says Spatz.

As the state scrambles to find ways to shave off costs, the governor has remained opposed to cutting state education funding, even though the state employees union has proposed this as a course of action to try and produce the extra $2 billion needed for the state budget, according to Spatz.

O'Malley's proposals for saving money in other ways include closing units at several Health and Mental Hygiene Facilities and denying Medicaid claims for unnecessary emergency room care, reads a PowerPoint released by O'Malley's administration in August 2009.

Other suggested remedies propose increases in alcohol and gas taxes, while the state employees union proposes to withdraw at least half of the "rainy day" fund, which numbers about $642 million, Adamec said.

However, the budget crisis has come to a point where the superintendents are considering cuts in education spending, Spatz said.

Cuts to the state education budget may not affect Montgomery County schools as much as as the cuts affect other counties because 71 percent of the MCPS budget is provided by the county, while 21 percent is provided by the state, Spatz said.

However, there is no way of knowing for sure how MCPS will be affected by and will respond to the upcoming budget cuts, Spatz said. "It is not clear whether Montgomery County would be less affected by state cuts because these cuts may affect overall county revenue and so indirectly impact the schools," Spatz said.

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