GBC’s Fry: Getting back to basics in Annapolis

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

Many in Annapolis call it a “perfect storm.” They refer to the confluence of economic declines and fiscal challenges the state faces today, only 14 months after Maryland’s elected leaders passed tax and fee increases designed to raise more than $3 billion in new revenue over five years to close projected state government deficits.

As everyone now knows, the economic crash resulted in shortfalls rather than revenue increases. The anticipated new revenue and deficit-free budget did not materialize. Even after several hundred million dollars in spending reductions, significantly more cuts will be needed in order to balance the current fiscal year budget. And the state still faces deficits of more than $1 billion in both fiscal 2010 and 2011.

One thing should be clear to everyone as the General Assembly begins the 2009 session. This session cannot be business as usual.

First, it’s time for our government leaders to engage in some serious budget prioritizing, taking a really close look at all state programs from top to bottom, checking their original missions, whether those missions have improperly expanded, and whether programs are quantifiably effective.

It’s worth noting that this is precisely what Governor O’Malley did when he was elected mayor of Baltimore. The state could benefit from the same exercise.

Second, the entire business community is on tenuous economic ground. This is not a time to be tempted to put more burdens and costs on businesses.

Third, as the governor and General Assembly wrestle with budget cuts it would be wise to avoid cuts to programs that result in significant measurable economic return on the state’s investment and that nurture business activity. Examples include tourism funding, biotechnology tax credits, and historic structure tax credits, to name a few.

Finally, this is also not the time for more mandates on issues like health care and higher education. It’s a time for government to get back to the basics of education, public safety, infrastructure, and health care.

This session should be about maintaining, not expanding.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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