Gird your loins and guard your wallet, the Maryland General Assembly is in session. For 90 days every year, the temple monkeys in Annapolis scavenge for ways to appropriate more of our money for the benefit of their special interest masters. This year however, the politicians must face the consequences of their generational spelunking of our bank accounts in search of more spending.
Maryland faces a $1.6 billion budget deficit for FY 2012 and $8.3 billion in out-year deficits to 2015. And, that’s in addition to the $32 billion pension and retiree health benefit tsunami heading for the state’s fiscal shores. The proverbial can has been kicked to the end of the road, and the state’s political commentariat is focusing on the “tough choices” politicians must make, which despite all the campaign promises to the contrary will include tax increases.
However, there are easy and simple solutions available, which can reign in the structural deficit without raising taxes. Of course, they are easy only if you are not an Annapolitian macaque beholden to the special interests that control this one-party state.
One simple solution is cutting and capping K-12 education spending. However, special interests like the state’s powerful teachers union have made that portion of the budget sacrosanct.
In a report for the Free State Foundation, longtime state house reporter Len Lazarick noted that education spending consumes roughly two thirds of the general fund budget, much of that for K-12 education. The 2002 Thornton education law mandated a $1.3 billion increase in funding without identifying a means to pay for it. In fact, according to Lazarick’s study, Maryland has increased K-12 education funding over $2 billion since 2002. In FY 2011 O’Malley budgeted $5.7 billion for K-12 education.
O’Malley has suggested five percent across the board cut in K-12 education spending. However, that doesn’t go far enough. O’Malley’s proposal should be doubled to ten percent and the Thornton formulas should be capped at FY 2008 levels.
A five percent cut equates to a reduction of $285 million, which means Maryland would still spend more than the $5.3 billion spent in 2009. There is no significant link between increased funding and student achievement, rather achievement is linked to how the money is spent. An independent study of Thornton revealed that more than half the increase in spending went to teacher salaries and benefits, not to the classroom.
A ten percent cut translates into $570 million in savings, which is $100 million short of the legislature’s Spending Affordability Committee recommendation of a $670 million reduction for FY2012. Also, a ten percent cut would drop K-12 spending to 5.1 billion, a shade below the amount O’Malley budgeted for FY 2008, his first year in office. 2008-2009 was the first year Maryland’s public school system earned the first of it’s much ballyhooed three consecutive number-one rankings from Education Week.
If that amount of spending was good enough to earn Maryland schools top honors three years ago, then the teachers unions and their pet politicians should ask themselves why that level isn’t good enough now.