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Analyst To Md. Lawmakers: Find More Budget Cushion

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A top Maryland budget analyst urged lawmakers on Monday to create a greater budget cushion than the one included in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget plan.

Warren Deschenaux, the General Assembly’s chief budget analyst, said O’Malley’s budget proposed last week would have a balance of about $30 million. Deschenaux told members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and House Appropriation Committee that the state has had millions of dollars in budget deficiencies in recent years that have had to be made up.

“We would encourage you to think about increasing that ending fund balance at least to $100 million, or as close to that as you can get, so you have comfort that you will not be in a hole next year,” Deschenaux said.

O’Malley, a Democrat, submitted his $39 billion budget plan last week for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1. Lawmakers will now spend most of the legislative session making adjustments to it. In addition to the added fund balance, the state’s Rainy Day Fund has about $800 million, but lawmakers always aim to have that money safely set aside without needing to tap into it.

Deschenaux, who often has urged lawmakers to set more money aside in recent years during the difficult budget years of the Great Recession, said lawmakers should consider the extra fund balance this year due to the uncertainty of court cases that could have an impact on the budget.

For example, it remains unclear how the state will respond to a Court of Appeals ruling that would require poor defendants to have an attorney at initial bail reviews. The requirement could cost roughly $30 million for the state to implement.

Deschenaux also cited about $70 million that Maryland lost in cigarette restitution money in fiscal year 2014 due to an arbitration ruling. While it’s expected the state will get $40 million in cigarette restitution money in fiscal year 2015, there’s no guarantee what could happen in the judicial process. He also said that while the state expects to raise $18 million by selling helicopters in the state fleet, there is no guarantee they actually will be sold for that amount.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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