With stimulus funding dropping in Martin O'Malley's lap from above on high, the congressional god's with the blessings of the One, have given Marty the tools to be as fiscally irresponsible with unearned income as he is with local tax revenue and spending.
No matter which side of the political divide we fall, we must all handle our financial obligations in a prudent and fiscally responsible manner. With limited resources and income we have little choice. There is no well spring of additional funding to supplement overspending, whimsical travel expenditures, energy conservation tricks, expanding living space or buying the empty lot next door.
Unless you have a rich uncle that bequeaths their fortune we are mostly limited with the resources from gainful employment just to make ends meet and pay overly stimulated taxes.
With that, folks have little time to think about how government burns through our tax dollars as we trudge along looking out for our own financial survivability in the everyday world.
We must though, take a little time each week, do a little reading and research and expand our base of knowledge. We must because the runaway train that is government, having avoided public scrutiny, is heading for derailment. That is why watch dogs are so important and it is why we must take the time to seek them out.
When it comes to monitoring government largess and the arduous task of vetting Maryland's inner workings there are sources other than the O'Malley propaganda machine. As it happens, there is a conservative think tank, the Calvert Institute for Policy and Research, which does great work in watching over governments spending propensities. Directed by George Liebmann, the institute takes a sobering look into Maryland's fiscal quagmire and helps to answer the tough questions (which are void in Marty's favorite media outlet) with clarity, insight and reason.
In his assessment of Maryland's monetary issues, Liebmann jumps right in with this prognostic opening.
"Few states can have used the benefits accruing to them in the Obama administration's stimulus bill as irresponsibly as Maryland."
Hardly a revelation for some of us, but it sums up a fact too few Maryland taxpayers wish to comprehend. Digging into the report it becomes pretty clear; O'Malley is far more concerned with his chances for re-election than fixing the states budget problems for the long term.
The report dissects the State budget as it relates to federal stimulus funding and leaves few stones left unturned.
Pensions seem to be a tool the O'Malley administration frequently likes to tweak, either to pull back on earlier promises or to pander to union organizations with a larger voting block. For the most part the O'Malley administration adhers with the, steal from Peter to pay Paul theory of economics.
What most non-union State employees need to do is worry about their retirement plans, as the O'Malley brain trust must really enjoy his juggling the pension benefits game...
...bills are now falling due, since there are new governmental accounting standards and the bond rating houses have made it clear that arrangements must be made within the next several years to reduce or fully fund future obligations. They have left open, however, a short window of opportunity for further procrastination, and the O'Malley administration and legislature seem to be enthusiastically embracing it. The Deputy State Treasurer told the Maryland Troopers' Association in November that "healthcare benefits are not part of the defined pension benefit and as such are subject to adjustment. . . While it has not been proposed at this point, it is possible that they may adjust the percentages to reduce the State's liability going forward." With the advent of the Obama administration stimulus package, any thought of this was abandoned by the O'Malley administration-a classic example of ‘hit and run' government.
Although, the teachers union is O'Malley's favorite voting block and requires special handling, the favoritism shows:
Prior to the stimulus package, the O'Malley administration had planned to defer the portion of the Thornton plan appropriating funds based on a geographic cost of education index. These appropriations were a bone tossed to wealthier subdivisions to secure enactment of the Thornton plan. The $37.9 million involved included $9.2 million for Montgomery County, $11.8 million for Prince George's County. $6.8 million for Baltimore City, $2.5 million for Anne Arundel County, $1.9 million for Frederick County, $1.6 million for Baltimore County, $1.5 million for Harford County and nothing for the state's poorest subdivisions, including Allegany, Caroline, Cecil, Harford, Somerset, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties. On January 27, 2009, the O'Malley administration celebrated the advent of the stimulus package by rescinding the cuts to this generally regressive program.
On February 20, 2009, the O'Malley administration continued its carnival of extravagance by announcing that $329 million of the federal stimulus funds would be dedicated to avoiding any change in the teachers' pension program which was extravagantly sweetened in the last year of the Ehrlich administration on the false premise that this needed to be done to preserve competitiveness with other states. See Abell Foundation, Is It Time to Rethink Pensions in Maryland,(http://www.abell.org/publications/detail.asp?ID=123) The program ever since has exceeded its projected cost because of an alleged actuarial error. On the same day, the administration announced that contrary to earlier plans, it would fully fund the inflation adjustment in the Thornton plan, thus expending an additional $185 million.
School construction is another issue that shows the administration has its priorities out of whack and monies are used to favor a voting block. It appears that O'Malley is using a chapter out of Obama's playbook on how to acquire the union vote.
[T]he administration dedicated $260 million of the new federal money to the state's school construction program, which thus will have received more than $1 billion in three years. There is no demonstrated association between the use of these funds and improvement in educational results. For good measure, any school built as part of the program will cost significantly more than a locally constructed school as a result of the O'Malley administration's insistence in extending the prevailing wage law to school construction projects, a gift of $100 to $150 million over a three-year period to the administration's faithful supporters in the construction unions.
The education portion of the report also challenges assertions O'Malley and School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick have made in reference to Maryland's rankings, the truth is our kids are not doing as well as they would have us believe. They insist on a study...
...produced by Education Week, Quality Counts 2008 which also gives Maryland schools a number 1 rating. When the study is actually read (Superintendent Grasmick has sedulously refrained from posting it on her website in full text) a much less flattering picture emerges. Maryland's test results are middle-of-the pack, 25th, 14th, 17th and 21st; its high school graduation rate is 19th; its rating for K-12 achievement, tied with Massachusetts for first place, derives from ‘soft' criteria like year to year improvement. Its overall first place rating is due to its high ratings on other ‘soft' criteria like "Transitions and Alignment" and to its Thornton extravagances, causing it to be rated behind only seven states and tied with three in the "School Finance" category. With respect to "Standards and Assessment" about which Superintendent Grasmick never ceases to boast, Maryland is rated behind 22 states and tied with two others. As for "Teaching Profession" which generally assesses incentives for teachers, Maryland is behind 23 states and tied with six others. None of the criteria assess such things as science achievement or incentives for recruitment of science teachers.
The Calvert report takes an in depth look into Maryland's handling of stimulus money, has compiled a report free of bias, without mincing words. The report reviews various departments and initiatives taken on by the O'Malley administration as they relate to the budget and stimulus funding. The analysis covers, pensions, K-12 education, higher education, transportation, drugs, the penal system, health and welfare.
The financial assessment for Maryland is summed up with this concise conclusion:
Nothing about the O'Malley administration's approach to the stimulus package suggests that a responsible, future-oriented approach is being taken. Rather the administration has chosen to use the newly available funds to avoid taking necessary measures that would offend what it regards as its core constituencies: state employees, unionized teachers, construction unions, and the local governments of areas that reliably vote Democratic.
There is similar reluctance to face up to the facts about the future funding requirements of the transportation system, to curb the growth of medicaid nursing homes, or to cease demagoging the crime and drugs issue and embark on reform of sentencing and corrections statutes. Funds that should have been used creatively to provide public works and institutions of enduring value and to improve the state's colleges and its teaching force are instead being poured down the usual rat-holes, to the detriment of the interests of the state.
In order to appreciate the full breadth of Maryland's fiscal incompetence, read the full report the Calvert Institute has undertaken and learn why Maryland is, in Leibmann's words, "a classic example of ‘hit and run' government." It is a lengthy read but well worth the time and effort to wade through. In the end, one can only conclude; Maryland is in some deep water and we can no longer afford to be treading aimlessly in the O'Malley quagmire of fiscal incompetence.
Cross-posted. H/T: Mark Tapscott