Maryland budget forecast: Continued gloomy

It could have been worse: Last month, the coronavirus pandemic was projected to destroy $2.8 billion in revenue in Maryland by the end of the fiscal year June 30. On Thursday, the projection was changed to $925 million.

That’s because of continued federal aid and the lifting of Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order, Comptroller Peter Franchot said in a meeting Thursday.

Even so, by the end of fiscal 2022, the impact of the pandemic could lead to losses up to $4 billion. And even that may be optimistic: The figures, provided by the Board of Revenue Estimates on Thursday, are based on the assumptions that a vaccine for the coronavirus is developed by 2021, and that there’s no second wave of the virus.

In the less-dire scenario, losses of $2.1 billion are projected for fiscal 2021, and a gap of $2.6 billion is estimated for fiscal 2022. Those figures are based on the assumption that federal aid will be given to the states.

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In the gloomier forecast, projections show shortfalls of $2.6 billion for fiscal 2021 and $4 billion for fiscal 2022.

Franchot, who last month announced the $2.8 billion shortfall projection, continued to sound the alarm by emphasizing that the figures from the board assume the development of a vaccine by 2021.

“That’s, in my understanding of the history of vaccines, very, very optimistic,” Franchot said.

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson has accused Franchot of “fear mongering,” pointing to the new shortfall estimates.

Asked about that during the Thursday morning meeting, Franchot refused to respond. After the meeting, Franchot told WTOP, “I’m not sure what sort of partisan stuff he’s talking about. It’s certainly not what is going on here. I’m not quite sure what that meant; maybe he’ll rethink it.”

David Brinkley, Maryland’s secretary of budget and management, was asked whether he had developed a list of possible spending cuts. He said he’d have to brief the staffs of the comptroller and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, and consult with Hogan.

Then, Brinkley said, after looking at the numbers presented to the board in Thursday’s meeting, “We can move forward on putting some options on the table.”

Kopp, who along with Franchot and Brinkley sits on the Board of Revenue Estimates, said she hoped state-worker layoffs wouldn’t be necessary.

“We’re very fortunate,” Kopp said, “we have reserves. We have some options.”

She added, “We have to examine all of those options, but I would hate to see us add to the problem rather than solve it.”

Franchot said he disagreed with Kopp on possible layoffs: “No, I think the jury’s out on that. I do not agree that anything is going to be off the table as far as fiscal preparation for the aftermath of the coronavirus.”

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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