$230 million revenue surplus for Maryland

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Maryland finished fiscal 2012 with a revenue surplus of roughly $230 million, but the state still faces a daunting structural deficit, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced Thursday.

General fund revenues in fiscal 2012 totaled $14.3 billion, according to Franchot, exceeding the state's predictions by $229.7 million, or 1.6 percent.

It's the third year in a row state revenues have exceeded analysts' forecasts, though the surplus is nearly half the $448.5 million surplus reported by Virginia earlier this month.

Combined with about $200 million in additional funds left over in the fiscal 2013 budget plan, lawmakers have roughly $430 million in reserves, giving them an easier time balancing the budget during the next legislative session, according to budget analysts.

The Department of Legislative Services predicted in May that Maryland would face a $406 million budget hole heading into fiscal 2014.

Due to concerns over a poor long-term economic outlook and Maryland's struggles to close its structural deficit, Franchot urged Gov. Martin O'Malley and Maryland lawmakers to save, not spend, the extra revenue.

About half of the additional revenues are one-time fund increases and won't help fix the structural deficit, which state analysts estimate is now as high as $600 million.

"These revenue figures serve as a snapshot of an economy that remains exceedingly fragile, and they remind us that we must proceed on a prudent financial course in the months ahead," Franchot said. "I believe this money should remain in the state's coffers to help cushion Maryland from another economic downturn, not put back in the state's spending pattern."

Franchot pointed to a lack of wage growth -- Maryland wages are barely keeping pace with inflation, he said -- and the state's slowly increasing unemployment rate, which climbed to 7.1 percent in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The governor's office disputed Franchot's gloomy outlook for the state's economy, pointing to the extra revenue as a sign of a progress in solving Maryland's budget challenges.

"The comptroller will find a way to make it rain on a cloudless day," said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "This is millions of dollars that weren't projected, and it reflects the administration's balanced budget approach."

The unexpected revenue will help position the state to cut the structural deficit in half by 2017, she said.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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