Maryland coalition urges action on federal debt -- Gazette.Net


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Concern over the looming “fiscal cliff” and the nation’s long-term debt load has prompted a group of Maryland business owners, former lawmakers and ex-political staffers to urge action by Congress.

The Maryland chapter of the nonpartisan Fix the Debt coalition launched Monday in Baltimore, led by former aides to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

“We’re adding $3 billion a day to our deficit. That is unsustainable,” said Chip DiPaula, Ehrlich’s former budget secretary and chief of staff. “We want our elected leaders to come together and put everything on the table [to find a solution].”

The coalition is also urging action on the fiscal cliff — which includes nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next several years and is set to reduce federal funding to the state by more than $117 million in fiscal 2013.

State budget analysts predict the cuts, which will automatically trigger at the end of the year if Congress does not act, could push the country back into recession.

President Barack Obama is negotiating with congressional leaders to avoid the cuts.

“At the end of the day, the math involving this fiscal cliff is inescapable and needs to be addressed,” said Michael Enright, O’Malley’s former chief of staff.

Enright said the group was not “proscribing any particular answer” to the crisis. “What we’re trying to show is a collective will to come to a solution,” he said.

Economist Anirban Basu said Maryland, in particular, was in the cross hairs of the nation’s $16 billion debt.

Nearly 6 percent of Marylanders work for the federal government, not including the state’s contractor base, so the debt-reduction measures, like the fiscal cliff, would hit the state extra hard, Basu said.

The debt needed to be fixed “with a surgeon’s scalpel, as opposed to a hammer,” he said. “The fiscal cliff is about dealing with the operation with a hammer.”

DiPaula said the coalition planned to continue recruiting business leaders and would likely organize trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby members of Congress to find a solution.

dleaderman@gazette.net