With the release of Gov. Wes Moore’s fiscal 2025 budget plan, formal discussions on the future of Maryland’s budget officially kick off. Unfortunately, after years of fiscal stability and even surpluses, Maryland is now once again facing fiscal challenges — including an estimated $400 million budget deficit that is projected to increase to $1.8 billion annually over the next five years.
Last year, the legislature adopted a staff recommendation to increase the state’s debt in one year by 40%. This borrowing is akin to building a bridge to nowhere. As in all walks of life, there is no free lunch when it comes to balancing the state’s budget. Passing any operating funds onto the state’s credit card is a dangerous tactic and jeopardizes future opportunities to utilize the credit markets for a true fiscal emergency.
Despite this pressing issue, the good news is that Maryland has faced even greater challenges before. In 2015, when our partnership leading state government began as governor and comptroller, Maryland faced a crushing $5.1 billion structural deficit. Though we represent different parties, we worked together to reverse it and achieve the first structurally balanced budget in over a decade.
During the COVID pandemic, we also partnered to steer Maryland through a time of unprecedented turmoil that created significant budget uncertainty. Eight years later, as we both left office, Maryland had a record and historic surplus, and the state went from ranking 49th in the nation for GDP in 2013 to the most improved state for business in 2021.
Based on our experience, here are the key lessons we learned addressing the budget deficit and how we believe Maryland’s leaders can do it again:
First, and most importantly, endlessly raising taxes and fees will only create a sugar high that will ultimately deepen the problem. We’ve seen what happens when the state goes down the road of becoming addicted to tax hikes and fees. Spending continues to increase while taxpayers and businesses flee the state, creating a vicious cycle of diminishing returns as revenue flows out of Maryland and into other states. Higher taxes may seem like the easy solution, but it has repeatedly proven to be only fool’s gold.
Second, don’t kick the can down the road with short-term gimmicks that only temporarily hide the problem. Ultimately, just like every Maryland family knows, the bills will always come due. This means setting clear priorities and being transparent about where cuts must be made. It may be tempting to pay lip service to every new project under the sun, but governing is about making hard choices and focusing on the art of the possible.
Third, during difficult times, state government works best when both parties are at the table building bipartisan consensus. We fully recognize that with overwhelming majorities in state government, Democratic leaders could pass a great deal of their agenda without any Republican support. However, no single party has a monopoly on good ideas and solutions are more durable when everyone has a seat at the table — and skin in the game. A bipartisan and collaborative approach may not be easy, but it will yield better governance.
This doesn’t mean that we expect Democrats and Republicans in Annapolis to agree on the best path forward. We often disagreed with each other on the issues of the day and fought for our ideas to be implemented. However, we also always recognized that we needed to work together for the good of Maryland, and that made us better as leaders.
When we left our respective offices one year ago, we warned that the good times would not last forever, and urged the legislature to save the record surplus for a rainy day. Now that rainy day has come, but there’s no reason for this downpour to become a flood. With the right approach, Maryland can once again return to sunny days and avoid a fiscal Groundhog Day.
Larry Hogan was Maryland’s governor from 2015 to 2023. Peter Franchot was Maryland’s comptroller from 2007 to 2023.