An­napo­lis’ apos­tle of arith­metic

Deschenaux’s wit, ac­c­u­men and in­de­pen­dence will be hard to re­place

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS -

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An­napo­lis is about to get a lot less droll. War­ren Deschenaux, long the chief fis­cal an­a­lyst in the Depart­ment of Leg­isla­tive Ser­vices, and more re­cently that agency’s di­rec­tor, will re­tire on Dec. 1, and that will leave Mary­land’s cap­i­tal with­out some­thing it badly needs: some­one who can wryly de­flate the non­sense spouted so of­ten by gov­er­nors and leg­is­la­tors of both par­ties when it comes to the state’s taxes, spend­ing and debt. Cel­e­brated as he is for his sense of hu­mor — DLS’ an­nual brief­ings on the gov­er­nor’s bud­get pro­posal aren’t known as “The War­ren Show” for noth­ing — Mr. Deschenaux’s real value is in the clar­ity and im­par­tial­ity with which he has an­a­lyzed Mary­land’s fi­nances.

Bearded, be­spec­ta­cled and cud­dly in ap­pear­ance (if not man­ner), Mr. Deschenaux has for decades pointed out the in­con­ve­nient truths of Mary­land’s chronic bud­get short­falls. Some leg­is­la­tors have used the fig­ures he pro­vides to ar­gue that Mary­land spends too much, some to ar­gue that it taxes too lit­tle. The only cause he can fairly be said to serve is that of math.

As with all things in gov­ern­ment these days, he has at times found him­self in the po­lit­i­cal crosshairs. Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has ques­tioned just how non­par­ti­san the DLS is, and it has ac­cused Mr. Deschenaux of mak­ing up num­bers at the be­hest of Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors to make the gov­er­nor look bad. The Ho­gan folks should ask just how happy the O’Mal­ley Deschenaux ad­min­is­tra­tion was when Mr. Deschenaux called them out for Pro­gram Open Space shell games, when he warned law­mak­ers that the gov­er­nor was re­ly­ing on too much bor­row­ing or when he re­peat­edly noted that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s var­i­ous fis­cal moves failed to erase the state’s per­sis­tent gap be­tween spend­ing and rev­enues.

That is not to say that Mr. Deschenaux is with­out a point of view, it’s just that his opin­ions on fis­cal mat­ters tend not to fall along par­ti­san lines. For ex­am­ple, he has of­ten made the case that lo­cal gov­ern­ments aren’t pulling enough weight in their part­ner­ship with the state to pay for the ser­vices res­i­dents rely on. But as for whether the state should ad­dress any par­tic­u­lar fis­cal cri­sis through spend­ing cuts or tax in­creases, he has been scrupu­lously ag­nos­tic.

At a time in na­tional pol­i­tics when re­al­ity is fun­gi­ble, Mr. Deschenaux’s value has been to pro­vide law­mak­ers in An­napo­lis with a com­mon set of facts from which they can de­bate. Democrats and Repub­li­cans both con­sider the fis­cal analy­ses of leg­is­la­tion his agency pro­duces to be the gold stan­dard, and mem­bers of both par­ties rou­tinely cite DLS num­bers to make their cases in de­bate. State gov­ern­ment would be far weaker with­out that shared re­spect for the DLS’ in­tegrity.

For that rea­son, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller should think care­fully about who should suc­ceed him. Ap­point­ing some­one too closely as­so­ci­ated with one party or the other could ir­re­vo­ca­bly dam­age the DLS’ rep­u­ta­tion. Mr. Deschenaux’s wit may be inim­itable, but for the sake of good gov­ern­ment, we hope his in­de­pen­dence is not.

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