ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Senate Friday approved its version of the state’s 2001 operating budget, trimming $148 million from Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s $19.6 billion plan, but keeping a controversial pilot program to give millions in book money to private schools.
Missing from the budget’s 325 amendments was an accelerated income tax cut that fiscal conservatives thought would be a logical consequence of the state’s record-high $940 million budget surplus this year.
Compared to a rambunctious four-hour debate in the Senate Wednesday – one that focused on Glendening’s plan to give $6 million to private schools for textbooks – Friday’s session was smooth sailing.
Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, R-Howard, and Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, were the only ones making waves.
“It’s too much to grow the budget in one year,” Stoltzfus said of the $2 billion, or 10 percent, increase in the operating budget from last year.
Madden and Stoltzfus warned that an economic downturn could force the state to cut programs, raise taxes, or both.
“We’re building a state budget on the extraordinary capital gains of the last five or six years,” Madden said. “You don’t build your budget on capital gains – they may not be there in a couple of years.”
Glendening spokesman Mike Morrill refuted Madden’s claim, saying the governor’s plan puts capital gains into the surplus, but doesn’t count on them for the operating budget.
That budget surplus is also a sore point for Madden and other Republicans. They fought Wednesday for an amendment to accelerate Glendening’s income tax reduction plan the Legislature approved in 1998.
“It’s the people’s money,” Madden said in a statement, “and they deserve tax relief.”
That amendment failed.
Despite Madden and Stoltzfus’ last-minute economic pleas in the chamber Friday, the Senate approved the budget bill – sans income tax cut – by a vote of 38 to 9. All negative votes came from Republicans.
Morrill said the governor was pleased.
“The Senate’s version (of the budget) is incredibly supportive of the governor’s (version),” said Morrill.
Though the House Appropriations Committee began debating its version of the operating budget bill Friday evening, legislators did not expect a final vote on the bill until next week.
Vice Chairman Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, predicted the House would haggle over the same issues as the Senate: tobacco lawsuit money, public aid to private schools and potential tax cuts.
But while Conway was confident the House budget would cut more than $100 million from Glendening’s budget total – he didn’t think an accelerated income tax cut would survive.