ANNAPOLIS – Although legislators continue to spar over tobacco settlement spending and state aid to private schools, Maryland’s 2001 budget moved a step closer to passage Thursday with the House of Delegates approval of a $19.5 billion operating budget.
The House balanced the budget with about $40 million to spare, cutting $167 million from Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s bottom line.
The House debate focused on many of the same issues that dominated the Senate debate last week, with virtually the same results: cut Glendening’s overall spending, balance the budget, and keep private school subsidies in place.
It was the $6 million private school textbook subsidy that proved the most controversial for both chambers. At issue was whether or not the funding would set a new precedent, breaking down the “firewall” that separates public dollars from private ventures.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard Rawlings, D-Baltimore, argued that, despite House lawmakers’ objections to the pieces of the puzzle, overall the budget picture was rosy.
“It’s socially responsible and fiscally prudent,” Rawlings said, making “major investments” in education, infrastructure and worker salaries.
“It’s a great budget,” Rawlings said.
Glendening’s office agreed.
“The governor is pleased that the House budget leaves his spending priorities largely intact,” said Glendening spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.
The Senate did the major landscaping of Glendening’s budget this year. In a voting session last week, senators debated the governor’s plan for spending this year’s $150 million tobacco settlement and the rapid growth of the budget.
In the end, the Senate approved a budget with more than 300 amendments that trimmed $144 million from Glendening’s operating budget.
Next, a special “conference” committee of House and Senate representatives will compromise on a unified budget, which will then go back to each chamber for a final vote. Once both bodies vote on the compromise, the budget will become law: Glendening’s signature is not required.
Legislators are hoping to have the budget finished by April 3.