ANNAPOLIS – The House of Delegates gave the green light to Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s budget Friday – but only after cutting almost $239 million from the record-setting $21.3 billion budget.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, praised the budget for being “socially responsible and fiscally prudent.” But he also reiterated many delegates’ desire for more money for health care.
The General Assembly may cut the budget, but may not increase it.
The governor indicated to House leaders his willingness to develop a long- term strategy to address health care needs, including fair compensation for people who provide care for the developmentally disabled, Rawlings added.
By “spreading the pain of the budget cuts broadly,” the budget addresses the priorities of Maryland’s citizens without cutting heavily from one or two programs, Rawlings said.
The House did cut $26.5 million in higher education spending, one of Glendening’s priorities, lowering the allocation to $1.89 billion.
Although the budget passed, 118-19, minority Republicans, warning of an economic downturn and calling for deeper cuts, were disgruntled.
“This is the worst budget I’ve seen in 19 years,” said House Minority Leader Robert Kittleman, R-Howard. It will mean some tough future choices for the General Assembly, he said.
“I’m going to be the first one that says, `I told you,'” in that case, he said.
“Some hard cold facts remain about this budget,” said House Minority Whip Robert Flanagan, R-Howard. “Core governmental services are not funded,” particularly for helping institutionalized citizens return to the community.
Flanagan also criticized the governor’s decision to cut $187 million from school construction funds in his five-year capital budget plan.
“The priorities of this administration . . . must be changed for the sake of the citizens of Maryland,” he said.
Delegate Peter Hammen, D-Baltimore, however, was pleased with the budget, especially since the House approved his proposal Wednesday to keep $1 million for the state’s nursing homes, which suffered funding cuts in the 1990s. The money is needed to reduce the high turnover and low wages of direct care staff in the homes, he said.
“We made a commitment to those who work in nursing homes and those who are in nursing homes,” Hammen said. “We should keep that commitment, and we did.”
Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, commended the governor’s transportation funding, saying it supports other successful programs in the long run.
For example, mass transit funding helps people get to their new jobs when they come off welfare support, he said.
“We’re not voting for this year’s economy,” Franchot said. “We’re voting for the economy 10 years down the road.”
The vote came two days after the General Assembly learned the state expects $50.2 million less in revenues than originally predicted. The governor’s budget was already $184.5 million over the Legislature’s recommended spending affordability guidelines.
Despite the increasingly pessimistic national economic forecast, Maryland’s economy is still in better shape than most states’, Rawlings said.
The governor has decided to delay spending $130 million in capital funds until the next round of revenue estimates is released in mid-December, Rawlings told the House.
The $130 million is an insurance policy that won’t directly affect any human services, according to Mike Morrill, Glendening’s spokesman.
The governor has never created such a policy, but he wants to be careful as the economy slows down, Morrill said, adding the state will still be able to fund the governor’s priorities within the General Assembly’s spending limits.
The governor’s budget still faces the Senate, where many senators also believe the budget doesn’t go far enough to fund health programs, including Medicaid and mental health.
“Now there’s a place where if we could add money, we’d add money,” said Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, Budget and Taxation Committee chairwoman, during a committee meeting Thursday.
Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery, agreed, saying his subcommittee had a difficult time making cuts because the budget underfunded numerous programs, notably mental health and developmental disabilities.
The governor is aware of the legislators’ concerns about the need for more health care funding, said Morrill: “He’s willing to sit down and work with them.”