ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Senate approved Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s record-setting 2002 budget Thursday after cutting $341.9 million from his requested $21.3 billion.
The Senate cuts go deeper than those of the House of Delegates, which sliced $239 million when it approved the budget last week.
Although the Senate approved the budget, many legislators had reservations about it.
The budget was flawed at the outset, with some programs receiving money while other vital programs like Medicaid went underfunded, said Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, Budget and Taxation Committee chairwoman.
“The budget is full of holes,” she said. “Was this a good budget? No. It was a budget with a lot of good stuff in it . . . (but) there are parts that didn’t get funded adequately.”
There were budget critics from both parties.
“This budget abandons, totally abandons the traditional spending affordability limits (and) drains the Rainy Day fund on a sunny day,” said Senate Minority Whip J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset.
Stoltzfus also criticized the budget for underfunding programs, including a $32 million Medicaid deficiency and a $41 million mental health deficiency.
The governor’s budget was $185 million over spending limits set by a joint legislative committee in December. The Budget and Taxation committee made $225 million in applicable cuts to bring the budget in $40 million below the spending limit and win the Senate’s approval.
The budget, despite its flaws, will leave the state with $622 in Rainy Day funds — $126 million more than the state needs to maintain its excellent AAA bond rating, Hoffman said.
The committee’s decision to keep $5 million of the governor’s proposed $8 million subsidy for private school textbooks sparked another heated debate this year. Last year, the Senate approved a similar $6 million subsidy after hours of contentious debate and proposals to kill the funding.
Upset by the proposal to spend state money on private school textbooks rather than public schools, Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore, proposed an amendment to funnel the $5 million into academic intervention programs like classroom mentors and after-school tutoring.
“Children are underperforming in every county of the state, particularly minorities,” Kelley said. “We aren’t preparing them for the world of work, and we aren’t preparing them for the world of college.”
Several other senators protested cutting the $5 million, citing the much higher level of state spending for higher education.
Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, still smarting from the Senate’s defeat last month of his constitutional amendment to give the General Assembly power to add or rearrange funds in the budget, said Kelley’s amendment tried to redirect funds.
“She had a vehicle to do that,” he said. “It was Senate Bill 245, and she voted against it.”
Kelley’s amendment and another amendment from Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, to cut the funding were defeated Thursday.
The Senate’s decision to restore some textbook funding sets up a showdown with the House, which cut the entire subsidy.
The Senate also defeated an amendment proposed by Sen. Leo Green, D-Prince George’s, to move some money from cancer research funds into the Office of the Public Defender for the legal representation of indigent clients in bail hearings.
“You can’t find $800,000 for the poor?” Green said. “I think we have to balance our priorities here. We’re down here to represent those who can’t represent themselves.”
Ten of the Senate’s 13 Republicans voted against the budget to show their disapproval.
“This is a budget that will come back to haunt us,” warned Senate Minority Leader Martin Madden, R-Howard, saying his “no” vote was only his third in 11 years.
“I think we’re setting ourselves up for big problems,” he added.
Democrats were not completely happy with the budget either.
“It’s a uniform distribution of dissatisfaction,” said Green. “As a group activity, given the constraints . . . I think we’ve done a fair job,” said Sen. Robert Neall, D-Anne Arundel.
Sen. Majority Leader Clarence Blount, D-Baltimore, was philosophical about the budget: “It’ll work out in the end.”