ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Senate grudgingly gave final approval to Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s 2002 budget Tuesday, following House consent Monday night.
The 39-8 vote was the end of a “long and difficult and somewhat painful process,” said Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, Budget and Taxation Committee chairwoman. However, she said, the revised budget is “reasonably ambitious . . . and moderates the growth of spending.”
The General Assembly trimmed the governor’s proposed budget — the largest of Glendening’s tenure — by about $300 million for a final total of $21.17 billion, 6.2 percent larger than last year’s.
Sen. Robert Neall, D-Anne Arundel, a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee, was so disillusioned with the entire budget process this year that he asked Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to remove him from the committee.
“All I wanted was a wholesome budget because I was gravely concerned,” he said, citing a slowing economy and increased spending. “We are at the top of the roller coaster, and there’s only one way to go.” Neall, who was granted a leadership position as chairman of a budget subcomittee in 2000 after he switched political parties, worried about an economic slump similar to the recession of the early 1990s.
“I don’t want to repeat that experience, but I’m getting that Yogi Berra, deja vu all over again feeling,” he said. “We’re spending when we should be saving.”
Despite many lawmakers’ worries, the revised budget came in below the Legislature’s self-imposed spending limit. The original budget exceeded the limit by $185 million, and Republican legislators warned the budget was dangerously large.
The budget is still too large in light of predictions of deficits looming on the horizon, said Senate Minority Leader Martin Madden, R-Howard, citing the Department of Legislative Services’ forecast of a $300 million deficit for 2003.
“This budget spends $907 million next year more than we take in,” he said. “We shouldn’t be doing this when there are economic warning lights flashing all around us.”
Funding for the governor’s major priorities, including higher education and transportation, were cut substantially but manageably, said Raquel Guillory, the governor’s spokeswoman. Higher education was cut from 14 percent to 10 percent.
“We’re satisfied with the amount that was agreed upon,” Guillory said. The budget, despite its many flaws, restored some much-needed health care funding, including $30 million for mental health and $6.5 million for a prescription drug plan for the elderly, said Hoffman.
The General Assembly also retained a controversial $5 million subsidy for private school textbooks, an allocation that troubled Sen. Delores Kelley, D- Baltimore.
“This budget, given some line items in it, causes me some great moral concern,” she said, adding it should go to public schools instead.
Many senators dissatisfied with the budget focused their frustration on a $450,000 allocation for a State Police airplane in the governor’s supplemental budget released Friday.
The aircraft would be used to transport extradited criminals, but the governor also would have access to it. The airplane now used is 20 years old and often in for repairs, said Hoffman.
The House opposed funding for the new airplane, but the Senate favored it. The money was retained after a joint conference committee reconciled the two chambers’ differences.
Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, was upset the governor inserted the funding so late.
“The governor sent a late supplemental budget . . . and we were intentionally misled,” he said. “I am incensed that the . . . executive branch intentionally misled the Legislature” with regard to the airplane funding.
Sen. Thomas Bromwell, D-Baltimore, voted for the budget, but he objected to the joint committee report, saying he wanted more money for mental health and health care programs.
Bromwell disagreed with some of the House’s positions on the budget, and he also felt his constituents would be outraged by spending money on an airplane.
“That airplane is going to be an albatross around my neck,” Bromwell said.
Hoffman reminded the Senate the governor’s budget was unbalanced at the outset, and the committees that cut funds from it had to work with what they were given.
“We did the best we could,” she said.