ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Senate approved its $21.6 billion version of the 2003 state budget Wednesday despite unlikely allies who united to vote against it.
Liberal senators said too much money had been cut from vital programs in order to preserve the final 2 percent of an income tax reduction begun in 1997.
Conservatives said not enough had been cut in light of a projected $767 million deficit for fiscal year 2004.
Still the bill passed, 34 to 12.
“I find aspects of the budget shameful,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s.
The money from the tax cut could have funded a school reform proposal known as the Thornton Commission report, Pinsky said.
Without Thornton money or increased funds to the Prince George’s school system, the budget ignores some of its neediest citizens, he said.
Other senators agreed that the tax cut should be delayed.
One also favored a tobacco tax hike.
Tobacco and tax cut revenue could prevent cuts to school programs, fund land preservation programs, and bolster higher education budgets, said Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery. As it is now, Maryland’s colleges are looking at tuition increases.
Conservatives attacked the budget from a different perspective.
“I don’t think there has been quite enough (cutting)” considering projected deficits, said Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll.
The current administration built its budget on an unstable foundation, he said. The budget’s growth over the last eight years was not in line with personal income growth, he said.
Many senators defended the difficult decisions made by committee members who prepared the budget.
“A promise made is a promise made,” said Sen. Thomas Bromwell, D- Baltimore County, on keeping the income tax reduction. Lawmakers raised those taxes during the recession of the early `90s under the stipulation they would later lower them.
Republicans were urged to vote their conscience while their leader sided with fellow members of the budget committee.
“I think further cuts would hurt people,” said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset.
The approved budget funds higher education at current levels and cuts some of the governor’s environmental programs by $26.8 million. It also whittles future deficits by $433 million.
“This budget is lean, but not mean,” said Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee. Her committee developed the budget.
The Senate budget was balanced through program cuts and tapping one-time reserve funds.
That structure mirrored the governor’s budget proposal, but eliminated questionable fund transfers from sources such as Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, an insurance program funded through subscribers, instead of state revenue, and the Emergency Medical System.
Although the governor cannot veto the budget once a conference committee works out differences between the Senate and House versions of the document, he can veto the bill that transfers the necessary reserve funds to balance the budget.
Such a move would require lawmakers to revisit budget decisions due to balanced budget laws.