ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House of Delegates passed its version of the $21.6 billion state budget Tuesday, diverging little from the Senate’s document.
The measure passed, 105-34.
Like the Senate version, the House kept the final 2 percent of an overall 10 percent tax reduction begun in 1997, which Gov. Parris N. Glendening had proposed to eliminate.
The House version also leaves a $764 million projected deficit for fiscal year 2004, shaving just $3 million from the Senate’s estimated shortfall.
The House achieved the difference through making deeper cuts to various programs, such as a program to limit revenue disparity between poor and rich jurisdictions, and by estimating larger savings from state hiring freezes.
With its savings, the House injected more funding into some of Glendening’s priority programs.
Higher education received a 1.4 percent increase. Higher education spending was flat in the Senate plan.
The House document also preserved about $4.4 million more Smart Growth and Land Preservation money than the Senate.
And it saved about $42 million worth of higher education capital projects from the chopping block.
The budget is “fiscally prudent” and “socially responsible,” said Delegate Howard Rawlings, D-Baltimore, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
But Republicans criticized the plan.
The budget doesn’t solve the deficit problem, said Delegate Robert Flanagan, R-Howard. “(The House will) be in the same place next year – only tax increases will be on the table,” he said.
The Glendening-Kathleen Kennedy Townsend administration has been more interested in stoking their pet projects and national reputation than in funding core needs, said Minority Leader Alfred Redmer Jr., R- Baltimore County.
He cited Smart Growth spending, staff increases at the lieutenant governor’s office, and mental health funding shortfalls as examples.
Rawlings called Redmer’s criticisms a campaign effort for the newly announced Republican candidate for governor, U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich Jr. of Timonium.
“Don’t campaign for the next governor” with your vote; campaign for yourself, Rawlings said.
During the session, delegates thwarted several budget amendments.
One called for canceling a $4.2 million magnetic levitation train study.
The sponsor called the project a “boondoggle.”
The technology has been around for 40 years, said Delegate James Rzepkowski, R-Anne Arundel. The reason it hasn’t been built anywhere in the world is that it isn’t commercially viable, he said.
A round-trip ticket from Camden Yards in Baltimore to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on the 250 mph train is projected to cost $52.
The $500 million in state spending for the $4 billion project would do little to get commuters off the road, Rzepkowski said.
Defenders of the project said it was key to a larger vision of connecting the train to Boston and securing Olympic attention.
The move was defeated, 44 to 86.
Other amendments called for postponing the tax cut and tying excess lottery revenue to school funding. Both moves were defeated. Only 23 delegates voted to delay the tax cut.
The budget now advances to a conference committee, which will work out differences between the Senate and House versions. Once the work is completed, the budget must be approved once more by the General Assembly.
Although the governor cannot veto the final budget, 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. -30- CNS-3-26-02