By Rolando Garcia
ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert Ehrlich cut a little here and switched a little there to add $31 million to health and children’s programs Wednesday in an addendum to his proposed 2005 budget.
The new spending is a tiny addition to Ehrlich’s $23.8 billion budget, and is only the first of what will be a series of budget revisions, said Neil Bergsman, budget analysis director for the Department of Budget and Management.
This supplemental budget, which is a revision of the governor’s original budget submission, is funded through cuts, federal grant money and leftover funds.
Included in the supplemental is $2.6 million to renovate the Charles Hickey School, a reform school in Baltimore for troubled youth; $1 million to improve computer systems at the Office of Children, Youth and Families; $325,000 for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which restores the state’s funding to last year’s level; and $1 million from the state’s tobacco settlement money to help sick, needy Marylanders access prescription drugs.
To pay for the added items, Ehrlich is using $13 million in property transfer tax revenue, which had been earmarked for grants to local governments to buy park land. In the budget Ehrlich unveiled in January, he moved the transfer tax revenue to the general fund.
Another $10 million comes from reserve funds in the Office of Children Youth and Families, Bergsman said.
A $6 million federal grant will pay for the AmeriCorps program.
The General Assembly’s policy analysts are recommending cutting $1.8 million from Ehrlich’s supplemental budget, including $900,000 from the Hickey School appropriation.
“Certain items had no good justification,” said Warren Deschenaux, policy director for the Department of Legislative Services.
Overall, the department identified $200 million in unnecessary spending in Ehrlich’s budget, Deschenaux said, and the budget also overestimates revenues from companies avoiding taxes through the so-called Delaware loophole.
Ehrlich’s budget closed an $800 million shortfall mostly through cuts and one-time revenue sources while increasing education and health care spending.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee was briefed on the supplemental budget Wednesday, and their counterparts in the House will be briefed Thursday.
House Appropriations Chairman Norman Conway, D-Wicomico, said he had not seen the supplemental, but that his committee is cutting unnecessary items in Ehrlich’s budget and was carefully scrutinizing new spending.
The Senate is expected to vote on Ehrlich’s budget next week.