ANNAPOLIS – The Senate Friday erased a House proposal to cut property taxes and fund school construction, bringing the budget closer to the governor’s plan.
Still, the upper chamber cut $117 million from the governor’s $25.9 billion budget — $14 million more than House did. Both cuts were only a fraction of a percent of the total budget.
The Senate sided with the administration, deeming it unaffordable to cut the property tax rate by the same amount Gov. Robert Ehrlich raised it to balance the budget during his first year in office.
The House bill would lower the rate by a nickel to 8 cents for every $100 of assessed property value, or an annual savings of $48 dollars for a house worth $100,000.
Also omitted from the Senate budget was the House proposal to skim additional money from the capital budget to bring 2006 spending on school construction to $250 million, the amount recommended by a state task force last year.
“The House might say, ‘We might be able to do this in ’06,’ but what about ’07, ’08, ’09?” said Patrick J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
The governor’s capital budget — with which the House is still grappling — earmarked $157 million to build new public schools and repair the old ones.
Program Open Space, a land preservation fund that’s typically raided for general use, would take an $83 million hit under the Senate plan, about half the amount the administration excised.
Like the House, the Senate added no broad-based taxes or fees, balancing the budget mostly through state job cuts and program reductions.
The Senate cut 16 more jobs than the governor’s plan, which chopped 139 employees. The House had cut 56 more than the governor.
The Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families, scheduled to dissolve this summer, was cut in half in the House plan. The Senate agreed to cut the office, but only in the event that legislation to extend the agency’s term failed.
Ehrlich said he sees “more of a partisan atmosphere coming out of the House” than the Senate.
“We believe some of the more troublesome decisions made by the House do not reflect the Senate’s decision,” Ehrlich said Thursday. “We think we’re going to end up with a pretty good budget.”
The Senate restored some funding the House cut for some of Ehrlich’s business initiatives, including $6 million in grants earmarked to lure movie production companies to film in Maryland.
Ten counties and Baltimore would not receive $6.1 million the House restored in grant money from a tax on electricity-generating equipment.
The General Assembly is expected to form a conference committee late next week to reconcile the differences between the two budgets.