ANNAPOLIS – Defying the House of Delegates, the Senate on Tuesday passed an amended budget that dashes a proposed cut in property tax.
The approval sets the stage for negotiations — called a conference committee — between the upper chamber and the House later this week.
The Legislature is required to agree on the $26 billion budget by Monday.
While the Senate was voting on the operating budget, the House was introducing its capital budget proposal, which includes more than $250 million for public-school construction.
Senators had deemed unaffordable the House plan to roll back the property tax rate by a nickel to 8 cents for every $100 of assessed value. That means the owner of a house worth $100,000 would save $48 in taxes.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who in 2003 raised the rate to its current level to balance the budget, opposes the House proposal.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, hinted that he might relent on pushing for the property-tax cut.
“You come down here, and you have give and take,” Busch said. “I hope the conferees will have a common ground.”
Delegates who supported the cut said rising property assessments and an improving economy would cushion the blow to state coffers.
Three Republican senators voted against the part of the budget related to revenue, which left out the property tax cut but raised criminal- and traffic-court fees and imposed a $45 monthly fee on participants in a program to assist convicted drunken drivers.
“Taking the combination of taxes and fees, it just was not something I could support,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne’s.
Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, agreed. The other senator voting “nay,” Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore County, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The vote on the spending portion of the budget was unanimous.
Meanwhile, the House got the ball rolling on a $670 million capital budget, the spending plan for construction and other long-term projects.
It redirects or cuts $79 million from a myriad of capital items to increase spending on public school construction beyond the $157 million Ehrlich had set aside. Another $15 million will come from come from dedicated school funds in the capital budget, for a total $250 million for school construction, the amount recommended by a state task force last year.
“In almost every instance where a reduction was made in other program areas, the funds were redirected to meet the dire need of our K-through-12 public school system,” said capital budget subcommittee chairwoman Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, in a news release.
Aside from school construction, the House capital budget shunts $25 million toward various local projects and $5 million spread among seven hospitals around the state.