ANNAPOLIS – The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted Friday afternoon to cut money from a new Chesapeake Bay cleanup fund, trimmed the state’s higher education budget, and made other cuts in health and transportation.
The cuts come after Thursday’s Board of Revenue Estimates announcement that Maryland can expect a revenue shortfall exceeding $300 million because of a slowing economy at both the national and state levels. Legislators already met in a November special session and passed tax hikes to deal with what was then a $1.7 billion deficit.
Friday’s cuts left the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund, passed during the special session, with only half of the promised $50 million.
Senate leaders and environmentalists had been talking about the possibility of cutting the fund for several days.
“Rather than put $50 million in it this year, we’ll reduce the cost to $25 million,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, said earlier in the day.
The first year’s installment of the trust fund would then be implemented over two years rather than one, he said.
Environmentalists are not happy.
“I’m worried that we’re giving in on a lot of stuff right now,” Brad Heavner, state director for Environment Maryland, said Friday morning. “It’s a rough week for the environment. We’re giving in on the global warming cap and trade for factories, giving in on shoreline protection for county governments, and we’re giving in on millions of dollars for the Chesapeake Bay.”
Among Friday’s cuts was $6.8 million in funding for the University System of Maryland.
One of the most contentious issues in Friday’s committee hearing was a proposal to raise the project debt limit for the Intercounty Connector, a highway to be built between Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
Committee members appeared dubious about the idea until Warren Deschenaux, director of the office of policy analysis for the Department of Legislative Services, laid out the choices.
Either the debt limit must be raised, he said, or the ICC cannot be built.
When the issue came to a vote, only Sen. Rona Kramer, D-Montgomery, was opposed.
In addition, the Maryland Department of Transportation faces $3.8 million in new cuts, in part to reflect vacant positions, according to a report from the Public Safety, Transportation and Environment Subcommittee.
The cuts would also cost the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene more than $47 million from the original budget submitted by Gov. Martin O’Malley. Some of that money would come from the Women, Infants and Children program.
Capital News Service reporter Kate Elizabeth Queram contributed to this story.
-30- CNS 03-07-08