ANNAPOLIS – House Democratic leaders announced Friday that they intend to secure a $200-$250 million budget surplus in case of future revenue shortfalls, about five times as much as Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed in his budget.
To help achieve the goal, all bills with costs attached to them will be reviewed by the leadership, said House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel. Typically only bills with a price tag of at least $100,000-$250,000 are reviewed by the House leadership.
House leadership includes the Speaker, Speaker Pro Tem, Majority Leader, Majority Whip and the chairs of all standing committees.
“We’re not entertaining any fiscal note unless the committee can justify it to the leadership,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway, D-Wicomico.
The House plans thorough scrutiny of all aspects of the governor’s budget, from formula components to deciding whether programs should be level-funded temporarily or permanently, in order to come up with the $200-$250 million stopgap, Conway said.
“The (federal) stimulus package is only for two years,” Conway said. “At year three we want to still be able to sustain what we were able to do this year.”
By looking at the budget and new projects more carefully now, the legislature has a bigger say than if the Board of Public Works has to make cuts later in the year, Busch said.
“We need a surplus so those officials don’t have to make those cuts alone,” he said.
Leaders will also examine $14 million in unused bonds from 1984-2003, said Delegate Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County. These bonds have been intended for various projects like detention centers and storm water system loans, but have not been fully used.
“They’re either no longer doing the project and with some there’s been no activity,” Jones said. “We’ll look at each one and unless there’s a good reason, we’ll de-authorize them.”
New bond bills must be for projects that can begin within 18 months in order to receive state funding, she said.
This criterion for bond bills ensures that money is spent wisely and on projects that will most immediately create jobs, Jones said.
This arrangement of both independent House leadership review and ordinary committee discussion on bills can lead to conflict, she admitted.
“But that’s why there’s leadership and that’s why there’s members,” Jones said.
House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, and House Minority Whip Christopher Shank, R-Washington, could not be reached for comment.