Senate budget vote reflects GOP stamp
Tally in House expected next week
ANNAPOLIS After an unusual few months of appeals to Republicans on budgetary matters, the Maryland Senate this week passed its blueprint for state spending, 39-8.
"There are some courageous souls that put a footprint in the sand that waves are not going to wash away," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach waxed philosophically from the rostrum.
The $13.2 billion budget for fiscal 2011 trims about $120 million in spending from the budget submitted by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). His spending plan included about $371 million in transfers from assorted state funds. The Budget and Taxation Committee reduced that figure to $270.8 million.
The Senate budget also cut the projected deficits for fiscal years 2012 to 2015 from about $8.3 billion to nearly $5.2 billion. By law, Maryland budgets must balance, so the deficits are the difference between projected spending and estimated revenue.
Part of closing that gap was contained in a proposal offered by Republican Sens. David R. Brinkley and E.J. Pipkin. Their proposal included reductions in automatic inflators to government programs.
For example, their bill called for education funding to remain flat. Instead, the Senate approved a cap on increases at 1 percent.
"That helps," said Brinkley (Dist. 4) of New Market. "It took many years to get into this bind, and it took many policy decisions to get us here, and it will take many years to get us out of this."
Brinkley and Pipkin (Dist. 36) of Elkton had proposed several cuts that would have taken effect for fiscal 2011 but were rejected by the Budget and Taxation Committee.
Over the past several months, Democrats and Republicans have sparred over the budget. The Democratic leadership called on the GOP to offer specific proposals on spending. Last month, separate Senate and House plans were presented.
"You didn't have the fight some people expected," Brinkley said. "There was an acceptance of the gravity of the situation."
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington a Budget and Taxation Committee member credited the governor for reviewing the GOP budget proposals with Brinkley and Pipkin to "see where there was room to compromise."
For example, Democrats accepted a Brinkley-Pipkin suggestion to cut 500 more jobs than O'Malley proposed.
"I think it lent itself to some bipartisan compromise on a number of issues," he said.
Still, Madaleno said sometimes philosophical differences not partisan are too much to overcome. An effort to remove $2.1 million from the budget spent on Medicaid abortions failed, as did an attempt to increase spending on state support for private colleges.
"This is the process that has been traditional in Annapolis, certainly in the Senate," he said, of the Republican participation. "I think this is the model we're going to use going forward."
When the Senate voted, the budget received support from each of the chamber's 33 Democrats and six Republicans, one more than last year.
Sen. Barry Glassman (R-Dist. 35) of Churchville supported the budget then, but voted against it this year. Last year, Sens. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Dist. 38) of Westover and Larry E. Haines (R-Dist. 5) of Westminster opposed the budget bill, but they supported the legislation this year.
At the budget vote Wednesday, Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie applauded the work of his panel.
"Our actions put fiscal responsibility ahead of politics," said Currie (D-Dist. 25) of Forestville. "And in doing so, I believe the product is truly the work of statesmen."
Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship said he voted against the budget because he did not think senators cut enough.
The Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, a separate piece of legislation that provides the legal basis for some of the budget cuts, passed 42-5.
The House of Delegates is in the midst of its own work on the budget, with final votes expected next week. Conference committees then would be seated to hash out differences.
Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman James E. Proctor Jr. (D-Dist. 27A) of Accokeek said the two chambers are about 75 percent in agreement.
"There are a couple of things; we'll definitely have a conference committee," Proctor said.
Highlights of the Senate budget plan for fiscal 2011:
-The general fund, which pays for most day-to-day programs, comes in at just under $13.2 billion.
-Spending cuts trim about $120 million from Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget.
-Senators also cut about $70 million in budget transfers to the general fund.
-Education aid is at about $5.7 billion, up $189 million.
-Aid to counties falls from $7.4 billion to $7.2 billion.
-No raises are included for state employees, who have 10 furlough days.
-The Senate's version of a financing law calls for a gradual shift of some teacher pension expense onto county shoulders.
-Spending plan leaves $256.4 million for midyear emergencies.
-House of Delegates scheduled to approve its budget next week.