Schaefer bid to boost social programs fails Assembly leaders again refuse to tap transportation fund

March 26, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Jockeying with the General Assembly for the political high ground, Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed yesterday using transportation money to pay for an additional $48.3 million in social programs.

He all but dared the legislators to reject the plan. They did so almost immediately, refusing to allow introduction of the proposal last night.

Governor Schaefer's new proposals, contained in a supplement

to his original $11.6 billion budget, would have allocated funds to a variety of places and people in need, ranging from help to Baltimore for police, schools and AIDS prevention to school programs at the Maryland Science Center and a program to help prevent high school students from dropping out.

The governor's list also included funds for kidney dialysis patients, the developmentally disabled and mental patients as well as a first-time supplement to the federal nutrition program for women, infants and children.

But to pay for these programs, Mr. Schaefer again proposed a financing mechanism that the General Assembly has repeatedly rejected for the past three months: taking the money from the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund into the general treasury. Mr. Schaefer said the legislature had to choose between investing "in people or in concrete."

But with only two weeks left in the session, with the budget already passed by both houses and now subject to negotiation in a joint conference committee and with the funding source for ** the supplemental appropriation so clearly objectionable to the legislature, the governor's plan was dead on arrival.

"We're not going to accept it," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, who also complained that the governor had submitted his budget two weeks late to begin with. He said the 11th-hour supplemental request was designed to "play on the emotions of people who deserve better."

The $48.3 million request for the social programs was part of a broader proposal from the governor to impose on the General Assembly his own plan to bring both this year's and next year's state budgets into balance. But at this stage in the process, the legislature can use its own authority to transfer funds from one program to another or to raise taxes to finance other programs, and may ignore the governor's plan.

In a joint statement rejecting the supplement, Mr. Miller and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, took issue with the governor's plan to cover part of the $115 million revenue shortfall that developed in next year's budget with nearly $60 million that would be raised by the legislature's proposed increase in cigarette taxes. Budget Secretary Charles L. Benton Jr. said the governor backed the cigarette tax because smoking is a health problem and Maryland has the highest cancer rate of any state.

But the legislature had planned to use the cigarette tax money to avert proposed cuts in local aid programs.They complained that Mr. Schaefer's plan would have forced them to choose between the local programs and the additional social programs now proposed by the governor.

"It is noted that the items in the supplemental budget could have been submitted as part of the original budget, but the administration decided not to include them," the presiding officers said in their joint statement. But they also left open the possibility that money still could be found for at least some of the governor's new proposals.

Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said it was possible that the budget conferees could agree to combine differing House and Senate tax proposals, raising more money than originally planned.

Most of the legislative opposition,however, was focused on the governor's stubborn insistence on transferring money from a transportation fund already suffering from its own serious drop in revenue.

"The governor and his people just ignored us," said Delegate Tyras S. Athey, D-Anne Arundel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

He characterized the move as a thinly veiled attempt to revive the governor's plan to raise the state tax on gasoline. If the $76.6 million were shifted, the legislature would seem to have little choice but to raise the gas tax to cover the cost of even the most minimal road and bridge work.

Mr. Benton said that the governor was aware of the legislature's feelings about the transfer, but that "the governor still maintains it should be done." But, he added, "as always, the legislature has the last word."

The Schaefer administration's supplementary budget requests:

STATEWIDE PROGRAMS $38.3 MILLION

Public assistance payments 7.6 million

Kidney dialysis 6.9 million

Developmentally disabled placements 6.8 million

Deinstitutionalizing mentally disabled 3.0 million

Restoring health department positions 3.0 million

Schools for success 3.0 million

Developmentally disabled job help 2.9 million

School dropout prevention 1.9 million

State buildings 1.4 million

Women, infants & children food 1.0 million

Science Center (school programs) 250,000

Insurance division auditors 228,000

Reforestation 198,000

Medevac studies 150,000

Statewide nutrition assistance 100,000

Reading services for the blind 15,000

GRANTS TO BALTIMORE $10 MILLION

Public safety 8.0 million

Education 1.5 million

AIDS prevention 0.5 million

TOTAL $48.3 MILLION

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