Education, poor gain in budget OK'd by legislative committee

March 31, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- A joint House-Senate conference committee put final touches yesterday on the state's $11.6 billion budget for next year, funneling some additional aid to Baltimore and the state's poorer subdivisions.

Conference members hailed the pact, which still must receive support tomorrow from the full House and Senate, as an effort to meet the state's social needs in lean fiscal times.

The budget is balanced, in part, by a $90.1 million tax package that will cause higher taxes on cigarettes, carryout foods and capital gains and by spending nearly $78 million less on programs than originally proposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "I'm glad we were able to get a few things addressed that might otherwise have been left out," said Delegate Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's. "The budget continues our commitment to education and the human side of government."

In their deliberations, committee members agreed to:

* Provide $11.4 million in aid to the state's poorest subdivisions, including $9.8 million for Baltimore.

* Abolish nearly 400 state jobs at the troubled Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County by Sept. 1 in order to put some or all of the facility for juvenile delinquents in private hands.

* Restore $500,000 for the Lida Lee Tall Learning Resources Center, the experimental Towson school that Governor Schaefer had not planned to fund next year.

* Back off from plans to close an economic development office in Hong Kong, a pet project of Governor Schaefer's, and spare Maryland Magazine, a glossy, promotional publication the House Appropriations Committee had earlier voted to abolish.

* Rescind a Senate plan to reduce by 1 percent the salaries of the state's top management staff, a proposal intended as a "message" to the administration from an angry legislature.

Yesterday was the last of several days of deliberations for the committee, which is charged with ironing out the numerous differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. The decision to abolish state jobs at the Hickey School had been opposed by state employee unions and by House Appropriations Committee leaders, who argued that it was management, not rank-and-file employees, who were to blame for the facility's woes.

The proposal was backed by members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and by Governor Schaefer, who called for the privatization of Hickey in his January State of the State address.

"Mostly, we felt Juvenile Services Secretary [Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick] needed the ability to go in there and decide what to do with the operation," said Senator Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore. "I don't think it will necessarily mean a wholesale change in employees but we want to keep it open."

The budget agreement also reflected lawmakers' concerns about whether an intensive campaign of lobbying by the Orioles might cause the state to back off from plans to build an eight-story, $16.5 million office building adjoining the south end of the B&O warehouse at Camden Yards.

In committee deliberations, Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, also secured assurances from the Maryland Stadium Authority that there will be public access to the stadium's sky boxes. The proposal would provide about 240 free tickets to 20 games at the club level distributed in a "fair and equitable manner."

A slumping economy and declining tax revenues made budget deliberations a particularly complicated and heated affair this year. In addition to offsetting a projected $115.6 million deficit in the 1992 budget, lawmakers also had to develop legislation to balance the 1991 budget.

The budget includes more funds for the developmentally disabled and for a program to prevent ninth-graders from dropping out of school. Lawmakers also held to $3 million and $430,000 their respective cuts in the University of Maryland and in aid to private colleges.

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