Despite a smattering of debate, Maryland lawmakers meetin in Annapolis today stuck to an orchestrated plan to enact a pair of bills designed to balance the state budget and to raise motor vehicle fees.
The legislature was recalled for a special one-day session to address the two measures, both of which are attempts to solve some of the state's money problems. Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to sign the bills immediately.
Without a single dissenting vote, the House passed a $125 million budget-balancing bill to cut spending and transfer funds from emergency accounts to the state's general fund.
At the same time, the Senate approved by a 35-10 vote a bill requested by the Schaefer administration to authorize increases about five dozen Motor Vehicle Administration fees. The increases, which will affect the cost of drivers' licenses, tags, automobile titles and other services, are designed to raise about $35 million in new revenues.
The House later passed an identical motor vehicle fees bill by a vote of 109-23. And with the anticipated Senate okay of the budget-balancing measure, the work of the General Assembly was to close without surprises and according to plan by the end of the day.
The special session began this morning with a festive air, despite the unpleasant tasks of cutting programs and raising fees that faced lawmakers. Legislators, many of whom had not seen each other since the regular session ended in April, greeted each other with handshakes and back slapping, and snacked on coffee and rolls.
The mood changed temporarily, though, when House members from Baltimore City challenged how the bill would set priorities for returning any surplus money to existing programs if less than $125 million is needed to balance the budget.
Although Maryland's latest projected deficit for 1991 has been set at $109 million, fiscal experts recommended cutting $125 million to leave a financial cushion in case the estimated shortfall worsens.
The 1991 fiscal year ends June 30, so the legislature was forced to act to avoid deficit spending forbidden by Maryland's constitution.
Legislative leaders and committee members who gave preliminary approval of the budget bill yesterday agreed that if the shortfall does not reach $125 million, surplus money should be given back to Program Open Space, a special fund set up to buy park and recreation areas, and to the state Department of Housing and Community Development's housing loan program.
About $12 million in Open Space funding earmarked for use by local subdivisions would be sacrificed to balance the budget if the entire $125 million is needed.
In a short-lived but spirited move on the House floor, Del. Clarence Davis, D-City, urged lawmakers to amend the bill so the housing loan program would have a higher priority for funding give-backs.
"I think it's selfish on the part of the parks and recreation people to put their desires on the true needs of this state," said Davis.
Davis' attempt to rewrite a portion of the bill failed after House Appropriations chairman Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, and vice-chairman Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-City, argued that programs for the needy already had been spared budget cuts.
Both House and Senate passed bills to raise five dozen Motor Vehicle Administration fees. The bill would bring in $35 million from September through next June, enough to provide matching funds to secure $312 million in federal highway and bridge projects.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer today applauded the legislature for raising the fees but repeated his belief that the state still needs a gasoline tax increase.
Sen. William H. Amoss, D-Harford, said the motor vehicle bill would enable the state to recoup the costs of MVA services. At the same time, the motor vehicle money will bolster the state's sagging Transportation Trust Fund and ensure that more than $300 million in federally funded highway projects don't get stalled because the state can't pay its matching share.
The bill's opponents, however, argued that it provided only a stop-gap approach to solving a larger problem of transportation funding and growth controls.
In what was intended to set a pattern for today's action, House and Senate committees yesterday easily approved both bills.
At the same time they acted on their budget-balancing bills yesterday, legislators set aside a similar measure proposed by the Schaefer administration. The governor is opposed to returning any surplus funds to the Open Space projects or to the housing loan program. Instead, he wants leftover funds to refill the depleted Sunny Day Fund, a special economic development budget set aside to help lure industry into the state.
Proposed motor vehicle fees
The General Assembly's special session today was called, in part, to raise Motor Vehicle Administration fees that will help pay for the state's share of federal highway projects. This is a schedule of the existing and new fees the MVA has proposed.
/# Fee .. .. .. .. ..Current ..New
Learner's permit.. ..$22 .. .. $30
New license*.. .. .. $20 .. .. .30
License renewal* .. ..6 .. .. ..20
Commercial license ..10 .. .. ..20
New car title .. .. ..1 .. .. ..12
Used car title .. .. .3 .. .. ..12
Dealer's license .. .50 .. .. ..250
Photo I.D. card .. .. 5.. .. .. ..8
*Duration of license increases from four years to five years.