Senate clears $12.4 billion budget STATE HOUSE REPORT

March 26, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

The Maryland Senate last night approved its version of the state budget for next year, a $12.4 billion spending plan that is similar enough to the House version that both sides predict differences will be quickly ironed out.

"Of all the years we've been doing this, this budget was probably the easiest to swallow," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, the chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

The two houses reduced Gov. William Donald Schaefer's requested appropriation by almost the same amount: $212 million in the Senate, and $221 million in the House. Both also restricted the growth in state spending to 2.5 percent, equal to the expected growth in the economy.

Mr. Schaefer's original budget called for a 4.5 percent increase in spending, fueled in part by a variety of fee increases subsequently killed by the General Assembly. The new budget is not dependent on any new taxes.

Although the amount of spending cut from the budget appears large, much of it comes from scrapping plans for a new international passenger terminal at Baltimore-Washington / International Airport, and from lowered estimates of how many Marylanders will receive medical care through Medicaid in the year that begins July 1.

There are numerous specific funding differences between the two budgets -- for instance, the House wants to hold back money from Baltimore schools until management changes are made, while the Senate does not -- but the biggest area of disagreement involves money appropriated for a long list of state aid programs that benefit Baltimore and the 23 counties.

Governor Schaefer's original budget increased state aid to local governments, in part to make up for reductions the past several years. The Senate reduced that increase by $36 million and the House by nearly $40 million.

The dispute is over how to allot those cuts. The House takes the money out of police and school transportation programs, while the Senate cuts more deeply into public school aid.

Nevertheless, when the dust clears, local governments will enjoy a net increase in state aid of nearly $200 million over this year's budget.

Both the House and the Senate also recommend that the governor use about $13 million in unbudgeted funds for new school aid programs that would especially benefit Montgomery County -- which would get at least $4 million. Montgomery legislators are still angered by the cost to their county in the final round of cuts last year to balance the budget.

A six-member conference committee will be asked to agree on a compromise before April 5, the constitutional deadline for passage of the budget.

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