After days of angry outbursts, hard bargaining and lighter antics, House and Senate negotiators agreed on an almost $12.5 billion state budget yesterday that includes a multimillion-dollar boost for public schools but no new taxes.
Maryland legislators predicted that this budget will remain balanced throughout the fiscal year that begins July 1 -- ending three years of chronic midterm budget cuts.
The final proposal includes a $195.3 million increase in state aid to the 23 counties and Baltimore, the bulk of which goes toward education.
The budget also contains $1 million for Norplant and vasectomies for poor Marylanders and eliminates almost 1,200 largely vacant government jobs.
The operating budget will go to the full House and Senate today, where it is expected to pass overwhelmingly.
The plan, balanced with money from the new keno lottery, increases state spending over last year by a modest 2.5 percent. Counting federal dollars, the overall budget is up 3.3 percent.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer wanted a 5.2 percent boost, but lawmakers trimmed $227 million from his proposal.
Much of their cut comes from only two items: the state's decision not to build another terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and lower estimates of how many Marylanders will need medical assistance and welfare next year.
Those cuts aside, the budget restores some of the money for local health programs that the state trimmed during the recession.
And after the governor flexed his political muscles last week, lawmakers agreed to put back the money they had tried to cut from Maryland's Tomorrow, a drop-out prevention program.
The biggest sticking point between the two houses during the past seven days was not money but written directives in the budget.
The three House negotiators walked out late Friday on their three Senate counterparts over a dispute involving aid to troubled Baltimore City public schools.
The House panelists, led by Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, wanted to withhold almost $5 million from Baltimore until city officials developed a plan for implementing changes outlined in a consultant's report last summer.
The recommendations included giving principals more authority, rewarding good schools and finding easier ways to get rid of bad principals or teachers.
Baltimore lawmakers, with the notable exception of Mr. Rawlings, considered the House action to be a slap in the face. Some suburban and rural delegates, however, said they were tired of pouring millions of tax dollars into city schools without seeing an improvement in performance.
When both sides returned yesterday, Mr. Rawlings agreed to compromise.
Baltimore would still have to work with state education officials to implement most of the reforms, but it would face no loss of funds.
"This is a good approach," said Sen. John A. Cade, an Anne Arundel County Republican.
A second point of contention involved the controversial legislative scholarships.
The House wanted to use the budget bill to take legislators out of the business of awarding $7 million a year in college aid to constituents. Delegates tried earlier this session to do the same thing through a separate measure that died in the Senate.
With that bill dead, the Senate negotiators wanted to delete the House scholarship language from the budget.
The delegates initially refused -- threatening to walk out of the negotiations -- but ultimately relented.
Although the program is alive for another year, two Senate negotiators hinted it would end after that. "Wait another year, and this will solve itself," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore.
The conference committee sessions contained an almost equal number of angry and lighthearted moments.
One delegate, Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, brought negotiations to a brief standstill yesterday when he tossed a copy of Machiavelli's "The Prince" to a Senate negotiator. Unfortunately, the paperback knocked over two sodas and a coffee cup on the Senate table.
By way of reprisal, a fairly amused Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, tossed the book back, narrowly missing Mr. Maloney's own soda.
In more serious moments, the negotiators fashioned a budget that provides for increment, or longevity, raises for half the state work force. For the third straight year, government workers would go without a cost-of-living raise.
The budget boosts funds for pre-kindergarten classes so 2,000 more 4-year-olds would get a head start on learning and includes an extra $1 million for gifted-and-talented programs in Baltimore schools.
Lawmakers also put some conditions on the governor's Norplant proposal.
The budget says state health workers should make sure they do not coerce people into using birth control, should provide AIDS education and should encourage teens to abstain from sex.