House OKs budget bill in bipartisan display $15.3 billion total $85 million less than governor sought

March 14, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

With an unusual display of bipartisanship, the House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a $15.3 billion budget bill that shaves $85 million from Gov. Parris N. Glendening's spending plan and leaves room for the first stage of a 7 percent income tax cut.

"This is a budget that is both socially responsible and fiscally XTC prudent," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee, before the 128-10 vote.

The bill, which envisions no new taxes, received the support of every Democrat who voted and three-fourths of the 41-member Republican caucus. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Approval in the House came after a budget debate that was remarkable for its brevity and its lack of partisan rancor. Rawlings said the budget was adopted "in the most bipartisan spirit I have seen in my 19 years in the legislature."

Republicans, who saw many of their spending cut proposals incorporated into the budget, offered no amendments.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the minority whip, expressed the Republicans' appreciation to Rawlings for holding a seven-hour hearing last week during which GOP delegates were invited to outline their proposed spending cuts.

"We're coming before you today with a lot of good feelings," said the normally combative Flanagan, who voted against the bill.

"Good feelings unfortunately go so far. Then you have to take a hard, cold look at reality," said the Howard County delegate, giving the bill a "C-minus" grade.

The high degree of consensus in the House does not indicate peace in Annapolis, however. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, less eager to cut taxes, is crafting a bill with far fewer spending cuts.

Noting the wide gulf between the two bodies, Rawlings said yesterday that he was warning House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. to plan for an extension of the General Assembly 90-day session.

Judi Scioli, Glendening's press secretary, said the governor was glad to see the personal income tax cut moving ahead.

"Of course there are some cuts to the governor's budget we don't agree with," she said, adding that the administration would work with legislative leaders to restore some of them.

The House budget plan would set aside $60 million to fund the first 3 percent of a two-year, 7 percent income tax cut. It also leaves almost $25 million free for so-far-unspecified education spending -- most of which would presumably be used to help "sell" the state's $254 million financial aid package for Baltimore schools.

The spending cuts are a mixture of substantive reductions and tried-and-true budget voodoo.

The largest "cut," $21 million, comes from deferring a planned transfer of money to the Transportation Trust Fund. The budget also saves $12 million by anticipating lower Medicaid caseloads than the administration projected in its budget.

Another $5 million comes from reducing spending to fix computer problems resulting from the arrival of the year 2000. Budget secretary Frederick W. Puddester said that money must be spent eventually.

The largest tangible cuts came in the area of economic development, including a $5 million cut from the governor's proposed $27 million Sunny Day Fund appropriation.

The House also rejected Glendening's plan to spend an additional $2 million on advertising for the Maryland Lottery, rejecting contentions that the cut would cost more in revenue than it saved.

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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