Glendening's budget gets tentative OK $16.5 billion proposal likely to receive Assembly approval

Senate supports plan

Move would give 5 percent cut in taxes this year

March 19, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed $16.5 billion state budget -- including significant initiatives for K-12 education, Maryland colleges and the developmentally disabled -- won preliminary approval in the Senate last night and is expected to move essentially unscathed through the General Assembly.

With the state enjoying unexpectedly strong revenue growth, legislators have overcome concerns about the affordability of the governor's proposals raised when they were announced in December and January.

"The budget provides new funds for critical needs, allows relief to the entire spectrum of Maryland taxpayers and is affordable into the future," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, head of the Senate budget committee.

The state's rosy financial picture -- a surplus of $350 million is projected for this year -- prompted the Senate earlier in the day to give tentative approval to accelerating the 10 percent income tax cut that was to be phased in over five years. The measure would reduce taxes by 5 percent in 1998 rather than 2 percent as originally planned.

The budget tentatively adopted last night includes nearly $180 million in new money for local school systems. Of that, $61 million is extra aid to help schools with large numbers of poor students.

It also earmarks some $70 million in new spending next year for higher education, including $7 million that Glendening proposed this week to help improve the state's "flagship" public campus, the University of Maryland, College Park.

The Senate signed off on Glendening's proposal to spend an extra $19 million on programs for the developmentally disabled next year -- a move the governor hopes will help reduce the long list of families waiting for state assistance.

Glendening praised the Senate's action in a statement issued last night.

"The Senate's favorable action on my budget confirms Maryland's strong economy, and our resolve to keep it that way," Glendening said. "We have targeted dollars to the programs that matter most to Marylanders."

Sen. Robert R. Neall, a Republican from Anne Arundel who sits on the budget committee, said he was satisfied that the final spending plan is prudent, even with the governor's ambitious initiatives.

"When I came here in January I was concerned, but I hadn't seen the five-year forecast," Neall said. "With the additional revenues projected and the strength of the economy, it looks all right."

Several legislators said they were particularly happy to be approving extra money for the developmentally disabled after years of watching the waiting list for services grow.

Glendening has committed to a five-year plan to pump $68.4 million in new spending into such programs to eliminate the waiting list of 5,300 disabled people.

"When they write the book on this administration, that might be one of the nicest things this administration did," Neall said.

In all, the Senate pared the governor's proposed budget by $175 million, but administration officials said they did not consider any of the cuts significant.

Among them, senators cut nearly $38 million from the budget for Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor. The reduction was made possible largely because of smaller than expected enrollments.

They also eliminated $6.3 million Glendening had proposed for an additional medical-evacuation helicopter for the state police.

After lengthy debate that focused more on policy than spending, senators rejected an amendment that would have limited abortion funding under a newly proposed program to provide health care to children and pregnant women. The amendment failed on a 22-24 vote.

Final Senate approval of the budget is expected this week, after which the spending plan will move to the House of Delegates.

The governor's proposed budget appears to be winning generally favorable reviews in the House as well.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers and the governor were working together as "one big family."

"Most of his major initiatives will be held essentially intact, especially the areas of education and public safety and developmental disabilities," the Baltimore Democrat said.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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