Senate gives tentative approval to $21 billion state budget for 2002

Spending plan makes large cut in governor's mass transit initiative

March 21, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The Senate gave tentative approval last night to a $21 billion state budget for next year - a spending plan that cuts significantly into Gov. Parris N. Glendening's ambitious initiative to improve mass transit service.

As it deliberated on the budget, the Senate approved spending $5 million for textbooks for students in private and parochial schools, setting up a showdown with the House of Delegates, which has rejected the funding.

Last night's votes came amid grumbling from Republicans and some Democrats that Glendening's proposed budget is too generous to the governor's pet projects, but fails to adequately fund some basic governmental functions such as Medicaid and the state's mental health program.

"The governor sent us a budget brimming beyond reasonable boundaries with things we all want," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Senate budget committee.

Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Glendening, defended what he termed a "very prudent" budget.

"Everyone would like to do more," Morrill said. "The governor's goal was a budget that was sustainable."

The Senate went further than the House in cutting some of the spending initiatives proposed by the governor - including higher education, land preservation and mass transit.

The Senate sliced $44 million from the governor's $69 million initiative to expand mass transit service and purchase buses and trains. The House had earlier approved a smaller cut of $30 million.

In higher education, Glendening had proposed a 14 percent increase in spending on state colleges. While the House trimmed that back to 10 percent, the Senate cut it to 9 percent. Overall, the state's four-year colleges will receive $76 million more than this year under the Senate-approved budget.

And the Senate chopped Glendening's "Greenprint" land preservation program in half - to $20 million. The House had cut the program by $5 million.

The differences between the two chambers' budgets will be resolved by a House-Senate conference committee made up of ranking legislators in the remaining weeks of the General Assembly's annual 90-day session.

The budget covers the fiscal year that begins July 1.

After a spirited debate, senators voted 27-19 to spend $5 million on textbooks for students at private and parochial schools - $3 million less than Glendening had proposed. Last year, the legislature approved spending $6 million on textbooks.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, opposed a second year of aid for private schools, saying the state had not lived up to its obligations to adequately fund the public school system. "We have never, in the history of this state, been able to live up to that mandate," Kelley said.

But Sen. Robert R. Neall, an Anne Arundel Democrat who headed the budget subcommittee that recommended the textbook spending, praised the program as an efficient way of helping families with their education expenses.

"When you look at the $3.5 billion we spend on public education, how can someone beat their chest and say this $5 million is going to mean the end of public education?" Neall said. "It simply doesn't wash."

As the House eliminated the entire $8 million, the budget conference committee will be forced to work out a solution.

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