The Maryland Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to maintain the state's 2 percent income tax cut as it gave tentative approval to a $21.6 billion spending plan for next year.
As part of the budget, senators agreed to set aside up to $4.5 million to increase prize money at state horse tracks - a move Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell hopes will give a boost to the struggling racing industry.
"This isn't for the track owners, it's for the purses," said the Baltimore County Democrat, whose plan taps bettors' money the state has collected for yet-to-be-started track improvements. "We need this money to help the industry."
The Senate's version of the budget cuts more than $478 million from the plan submitted by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, including significant reductions from his proposals for higher education and the environment.
The Senate is expected to give final approval to its budget Monday. Today, the House Appropriations Committee will make its budget cuts, and negotiators from the two chambers will need to resolve their differences.
Yesterday's more than 4-hour debate on the budget spent little time on such issues as giving the University System of Maryland no funding increase next year or the broad cuts to Glendening's environmental proposals.
Instead, senators spent much of the debate fighting over two issues that have been repeatedly argued in the past: abortions and textbook money for nonpublic schools.
The Senate narrowly rejected proposals from Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, to limit when Medicaid will pay for abortions. Stone's amendments sought to prohibit the state from funding abortions for women who have had one or more abortions through Medicaid, unless their health was at risk. One of the proposals failed by one vote in a 22-22 deadlock.
A Senate committee reduced from $5 million to $4 million Glendening's request for private school textbook funding. The committee also attached language prohibiting the money from being spent unless some state dollars go to the Thornton Commission's recommendations for public schools. An amendment to strip the remaining $4 million from the budget was defeated, 15-28.
A delay in the income tax cut had been part of Glendening's original budget plan, but legislative leaders rejected the idea. They said the state must keep its promise on this year's final installment of the five-year, 10 percent tax cut, a decision that forced more than $170 million in spending reductions.
Only eight Democrats voted for the delay. They were Sens. Joan Carter Conway, Ralph M. Hughes and Clarence M. Mitchell IV all of Baltimore; Sens. Brian E. Frosh and Christopher Van Hollen Jr. of Montgomery; Sens. Nathaniel Exum and Paul G. Pinsky of Prince George's; and Sen. Delores G. Kelley of Baltimore County.