House vote on budget ensures 2% tax cut

Members also OK raising re-elected legislators' pay

March 27, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates guaranteed Marylanders will receive a 2 percent tax cut yesterday as it approved slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from Gov. Parris N. Glendening's budget for next year.

The House also voted to ensure that lawmakers who win re-election will receive a 38 percent salary increase over four years, blocking a Republican effort to reject the pay raise.

Approval of the budget in a party line vote sets the stage for negotiations this weekend with the Senate over differences in three key areas: higher education, environmental preservation and aid to poorer jurisdictions.

Both chambers approved budgets of about $21.6 billion for the year that begins July 1, making more than $475 million in cuts to Glendening's original proposal. The House made smaller cuts than the Senate to spending for the University System of Maryland and the Smart Growth office, two of the governor's top priorities.

"I think the differences are significant," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The Maryland Constitution requires both chambers to approve a budget by the 83rd day of the session, which is Monday.

Yesterday, liberal Democrats sought to delay the final 2 percent of Maryland's five-year income tax cut, which took effect Jan. 1. They said the delay would generate $177 million for social programs and schools, while taxpayers wouldn't notice the $75 average savings.

"These cuts this year clearly do not serve the people of Maryland," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat.

But Democratic leaders -- with an eye toward this fall's election -- insisted that the Assembly keep its commitment to voters. The amendment to delay the tax cut failed, 23-109. The Senate previously rejected a similar proposal.

House and Senate leaders say they had to make deep cuts to Glendening's plan because of its more than $1 billion gap between spending and revenues, which he proposed to cover by tapping reserves.

The most significant differences between the two chambers' budgets include money for the university system. Glendening sought a $36 million increase, or about 4 percent. The Senate eliminated that, giving the system no increase for next year. The House cut $26 million, leaving a 1.1 percent rise.

The House would allow the governor to add positions to the Office of Smart Growth -- which now consists of one person, the Cabinet secretary. The Senate proposes keeping it that way.

Delegates also approved an $11.8 million reduction in Glendening's plan for aid to economically distressed jurisdictions. The grants would increase about 15 percent next year, but that is less than the 29 percent increase approved by the Senate.

The House and Senate also differ on aid to nonpublic schools for textbooks. The Senate left in $4 million of the $5 million proposed by Glendening while the House eliminated the funding.

Both chambers have agreed to cut $2 million from the $9 million increase sought for Baltimore drug treatment programs, with the intention of providing the rest the next year. The Senate has agreed to a one-year deferral of $1 million for removal of lead paint from aging properties in the city while the House is seeking to defer $250,000.

Neither the House nor the Senate includes money for the recommendations of the Thornton Commission, though a separate proposal to raise Maryland's cigarette tax 34 cents a pack might result in more funding for public schools.

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