House GOP effort to cut budget falls short

General Assembly

March 15, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

House Republicans failed in an effort to force deep cuts in Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed budget yesterday, a move they said was necessary to prevent tax increases next year but one that Democrats said would diminish public safety and hinder education.

With annual gaps of more than $1 billion between spending and revenue expected in the next few years, Republicans proposed cutting all new spending from O'Malley's $30 billion budget, a reduction of $800 million.

"If we begin to deal with the deficit issue this year, it's manageable," said Del. Gail H. Bates, a Howard County Republican who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. "If we wait and do nothing this year and that additional spending is in place, next year we're talking serious cuts."

Republicans were outvoted by Democrats - joined by several GOP delegates - who backed a package of about $148 million in cuts that would allow the state to freeze tuition at universities, continue a record expansion of public education spending and increase stem cell research funding.

Del. Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the Republicans' plan was "not a realistic option." Much of the new spending in the budget is required and would require further legislation to undo. Furthermore, the new spending Republicans want to cut would go toward important public priorities, he said.

"It has constantly been the objective of the appropriations committee to bring forth a budget that is both fiscally prudent and socially responsible," Conway said. "This budget meets both objectives."

The amendment failed, 110-29. Eight Republicans and all Democrats voted to reject it.

The largest increase in the budget that would have been affected by the Republicans' plan was the final phase of Maryland's landmark education funding initiative, called the Thornton plan. The Republicans' amendment would have left cost-of-living and other pay increases for state workers and $5 million for new prison guards in the budget but eliminated all other new spending.

Del. William J. Frank, a Baltimore County Republican who voted for the cuts, said he doesn't object to the Thornton funding, which he and most other Republicans voted for in the past several budgets. But the current situation requires strong measures, he said.

"We want to fund it," Frank said. "But we can't afford it this year, so let's phase it in next year."

Democrats acknowledged the fiscal problems facing the state but said O'Malley deserves time to find savings in government and craft a comprehensive solution to the problem, known as the state's structural deficit.

"Next year is going to be a challenge," Conway said.andy.green@baltsun.com

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