In search of cuts

House panel works to preserve stem cell funding, tuition freeze in slicing budget

March 20, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Lawmakers took steps yesterday to preserve money for stem cell research and a college tuition freeze pushed by Gov. Martin O'Malley as they combed through a $14 billion proposed state budget looking for cuts.

A House of Delegates subcommittee rejected a recommendation to cut $13.4 million for stem cell research, choosing to commit $18.4 million to it, as O'Malley recommended. Some have argued that Maryland could reduce its funding after President Barack Obama lifted a prohibition on federal spending on embryonic stem cell research, but proponents said the state needed to maintain its biotechnology edge.

The House panel also earmarked $16 million to maintain, for the fourth year, a tuition freeze that O'Malley has made a priority.

On Wednesday, however, the delegates decided to cut aid to community colleges by $35 million.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who had expressed reservations about continuing the tuition freeze in the face of budget shortfalls, said Wednesday that he expects the legislature to go along with the governor's wishes.

Another House subcommittee sliced $204 million out of the budget over the next two years by reducing the counties' share of highway-user revenue, which includes money generated by motor vehicle registrations. Counties typically apply the money to transportation projects such as repaving.

With tax revenues declining, lawmakers and the governor are looking for more than $500 million in additional cuts for the budget year beginning July 1.

The House subcommittee decisions made this week are subject to change as a full committee and then each chamber considers the spending plan.

State law requires the Assembly to pass a balanced budget by April 6, but the deadline can be moved if agreement is not reached by then.

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