Working weekends to reconcile budget

Committee whittles House and Senate versions

April 05, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

Maryland lawmakers negotiating the details of the state's annual budget met Saturday and worked to resolve several differences but put off decisions on key points of contention until later this week.

The budget conference committee must reconcile versions of the nearly $14 billion operating budget approved by the Senate and House of Delegates, and they are racing to wrap up before the General Assembly adjourns April 13. They face a constitutional deadline to finish the budget Monday, but that is often extended.

Setting the stage for Saturday's talks, Warren G. Deschenaux, the legislature's chief fiscal analyst, handed out a chart of the state's financial outlook, showing a shortfall of at least $1 billion next year that would climb to nearly $2 billion after that. He called it a "rather daunting vision of our fiscal future."

While official action won't be taken by the conference committee until Monday at the earliest, lawmakers addressed several issues, cutting funding for county public libraries by $2.4 million, and reducing a grant for nano-biotechnology research by $500,000.

They also agreed to reduce community college funding by more than $35 million, and withdrew budget language requiring the institutions to freeze tuition. A separate tuition freeze at four-year public universities, a priority of Gov. Martin O'Malley's, remains in flux.

In addition, lawmakers stripped budget language that would prohibit the Motor Vehicle Administration from spending money to issue licenses to people who fail to prove they are legally in the U.S. That policy fight will be waged on other pending legislation.

Decisions still must be made on how much funding to direct to stem cell research, a perennial fight, and whether to divert $60 million in local "piggyback" income tax revenue to state coffers, as the House proposed. The Senate has proposed further reducing the local share of road improvement funds by that amount.

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