Senate panel makes 1st cuts in O'Malley's spending plan

$150 million comes from small reductions

March 16, 2010|By Annie Linskey | annie.linskey@baltsun.com

A Senate panel took the first bite out of Gov. Martin O'Malley's $13 billion general fund spending plan Monday night, voting to remove an estimated $150 million, mostly from small snips to hundreds of education and health programs.

"We tried to do the appropriate thing," said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who chairs the Health, Education and Human Resources Subcommittee. "We could have taken more."

Cuts included a $6.2 million reduction in funding for stem cell research. Senators also eliminated some health-related agency positions, but protected funds for a number of scholarship programs. They raised revenues by approving an increase in a fee nursing homes pay to the state.

Senators have expressed an interest in cutting anywhere from $500 million to $600 million from O'Malley's budget because they want to leave extra cash in reserve for next year when billions in federal stimulus funds disappear. Monday's cuts are only an initial swipe at the budget and are expected to be accepted by the full budget committee Thursday. Other Senate panels are expected to consider additional cuts this week.

The committee also approved a measure to borrow an additional $389 million from an account where the counties' share of income taxes is collected. O'Malley is already taking $350 million from it, but the second dip would occur only if a second federal stimulus package does not pass through Congress as expected.

Senators deferred action on a controversial recommendation to chop $60 million from the education budget - those cuts would come either from changing some education formulas or from a new mandate that counties begin paying a share of teacher pension costs.

Kasemeyer said the committee would "like to see a consensus" form on the issue before going forward with the cut.

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