Capital budget gains passage in House of Delegates

Senate must now vote on plan

April 05, 2011|By Julie Bykowicz, The Baltimore Sun

The House of Delegates voted Tuesday to approve $925 million in new borrowing as part of a $3 billion capital budget. The plan, which would fund major investments, now awaits the blessing of the Senate, which has until the end of the session Monday to act.

Democratic leaders praised the capital budget as responsible; Republicans warned that the borrowing could damage the state's credit rating or prompt an increase in real estate taxes to service the debt.

Lawmakers rejected Republican attempts to reduce capital spending by 5, 3 or 1 percent, as Democratic leaders told colleagues they had already squeezed 19 percent out of new borrowing. The House voted 98-41 on final passage.

"Cutting for the sake of cutting itself is not the objective we should be achieving here," said Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve. The Montgomery County Democrat said the Republican warnings were tantamount to "amputating your arm because you're afraid it might be injured next year."

Del. Mike A. McDermott, an Eastern Shore Republican, fired back that Democrats "can't even trim your fingernails."

"It's a mistake to keep spending as much as we are," said Del. Ron George, an Anne Arundel Republican.

Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., the chairman of the Spending Affordability Committee, said approving the capital budget is "a vote for the future of our state."

The $3 billion capital budget includes federal funds and transportation projects in addition to the $925 million in authorized general obligation bonds.

The bonds range from $150,000 for a replica of the Choptank River Lighthouse to $22 million to purchase new emergency services helicopters.

Within the capital budget is a $15 million pocket of money that lawmakers can dole out to favored projects. Republicans resurrected the nearly annual debate on whether to do away with the bond bills.

A move to cut off money for legislative bond bills failed on a vote of 41-97, according to an initial tally. Although many Republicans voted to end such funding, many Republicans also sought money for their own districts, an assessment of this year's bond bills shows.

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