Controversial bills move toward House approval

March 22, 2012|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

After a marathon session in the House of Delegates, the state budget and a package of related bills moved toward a final vote Friday after supporters beat back amendments by margins that indicate the legislation will pass easily.

Besides the budget, the measures that received preliminary approval included a companion bill that shifts much of the responsibility for funding teacher pensions to the counties; a measure increasing income taxes for affluent Marylanders and legislation requring counties to keep up a minimum level of education funding or face a diversion of tax revenue to local school boards.

Also moving to a final vote were two high-profile environmental measures -- one increasing the so-called "flush tax" to upgrade the state's water and sewer facilities and another measure requiring counties and municipalities to institute stormwater management plans to to adopt the fees necessary to pay for them.

Approval came after the House leadership successfully resisted attempts by opponents -- mostly Republicans -- to attach hostile amendments. Most of the amendments were defeated by wide margins. On the key vote, a Republican-backed amendment that would have held the next year's budget to the current year's spending level, the vote was 90-47, with four Democrats joining 43 Republicans.

The income tax bill moved through the amendment process with less debate than its companion bills. That bill would raise rates for individuals making more than $100,000 and joint filers making more than $150,000 after deductions -- an estimated 13 percent of Maryland taxpayers.

Some of the most vigorous debate came on two education-related bills in the budget package. The Budget Reconciliation bill, which includes the pension shift, survived Republican attempts to shield the counties from that transfer of responsibility. Opponents of the bill requiring counties to meet state requirements for education funding -- knowns as "maintenance of effort" -- failed to pass amendments weakening the legislation.

The House session got started shortly after 10 a.m. and continued straight through, with no recesses, until into the night. As of about 8:45 p.m., the chamber appeared to be moving close to finishing its lengthy agenda. The Senate and House face a Monday deadline for passing their own bills and getting them into the other chamber.

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