The House of Delegates passed Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget virtually unchanged Friday, sending the $37 billion plan to the Senate.
The proposal nearly closes a long-term budget gap that once stood at $2 billion, gives raises to state workers for the first time in at least three years and, for the first time in recent history, contains no proposed tax increases. Later Friday, however, lawmakers were scheduled to hold a hearing on a separate plan to raise money for transportation through higher taxes on gas.
"Finally, we're on our way out of the tough recessionary times. We see the light at the end of the tunnel," Del. John L. Bohanan, a St. Mary's County Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said before the 101-36 vote.
Earlier in the week, lawmakers trimmed about $80 million in state spending from O'Malley's budget, rolling back one of his initiatives and nixing another completely but otherwise leaving the governor's plan intact.
More than $6 billion will go to education, a record amount and the largest single expenditure in the budget, delegates said. College tuition increases will be capped at 3 percent for the fourth year in a row. The plan also includes a $68 million suite of tax credits for certain industries - biotechnology, film and cyber security among them - that still requires separate approval by lawmakers.
The plan sets aside about $1 billion in cash reserves - a higher percentage than in at least a decade - in anticipation of possible cuts from the federal sequestration.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway, a Democrat, called the budget "fiscally prudent and socially responsible."
Republicans attacked growing spending in Maryland, arguing that the state could afford to let taxpayers keep more of their paychecks. "Saying it's fiscally prudent and socially responsible doesn't make it so," Del. Herb McMillan, a Republican from Anne Arundel County, said from the House floor.
Republicans had also unsuccessfully sought to give local governments $1 billion in transportation funding that was cut during leaner budget years.
"You can't build your empire on the crumbling up infrastructures of local governments," said Del. Michael A. McDermott, a Republican from the Eastern Shore.
Several Democrats praised the budget passage as a sign Maryland weathered the greatest financial challenge of a generation and left the state's priorities intact.
"I want to breathe in this moment and say how good it is to stand on this floor as a member of this body and say we have survived this tough economic time," said Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore City Democrat.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Republican, reminded legislators they reached this point in part by raising taxes. "We raised taxes for people who are struggling ... and we're up here pumping our chests like we did something great?" O'Donnell said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun