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Spending accord reached House leaders hope to ease regional tensions


House leaders have tentatively agreed on a spending plan for next year that attempts to ease regional tensions by boosting education aid for Montgomery County, protects preventive health programs, and still sets enough money aside for a rainy day.

The House version would reduce the governor's $12.7 billion spending plan for fiscal year 1994 by about $130 million. It would temporarily shuffle state aid for public schools, approve a pilot voucher program for disadvantaged students in Baltimore and slash the jobs of administrators at the University of Maryland.

Among other state cuts, it would eliminate 600 to 700 jobs that are currently vacant.

The House Appropriations Committee has agreed to go along with Gov. William Donald Schaefer's $1 million family planning initiative, which among other provisions would promote use of the contraceptive Norplant. The panel also backed Mr. Schaefer's proposal to restore $13.6 million for preventive medical care for indigents.

But it chipped away at dozens of other programs, including knocking nearly $3 million out of a $10 million dropout prevention program the legislature suspects is not working.

Final committee action is expected Friday, and a vote by the full House next week. Then the budget bill goes to the Senate, which is developing its own version.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, said that in developing the plan, he was sensitive to concerns from Montgomery County, which lost about $27 million last fall when the state stopped paying for Social Security for teachers, librarians and community college employees.

Bitter about those cuts, Montgomery County lawmakers have spent much of the legislative session trying to get some of the money back, primarily by pushing for increases in their education aid. This week they got a boost from the governor, who said he would favor reworking the education formula to grant more money to Montgomery County for its better-than-average attendance rate.

But that would have led to a permanent decrease in aid to Baltimore schools.

The committee instead is expected to approve such a change, but for only one year. As a result, Baltimore schools would end up with about $4 million less than they had expected.

"It's not going to hurt the [city school] system," Mr. Rawlings said, noting that total state aid to city schools next year would still total about $235 million. City education officials have said such a loss would be devastating.

"The tax base of Montgomery County has for years helped education and other programs in Baltimore City," said Mr. Rawlings. "In the year when they need some support, we want to provide it for them."

Overall, the committee's proposals call for $21 million in cuts to the governor's proposed local aid package, with the rest coming from cuts in state programs.

The budget decisions are being hammered out this week in lengthy round-table discussions by three Appropriations subcommittees.

While they work, college presidents, Cabinet secretaries, agency chiefs, and other executive department bureaucrats cool their heels in the House office building halls, waiting their turn before the panels.

"We have a million dollars in university presidents waiting in the hall," complained Delegate Nancy K. Kopp, D-Montgomery, at one point.

By a 5-4 vote, the education and transportation subcommittee approved a $581,000 program that would let 200 disadvantaged elementary or middle school students in Baltimore use $2,900 vouchers to attend other public as well as private schools.

The panel slashed $2 million -- or nearly 25 percent -- of the headquarters budget of University of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg. Despite protests from Dr. Langenberg, the subcommittee concluded there are too many administrators.

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