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Senate approves its version of state budget without raising abortion issue


The Maryland Senate approved its version of the state budget yesterday without any attempt to lift current restrictions on taxpayer-funded abortions for poor women.

The 42-to-5 vote sends the $14.4 billion spending plan to a conference committee to work out relatively minor differences with the House of Delegates.

Both House and Senate versions of the budget contain large increases in state spending for construction and renovation of public schools. They also contain a 2 percent pay raise for state employees and surpluses set aside, in part, to offset expected cuts in federal aid.

The Senate's version also includes about $15.5 million that Gov. Parris N. Glendening specifically earmarked for crime prevention and other programs in the three jurisdictions he carried in November's election, Prince George's and Montgomery counties and the city of Baltimore.

Beyond that, said Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairwoman Barbara A. Hoffman, "It was a 'hold the line' budget."

Compared with previous years, the differences between the two houses are relatively minor.

The biggest involves a House decision to eliminate automatic "step" increases for junior state employees and replace them with a one-time-only $400 payment to all state workers.

The Senate instead adopted a proposal by the governor to delay the step increases for four months.

The two houses also differ on how much money they will allow Mr. Glendening to put into an economic development account known as the "Sunny Day Fund."

The Senate has cut Mr. Glendening's $30 million request to $15 million, while the House has trimmed it to $20 million.

Other differences involve much smaller amounts of money.

Before yesterday's vote, senators from Baltimore County complained their jurisdiction had been left out when the governor passed out money to Baltimore City, Prince George's and Montgomery.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll County Republican, complained the budget failed to include any reductions in the state's personal income tax rate.

The most contentious issue in the budget -- the governor's desire to remove restrictions on Medicaid-funded abortions -- disappeared from legislative screens two weeks ago when the House voted, 72-67, to keep the 15-year-old restrictions in place.

Any attempt to reverse the House action would have thrust the Senate into a divisive end-of-session filibuster.

Even if abortion rights senators had been successful in such an effort, the issue still would have had to go back to the House, where at least three delegates would have had to change their votes to assure passage.

As a result, the abortion issue was never raised publicly in the Senate after the House vote was taken.

"It wasn't close enough on the House side," explained Senator Hoffman, an abortion rights activist. Governor Glendening has vowed to try again next year, and Mrs. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat, predicted the measure will have a better chance then because the Senate will vote on the budget before the House next year.

"We'll do a better job than the House," she said.

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