The House of Delegates gave tentative approval last night to a $21 billion state budget for next year after making significant cuts in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposals for higher education, mass transit and Smart Growth spending.
The House also cut all of the $8 million the governor wants to spend on textbooks for students in private and parochial schools. But with the Senate expected to support at least some of that funding, the issue will have to be resolved by legislative leaders before the General Assembly adjourns April 9.
The voice vote came only hours after state officials, in a nod to the national economic uncertainty, decreased estimates of Maryland's revenue for next year by $50 million.
Last night's debate was punctuated by complaints from both conservatives and liberals who said Glendening's budget fails to adequately fund several expensive health-care programs.
The House resisted several efforts to redirect spending away from Glendening's prized environmental protection and higher education initiatives and into those health-care programs.
After the House turned back the challenges, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, pledged to keep pushing the governor to deal with the health programs.
"I think it's clear what the message is," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "It's clear the leaders of this body are outraged at the under-spending."
Though the House cut about $200 million from the governor's plan, it retains most of his spending initiatives for the year that begins July 1.
The budget, which is expected to win final approval in the House tomorrow and then go to the Senate, would:
Increase spending on state colleges and universities by 10 percent. Glendening had sought an increase of 14 percent. The Senate is expected to cut even deeper into Glendening's proposal, and the differences will be worked out in a joint conference committee.
Commit $39 million for new mass transit programs, far less than the $69 million the governor had sought. Legislators said the reductions would force the administration to gradually phase in some of the improvements, such as the purchase of new buses and subway cars.
Provide $30 million for the governor's GreenPrint land-preservation program. Glendening had asked for $40 million to start the program.
Some delegates from both parties criticized the budget, saying it fails to adequately pay for increasingly expensive programs such as mental health care and Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor.
Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's Democrat, proposed chopping $22 million from GreenPrint and reallocating it for "a mental health system near collapse" and for programs to help move developmentally disabled patients and others from state institutions as required by a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
"This state cannot afford to wait," Hubbard said.
With Glendening and the chamber's Democratic leadership opposed, the House rejected Hubbard's amendment 79-56.
Republicans also zeroed in on two expensive Smart Growth programs the governor is proposing for next year, GreenPrint and the Community Legacy redevelopment effort.
"It's just immoral in my opinion that we'd create new programs without addressing the critical human services needs," said Del. Kenneth D. Schisler, an Eastern Shore Republican. "GreenPrint and Community Legacy can wait."
Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Glendening, said the state cannot afford every program sought by the legislature and the governor. But he said Glendening is determined to look for budget solutions both in the final weeks of this session and afterward.