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Budget negotiators deadlocked on cuts

The Baltimore Sun

Negotiators from the House of Delegates and state Senate have deadlocked over what to cut from Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget proposal, setting up a last-minute showdown over funding for stem cell research, the University System of Maryland and the Intercounty Connector.

The key to the impasse is O'Malley's plan to delay a $53 million payment for the ICC, a long-awaited road connecting Interstates 270 and 95 through Montgomery County. The governor has said the payment, which is required by law, is not needed this year, and he asked the legislature to authorize a delay so the money could be used for other needs.

The Senate has agreed to his proposal, but the House of Delegates refused.

Del. Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said delaying the ICC payment will only worsen next year's projected shortfall, a gap between spending and revenues estimated to be between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion. He and other House negotiators favored leaving the $53 million in this year's budget but cutting other continuing expenses.

"Many newspapers are pointing out we're not making anywhere near the reductions we need to in order to face the deficit," Conway said during a budget conference committee meeting yesterday.

As he spoke, he tossed a pair of pink-handled safety scissors across the table to Sens. Ulysses Currie and P.J. Hogan, the chairman and vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, respectively.

Currie, a Prince George's Democrat, said he would not budge. The Senate wants to delay the ICC funding and use some of that money to provide more funding for the University System, the Heritage Tax Credit program and a program to attract film production to Maryland.

"We share your views on the need for reductions, but quite frankly, these are feel-good reductions," Currie said.

Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat, said delaying the ICC payment makes sense because the state is likely to adopt a comprehensive solution to its budget problems within the next year.

"If we don't solve it, then there aren't scissors big enough in this room to do what we need to do," Hogan said.

By law, the General Assembly must adopt a balanced budget before the session's adjournment for the year, scheduled Monday.

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