LEGISLATIVE DIGEST

The Baltimore Sun

Plan for database on spending stalls

A bill to create a searchable online database of information on all state spending will not advance in a Senate committee, its chairman said yesterday.

The legislation, which passed the House of Delegates, was sponsored by an unusual coalition of some of the state's most conservative and liberal lawmakers, as well as progressive groups and anti-tax associations. But Sen. Ulysses Currie said it needs more study and might be too costly to implement during a budget crunch that has necessitated more than $300 million in cuts.

"We don't have the time to give that bill the kind of attention it needs," he said, adding that it would not advance beyond his committee. "I think we can look at it this summer and spend some more time studying it."

Currie said government accountability would be maintained in the meantime by Gov. Martin O'Malley's StateStat program, which tracks the effectiveness of state spending and projects.

Del. Warren E. Miller, a Howard County Republican who has backed the measure for a number of years, said he was surprised it would not be voted out of the Senate committee, since there remains a week in the legislative calendar.

"I was hoping with a week left we could get something moving there," he said. "I thought we had come up with a good compromise for a starting point for this. So in a way it's a shame for all the people that wanted it, but it's something we can bring back next year."

If the bill had passed both chambers, Marylanders would have been able to find out exactly how much the state spends on construction projects, Chesapeake Bay restoration or even what taxpayers coughed up for smaller items like the "King Barn Dairy Mooseum."

The idea is modeled after a new federal government Web site that went live in December, www.usaspending.gov.

All the budget information is publicly available now, but it's not easy for the average taxpayer to find. An interested party would have to spend hours poking around in Byzantine budget documents or query dozens of state agencies, a process that can take weeks or months.

Bradley Olson

House panel OKs emissions bill

Legislation that would boost funding for energy efficiency and conservation programs while giving utility customers in Maryland discounts on their monthly bills won approval by the House Economic Matters Committee yesterday.

The bill divvies up money from a planned cap-and-trade system intended to reduce greenhouse gases. Under that system, utilities would be required to buy "allowances" for emissions from fossil-fuel plants that can then be traded through auctions starting in September.

The Senate's version of the bill includes a slightly different formula for how to allocate the money, which by some estimates could be $140 million a year. The utility-bill discounts are expected to amount to a few dollars.

Laura Smitherman

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