House budget proposal is just under $14 billion after cuts

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland lawmakers have slashed $825 million from the state budget for this fiscal year and next, making for the leanest spending proposal in at least 50 years, according to the leader of the House of Delegates.

"We've come up with a very fair and effective budget without raising taxes or fees during these tough economic times," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

His chamber's budget committee signed off Friday night on an operating budget for next year of just under $14 billion - less than this year's and less than Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed in January.

Counties and Baltimore City, which typically make up about 40 percent of the state operating budget, would take a $298 million hit, though they are getting a boost in education money because of the federal stimulus package.

The House committee followed a Maryland Association of Counties suggestion to reduce the local share of highway user revenue by $102 million next year, instead of other proposed cuts to things such as law clerks and assessments employees. The committee also chose to keep $121 million in disparity grants that go to the poorer areas of the state, including Prince George's County and Baltimore.

Del. Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the state's recent revenue projections showing a $1.1 billion plunge in collections this year and next made it a challenging budget to compose.

"That sent us all right back to the table," Conway said.

The 141-member House will vote on the budget this week. The Senate has begun formulating its budget plan, and differences between the two proposals will be worked out before the legislative session ends next month. Between this year and next, through cuts and transfers, the state has reduced its spending by $1.6 billion, Busch said.

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