House and Senate lawmakers agreed to cut 500 executive branch positions, one of the few areas of consensus reached Monday afternoon as they took a first crack at reconciling their versions of the state's $13.2 billion spending plan.
They also struck compromises on cuts to arts funding, janitorial services and aid to horse racing.
Sitting at the table were five members from each chamber, including one Republican from both the House and the Senate. The group deferred many of the most contentious items, decisions on cuts to stem cell funding, a scholarship program that allows legislators to award funds to constituents and a proposal to shift the costs of teacher pensions to the counties, which would take millions from local coffers.
The executive branch cuts could come from more than 2,000 vacancies, but the legislature left some money for buyouts, should Gov. Martin O'Malley choose to cut filled positions.
They also held off on whether to trim a $2.5 million grant to Baltimore, an initiative that has "no friends" according to top legislative analyst Warren Deschenaux. (Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden objected. "It has one friend," said the East Baltimore Democrat.)
The group decided to retain the $96,000 director of communications position for the governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, a job that the Senate initially cut. It is held by Bill Toohey, a former spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department.
The liveliest discussion centered on whether the legislature should erase a checkoff box from the Maryland state income tax form that allows people to donate funds for public financing of political campaigns. "For some crazy reason people keep checking off the box even though it hasn't been used in recent memory," observed Deschenaux. The final decision on that was also deferred.
The group will reconvene today at 6 p.m., and they did make one key decision about it: Pizza will be served.