Senate committee approves more budget cuts

ANNAPOLIS — A Senate committee approved cuts to stem cell research and a fund to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay on Thursday as lawmakers made further reductions to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s $13 billion budget proposal.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted to cut money for stem cell research in half, from $12.4 million to $6.2 million.

Committee members also cut the bay fund from $20 million to $10 million, and $5 million of the money will be directed toward cover crops, which absorb fertilizers to keep them from polluting waterways.

The committee once again put off taking action on a proposal to save about $60 million by passing some teacher pension costs on to counties, and they are planning to take the matter up again on Friday. The state pays the entire $900 million cost now, and lawmakers point out that the expense is growing fast every year.

“We don’t know right yet exactly how we want to attack that, but it does need to be addressed, and I think we’ll be addressing it in some fashion,” said Sen. James DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel.

The committee also is planning to examine proposed cuts to highway user money that local governments use to pay for road maintenance.

Senators on the committee also approved cuts and spending transfers in a budget reconciliation bill. They decided to fund the smoking prevention and cessation at $6 million in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, at $10 million in 2013 and $13 million in 2014.

The committee also voted to transfer about $55 million from the University System of Maryland’s fund balance for fiscal year 2011.

State budget analysts were still adding up the total amounts of cuts, and a portion of the reductions are contingent on other pieces of legislation. The amount should become clearer after the committee meets again Friday.

The Senate is acting on the budget plan first, then it will go the House for consideration.

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