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Md. House GOP plan would cut additional $621M

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland House Republicans outlined plans Tuesday to reduce state spending by $621 million more than Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.

The GOP’s plan would make significant cuts to education. For example, the plan would save about $120 million a year by ending funding that compensates school districts where education costs more. Republicans also propose eliminating Maryland’s legislative scholarship program, which would save nearly $12 million a year. They also say their plan would save $174 million by basing education aid on average daily attendance.

Republicans made the proposals while criticizing a package of tax hikes proposed by Senate Democrats.

“There seems to be an unfortunate and growing appetite for tax increases among many in the House and Senate,” said Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s.

The proposals were made at a hearing on the state’s Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (HB 72 and SB 87), legislation that has become a hotly debated annual fixture in Annapolis as the recession has eroded state revenues in recent years. The measure is needed as a companion to the state’s budget bill, because state revenues can’t support spending required by law, forcing lawmakers to make adjustments.

O’Malley’s budget proposal closes a budget shortfall of roughly $1.4 billion. The General Assembly is considering additional cuts to the governor’s budget.

Nonpartisan state budget analysts made separate recommendations for lawmakers to consider. One that drew protests from education representatives would shift half of the cost of teacher pensions to local governments.

John Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said that would shift about $250 million to local school systems.

“That would be devastating to us,” Woolums said.

Some Democrats have bristled at complaints from educators about $94 million in spending reductions to school systems statewide in the governor’s budget, after years of record funding and tough votes in a 2007 special session that made the funding possible. Some Democratic lawmakers have been particularly unhappy about Baltimore City school officials’ plans to bring more than 2,000 people to protest current funding proposals for schools.

Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary’s, noted that Baltimore spent $207 million on education in 2002, while the city is spending $206.3 million in the current fiscal year. That’s while the state has increased funding to the city by 92 percent over the same period, Bohanan said.

“I think that we all need to understand this is something that we’re all in together,” Bohanan said to a panel representing education interests during the hearing.

State budget analysts also recommended deeper cuts to a fund used to battle pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. O’Malley is proposing cutting the fund from $50 million to $25 million, and analysts are pushing to cut another $3 million. Analysts also are recommending that lawmakers cap the fund at $25 million in future years.

“We understand the need for cuts at this point, but to permanently cap it at $25 million, which would be a 50 percent cut, we feel would make it extremely difficult for us to keep the commitments to the bay,” said Kim Coble, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.