Cumberland Times-News

March 9, 2013

House begins trimming O’Malley’s plan

Len Lazarick
marylandreporter.com

— ANNAPOLIS — House Appropriations subcommittees began the process of cutting Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed $37 billion budget last week, but the reductions were relatively modest.

Under Maryland’s executive budget process, legislators can only cut from the governor’s proposal, and the House of Delegates initiated the process this year.

The Health and Human Resources Subcommittee took between $40 million and $50 million in cuts, largely from health programs, said Subcommittee Chair Mary-Dulany James. The Harford County Democrat said her committee often takes the most cuts from the budget.

“There was a little over-budgeting in health care,” James said. The huge Medicaid program, funded with state and federal dollars, is often difficult to estimate.

Delegate Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, chair of the Public Safety and Administration Subcommittee, said his group made about $4.2 million in cuts from the $9 million proposed by legislative staff.

James’ subcommittee also rejected a number of cuts proposed by staff.

Among them was a $3.1 million cut for Medicaid coverage of prenatal care for pregnant women, a reduction that had also drawn concern in a Senate Budget subcommittee. Budget analyst Simon Powell had suggested that some of the women could now be covered under Obamacare through the state health benefits exchange.

“I think the subcommittee’s concern was that this transition to the new healthcare system may not be a turnkey,” James said. “It may not be completely smooth, and this population is very important.”

For similar reasons, the committee also rejected a $1 million cut in funding for the Small Employee Health Premium Subsidy in case there is not a smooth transition to the health benefits exchange.

The subcommittee did take a $20 million cut in Medicaid, $10 million less than proposed by the Department of Legislative Services because less people are enrolling for and using benefits. James said an improving economy has reduced demand for social and health services.

The subcommittee is also withholding $100,000 from the Department of Human Resources until it resolves all the problems found in a 2011 audit. Senators had raised similar issues over Child Support Enforcement.

In a further effort to increase collections for child support, the health subcommittee agreed to hold back $750,000 from various health professional boards until they are fully sharing their licensing data electronically with Child Support Enforcement. This is so health professionals who owe child support can be tracked down.

“We really are concerned about getting support out to children,” James said.

Budget cuts made by the Education and Economic Development Subcommittee could not be obtained.

The full House Appropriations Committee will vote on the proposed cuts on Friday.

Reporter Ilana Kowarski contributed to this story.