Cumberland Times-News

Local News

March 20, 2013

Senate passes $37 billion budget

Local counties would receive extra money for education

ANNAPOLIS — With finances improving in the aftermath of the recession, the Maryland Senate voted Wednesday for a nearly $37 billion budget that would boost education spending for some counties that have lost population and wealth and would provide a cost-of-living increase for state workers.

The spending plan, which was approved 42-5, differs from the one approved by the House of Delegates. However, the differences appear to be fewer and less contentious than in years past, leaving plenty of time before the scheduled adjournment of the Legislature on April 8.

Senators moved briskly to adopt some changes to the budget legislation submitted by Gov. Martin O’Malley in January.

In one of the biggest changes, the state would save about $100 million by limiting reinvestment in the state pension system. The amount would drop from about $300 million to $200 million to help build a cash cushion for federal budget cuts.

The Senate also reduces O’Malley’s proposal for the state’s rainy day fund. O’Malley wanted to put 6 percent of the state’s $16 billion general fund in the fund. The Senate cut that to 5.5 percent — still above the required 5 percent. The state would still have more than $1.1 billion in reserves to address future federal budget cuts.

The Senate also accepted an amendment from Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, to allocate more money to eight counties where funding formulas for education are generating less support due to population and wealth adjustments.

Harford County will get $2.1 million, and Carroll County will receive $1.2 million from the change, Brinkley said. He said the others are Garrett County, $630,000; Cecil County, $543,000; Calvert County, $444,000; Kent County, $209,000; St. Mary’s County, $120,000 and Allegany County, $105,000.

“This is not an attempt to try to fix that permanently,” Brinkley said. “It is an attempt to give them a cushion that restores only half of that money.”

The budget includes $25 million to upgrade security systems at schools. It also includes a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for state employees. For the first time since 2009, there is funding for employee merit raises.

The Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, to set aside money to hire security guards for schools and to reopen the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center in Chestertown. The facility was closed in 2009 due to budget cuts. The Senate also rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, to limit public money used for abortions.

The Senate debate on the budget for the next fiscal year was shorter this time than in recent years, when the state’s finances were under extra pressure due to the recession and its aftermath. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, also expressed appreciation that the budget was adopted by a larger margin than usual.

The two houses will work out the differences through a team of House and Senate negotiators.

Last year, lawmakers failed to reconcile some significant differences on income tax increases, prompting the Legislature to adjourn without a budget deal to avert hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts. O’Malley ended up calling a special session last May to fix the fiasco.

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