March 8, 2010

Senate committee delays official budget action a week

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By Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com

The Senate won’t start making decisions on the state budget for another week, after pushing back the Monday date for subcommittees to start making cuts to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s $32 billion proposal.

Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, blamed February snow for the delay, and said his panel needs another week to go over the budget and decide about legislation that might affect it.

“Because of the snow, we really got behind. We only have one day for hearings, and all other committees have five,” Currie said, pointing out that budget committees need to spend the bulk of their time going over agency budgets.

Currie said his committee is still working on O’Malley’s proposal to extend and alter the state’s historic redevelopment tax credit. The program is popular with developers and homeowners, but it is due to expire this year.

The $5 million in the governor’s proposed budget for next year can’t be spent without re-authorization of the program. Currie said he wasn’t sure the credit would pass.

Senate Majority Leader Ed Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore and Howard, vice chair of the full budget committee and chairman of its subcommittee on health, education and human resources, said there’s also discussion about cutting legislative spending mandates that drive up costs for programs such as higher education, K-12 education and health care.

“Some major things are still out there in terms of how we want to structure” spending, Kasemeyer said.

In many legislative votes, the outcome is predetermined before the roll is called. This is particularly true in the case of budget decisions. Committees work through staff recommendations, often making up their minds along the way. The decisions don’t become final until a formal vote is taken, though.

This year, it’s the Senate’s turn to move the budget out of committee first. From year to year, the two chambers alternate responsibility for taking the first whack at the spending, which they are only allowed to cut. The House delayed its decisions by a week last year too, as delegates waited for more information about the newly-passed federal stimulus package.

Sen. David Brinkley, R-Carroll and Frederick, who sits on the Budget and Taxation Committee, said the snow caused big problems because budget subcommittees had to juggle several different agency hearings, and a one-day cancellation can lead to a week of delay.

He pointed out that the delay will also give lawmakers a chance to look at the state revenue estimates that are due to be released on Wednesday.

The Senate budget committee chairman said he expects the panel to approve the continued payment of the $145,000 salary of the chief of staff for the secretary of Veterans Affairs, despite a staff recommendation to cut the new post that pays 80 percent more than the salary of the secretary himself