March 30, 2010

Updated: Senate ditches local earmark bills

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By Nick DiMarco
Nick@MarylandReporter.com

The Senate has decided to stop approving in future years the local bond bills that serve as the state’s version of legislative earmarks, as it passed this year’s capital budget over to the House on Wednesday.

As the senators took up the state’s capital spending Tuesday — the portion of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget that largely uses borrowed money to pay for projects like roads and schools — two amendments came up targeting the $15 million that lawmakers divvy up to send back to their districts.

Lawmakers briefly flirted with eliminating bonds bills this year, but so far have moved forward with the measures.

Sen. Andy Harris, R-Baltimore-Hartford, had proposed an amendment that would strip the Senate’s $7.5 million bond bill authorization out of this year’s budget. And Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, moved to get rid of the bills for the following two years.

“There’s been so much discussion this year about the bond bills and I believe what’s happened is that many of the different groups that we’ve been working with anticipated that money,” Klausmeier said. “But now that they know this is it, there will be none of that discussion anymore.”

Harris’s plan targeted Senate bond bills for this year. The House designates half of the bond bill awards, while the Senate takes the other half.

“These are the local bond bills. This is Annapolis’s version of pork barrel spending. This is the closest we can get in Annapolis to printing money,” Harris said. “We can’t print dollars, but we can print bonds. We’re in an economic mess. Printing bonds for the purpose of local legislator projects is just not the right thing to do.”