April 6, 2010

Conferees agree on pizza as they nibble at their budget differences

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

House and Senate negotiators could at least agree to eat pizza Tuesday night as they continued to hash out about $100 million in differences in their separate versions of the governor’s $32 billion budget.

They left their key differences on the table for further discussion, including disputes over state spending on teacher pensions, community colleges and legislative scholarships,

“We’re nibbling around the edges and getting the easy stuff done,” said Del. John Bohanan, one of the House members on the conference committee. The two chambers still differ on local highways, stem cell research and private college and university aid..  

But in the nibbling, the five senators and five delegates did agree on smaller items that would have real impact on a few individuals and interest groups.

Bill Toohey, former Baltimore County police spokesman, gets to keep his new $96,000 job as communications director for the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention – a position that had been vacant for more than two years.

Other state employees may likely lose their jobs, as the House and Senate agreed to cut 500 jobs across state government to save $12 million. Most of the jobs are currently vacant, but some are not. The governor will decide which ones go. 

Jerry Boden, former chief of staff to the lieutenant governor, will get to hold onto his post as chief of staff to the secretary of veterans affairs, but only if he accepts a pay cut. He’d have to give up $21,000, so that he makes $4,000 less than the secretary instead of $17,000 more. The chief of staff position was the only one added in the department in two years, as reported here last month.

The “bottom line” is that there is almost no difference at all between the Senate and House versions, said Warren Deschenaux, chief fiscal analyst for the General Assembly. “What they have to do is just agree on everything.”

That isn’t likely to happen until the end of the week, with big ticket items put on hold.

A few other items made the cut Monday.

A marketing agent for the Port of Baltimore won’t get to travel home from overseas sales trips as much as the agency hoped, according to Del. Tawanna Gaines, chair of the transportation subcommittee. The House agreed to accept half the $148,000 in travel budget cuts for the port that the Senate had proposed.

A new deputy secretary in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services won’t be out of a job just yet. The House wanted to cut the $112,000 post that had been vacant for more than two years until a legislative analyst told them that the position had actually been filled.

And newspapers in the state will not lose $512,000 in revenues to print or insert the comptroller’s unclaimed property report, which details money and other items left behind in banks by thousands of people. The report is available online, but Del. Norman Conway, D-Wicomico, the Appropriations Chairman, said many rural residents still don’t have access to the Internet.