By Megan Poinski
After nearly 4½ hours of debate, the budget as passed by the House Appropriations Committee emerged unscathed. The House rejected a series of 14 amendments to cut the budget with various components of the Republican budget proposal or to add pieces of failed bills.
The debate was dominated by political posturing and last-ditch efforts to hang legislation on the verge of being shot down on the 2012 budget.
In the final amendment to the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA), Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell incorporated the major components of the caucus’ budget cuts. O’Donnell said the cuts proposed by the Republicans – slashing education funding, stem cell research and tax credits – are painful, but necessary in the current economic times.
If the Republicans’ budget plan was approved, O’Donnell said the state would be on track to be in financial balance without making cuts or juggling funds. The fact that the proposed budget increases General Fund spending by 10.6% over the current fiscal year “defies logic,” O’Donnell said.
“Sometimes, when you are this sick, fiscally, you have to take chemo,” O’Donnell said.
The amendment failed with a 45-88 vote.
Some delegates proposed other cost savings measures. Del. Herbert McMillan, R-Anne Arundel County, offered an amendment to take away the $750 bonus Gov. Martin O’Malley negotiated with state workers who suffered through furloughs and wage freezes. He said the state is not on certain enough economic footing to do that yet.
“I would love to give a $750 bonus to all employees if we had the money to do it,” he said.
The amendment failed with a 42-94 vote.
Del. Justin Ready, R-Carroll County, tried to amend the budget to require that salaries of the highest paid executive branch employees are capped at $1 below the $150,000 the governor makes. Ready said it is time for the top tier of employees to make sacrifices, and that is still a competitive salary.
Del. John Bohanan, D-St. Mary’s, chair of the education and economic development subcommittee, said that this kind of amendment would cripple the University System of Maryland’s ability to attract well-known researchers. The researchers bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, which create jobs and improve the economy.
Ready’s amendment failed 39-96.
The House rejected three amendments to cut potential benefits to illegal immigrants. Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington County, offered an amendment that would limit access to the $5 million Keeping Maryland Community Colleges Affordable grant to schools that do not give illegal immigrants in-state tuition benefits. Del. Patrick McDonough, R-Baltimore-Harford, offered two of his legislative proposals as amendments.
One would require the state to use the E-Verify program to ensure that employees or contractors are legal United States residents before those employees could be paid. The other would require that Maryland enforce federal immigration law.
Two amendments stripping state support of horse racing were also offered. One came from McMillan, and would strip state funding from racing. The other proposed by Del. Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery County, would divert $100 million worth of video lottery terminal proceeds that currently go to horse racing purses to the General Fund.
Simmons, who has proposed a bill that would do the same thing, said that horse racing is a dying industry that does not help the state in the long run, and should not be propped up by the government.
“There is no type of precedent for this waste of public money,” Simmons said.
But he was overwhelmingly defeated, with only 10 19 other delegates voting with him on his amendment.
Other failed amendments from Wednesday night include:
· Removing $9.1 million from salary increases for the Maryland Transit Administration, because they were negotiated and given when the rest of state employees had a wage freeze.
· Withdrawing Medicaid support of most abortions.
· Deleting $12.4 million from the Stem Cell Research Fund.
The budget could be voted on by the House of Delegates as soon as today.