Senate proposes to cut local earmarks, but faces debate in House

By Nick DiMarco

House members said a Senate proposal removing local bond bills — the state’s version of legislative earmarks — from Maryland’s Capital Budget may make sense, but they expect a tough debate on the issue in their chamber.

The Senate adopted an amendment Tuesday from Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, shifting funding from bond bills to public school construction projects, and passed a final capital plan Wednesday.

The measure would take effect in fiscal 2012 and 2013, and House budget leaders said they may be able to live without the money usually dedicated to district projects.

“We’ll see where it goes and if that’s the case, that’s the case,” said Del. John Bohanan, D-St. Mary’s. “There are members who find them useful … but if we don’t have funding it’s not the end of the world.”

Bohanan, a member of the House Capital Budget Subcommittee, said while he anticipates complaints from other delegates, he’s happy that funding will go to public schools. During the Ehrlich administration, a commission headed by State Treasurer Nancy Kopp recommended spending $2 billion — $250 million a year, over the course of eight years — to meet the need for new and renovated schools.

According to Bohanan, even though spending is “ahead of schedule” that additional $15 million wouldn’t hurt progress.

Republican Del. Addie Eckardt, also a member of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, said she hasn’t seen the proposal, but maintains a firm opinion that the state cannot increase debt or spending.

“If the will of the body is that we’re overextending our debt limit than we need to make that decision,” Eckardt said. “We need to be careful of the amount of borrowing we are doing.”

The House committee has not finished budget deliberations, but will most likely report on Friday.

Eckardt, who represents some of the poorer counties along the Eastern Shore, said bond bills go a long way in stimulating local communities.  She said she expects a number of delegates will attempt to earn high recognition from constituents by contesting the measure, especially during an election year.

“I have several projects in the community that are ongoing but I didn’t put any in last year because I didn’t want to contribute to the debt,” Eckardt said.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted down an amendment from Sen. Andy Harris, Baltimore-Harford, to institute the ban on bond bills in 2011.

Bohanan and Eckardt agreed that the House would have opposed that step as well.

“We’ll see what the economy is like in 2012,” Bohanan said.

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