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Senate accepts Mooney budget amendment

March 18, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

The Maryland Senate agreed with a local lawmaker Friday that any leftover lottery money should be earmarked for the Thornton Commission's education recommendations this year.

The Senate unanimously adopted Sen. Alex X. Mooney's idea as an amendment to the 2003 state budget.

"I'm glad to be able to make a difference," Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said after the vote.

After studying public school funding equity, the commission called for the state to boost its share by $1.1 million annually over the next five years.

Under the proposed formula, which helps poorer school districts, Washington County would get an extra $38 million over five years.

Citing declining revenues, Gov. Parris Glendening didn't put any money toward the Thornton recommendations in his $22 billion budget.

Legislative leaders, already faced with trimming a very tight budget, have been looking for ways to pay for the recommendations or at least boost education funding.

Some have suggested increasing the cigarette tax by up to 70 cents a pack, which would raise up to $180 million.

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Mooney and most other local lawmakers have said they will oppose any cigarette tax increase.

It's uncertain how much money, if any, the lottery idea will raise.

The lottery is on track to bring in about $14 million more than anticipated, Mooney said.

In recent years, the amount of excess lottery money has fluctuated from none to $25 million. All of it has gone to the horse racing industry.

The lottery is expected to raise $425.1 million this year, the bulk of which goes into the state's general fund, according to the Board of Revenue Estimates.

The state budget, with Mooney's amendment, will now be considered by the House. The legislature is scheduled to pass a spending plan by April 1.

During previous budget debates, Mooney tried to eliminate taxpayer funding of Medicaid abortions.

The Senate rejected it then, as they did a similar effort mounted Friday by a Democrat.

Mooney has also proposed legislation that would permanently tie excess lottery money to education.

"Hopefully, this will clear a passageway for my bill," he said.

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