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County's Republican delegates vote against state budget

March 27, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - For the first time this four-year term, all four Washington County Republican delegates voted against the state's $22 billion operating budget.

Largely a partisan jab at the Glendening-Townsend administration, the vote came one day after U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Md., criticized the budget during an announcement of his bid for governor.

The budget passed on a 105-34 vote that closely followed party lines.

"I feel that this budget is unfairly balanced on the backs of working families, small businesses and state employees," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

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Under the spending plan, small businesses will get a smaller share of money for collecting the state's sales tax and state employees will get 2 percent bonuses instead of pay raises, he said.

The budget also creates a $764 million structural deficit next year, setting the stage for future tax increases, Shank said.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he voted against the budget for the first time in his eight years in the legislature for many of the same reasons.

In that time, McKee said he's watched the budget grow from $14 billion to $22 billion.

Washington County's two Democrats, Del. John P. Donoghue and Del. Sue Hecht, criticized the Republicans for voting against the budget.

"We have tough choices to make. You can't hide. You have to make the tough call," Donoghue said.

A vote against the budget is a vote against spending money on education, environmental preservation and the poor, Hecht said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson was the only Washington County Republican to vote for the budget this year.

"It's the most conservative budget, the most fiscally responsible budget, that I've seen since I've been in the Senate," said Munson, who was elected to the Senate in 1990.

As a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, Munson estimated he's put about 400 hours into cutting the budget in ways that caused the least pain to his constituents.

Over Munson's objection, the Senate cut a $2 million subsidy for air service between Cumberland, Hagerstown and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The House version of the budget restored the grant, which means the final decision will be made by a conference committee made up of lawmakers from both chambers.

The $12.4 million needed to construct the University System of Maryland's Hagerstown Education Center is in a separate capital budget, which is expected to pass the Senate today and move to the House.

So far, the project doesn't appear to be the target of a cut, said Hecht, who serves on the House Capital Budget Subcommittee.

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