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Budget gets tentative OK

March 21, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

Annapolis - The Maryland House of Delegates tentatively approved a $22.6 billion state budget Thursday that calls for an increase in the state property tax.

Some lawmakers tried to stop the increase, but were defeated by a vote of 90-49.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, was the only Washington County lawmaker to vote for the tax increase.

Under the plan, the state's share of the annual tax bill for property owners would go from about 8 cents to 13 cents per $100 of assessed value. That would represent an increase of about $70 on a house valued at $150,000.

Del. Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, said the increase will hit retirees with a double whammy because of rapidly rising assessments.

"It's like being cut with a thousand tiny knives," he said. "We're basically pricing homeowners out of their own homes."

House leaders defended the decision, which was proposed by Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. last week.


"This is one of those years when some tough decisions have to be made," said Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico.

Some lawmakers said they were disappointed that the budget cuts made by Ehrlich and the House leaders disproportionately target the University System of Maryland.

"These youngsters who are educated in the University System stay here and they are our future," said Del. Barbara Frush, D-Anne Arundel/Prince George's.

House budget leaders made about $200 million in cuts to Ehrlich's fiscal 2004 budget and called for abolishing 1,700 vacant positions.

Although this year's budget will be balanced, analysts predict a $900 million shortfall in next year's budget.

Delegates discussed and debated the budget for more than five hours on Thursday, rejecting numerous attempts to change it.

Among the proposals that were defeated:

  • Strip $3 million from the budget for private school textbooks and spend it on teachers' salaries. Del. Robert A. McKee, Del. Christopher B. Shank and Del. Richard Weldon voted in favor and Del. John P. Donoghue and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. voted against.

  • Remove $2.5 million in Medicaid's budget for abortions. All five local lawmakers voted in favor.

After a final vote in the House on Saturday, the budget moves to the Senate.

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