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Lawmakers begin reshaping proposed budget

March 31, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Although the details of the state's capital budget remain in flux, preliminary figures emerging from the House Appropriations Committee show that Gov. Robert Ehrlich's original budget proposal is getting a good tweaking.

"Let's just say it's been rearranged somewhat," said Del. George Edwards, R-Garrett, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

Edwards stopped short of saying some of the changes in the budget were politically motivated, but pointed out that last year, money for parks and playgrounds was spread out over 53 projects throughout the state. So far, he said, the House committee had designated money for projects in only two counties - Anne Arundel and Baltimore - totaling $1.5 million. Another $1.5 million would be allocated by the Senate, he said.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch denied there were any political reasons for the changes.

"Some areas have different priorities," he said. "Not every county is exactly alike."

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On the Senate side, a subcommittee of the Budget and Taxation Committee was still deliberating over capital items Wednesday night. The full committee must approve its proposals, and then a conference committee comprised of members of both houses must resolve differences before the numbers are finalized.

The Appropriations Committee offered 81 amendments to the capital budget bill during the House floor session Wednesday. One of them was to delete $10.1 million to replace the Hagerstown barrack of the Maryland State Police.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he'd been told that the deletion was a trade-off to get more money in the school construction budget. The barrack would then be added to next year's capital budget, Shank said.

But on Wednesday evening, the Senate subcommittee rejected the House action to delete the barrack, leaving the money in its version of the capital budget.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said that while the Department of Legislative Services "was serious about cutting the barracks," the subcommittee declined to cut it. It also salvaged $430,000 for San Mar Children's Home, he said.

There's a total of $5.4 million in both versions for school construction in Washington County, according to Munson and Edwards. Of that, $806,000 has been dedicated to Maugansville Elementary School and E. Russell Hicks Middle School. The total allocation represents nearly 71 percent of the county's capital request for fiscal 2006, Edwards said.

Washington County Schools asked for a lot more from the county government, according to Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

Testifying in favor of a bill to close a loophole that allows buyers of some commercial properties to avoid the state's transfer tax, Snook said the school system's six-year capital improvement plan had increased by $80 million since last year.

If passed, proponents estimate it would raise about $60 million for school construction statewide.

Munson said he was pleased that four of Washington County's five bond proposals had been approved.

The county should receive bond loans of $75,000 for the Community Free Clinic, $30,000 for the new Discovery Station, $200,000 for a new stadium at North Hagerstown High School and $100,000 for Aspiring to Serve, for the new homeless shelter on Franklin Street in Hagerstown.

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