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Preliminary budget OK'd

March 15, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A Democratically ruled Maryland House preliminarily approved a $30 billion state budget Wednesday, squelching a Republican attempt to limit spending and delay additional school funding.

On the current course, Marylanders should "brace themselves for a massive tax increase next year," Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said on the House floor, citing a projected $1.5 billion deficit.

Democrats argued that the Republican proposal would critically hurt funding in several crucial areas.

A Republican chart showed their proposed 2008 spending increase at 1.5 percent vs. 6.5 percent for the version on which the House voted.

In a vote largely along party lines, the GOP plan was defeated, 110-29.

Seven Republicans - including two representing Washington County - joined the Democratic majority in voting down the measure.

The budget needs final House approval before it goes to the Senate.

The House Appropriations Committee cut $192 million from Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed budget. According to the committee, highlights include:

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· A record education funding increase of $684 million, or 15 percent

· Full funding of state and local land preservation programs

· A 2 percent raise for state workers

Republicans have criticized O'Malley for using nearly $1 billion from the state's rainy day fund, leaving it at about 5 percent.

"The first priority is to stop digging the hole," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert/St. Mary's, the minority leader, leading off the House debate.

Shank, the minority whip, said delaying $567 million of expected Thornton school funding one year lets Marylanders "pause to catch our breath."

Democrats expressed outrage. Del. Mary-Dulany James, D-Cecil/Harford, called the GOP proposal "a scorched earth policy."

Among Washington County's five delegates, Shank and Republican LeRoy E. Myers Jr. voted for the GOP budget plan. Republicans Richard B. Weldon Jr. and Robert A. McKee joined Democrat John P. Donoghue in voting against it.

Later, McKee said schools have planned for full Thornton funding. "It's not fair to come along in the middle of the game and change the rules," he said.

He said the General Assembly will make "the hard choices" next year.

Calling the GOP plan "the height of intellectual dishonesty," Donoghue said Washington County would lose $23 million in school funding without the expected Thornton money.

"They were simply trying to send a message and play partisan politics," he said.

On the Web at http://mlis.state.md.us/2007rs/billfile/hb0050.htm

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