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Md. House approves operating budget

April 10, 2010|By ERIN JULIUS

ANNAPOLIS -- During a rare Saturday session, the Maryland House of Delegates debated -- and finally approved -- the state's $13.2 billion operating budget.

The 105-34 vote came after the presentation of the conference committee's report, which explained compromises some delegates reached with their counterparts in the Senate.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, was the only Washington County delegate to vote for the budget.

Republicans, including two local lawmakers, reiterated their objections to the spending.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, rose several times during debate with Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, who sits on the Appropriations Committee that dealt with the budget and on the conference committee for the House.

Serafini is concerned that the state is banking on the assumption its revenue will grow in the coming years.

Bohanan, however, defended the 3.6 percent revenue increase projections used by his committee.

"This is not a number the Appropriations Committee came up with," he said. "We employed experts to give us this information."

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Those projections were reviewed again in March and are solid, he said.

Bohanan called the budget bill "historic." For the first time since at least 1968, the Maryland General Assembly approved a budget that spends less than the previous year, Bohanan said.

"This is probably the leanest budget you have ever voted on in this General Assembly," Bohanan told his colleagues.

If $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money is included in the calculation, the budget grows by 2.4 percent, mostly in education spending, he said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, objected to that characterization, saying it's a lean budget only if the federal stimulus money is excluded.

"That's going to disappear next year," he said. "The programs we're putting in aren't going to disappear."

Del. Wendell R. Beitzel, R-Garrett/Allegany, who also serves on the Appropriations Committee and was on the conference committee, defended the budget.

The budget minimizes any negative impact on counties by maintaining the bulk of the teacher pension obligation and results in a $200 million surplus, Beitzel said.

"I disagree with very many things in this budget and would probably make a lot more change, but this was a committee process," he said to applause.

Donoghue on Saturday afternoon explained why he supported the budget.

"The No. 1 job we have down here is to vote for a balanced budget," he said.

The budget includes money for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, teachers, prisons and law enforcement, Donoghue said.

"In large part because Sen. (Donald F.) Munson and I vote for the budget, we're able to fend off any efforts to make cuts to (Washington County)," Donoghue said.

Del. Charles A. Jenkins, R-Frederick/Washington, cast his vote against the budget.

When the budget includes a lot of fund transfers and borrowing from other accounts without making changes to the operating budget, "it's a recipe for disaster," he said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, was absent and excused from Saturday's vote.

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