- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

ANNAPOLIS The Maryland House of Delegates last night approved a $21 billion budget, one day after it was approved by a conference committee.

The spending plan keeps on reserve $800 million $85 million more than required to maintain the state's AAA credit rating that allows the government to borrow at the lowest rate.

The 117-17 House vote moved the budget to the Senate, but not before a bipartisan contingent of liberals and conservatives urged colleagues to reject the conference committee recommendations as a rebuff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's spending priorities and practices.

The Senate had also scheduled a final vote for last night, but adjourned until today after the House got tied up in a debate over money to lease a new airplane and funding for private-school textbooks.

A motion by Delegate Leon Billings, Montgomery County Democrat, to return the budget to the conference committee failed, 103-27. His proposal to direct the conference committee to cut $5 million for private-school textbooks was not allowed under House rules.

But Mr. Billings' point resonated with House members who had deleted the textbook aid, only to see House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings appoint conference delegates who shared his, and the Senate's, position favoring it.

Mr. Rawlings said the House prevailed over the Senate on spending for higher education, now set for a 10 percent increase rather than the 8 percent backed by the Senate and 14 percent proposed by the governor.

The House also added back some spending the Senate cut from Mr. Glendening's aggressive plans for expanding mass transit and parks and land-preservation programs.

Altogether, the conference committee cut about $200 million from the governor's proposal.

"When the chairman says we won the battle, it's that they carried the governor's water the best" said Delegate James W. Hubbard, Prince George's County Democrat.

Although he is an environmentalist, Mr. Hubbard has joined other liberals and Republicans in criticizing the governor for funding signature education and environmental initiatives such as Smart Growth ahead of health care needs and court mandates to move disabled individuals out of institutions and back into the community with state assistance.

House Minority Whip Robert L. Flanagan, a Republican who represents Howard and Montgomery counties, said economic troubles lie just ahead.

"Legislative services tells us we'll have a $300 million deficit to deal with next year … assuming the economy stays on an even keel," Mr. Flanagan said, adding that bonded indebtedness will have doubled during Mr. Glendening's tenure.

But pleas to oppose the budget netted only one more "no" vote than in 2000 and two more than in 1999.

"The governor has too much power in this process," House Majority Leader John A. Hurson said.

But Mr. Hurson, Montgomery County Democrat, reminded House members they will be meeting over the summer to examine ways the legislature can take back power over the budget. Since 1916, legislators have had the option only of cutting what the governor proposes, except in the case of capital projects.

• • •

A mandate for gun-safety education in schools stalled in an ideological dispute just days ago advanced yesterday when a House committee approved a compromise backed by most gun-control and gun-rights advocates.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved a revised measure that would require the state Board of Education to set policy and guidelines for gun-safety and accident-prevention programs.

It states that programs designed by the National Rifle Association, Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse and an association of emergency-room physicians are among those local boards may opt to use.

It would allow firearms to be used only in grades seven through 12 for hunter-safety programs, as long as the instruction takes place at a qualified shooting range rather than on school property.

The legislation buoyed by obvious advocacy of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat had passed Ways and Means' education subcommittee only minutes before on an unenthusiastic 2-1 vote with two abstentions.

Public schools can institute programs now as Carroll County already has noted committee members who opposed and abstained.

"It's still not a bill that's needed," said Delegate Jean Cryor, Montgomery County Republican who has supported numerous gun-control measures.

Mrs. Cryor said she's concerned making all public schools teach gun safety could consume time needed for academic matters, especially since it would not be made a part of the health curriculum as in an earlier version of the bill.

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