- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Higher education and land preservation programs took the hardest hits yesterday as a Senate committee wrapped up work on Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed state budget.
The Budget and Taxation Committee rejected the Democratic governor's proposed funding increases for Maryland's four-year public colleges, holding them to the same level of funding they are receiving in the current budget.
The committee also cut $72 million from land preservation programs administered by the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture. That was $16 million more than recommended by the governor, said Warren Deschenaux, the legislature's chief fiscal official.
Mike Morrill, Mr. Glendening's communications director, said the $72 million does not include other Smart Growth programs that were cut back by the committee.
"The governor is going to continue to fight devastating cuts to environmental and educational programs and looks forward to working with the House, where we expect to see something very different come out," Mr. Morrill said.
Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the size of the reductions in the Senate committee is about right.
"I'm hoping we match them dollar for dollar, but maybe in different areas," he said.
Overall, the committee slashed $355 million from the general fund portion of the budget, which is supported by major revenue sources such as income and sales taxes. The committee also reduced programs supported by federal funds and special taxes, such as motor vehicle fees, by $122 million, dropping the total state budget from the $21.8 billion proposed by Mr. Glendening in January to $21.3 billion.
"This budget has very little joy in it for anybody," Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, Baltimore Democrat and committee chairman, said as the committee worked its way through reductions that will affect all areas of state government.
"We have taken cuts we hated. We have taken political risks," she said.
But committee members said they had no choice because drastic steps were needed to keep the budget balanced at a time when major revenue sources have virtually stopped growing as a result of the recession.
The committee also had to dig deeper into the budget because it refused Saturday to go along with Mr. Glendening's plan to postpone a 2 percent reduction in the state income tax that took effect in January.
Sen. Robert R. Neall, Anne Arundel Democrat, said higher education and land preservation were targeted for the biggest hits because state spending has increased sharply over the last two years in both areas.
"2002 was a very good year for higher education. They got a 10 percent increase," he said.
Mrs. Hoffman said without cuts in those two areas, the committee would have had to dig even deeper into health and welfare budgets, which directly affect the lives of people with the greatest needs.
Environmentalists said they will continue their battle to restore some of the land preservation funding.
The committee will bring the budget to the Senate tomorrow for a brief explanation of its cuts. Debate is scheduled to begin Friday.
The House Appropriations Committee will be working on budget decisions this week and will take up the Senate version after it is approved on a final vote expected next week.


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