- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

ANNAPOLIS The House of Delegates yesterday approved the state's $22 billion budget after a partisan debate in which Republicans made it clear they intended to make state spending a major issue of the 2002 gubernatorial race.
Democrats responded that the budget included a tax cut, increased spending for programs important to residents and was balanced despite loss of revenue resulting from the national recession.
The House Appropriations Committee cut about $364 million from the budget that was submitted by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in January.
A team of negotiators from the House and Senate will work this week to resolve differences between versions of the bill passed by the two bodies. Legislative leaders hope to finish work on the budget by Monday, one week before the 2002 General Assembly session ends.
Two major areas of disagreement involve funding for higher education and land-preservation programs. The House version would provide more money for both programs than the Senate.
Republicans attacked the budget as fiscally irresponsible and said it would leave Maryland facing a huge deficit next year.
They also repeatedly referred to the spending plan as the Glendening-Townsend budget, a tactic Republicans adopted to link Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to Mr. Glendening as they prepared for an anticipated gubernatorial race between Mrs. Townsend and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who announced Monday he is running.
"In my opinion, the Glendening-Townsend administration has been more interested in pet projects and building a national reputation than in providing the services we need to provide for the people of Maryland," said House Minority Leader Alfred W. Redmer Jr. of Baltimore County.
The governor proposed spending about $1 billion more than the state would collect in the fiscal year beginning July 1 and balanced the budget by raiding various special funds, a tactic that would leave the state in worse shape next year, Mr. Redmer said.
"I'm not going to give you a campaign speech," Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat, said in response to Mr. Redmer's criticism of the Democratic administration.
Balancing the budget could be difficult again next year, but "we believe we will be in sound fiscal condition," said Mr. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Maryland is in better condition than most other states, which are laying off employees and raising taxes, Mr. Rawlings said.
"In Tennessee, the citizens are storming the Statehouse because they are going to raise taxes," he said.
Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, Howard County Republican, predicted next year's budget situation would be worse and the legislature would have to make deep spending cuts or raise taxes.
"That's what the majority [Democrats] has in store … very substantial tax increases," Mr. Flanagan said.
Some Democrats tried to persuade the House to cancel the 2 percent income-tax cut that took effect on Jan. 1 and use the approximately $170 million for education and health care.
Mr. Rawlings urged the House to support his committee's decision to keep the tax cut, saying the legislature should keep the promise it made to Marylanders that their taxes would be reduced.
The House voted 109-23 to keep the tax cut. Delegates then approved the budget on a 96-42 roll call.


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