- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

ANNAPOLIS - The House of Delegates, displaying an unusual degree of bipartisanship, unanimously approved the state’s $25.6 billion budget yesterday after only brief discussion, during which Republicans and Democrats talked of the spirit of cooperation that accompanied this year’s budget deliberations.

Republicans do not like some of the changes Democrats made in the budget submitted by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in January, but House Minority Leader George C. Edwards of Garrett County told fellow House members that he would be voting for the budget because “there is more good in this bill than there is bad.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democratic leaders plan to move quickly to pass their version of the bill so they can begin negotiations with House leaders on differences between the two houses.

Republicans objected during earlier debate to the decision by Democratic leaders to reduce the state property-tax rate by 4.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. That would cut the tax rate to 8.4 cents, the level it was before Mr. Ehrlich proposed an increase two years ago to help balance the budget.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee already has taken a position to oppose the property-tax cut. Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, Baltimore County Democrat, said the House budget package provides money to reduce the tax for only one year, and “we think it’s something that should be long-term.”

The Senate committee also may reject the House plan to eliminate the Office of Children and Youth and transfer its duties to other state agencies. The office has been criticized for several years for being ineffective, but Mr. Ehrlich considers it an integral part of his plan to put more emphasis on programs for young people and families.

The administration has mounted a heavy lobbying campaign, arguing that eliminating the office would hamper efforts to get more federal aid and would make it harder for state and local agencies to coordinate their efforts to help young people. House Democrats responded that their budget would maintain all the funding for programs for children and youth while getting rid of an ineffective bureaucracy.

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