- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — House Republicans, who have kept a low profile this General Assembly session, say they will file legislation today to cap spending in the 2008 budget, marking their first major battle with Democrats this session.

“Many in Annapolis are giving stern warning about the budget crisis, but few are offering meaningful solutions,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. “It’s fiscally and socially irresponsible to continue digging this budget hole.”

Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 37 to 104 in the House but are attempting to pass the cap to head off an estimated $1.5 billion deficit in fiscal 2009.

The Republican plan would allow for a 1 percent increase in all agency budgets and fund employee-retirement plans, while replenishing state reserves.

The plan would delay education funding increases required by the Thornton Act in 2008, then phase-in the final increase starting in 2009.

“Pausing the increase in Thornton money prevents us from having to make such cuts next year,” said House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, Western Maryland Republican.

House Democrats have proposed waiting one year to address the looming budget deficit and are expected to increase taxes or take other steps to cut the deficit.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, balanced the 2008 budget by drawing $1.2 billion from the reserves, buying him one year to implement StateStat, a government management program, and evaluate state government.

“Mr. O’Malley says he’s not ruling out anything and that he wants one year,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican. “Time, in this instance, costs $1.4 billion. …The challenge is in what people are doing to reduce the increase in spending, which seems almost automatic. When it comes to systemic issues, you can’t just go off and plan incredible spending increases.”

Senate Republicans are considering similar budget cuts.

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican, introduced a bill requiring $230 million in cuts to the 2008 budget, out of $643 million recommended to him by legislative analysts.

The proposed cuts mark the first public clash between House Republicans and Democrats this session and is likely the start of budget battles expected to intensify next year when the lawmakers negotiate on tax increases and legalizing slot-machine gambling.

House Democratic leaders said yesterday the Republican plan would bring cuts to education and public safety.

“That means the corrections guards in Western Maryland would be cut from the budget,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat. “You’d have to break your contract with local governments.”

The House is expected to pass a budget by the end of the week. It then must move through the Senate and a final agreement must be reached by April 2.


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