- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The House yesterday approved a state budget that Democrats say has enough cushion to cover revenue shortfalls projected for later this year. But Republicans don’t think lawmakers went far enough.

Delegate Norman H. Conway, Lower Shore Democrat, said lawmakers made needed cuts while still funding priorities such as education, health care, public safety and environment.

“Yes, we could have taken other big cuts,” said Mr. Conway, the House Appropriations chairman. “We could have dumped it to the counties, and we could have dumped it to the municipalities. But it’s still in your realm when that happens.”

Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, the House Republican leader, said lawmakers “barely adjusted” for a $333 million write-down in projected revenue estimates earlier this month. If revenues fall further, Mr. O’Donnell questioned whether the state would have enough of a balance to make up the difference.

“We don’t have a whole lot of cushion here,” said Mr. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican.

Delegate John L. Bohanan Jr., St. Mary’s Democrat, said the budget keeps nearly $1 billion extra “in case things do turn south.” He also said the state’s Board of Public Works can cut up to 25 percent of the budget — more than $7 billion.

“This is a very good budget, and we are well-prepared for whatever may come in the future,” he said.

The House measure cut about $265 million from the state’s $15.2 billion general fund, which is made up mostly of income and sales taxes. The Senate bill, which has already been approved, includes about $226 million in general fund cuts.

The House bill also includes about $210 million in fund transfers and revenue diversions, compared to about $160 million in the Senate.

Overall, with federal fund cuts, the House bill includes about $511 million in budget reductions, compared to about $423 million in the Senate.

The budget approved by the Senate would leave a balance of about $158 million, which would be in addition to about $739 million projected for the state’s Rainy Day Fund. That would leave a total reserve of nearly $900 million extra for future budget write-downs.

The House bill would have a balance of about $248 million, which would leave nearly a $1 billion cushion when the Rainy Day Fund is included.

Differences in the bills will be worked out in a conference committee. A big difference between the two chambers is the amount of money that would go to fund stem-cell research. The Senate has voted to cut the funding from $23 million to $5 million. The House measure would reduce it to $15 million.

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