- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2011

ANNAPOLIS | The Maryland House on Thursday night approved its version of the state budget, advancing the $34.2 billion spending plan for Senate consideration.

“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made toward financial stability,” Delegate Norm Conway, Eastern Shore Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said during final debate.

The budget passed on a 97-42 vote, with Delegate Wendell R. Beitzel, Garrett Republican, the lone GOP vote joining all the chamber’s Democrats in support.

The plan was revised last week by the chamber’s Appropriations Committee to include several key changes to the one Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed in January.

Among the changes were a doubling of fees on vehicle titles, vanity-license plates and property-tax records, restoring funds set to be cut from public schools and transferring to counties $17 million in costs for state pensions.

The Democrat-controlled House chose not to further amend the budget during a 4½-hour debate Wednesday night, despite numerous calls from Republicans to reduce spending. They also failed to add requirements barring community colleges and many businesses from accommodating illegal immigrants. The House-approved budget would increase state spending by $900 million over last year.

“Next year, we’re going to be here, and there is going to be pressure to raise more taxes,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. “We’ve had an incredibly increasing appetite for spending people’s money, and in the worst times, when we should cutting back.”

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will consider its own changes to the budget, which could be introduced on the Senate floor as early as Monday night.

Senate Democrats have said they will consider further changes to the state’s underfunded pension system and likely will pass an increase in the state’s alcohol tax, raising the rate from 6 percent to 9 percent through a 1-percentage-point increase in each of the next three years. The increase was approved by a Senate committee Thursday.

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