- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ANNAPOLIS | The Maryland Senate voted Tuesday night to approve the state’s proposed $34.2 billion budget, sending it to a joint Senate-House conference committee for review.

The Senate voted 37-10 in favor of the spending plan, which had already passed the House. The Senate declined to make any further amendments to the budget during a pair of floor debates Tuesday.

“There were a lot of difficult decisions contained in this budget,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Montgomery Democrat. The budget would increase spending by $900 million in fiscal 2012, but would cut the state’s long-term structural deficit nearly in half to about $1 billion.

“We’ve made more progress than we had set out as a goal, but we still have a ways to go,” he said.

House and Senate committees have made a combined 233 amendments to the budget originally proposed in January by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, while neither chamber amended the bill during its floor debate. The House committee most notably raised several fees, increased education funding and transferred $17 million in pension costs to counties. The Senate committee last week passed an increase in the state’s alcohol sales tax from 6 percent to 9 percent.

The Democrat-controlled Senate on Tuesday rejected several Republican proposals that would have reduced spending, tightened monitoring of illegal immigration and cut funding for abortion and stem-cell research.

The Senate originally planned to vote on the bill Wednesday, but rescheduled its final debate and vote for Tuesday night to accommodate Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore County Republican who has missed much of the session while attending Air Force training in Georgia.

The budget will now go to a conference committee, where Senate and House members will reconcile differences between their respective versions of the bill. The committee could move a finalized budget to the governor next week.

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