By JONATHAN N. CRAWFORD, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Rejecting Republican demands for more fiscal restraint, the Maryland House of Delegates on Wednesday trimmed $120 million from Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed budget, a move they defended as fiscally conservative and socially responsible.
With modest cuts to Medicaid, state higher education and state agencies, majority Democrats said the budget adequately addressed the looming fiscal deficit while meeting funding priorities in health care and education.
"I feel that we have taken a small step, and I recognize it's small given the enormity of the problem we have to address, to reduce increases that we're making," said Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico and Worcester, chair of the Appropriations Committee.
House Republicans said the cuts won't go deep enough to soften the blow from next year's expected budget deficit. The Republicans pushed for an amendment which would have slowed state spending to 1.5 percent, almost 1 percent below O'Malley's budget.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert, said deeper cuts need to be made now to avoid getting "clobbered" with high taxes and "severe and Draconian" cuts to services.
"We [Republicans] believe we need to hold the line. The budget before us puts us deeper in the hole by about $1 billion," he said.
But Democrats said the proposed Republican cuts would put citizens in jeopardy. Del. Mary-Dulany James, D-Harford, said the Republican proposal was "unconscionable" as it would compromise health care services. She said that if the cuts went through, the state would add to its roles of uninsured.
"These budget cuts are not just numbers. These are needs, vital needs," she said.
But House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, defended the Republican proposals, saying they would give the state budgetary "breathing room."
"It's not slash and burn," Shank said. "It's not taking the weed-whacker to the rose garden."
With the cuts made Wednesday, funding for Medicaid would be reduced by $39 million, funding for higher education would slip by $11 million and other agencies would lose $44 million. The budget cuts will be reviewed by the House for final passage on Friday. Even with cuts made in the governor's budget, education aid will total about $5.2 billion, an increase of 15.3 percent from the year before. This includes a commitment to spend $567 million on K-12 education spending, known as the Thornton Program. Medicaid funding will grow $249 million.