By DYLAN WAUGH
ANNAPOLIS - The Senate approved its $13.8 billion budget plan Thursday after considering cutting off state funding to the University of Maryland over a pornographic film screening and rejecting an amendment partially inspired by rapper MC Hammer.
The Senate passed the budget and an annual companion reconciliation bill each by votes of 40-7 during a disjointed and lively morning session. The budget calls for $900 million in cuts, including reductions to local government, environmental and stem cell research spending, but senators spent most of the debate discussing uncommon topics.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Caroline, tried to cut $6 million in funding for the Maryland Transportation Authority in what he joked should be called the "MC Hammer Amendment." Pipkin likened the agency's response to his criticism of some of its policies to the name of a well-known 1990 hit released by rapper MC Hammer.
"The MdTA has been playing this game of 'you can't touch this,'" Pipkin said. "I think we should touch this."
Pipkin questioned the agency's controversial increases to E-ZPass fees and commercial truck tolls. He also faulted the Transportation Authority for not properly inspecting the Bay Bridge in light of last year's deadly crash in which a tractor-trailer crashed through a Jersey wall.
Senators rejected the amendment by a 32-13 vote.
After Pipkin failed to advance another amendment that would limit compensation for hospital executives, the debate turned to a topic which caught many by surprise.
Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, rose to voice his displeasure over The University of Maryland, College Park's plan to show the hard-core pornographic film "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge" at its student union Saturday night. Harris then offered an amendment that would cut off state funding for any higher education institution that permits a film marketed as XXX-rated to be shown.
The ensuing debate on the ills associated with pornography was paused several times by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, as numerous elementary school groups stopped in to witness the legislative body at work.
"If you kids are wondering what we're doing, we're waiting for you to leave the room," Miller said at one point. "We have to talk about some bad stuff."
Later in the morning session Miller announced the school had scrapped its plans to show the film, leading Harris to withdraw his amendment, which Miller said later he believed would have passed.
Representatives from the House and the Senate will meet soon to iron out the differences between the Senate plan and the $13.9 billion version passed by the House last week.
The budget cuts came in response to the recently-announced $1.2 billion decline in tax and other revenue projections for this fiscal year and the next. O'Malley's original budget included provisions for only $600 million in write-downs over that time.
Before the body overwhelmingly voted in favor of the budget, two Baltimore Democrats criticized the Senate's plan to divert $50 million to public school construction from an education formula that provides additional funding to K-12 schools in high-cost areas.
Other lawmakers questioned where the state would find money to pay for its expenditures once the federal stimulus money runs out.
"I'm not a prophet, but in two years I see a big tax increase coming," said Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel.
Sen. David Brinkley, R-Carroll, also took a shot at the $3.8 billion in federal funds expected to patch the state's budgetary holes in the next two years.
"Some people are looking at it as a godsend," Brinkley said. "It is a curse."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.