Senate Passes 2010 Capital Budget, Authorizes $1.1 Billion Debt

Porn Amendment Rejected


ANNAPOLIS - The Senate passed its capital budget for next fiscal year Wednesday, authorizing $1.1 billion in debt to finance major capital expenditures and replace money previously siphoned from programs to offset declining tax revenues.

The Senate's fiscal 2010 capital budget is $265 million higher than the current year's spending level, and includes millions for educational facilities, land preservation efforts and the state's aging medevac helicopter fleet. Lawmakers approved the spending plan 40-7.

The budget survived a push by Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, to restrict funding for public universities if the schools do not produce a policy on the screening of pornographic films by July 1.

"Our taxpayers think it is a misuse of taxpayer funds," Harris said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, ruled the amendment out of order, citing advice from the attorney general's office. Lawmakers agreed, voting 35-12 in support of Miller's ruling.

Harris offered his amendment despite a decision made by a panel of lawmakers Tuesday to require public colleges to submit policies concerning the screening of pornographic films by Sept. 1. Legislators inserted the provision in the separate operating budget, but that provision does not include financial ramifications for failure to comply.

Last week Harris tried to block state funding for the University of Maryland over a scheduled screening of the XXX-marketed film "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge" at the movie theater on the school's flagship College Park campus. University officials canceled the screening but as a protest students showed portions of the film in a classroom Monday night.

Republicans criticized the $265 million spending increase, calling for the state to tighten its belt during the current economic crisis.

"I think it sends a bad message to our constituents," said Minority Leader Allan Kittleman, R-Carroll.

The House already passed its version of the capital budget and the two chambers will now meet to reconcile their differences. Representatives from both chambers are already working out differences in their plans for the separate $14 billion state operating budget.

The Senate version of the capital budget dedicates $301 million to higher education facilities. Community colleges are scheduled to receive $84 million in both chambers' budget plans.

The Senate earmarked $209 million for public school construction while the House calls for $260 million.

The two chambers also differ on how much to devote to a Chesapeake Bay water quality fund. The Senate includes $28.5 million while the House only has $1.5 million in its plan.

More than $278 million of the Senate plan goes to operating budget relief, according to Sen. James DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel, the chairman of the capital budget subcommittee. Those funds will help backfill holes caused when lawmakers shifted funding from various state programs to the state's general fund in an effort to account for decreased revenue projections.

One of those affected programs, the land preservation fund Program Open Space, is set to receive $87 million from both chambers' plans.

Likewise, nearly $90 million for the inter-county connector is also included in both budget proposals, replacing money previously taken out of the fund to help fix the operating fund shortage.

Both plans include $52.5 million to purchase new medevac helicopters, touching on a topic of sharp contention. Lawmakers have debated throughout the session whether to privatize the state medevac system.

After his first amendment was ruled out of order, Harris offered a second amendment that would cut off capital funding for public colleges until a policy on invocations was formed.

The University of Maryland, College Park's, senate, comprised of faculty, staff and students, recently voted to eliminate the invocation from its commencement ceremony. The university senate's recommendation would have to be approved by University President C.D. Mote Jr. to take effect.

Miller again ruled the amendment out of order and Harris withdrew it before a vote could be taken.

Just before the final vote on the capital budget was taken, Harris criticized previous state fiscal action, saying the state taxed too much with 2007's tax increases and spent too much in the operating budget recently passed by the Senate.

"Today we do the trifecta," Harris said, "we borrow too much."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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