By Len Lazarick, Len@MarylandReporter.com
(March 27, 2014) Republican legislators applied their usual persistence in trying to trim the Maryland budget Wednesday and were rewarded with their usual result: Every one of the dozen amendments they offered to reduce spending were defeated by overwhelming Democratic majorities.
-- Cut about 2% of spending across the board, allowing spending to grow by just 1% rejected 42-90;
-- Cut $73 million to fix the Health Benefit Exchange and its faulty website rejected 41-92;
-- Cut already limited funding for Medicaid-funded third trimester abortions rejected 54-79 (the most votes for any of the cuts);
-- Cut funding for basic stem cell research rejected 44-89;
-- Cut state police funding for ballistic fingerprinting to identify weapons rejected 43-81;
-- Give back the Baltimore Detention Center to the city to run rejected 48-88;
-- Withhold $250,000 from the Prince Georges County Public Schools until they resolved a dozen repeat audit findings showing millions lost to overpayments and lax financial controls (an amendment inspired by a MarylandReporter.com story Tuesday).
-- Cut tax credits for film production in Maryland (a program jokingly referred to as the Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright Retirement Fund, the stars of Netflix House of Cards who are reportedly getting multimillion dollar raises) rejected 28-103, the lowest support for any of the cuts, losing a third of the GOP members. Celebrity schmoozing clearly works.
One-man crusade for pension funding
Del. Charles Barkley, D-Montgomery, was the only Democrat trying to undo committee action as part of his one-man crusade this session to get the state to put in an extra $300 million into the state pension fund. The extra payment was pledged as part of a major reform of state pensions the legislature passed in 2011. It required state employees and teachers to increase their salary contributions from 5% to 7% and it reduced retirement benefits for new employees, actions that now save the state more than $300 million.
The Senate Budget Committee cut the supplemental pension payment from $300 million to $100 million this year and next year to help balance the budget, and the House Appropriations Committee went along.
We promised our employees to do something, but were not living up to this promise, Barkley said.
Del. Melony Griffith, D-Prince Georges, chair of the pensions subcommittee, said, We put a substantial amount of the general fund into pensions, $1.76 billion even before any supplemental payments. She has said in interviews that Maryland is the only one of many states making pension reforms in recent years that has promised to put any of the savings back into the pension fund.
No spending increases justified, two conservatives insist
The 1% growth the majority of Republican delegates voted for was too much for two of them, Del. Mike Smigiel of Cecil County and Del. Mike McDermott of Worcester County.
I cant justify voting for an increase, Smigiel said. We need at the very least a flat line.
Im not for increasing spending, McDermott said. He told the House that the fat revenue increases that occurred in the years before the Great Recession were not going to recur.
Were now in the new normal, McDermott said. Were not going to experience that kind of growth again.
The House is expected to take a final vote on the $39 billion budget Thursday or Friday. A conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate will likely meet next week.