House Committee Approves More Cuts, Fee Increases
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland House Appropriations Committee approved an array of budget cuts and fee increases Friday night to restore much of the education money that was targeted under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget proposal.
The committee also made changes to the governor’s pension reform plan. One significant difference requires state employees to pay 7 percent of their salaries instead of 5 percent into their pension plan. O’Malley’s plan would have given employees a choice of paying 7 percent to receive the same retirement benefit or keep paying 5 percent for less money in retirement.
Under the measure approved by the House committee, several Maryland fees would go up, raising an estimated total of $70 million.
A state fee for vanity license plates would double from $25 to $50, which would raise between $1.5 million and $2 million. A titling fee on new vehicle purchases also would double from $50 to $100 to raise about $50 million. The two fee increases would raise about $50 million, mostly from the titling fee. The money will go into the state’s badly depleted transportation trust fund to help make up for some of the $100 million O’Malley transferred from it to fill budget holes and boost the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
The budget changes made by the House panel would use some of the money raised by the two fee increases to add more money for local governments to use on road repairs. The House plan adds $13 million to local governments on top of $10 million O’Malley had allocated in his budget plan.
“We’re giving them a little survival money,” said Delegate Tawanna Gaines, D-Prince George’s, who chairs the subcommittee on transportation and the environment. “We realize that we have to do something so they can sustain themselves.”
The budget approved by the committee also increases a fee residents pay to file property tax records from $20 to $40, a change that will raise an estimated $17 million. That money, along with a variety of cuts, will be used to restore about $58.5 million of $94 million that O’Malley had cut for kindergarten through 12th grade.
The committee also voted to eliminate 650 positions, most of which are vacant but some through attrition, to save $15 million.
Lawmakers nixed a proposal by the O’Malley administration to impose fees on bad drivers. Drivers would have been fined $100 per point on a driver’s license above five points each year for three years. It also would have charged a $500 fine each year for three years for those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, described the House measure as a conservative budget that restores a significant portion of education money.
“It does pension reform. It reduces the long-term structural deficit of the state to 41 percent when the goal was 33 (percent), so it’s significantly more structural relief than the budget that was put in, and I think it lessens the burden on the retirees’ program as well,” Busch said.
The committee also approved a variety of budget cuts. Some of the biggest include an $8 million cut from the University System of Maryland and a $10 million rate reduction for managed care organizations under Medicaid. .
The committee also cut O’Malley’s recommendation for a fund to fight pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, from 25 million to $22 million.
Reductions approved by the committee also will be used to create a greater budget cushion for fiscal year 2012. Under O’Malley’s budget proposal, the state would have about $96 million in fund balance beyond general fund expenses. With the changes approved by the committee, the state would have a fund balance of about $120 million.
The budget legislation now goes to the House of Delegates, which is scheduled to act on the measures next week. The Senate will act on the budget legislation after the House.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)