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Conference Committee On Budget Starts Negotiating

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A panel of House and Senate lawmakers met for about two hours on Thursday to start working out differences that the two chambers have over Maryland’s budget legislation.

The conference committee largely delayed decisions on some of the bigger differences, such as changes to the state’s retiree prescription drug health plan.

The two sides are largely in accord on pension reform, which will require state employees to pay 2 percent more of their salaries for retirement. The panel agreed to extend the vesting period for new employees from five to 10 years. The panel also decided to extend the period before the maximum benefit is earned by new employees from 16 years to 25 years.

The committee met halfway on the number of mostly vacant jobs that will be eliminated, settling on 450.

Lawmakers on the panel decided that a fee increase for filing land records will be in effect for four years. The fee will double from $20 to $40 to raise an estimated $17 million a year for the state.

The state’s budget includes about $75 million in fee increases.

The panel has agreed on a provision to raise a certificate-of-title fee on vehicles from $50 to $100, which would generate about $50 million a year. But the panel still hasn’t decided whether to exempt rental car companies, as suggested by the Senate. If that exemption is accepted, the fee increase would raise about $48.6 million a year.

The panel decided to put $23.5 million in a fund used to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

It also agreed to direct $3 million annually from speed-camera revenues to buy new cars for Maryland State Police, for fiscal years 2013 through 2015.

Lawmakers have yet to decide whether to require the University System of Maryland to study a merger of the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. They also held off on deciding how much to cut from the system. The House voted to cut about $8 million for the system’s office. The Senate lowered that to $2 million.

The committee is scheduled to meet again Friday and likely Saturday as well. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn April 11.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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