Senate rejects GOP cuts to $39 billion budget; Miller gripes about environmental ‘whackos’

By Len Lazarick

Budget Chairman Ed Kasemeyer at podium presents budget to the Senate.

Budget Chairman Ed Kasemeyer at podium presents budget to the Senate.

With minimal debate, the Maryland Senate rejected a half dozen Republican attempts to further trim Gov. Martin O’Malley’s $39 billion budget Wednesday, and gave preliminary approval to the spending plan that will be sent to the House this week.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee ultimately cut $492 million from the current budget and O’Malley’s proposal for next year, partly to make up for lowered revenue estimates in both years.

The overall fiscal 2015 budget will spend $1.7 billion more than last year, a 4.5% increase. Some of the biggest gains are in spending on medical assistance and welfare, with federal dollars funding most of those gains.

Budget Committee Chairman Ed Kasemeyer called it a “lean budget.”

“The committee worked very hard to protect programs and services, to honor the recently ratified collective bargaining agreement, and to leave a fund balance [surplus] of at least $100 million in addition to 5% in the rainy day fund,” Kasemeyer said.

Much of the budget cuts came from a $200 million reduction in extra pension contributions that were originally intended to be $300 million each year.

 1% across-the-board cut proposed

Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley proposed an additional across-the-board reduction of 1% in the general fund, saving another $162 million. State agencies “should be able to function properly” with 99% of what they requested.

“The current crisis that we’re in was manufactured by the governor,” Brinkley said. “He wasn’t willing to make the tough calls.”

Kasemeyer said the committee had discussed across-the-board cuts, but determined “that’s a meat-clever approach.”

Brinkley’s amendment failed 12-34 in a straight party-line vote.

The Senate also rejected attempts to cut funding for stem cell research and for state-paid abortions based on the mental health of the mother. Republicans said the state had paid for 49,485 abortions since the year 2000 based on the “mental health” provision of state law for Medicaid-funded abortions.

The anti-abortion item picked up a few Democratic votes, but failed 16-29, as did an attempt to cut funding for stem cell research, and proposal to withhold money to fix the Health Benefit Exchange website.

Miller decries use of bay fund votes by environmentalists

mike miller

Senate President Mike Miller

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, sought to prevent any further diversion of money from the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund.

“People support the bay overwhelmingly,” said Simonaire. “People want us to clean the bay.”

He said $125 million had been diverted to other programs over the past five years.

His amendment to prevent that was rejected 12-33. Senate President Mike Miller warned that such votes have been used by environmental groups to lower the rating of senators who basically support the environment.

“That’s how these whackos work,” Miller griped, clearly annoyed. He eventually calmed down, calling them “uncalled for remarks.”

“This is about the elections,” he said.