Two of the three bills required to enact Maryland's nearly $26 billion budget sailed through the Senate and House of Delegates yesterday with few dissenting votes.
The bills reflect a compromise spending plan crafted by negotiators from the two Democratic-led chambers. The plan moved forward last week after House leaders dropped a bid to cut the state property tax. Senate leaders resisted the House plan, questioning whether the state's long-term budget outlook is sound enough for cuts in taxes.
During floor debate yesterday, Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's), chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, called the compromise budget "more than balanced but less than perfect."
In exchange for dropping the tax cut, House leaders prevailed in their bid to include $250 million in the budget next year for school construction. That money will be included in the capital budget, which lawmakers expect to pass tomorrow.
Governor Mulls Gay Rights Bill
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) indicated yesterday that he might break with Republican lawmakers and allow a bill that lets domestic partners make medical decisions for each other.
Versions with only slight differences have cleared both the House and Senate. It would enable unmarried couples to register as partners and gain the right to make key medical decisions for each other.
Ehrlich said during a brief interview that he has not made a decision on the bill, which was viewed by some Republicans in the legislature as a step toward endorsing civil unions.
"I'm sympathetic to certain situations, particularly end-of-life situations," Ehrlich said.
He said yesterday on WBAL radio in Baltimore that the effect of the bill "is just something I have to weigh."
The House of Delegates yesterday added a last-moment amendment to the bill saying it is not intended to circumvent state law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.
Sponsors called it a friendly amendment, and Del. Murray D. Levy (D-Charles) said he believed it would clear up any "concern that it was a secret way of legitimizing" gay marriage.
Ehrlich, in his radio interview, also voiced support for stem cell research, "including embryonic stem cell research." Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor's comments should not be interpreted as support for specific legislation pending in the Senate.
Senate Backs Primary Change
The Maryland Senate adopted a provision last night that would move the state's primary date from September to June.
Democratic supporters of the proposal have argued that it would give the party's gubernatorial candidate more time to regroup for the November general election. Democrats Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan are both gearing up to seek the nomination to run against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) in 2006.
Many potential congressional candidates also favor the date change, particularly with a Senate seat in 2006 being vacated by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D).
The Senate voted 27 to 19 to add the measure to a pending election bill.
House leaders have been cool to the idea.
Slots Push Declared 'Dead'
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said yesterday that one of his signature issues, the legalization of slot-machine gambling, appears "dead" after a flurry of meetings late last week aimed at reviving a bill.
Ehrlich, speaking on WBAL radio, said it is also unlikely that Democrats will allow him a victory on slots next year, when he will be up for reelection.
This means slots are "dead for two more years," Ehrlich said.
Different versions of a slots bill have cleared the Senate and House of Delegates, and lawmakers have made little progress reconciling them.