STATE BUDGET

O'Malley Sends 'Modest' Bill Package to Legislators

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) proposed last night allowing local jurisdictions to use speed cameras, requiring new schools to be constructed to meet "green" energy-efficient standards and tightening a law that restricts growth in environmentally sensitive areas.

The proposals were included in a package of 18 bills that O'Malley is asking the General Assembly to pass during its 90-day session, which started this month. Much of the governor's agenda had been previewed in a series of recent news conferences, including plans to expand the state's DNA database and step up oversight of the mortgage-lending industry.

But the governor's legislative package also includes several additional proposals, including calling for the divestiture of state investment dollars from Iran and initiatives intended to aid veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

The proposals come on the heels of a grueling special session in November, in which lawmakers passed $1.4 billion in annual tax increases and directed O'Malley to cut $550 million from next year's budget to bolster the state's long-term finances.

O'Malley is not asking for anything so ambitious from lawmakers this session. In a statement, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) characterized the agenda as "modest and responsible steps our administration can take to deliver on its promise to strengthen our middle class, improve public safety and education and to increase opportunities around the state."

A separate legislative briefing yesterday suggested that the state's finances will be a major focus on the current session. Concerned that a weakened economy could reduce expected tax revenue, leading lawmakers suggested that they might make additional cuts to the budget O'Malley submitted to the legislature last week.

"With the state of the national economy, it gives me a great deal of pause," said Del. Norman H. Conway (D-Wicomico), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "The key is holding down spending."

The $15.2 billion general budget submitted by O'Malley for the fiscal year that starts in July is balanced under current projections. But it leaves just $176 million in unallocated cash beyond the state's mandated "rainy day" fund.

Warren Deschenaux, the legislature's nonpartisan chief fiscal analyst, told lawmakers they might consider leaving more money on the table when they adjourn in April, to help weather any economic downturn.

"In sum, the data suggest a cautious approach," Deschenaux said.

O'Malley's speed cameras proposal would give other jurisdictions authority similar to what Montgomery County has, allowing officials to monitor schools zones and certain residential areas. The governor is also proposing the use of cameras in work zones.

O'Malley's "green" building proposal is one of several initiatives on energy policy and the environment in his package. It would apply to new state buildings, including schools. Although construction costs could be higher initially, the proposal is geared toward reducing energy costs, which would save money in the long run.

The governor is also asking the legislature to codify an administration goal to reduce statewide per-capita energy consumption 15 percent by 2015. He also is proposing a "strategic energy investment fund" that will promote the use of emerging energy-efficient technology, as well as expanded incentives to use solar and geothermal energy.

Another O'Malley bill proposes priorities for spending money from a $50 million-a-year fund created to aid the Chesapeake Bay that was created during November's special session.

The governor's package includes revisions to the state's Critical Areas Law, which is designed to restrict growth near the bay and other environmentally sensitive areas. Another bill seeks to promote transit-oriented development by empowering the state to play a greater role in advancing such projects.


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