It may not prevent a tax increase, but the House Appropriations Committee wants to cut $4,000 from the household account at the Governor's Mansion as part of its effort to narrow the gap between proposed expenditures and anticipated revenues in Gov. Marvin Mandel's proposed budget.
Citing "lack of justification," the committee voted last week to deny requests for $2,500 worth of linens and $1,500 for china and flatware at Government House, where Mandel and his family live.
Those items were among $33.7 million in cuts suggested by the House committee as it got down to the task - some say impossible - of trying to balance the state's budget without a tax increase.
The two committees that are charged with dealing with the budget, Appropriations in the House and Budget and Taxation in the Senate, got together Friday to see how their preliminary proposals fit together.
They has as much trouble getting their ideas to mesh as a drunken sailor has gliding his boat into a slip at the Annapolis city dock. The big problem was in approach. The House tried to see if enough cuts could be made in Mandel's proposals to avoid a tax increase, while the Senate began with the view that a tax increase is unavoidable.
Del. John R. Hargreaves (D-Caroline), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, gave his charges a pep talk before the joint meeting with the Senators.
"I have been getting a strong message from the people at home, and that is, 'for one time, please, live within your revenues,'" Hargreaves said. "If expenses are growing 8 per cent and revenues only 6 per cent, cut."
Hargreaves told his subcommittee chairman to "examine the budget carefully. Don't be frivolous. Justify the cuts. But put aside the effect of a tax increase. Don't depend on that."
Over in the Senate, budget and taxation chairman Sen. Ron N. Staten (D-Baltimore County), said simply, "we can't avoid a tax increase." Staten criticized his counterparts in the House for proposing cuts "that not even they will vote for when it comes down to it."
So when the two committees met in the hearing room of the Legislative Services Building, they had managed to agree on cuts of $5.8 million, a pittance in a $3.9 billion budget in which Mandel left a gaping $175.8 million shortfall in revenues.
In his budget message to the legislature on Jan. 19, Mandel proposed increasing the sales tax rate from 4 per cent to 5 per cent to balance the budget, and his strongest ally in the Senate, Staten, apparently is going to go along with that request without a fight.
Increasing the sales tax would bring in an extra $120 million, and increased revenue as the result of the growing popularity of the lottery's daily numbers game could permit funding most of the requested items.
Unlike previous years when, as Staten recalled, the so-called "difference meeting" like Friday's became a horse-trading session (we'll give up this pet project if you'll give up that one) the Senate made few concessions Friday.
The House proposed $21.4 million cuts in the general fund above the agreed upon $5.8 million reductions, while the Senate approved cutting only a measly $23,000 more.
As if to further emphasize the differences in approach of the two bodies, Del. William M. Linton (R-Baltimore County), the House minority leader, won quick agreement from his colleagues to add those two Senate items, totalling $23,000, to their agreedupon cuts.
Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery) said the actions represent "the difference in concept . . . The House was looking to cut enough funds to avoid an increase in the sales tax. Our position is that you can't cut enough to avoid it."
While the House scrutinized the budget to ferret out such obscure expenditures such as linens and dishes at the Governor's Mansion, its major cutbacks came in three area that, according to Staten, must be financed either by the Staten, must be financed either by the state or its subdivisions.
The biggest cut, $10.2 million, would result from refusal of the state to increase social security contributions for public school teachers. The state has been paying the full cost of that program although it is not required by law to do it.
Del. Frank B Pesci Sr. (D-Prince George's), recommended that local school boards pick up the difference between the current level of payment of 4.85 per cent and the new rate of $6.05 per cent.
"The counties and Baltimore city are counting on that contribution," said Staten. "We just can't take it away after all these years."
Levitan and Staten also pointed to a proposed $5.6 million reduction in grants and subsidies to community colleges as an example of unrealistic cuts.
The third major cut proposed by the House falls in the catergory of a "bookkeeping gimmick," according to Staten. The House proposed cutting the state's Medicaid funding by $5 million.
"That either means paying the bills the next year, or telling people they can't get sick," said Staten.
If the Senate manages to keep those major items in the budget, a tax increase would be inevitable. But the line-item scrutiny by the House might not be totally wiped out.Here are some of the smaller reductions proposed by the House:
Elimation of 85 jobs that have been vacant for nearly a year.
Elimination of most out-of-state travel by state employees.
Posponing purchase of new vehicles for use of state employees.
Reducing by half the $2,000 annual sultants and analysts hired by various departments.
Combing publication of state magazines on conservation and fish and wildlife and cutting the subsidy of Maryland Magazine by $160,000 with the recommendation that it accept advertisements and become selfsustaining.
Reducing by half the $2,000 annual allowance for trophies for fishing tournaments sponsored by the natural resources department.
Transfer of ownership of the convention hall at Ocean City to the town so the local government would pick up the operating deficit. The state would continue to pay the $300,000 bond obligation.
Eliminating the $3,700 now paid to Col. William A. (Box) Harris, one of Mandel's executive assistants, as "active duty pay" by the state military department for work in recruiting minorities to join the National Guard. "The number of personnel on federal pay status who perform this work is more than adequate," the Appropriations Committee said.