The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to the state budget tonight after cutting about $33 million from the $3.9 billion budget proposed by Gov. Marvin Mandel, far short of cuts needed to offset a proposed one-cent increase in the sales tax.
The $33 million reduction approved by the House is about $22 million greater than cut by the Senate, but the House version includes $12 million that would be cut only if the sales tax increase is defeated.
After the House finished it's work at 6:30 p.m., Majority Leader John S. Arnick (D-Baltimore County) congratulated his colleagues for "working longer and harder" on the budget than at any time in his 11 years in the House.
"We used to spend 30 minutes, or maybe an hour on the budget," mused Del. Charles A. Docter (D-Montgomery), who said the three days of floor debate was an indication that the House Appropriations Committee had done a better job of examining and explaining the complicated process than in previous years.
The biggest reduction, in addition to the $10.9 million worth of cuts made by the Senate and adopted by the House, was an across-the-board cut of $1 million a month that would be implemented only if the sales tax remains at 4 per cent, instead of 5 per cent as proposed by Mandel.
Del. J. Hugh Nichols (D-Howard), chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, offered the packages of 50 amendments to "force cost-savings management improvements" on every department of state government.
Opponents of the across-the-board cuts denounced the idea as "irresponsible," with Del. Lucille Maurer (D-Montgomery) predicting that some departments would suffer "triple cuts in programs" because of voluntary cutbacks that were followed by selective reductions approved earlier in the budget-making process.
But the idea was approved by a voice vote, after austerity-minded delegates failed to amend the proposal and institute the cuts without regard to the outcome of the sales tax proposal.