The Maryland General Assembly yesterday approved a $4.35 billion budget that provides tax relief for homeowners, pay raises for state employes, increased aid to schools and liberal guidelines for state funding of abortions.
After agreeing to accept conference committee recommendations on several controversial spending programs, the Senate voted 28 to 19 to pass the budget. The House of Delegates gave approval Friday night.
The budget includes broad guidelines for use of state medicaid funds to pay for abortions. The main restriction is a requirement that a single doctor certify that continued pregnancy would damage the woman's health.
The spending package - which is 10 percent higher than last year's budget - provides about $30 million in tax credits for homeowners, an extra $30 million in aid to education and $22 million worth of income tax relief.
State employes will receive a 5 percent increase in wages and fringe benefits and welfare recipients will get an additional $4 million in aid. The budget also includes an extra $12 million in aid to lacal police forces.
The primary Senate opposition to the budget came from senators who have strenuously worked this session to place restrictions on the controversial spending of state funds for abortions for poor women.
"We're stamping moral corruption," said Sen. Jerome F. Connell Sr. (D-Anne Arundel) who opposed the abortion guidelines. "In spite of the fact that we believe abortion on demand is wrong, we're going to fund it anyway."
Until now, poor women have been able to obtain state money to pay for the medical procedure without restriction. The state spends about $1.5 million a year on about 6,000 abortions.
Last Friday night, the Senate passed almost all of the package of property-tax relief legislation, which is funded in the budget that was enacted yesterday. Only one bill, a measure that gives $13 million in state aid to local police departments, still remain to be passed.
The total tax packages has not been enacted, however, because the Senate tacked on some amendments to the bills passed by the House, and the House must now concur in those technical amendments.
One of the two key measures contained in the package is an administration-sponsored bill that would roll back by 10 percent that amount of a home's value on which taxes are levied.
Ideally, this legislation would result in a 10 percent reduction of all home-owners' property tax bills; realistically it would cut into local revenues so drastically that most local governments will have to raise their tax rate, thus cutting into homeowners' potential tax savings.
The second of the two key bills is the controversial tax-credit program, which is designed to tie property tax relief to both the homeowner's income and the tax rate in the jurisdiction where the homeowner lives.
Under this program, homeowners under the age of 60 would be eligible for up to $450 in tax credits on property tax bills. An estimated 124,000 homeowners statewide are expected to qualify for some relief under the program including 24,000 in Montgomery County and 17,500 in Prince George's.