A deeply divided Senate budget and tax committee today began the long and tedious process of trying to cut up to $22 million from Gov. Harry Hughes' $6.4 billion budget. In more than four hours, it managed to trim less than $5 million before recessing about halfway through the afternoon's agenda. Many of the trims were not among those recommended by budget analysts.
In its final action of the day, the committee informally voted, 10 to 1, to recommend to the Senate Finance Committee that it change the state's pension laws this year. That vote took place after Sen. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel) proposed cutting $50 million out of the pension budget today to "send a message" to the finance committee.
"I don't think we can do that, I think we have to wait and see if they pass the legislation," said Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), the committee chairman. "We can't cut money from the budget when the law says it has to be in there."
The committee also sent a not-too-subtle message to Hughes about how it feels about his proposed new lottery, voting 6 to 5 to cut the state lottery's advertising budget from the $1.96 million requested to $1.5 million. "That's plenty for such a cheap boondoggle," said Sen. Julian L. Lapides (D-Baltimore).
Levitan had a long day trying to keep the feisty committee, with five freshmen among its 13 members, from bogging down completely. At one point members argued for 20 minutes over whether to cut $30,000 from the Department of Personnel's budget for service awards for employes.
"They really don't understand the process and the pace we need to move at," Levitan said. "Also, I think the freshmen are conservative as a group and inclined towards making some cuts."
That was apparent right away when the panel voted, 8 to 5, to cut a proposed $2.5 million increase in the state's travel budget.
The divisions within the committee were noticeable in both its discussions and votes. A recommendation to cut a $7,000 telephone hotline for the elderly was defeated on a 6-6 tie vote because Sen. Catherine I. Riley (D-Harford), who favored the cut, left to testify before another committee.
Later, a proposal to cut five positions previously funded by the federal government also appeared to fail on a 6-6 vote. But Lapides, the motion's sponsor, fetched Sen. Francis X. Kelly (D-Baltimore County) so he could deliver the decisive vote.
"I'm afraid to go get coffee," said Sen. Raymond E. Beck (D-Carroll). "I might lose two motions while I'm gone."
When the committee seemed in a mood to cut from 75 to 50 the number of new positions the board of public works is allowed to create, the normally quiet committee vice chairman, Clarence Blount (D-Baltimore), came out of his seat.
"Great," Blount said, "We pass this and they won't be able to hire extra prison guards. Then we'll have to come back here for a special session because we'll have prisoners guarding prisoners."
The committee voted, 11 to 2, to turn down a request from the veteran's commission for a motorized casket carrier.
"Tell them to get a forklift," said Sen. John C. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County).
"That would cost more than the motor," muttered Lou Stetler, secretary of the Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning.