The House of Delegates gave final approval today to Gov. Harry Hughes' fiscal 1986 budget, leaving the $7.5 billion proposal largely untouched.
Counting all categories of funds, the House cut $59 million from Hughes' budget, but $32 million of that represents a largely meaningless cut that will remain only in the unlikely circumstance that the General Assembly increases the state tobacco tax by 8 cents per pack of cigarettes. A cut of $9 million represented expected savings from a new health insurance contract for state employes, which was announced last week.
After moving through a preliminary review in about two hours Thursday without prompting debate other than on controversial abortion funding language, the budget was voted on today without a murmur of protest. Only 10 of 131 delegates present voted against it.
The governor's spending plan is undergoing a somewhat more critical review in the Senate, where the budget committee on Tuesday approved an across-the-board cut equal to $35 million in salaries and fringe benefits of state employes. That so-called "management cut," which leaves up to state bureaucrats the task of deciding how to cut waste to reach savings targets, is likely to be the most contested item when a conference committee meets to resolve budget differences.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is not expected to complete its review of Hughes' budget until next week.
Although the House cut relatively little money from the budget, Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) today credited the Appropriations Committee with sprinkling the budget with language demanding greater accountability from state agencies on how they spend their funds.
Thursday, at the urging of Montgomery County legislators, the House added language to a section on Metro construction barring the state transportation secretary from vetoing rail location or construction decisions unless Congress requires Maryland to pay for all future rapid rail lines in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Montgomery officials said they feared that the previous wording of the budget section would have given state transportation officials too much power over decisions of the bicounty agency that funnels millions of dollars from Maryland to Metro every year.
The new language is pending in a Senate committee, which is expected to approve it.