The Maryland House and Senate, less than a week before the end of the 1985 legislative session, divided sharply today over the state's $220 million capital budget, setting up a last-minute confrontation over politically important construction projects.
The House of Delegates had approved the full capital budget and today the Senate began approving its version of capital projects. Included in the list of items was a $27.9 million appropriation for a new shock trauma unit at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, the largest single item in the capital budget.
The Senate appropriation was for about $7 million more than the House approved and would boost the state's capital budget several million dollars over its legal $220 million limit.
For weeks, House and Senate leaders have differed on the proper funding level for the shock trauma project.
In part, House leaders felt the project was too expensive and inappropriately designed; they also wanted more money available for projects in individual districts.
Last week both sides, along with Gov. Harry Hughes, brokered a compromise that would grant the hospital $21 million in fiscal 1986 and promise a second $10 million payment the following year.
The shock trauma unit, though the major item separating the two houses, is only one of about 50 differences between the capital budgets prepared by the House and Senate.
The Senate, for example, gave the Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents at Cheltenham in southern Prince George's, an institution for youth with behavioral problems, a $1.7 million grant for building renovations.
The House declined to approve that grant, saying the center could not gear up to spend the money next year.
The House had granted Prince George's Hyattsville Justice Center $2 million versus the Senate's $1.8 million, and unlike the Senate, had folded the Hyattsville item into the state's $80 million General Construction Loan for state agencies, rather than leaving it a separate appropriation.
"I'm certainly not satisfied with the way we've resolved the entire capital program in the state," said Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee. "If the House wants to work with us, fine. If not, that'll be fine too."
"We might have been able to work out the differences before the Senate did shock trauma but that kind of thing tends to stir the soup," said Del. Robert Neall (R-Anne Arundel) a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Two things provoked the dispute over the shock trauma funding: quotes by House Appropriations committee chairman R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D-Kent County) in a Baltimore newspaper saying that he favored restrictions on a second $10-million grant to the hospital, and a belief by Senate Budget and Taxation Committee members that Mitchell and House Speaker Benjamin Cardin were refusing to sign a letter setting forth a commitment to seek the $10 million payment next year.
Shock Trauma partisans in the legislature wanted no restrictions on future funding, and they said the letter was important to seal the "gentlemen's agreement" to seek a second year of funding because this year's legislature cannot legally bind next year's body to that of expenditure.
Today Cardin said there had been no agreement to sign any such letter. The differences will be resolved in joint conference committee, he promised, before the last day of the session.