ANNAPOLIS -- The state Senate approved Gov. Martin O'Malley's nearly $37 billion budget Wednesday, a 5 percent increase in spending from last year, after approving amendments increasing the amount of cash the state would have on hand to deal with federal cuts.
The Senate passed the budget 42-5 after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's and Calvert counties, made it clear he wanted to avoid a situation like last year, when the General Assembly had to come back for a special session after lawmakers failed to pass a budget during the regular 90-day session. Miller used a parliamentary tactic to speed up passage of the budget by one day.
The budget now goes to a conference committee to hammer out differences between the budgets passed by the House and Senate.
The budget increases funding for public safety, gives state workers their first raise in three years and adds money to the Rainy Day Fund.
O'Malley's proposed budget increased the percentage of the budget used for the rainy-day-fund from 5 to 6 percent -- about $921 million. The Senate reduced that to 5.5 percent but shifted $100 million away from pension payments, giving the state about an extra $20 million to help weather the sequester cuts.
A requirement of that $100 million pension shift was that the Senate pass a bill requiring the state to move away from a funding system that doesn't require the state to pay the full amount owed to pensions every year.
The Senate passed a House bill to do just that -- require Maryland to fully fund its pensions within 10 years. It also would potentially eliminate the $21 billion unfunded liability within 25 years.
Miller said he expects some disagreements with the House but said he was happy with the budget overall.
"People are happy that we're not cutting, cutting, cutting and that we're actually putting money into social programs to better the lives of people, but at the same time being fiscally responsible," he said, noting that revenue has picked up as Maryland recovers from the recession.
However, Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Eastern Shore, said revenue came on the backs of taxpayers who have paid $2.5 billion in additional taxes over the last six years.
"We've had a number of proposals to try and cut spending from the budget, and the governor's decided that tax and spend is a better way to go," Pipkin said.