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Maryland House votes on state's $39B budget

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Local,Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The state would be able to use eminent domain to take the property of film production companies that suddenly stop shooting in the state if the company has received more than $10 million in tax credits, under an amendment to budget legislation approved by the House of Delegates on Thursday.

The amendment was adopted in budget legislation. It cleared the House and headed to a panel of House and Senate negotiators to iron out differences in the state's $39 billion budget before the legislative session ends April 7. The conference committee would need to accept the change for it to stay in the budget.

The film provision, sponsored by Del. Bill Frick, comes as lawmakers are considering raising the amount of tax credits available to movie companies at a time when producers of a popular television show have threatened to stop filming in Maryland, if it doesn't receive more tax credits. Kevin Spacey, the star of the Netflix show "House of Cards," came to a local wine bar in Annapolis last week to greet lawmakers. Spacey plays Frank Underwood, a ruthless Washington politician in the show.

"Frank would not respond by just cutting them a larger check," Frick, D-Montgomery, said in an interview. "That's not what Frank Underwood would do. So, to me, it required a little bit of hardball, and that was hardball."

The state Senate has passed a bill to raise the amount Maryland can spend on the film tax credit program from $7.5 million to $18.5 million. The House hasn't acted on the measure. Last year, lawmakers raised the tax credit amount from $7.5 million to $25 million.

Separately, the House decided to stick with a plan already approved by the Senate to address a significant drop in revenue estimates earlier this month by using $200 million in money that had been planned to shore up the long-term health of the state pension system. The plan calls for restoring the full $300 million above the required annual payment gradually in several years.

Critics say the move was nothing more than another raid on funds set aside for a specific purpose, instead of doing the difficult work of fiscal restraint.

"This is a vicious cycle that perpetuates our budget problems," said Del. Gail Bates, R-Howard. "We call them one-time fixes, but we do it every year."

But supporters said lawmakers could not predict the state's current budget situation in 2011, when they approved the pension fund changes that generated the money. They say the move is only temporary and will prevent serious cuts to education and health.

"Budgeting is not a fixed science," said Del. Galen Clagett, D-Frederick. "Budgeting is a matter of flexibility, and trying to do what's in the best interest for the citizens of the state of Maryland, and crying wolf isn't in the best interest."

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