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House Republicans to release alternative budget

Tuesday - 3/13/2012, 6:23pm  ET

Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Members of the Maryland House Republican caucus said Tuesday they believe they can avoid tax increases now under consideration in budget measures by funding education at the same level as last year and making additional cuts.

Delegate Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, said the caucus plan would cut the Geographic Cost of Education Index. The GCEI, which helps parts of the state where schooling costs more, takes up about $129 million in the governor's budget proposal. The plan also would cut money for stem cell research to save about $10 million.

The GOP's plan also aims to avoid a split of teacher pensions with the counties. The state currently picks up the entire tab. Gov. Martin O'Malley has proposed splitting teacher pension costs to save about $249 million. A Senate panel has changed the budget legislation to phase that pension shift over four years, instead of one.

Republicans are criticizing a variety of O'Malley proposals, including a gas tax and a "flush" tax increase on sewer bills. The Senate is considering an income tax increase to make up for other revenue in O'Malley's budget that ran into opposition.

"It's overwhelming," said Delegate Susan Aumann, R-Baltimore County. "Taxes have been introduced over the past year to keep up with the government spending addiction."

O'Malley, a Democrat, and lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled House of Delegates and Senate are aiming to balance this year's books and cut an ongoing $1.1 billion structural deficit in half with a mix of cuts, funding shifts and taxes.

But Delegate Gail Bates, R-Howard, said the state simply isn't managing its money responsibly.

"The problem is the growth in spending," Bates said. "It's not a revenue problem. We have got an out-of-control spending problem, and what happens is we spend and then we have to tax to backfill."

Delegate Adelaide Eckardt, R-Dorchester, said the governor's gas tax proposal is particularly exasperating to her constituents on the Eastern Shore, where residents have been hit by recent toll increases.

"My constituents feel like they're being nickel and dimed to death," Eckardt said. "Families are struggling and yet the spending goes on."

Republicans say they will try to incorporate some of their plan through amendments to budget legislation.

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