A measure to close loopholes that some local governments have been using to avoid meeting school funding requirements in Maryland was approved Friday by two House committees.
The House Ways and Means Committee and the House Appropriation Committee approved the same legislation already passed by the Senate to advance the measure to the House of Delegates.
Maryland local governments are supposed to spend at least the same amount on a per pupil basis as the previous year, but several counties have failed to do that in the aftermath of the recession. The measure would enable the state to take back money that counties collect on a piggyback tax on state income taxes and ship it directly to schools.
The measure would give counties credit for saving money. Under the current law, even if a county finds savings, it still has to spend the same amount it did the previous year. The bill also would give counties credit, if they have been spending more than necessary on education in past years.
“We put teeth into the maintenance of effort, but I think we also gave some recognition to the counties of tough economic times and giving them some relief -- and structured relief,” said Delegate Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery.
Republicans described the bill as an overreach of state government that will saddle struggling counties with greater burdens, particularly as lawmakers are moving toward splitting teacher pension costs to the counties as well.
The measure also would allow a county where voters have imposed a cap on property tax rates to raise them, if the money goes to education. Five Maryland counties have such a cap.
“I just think that's overbearing. That is big government in your face like I've never seen,” said Delegate Adelaide Eckardt, R-Dorchester.
The House initially proposed allowing counties to increase the 3.2 percent piggyback tax on income. The Senate took that provision out of the bill, and the House committees concurred with the change.
The measure is one of four bills that are being considered in tandem to balance the state's books for the next fiscal year and cut an ongoing $1.1 billion deficit in half.
The House Appropriations Committee also worked late Friday night to pass the state state's $35.9 billion budget.
On Monday, delegates are scheduled to work on a separate measure that would raise income taxes for most taxpayers.
Lawmakers also will be working on a separate budget reconciliation bill. That measure contains a provision that would split teacher pension costs between the state and counties. The state now pays the entire cost. The split would be phased in over four years. The measure also includes a provision to apply the state's sales tax to online sales and a tax increase in tobacco products other than cigarettes.
Any differences between the House and Senate on the package of budget legislation will have to be worked out before the April 9 adjournment.