Lob­by­ing mounts to de­lay $672M bud­get cuts

Ho­gan to re­turn to Board of Pub­lic Works as groups urge panel to await fund­ing data

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Colin Camp­bell and Yvonne Wenger

Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan will pre­side over the state Board of Pub­lic Works this Wed­nes­day amid in­tense lob­by­ing against his pro­pos­als to cut $672 million from the up­com­ing state bud­get be­cause of an eco­nomic cri­sis caused by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Ad­vo­cates for ed­u­ca­tion and state em­ploy­ees, as well as oth­ers who favor wait­ing to get more data about the state’s in­com­ing rev­enues and pos­si­ble as­sis­tance from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, are urg­ing Ho­gan’s fel­low board mem­bers to vote against the cuts — or to at least post­pone ac­tion.

Mary­land and other state gov­ern­ments across the country have lost sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of their pro­jected in­come and sales tax rev­enue due to stay-at-home or­ders and other re­stric­tions. Ho­gan pro­posed Fri­day that the state re­duce spend­ing for the fis­cal year that starts Wed­nes­day by $1.45 bil­lion, in­clud­ing the $672 million in cuts to be con­sid­ered Wed­nes­day by the board. The cuts would have wide-rang­ing ef­fects across state gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing em­ployee raises, cut­ting va­cant po­si­tions and slash­ing fund­ing for pro­grams rang­ing from school se­cu­rity to pros­e­cut­ing vi­o­lent crime in Bal­ti­more.

The board con­sists of Ho­gan and two Democrats: State Comptrolle­r Peter Fran­chot and State Trea­surer Nancy Kopp. Since March 18, Repub­li­can Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford had led the

bi­weekly meet­ings so Ho­gan could con­cen­trate on the state’s re­sponse to COVID-19. Ho­gan’s spokesman said Mon­day the gover­nor would chair this week’s meet­ing.

Both Fran­chot and Kopp’s staffs said Mon­day it was too early to know if they would sup­port or re­ject the cuts. Aides for both said they were ask­ing ques­tions and re­search­ing the pro­pos­als.

State em­ploy­ees’ unions ob­ject to pro­pos­als that would elim­i­nate their raises, and have asked the board to post­pone vot­ing on the cuts to give more time for re­view and for more in­for­ma­tion to be­come avail­able about the state’s fi­nances. For in­stance, the dead­line for fil­ing state in­come taxes was ex­tended this year from April 15 to July 15.

The Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees Mary­land

Coun­cil 3, which rep­re­sents more state work­ers than any other union, planned a car car­a­van Tues­day from Bal­ti­more to Annapolis to protest the cuts.

The Mary­land State Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, the teach­ers’ union, urged Fran­chot and Kopp to vote against what it said were $110.8 million of im­me­di­ate cuts to ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams. That list in­cludes state grants that go to poorer coun­ties that are of­ten used to help fund schools, smaller con­tri­bu­tions to­ward teacher re­tire­ments, and cuts to the Healthy School Fa­cil­i­ties Fund, which pays for projects like air con­di­tion­ing and mold re­me­di­a­tion in pub­lic schools.

And the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Boards of Ed­u­ca­tion said Mon­day it “strongly op­poses the deep cuts to state fund­ing for pub­lic schools,” such as the pro­posed re­duc­tion in spend­ing on heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing up­grades.

“Mary­lan­ders over­whelm­ingly ap­proved a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment just two years ago to en­sure we add to, not sub­tract from, these very pro­grams and ser­vices,” the as­so­ci­a­tion said in a state­ment.

The group asked res­i­dents to con­tact state of­fi­cials and urge them to op­pose the cuts.

The na­tion’s gov­er­nors are lob­by­ing Congress to send bil­lions in re­lief to state gov­ern­ments to help them bal­ance their bud­gets in light of the pub­lic health emer­gency. Ho­gan spokesman Mike Ricci said the gover­nor is “lead­ing the bi­par­ti­san ef­fort na­tion­ally to se­cure fed­eral aid to pre­vent cuts and pro­tect state work­ers.”

As chair of the Na­tional Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion, Ho­gan stressed the ur­gent need for fed­eral aid to help states ad­dress bud­get pres­sures brought on by the pan­demic dur­ing a White House call Mon­day.

Ho­gan said on the call that states “face the prospect of dev­as­tat­ing cuts to es­sen­tial ser­vices,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from his of­fice. He has called on Congress to pro­vide an ad­di­tional $500 bil­lion for states and ter­ri­to­ries.

“Congress should not take any kind of Au­gust re­cess with­out pro­vid­ing this ur­gent fis­cal re­lief to the states,” Ho­gan said.

Ruther­ford has presided at the board’s meet­ings since March 18. That’s also when the board started meet­ing vir­tu­ally as part of so­cial dis­tanc­ing mea­sures to con­trol the spread of the virus.

Fran­chot’s spokes­woman, Su­san O’Brien, said that as re­cently as Fri­day af­ter­noon, the comptrolle­r’s staff con­firmed via text mes­sage with the gover­nor’s li­ai­son to the board that Ruther­ford would lead the next meet­ing, as well.

Fran­chot asked Ho­gan Mon­day morn­ing to re­turn to the meet­ing.

Asked Mon­day about the request, Ricci said, “The gover­nor has al­ways planned to pre­side over Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing.”

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