BUD­GET

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - CNS cor­re­spon­dent Con­nor Glowacki con­trib­uted to this re­port.

bud­get with rel­a­tively lit­tle fuss, cutting $68 mil­lion of the $42.3 bil­lion bud­get.

The bud­get unan­i­mously passed in the Se­nate by a vote of 45-0, and passed in the House by a vote of 130-7.

“It’s been the best, eas­i­est in terms of lev­els of stress and dif­fer­ences,” Se­nate Bud­get and Tax­a­tion Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed­ward Kase­meyer (D-Bal­ti­more County) said of ne­go­ti­a­tions. “Ev­ery­body was very ac­com­mo­dat­ing.”

Ho­gan’s bud­get fully funded sev­eral Demo­cratic leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties — like pub­lic K-12 ed­u­ca­tion and higher ed­u­ca­tion — which re­moved a lot of ten­sion, Kase­meyer said.

The big­gest stick­ing point, which Kase­meyer said wasn’t all that con­tentious, was the is­sue of pro­posed aid to non­pub­lic schools. Ho­gan pro­posed $5 mil­lion for grants to pri­vate schools to match

con­tri­bu­tions from busi­nesses, but the General Assem­bly mod­i­fied that pro­posal, turn­ing it into a schol­ar­ship pro­gram for the state’s need­i­est stu­dents to at­tend pri­vate schools.

“It is es­pe­cially ex­cit­ing to see that both the Se­nate and House are back­ing our fight to pro­vide schol­ar­ships for stu­dents from low-in­come fam­i­lies to at­tend non­pub­lic schools,” Ho­gan said in a state­ment, de­spite the fact that the gover­nor’s plan was es­chewed for the stu­dent aid.

This year’s rel­a­tively smooth bud­get process stands in stark con­trast to last year’s bud­get bat­tle.

In his first term, Ho­gan tried to cut spend­ing and taxes while the Demo­cratic leg­is­la­ture fought to se­cure fund­ing for its leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing, state em­ployee pay raises and sub­si­dies for physi­cians who ac­cept Med­i­caid.

“A fis­cally re­spon­si­ble bud­get is our No. 1 pri­or­ity and it is the most im­por­tant bill that the Gen-

eral Assem­bly will pass,” Ho­gan said in a state­ment. “Its com­ple­tion weeks be­fore the end of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion sends a strong mes­sage to Mary­lan­ders that the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches work bet­ter when they work to­gether.”

House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­woman Mag­gie McIn­tosh (D-Bal­ti­more) said the con­fer­ence ne­go­ti­a­tions went smoothly, as there were “very few dif­fer­ences” be­tween the House and Se­nate ver­sions of the bud­get.

The fi­nal bud­get passed Tues­day is also very sim­i­lar to the bud­get Ho­gan orig­i­nally pro­posed, she said. In Mary­land, the gover­nor sets the bud­get and the leg­is­la­ture can cut money, but it can’t add. If leg­is­la­tors want to add money for a pro­gram, they can cut that money from the bud­get and “fence” it off.

“The gover­nor came in with a bud­get that fully funded ed­u­ca­tion, health­care and our pri­or­i­ties, and so there was lit­tle to ar­gue with there,” McIn­tosh said Tues­day.

Af­ter in­tro­duc­ing his ini­tial bud­get pro­posal on Jan. 20, Ho­gan sub­mit­ted three sup­ple­men­tal bud­gets to fund the con­struc­tion of a new Prince Ge­orge’s Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter, ad­dress blight in Bal­ti­more, pro­vide ad­di­tional fund­ing for K-12 ed­u­ca­tion, Univer­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land con­struc­tion projects, and heroin ad­dic­tion preven­tion and treat­ment pro­grams.

McIn­tosh said the bud­getary con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, which met Mon­day night, was “very pleased” with the bud­get’s fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The bud­get leaves Mary­land with a $400 mil­lion bal­ance and $1 bil­lion in the rainy day fund.

For ed­u­ca­tion, the bud­get al­lo­cates more than $6.3 bil­lion to pub­lic schools, ac­cord­ing to a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee re­port.

“The bud­get also in­cludes $19.4 mil­lion for five school sys­tems that have lost en­roll­ment and aid in re­cent years,” the re­port said. Fund­ing for Mary­land col­leges and

uni­ver­si­ties in­creases about 6 per­cent, while un­der­grad­u­ate tuition rates will in­crease by 2 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Un­der the bud­get, to­tal fund­ing for Med­i­caid ap­proaches $10 bil­lion, and spend­ing on sub­stance abuse dis­or­ders in­creases by $12.1 mil­lion, in­clud­ing $5.4 mil­lion for new and ex­panded ser­vices and treat­ments, the re­port said.

State leg­isla­tive an­a­lyst David Juppe said sub­stan­tively, the leg­is­la­ture is pass­ing a very sim­i­lar bud­get to the one Ho­gan orig­i­nally pro­posed. Ho­gan orig­i­nally al­lo­cated $53 mil­lion for trans­porta­tion aid fund­ing, which the General Assem­bly cut to $23 mil­lion, with $19 mil­lion go­ing to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and $4 mil­lion go­ing to lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions.

“I per­son­ally think the lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions came out on the los­ing end in this one,” said Del. Wen­dell Beitzel (R-Gar­rett, Al­le­gany).

The ease of ne­go­ti­a­tions may also be due to Mary­land’s eco­nomic stand­ing, which Juppe said has sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved since the re­ces­sion of 2008.

When Ho­gan took of­fice in 2015, he in­her­ited an $800 mil­lion general fund short­fall, which he fixed in part by can­celling pay in­creases for state em­ploy­ees and cutting 2 per­cent from state agen­cies across the board.

“Right now, things are pretty good, and when things are pretty good, there’s not a need to make sig­nif­i­cant cuts,” Juppe said.

Though many Repub­li­cans were pleased with the smooth process over­all, their largest con­cern — man­dated spend­ing — still re­mains un­re­solved.

“It’s a good com­pro­mise,” Sen. Ade­laide Eckardt (R-Caro­line, Dorch­ester, Tal­bot, Wi­comico), who sits on the Bud­get and Tax­a­tion Com­mit­tee, said of the bud­get deal. “The is­sue now is go­ing to be the pack­age we’re talk­ing about on the floor today with the man­dates.”

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