Party lead­ers wary head­ing into leg­isla­tive ses­sion

Record Observer - - NEWS - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com

CAM­BRIDGE — Un­cer­tainty with a U.S. Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and with sev­eral lin­ger­ing is­sues at home, in­clud­ing a tough bud­get sea­son, likely will be key is­sues to tackle in the up­com­ing Mar yland Gen­eral Assem­bly leg­isla­tive ses­sion in An­napo­lis, party lead­ers said Fri­day, Dec. 9.

State House, Se­nate and mi­nor­ity party lead­ers cus­tom­ar­ily give a leg­isla­tive out­look at the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Coun­ties win­ter con­fer­ence, which was held at the Hyatt Regency Ch­e­sa­peake in Cam­bridge be­tween Wed­nes­day, Dec. 7, and Fri­day, Dec. 9.

This year, long­time Demo­cratic lead­ers Se­nate Pres­i­dent Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch were joined by Repub­li­can Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader J.B. Jen­nings and spe­cial ad­vi­sor to Gov. Larry Ho­gan, Keif­fer Mitchell.

Jen­nings, R-7-Bal­ti­more County, said it is dif­fi­cult to fore­cast in­com­ing rev­enues.

“We have some in­cred­i­ble peo­ple, they’re ex­tremely skilled, they do their best, but again, it’s guess­ing,” Jen­nings said. “You know, it’s like weath­er­men, you don’t al­ways know what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

With cur­rent rev­enues in the state fall­ing shorter than pre­dicted last year when Mary­land leg­isla- tors passed the state’s bud­get, some pro­grams in the state will face cuts, said Miller, D-27-Calvert.

“When we left the (2016 leg­isla­tive) ses­sion, we had a bil­lion dol­lars in the rainy day fund, we had $400 mil­lion sur­plus and spent $50 mil­lion less than what the gov­er­nor orig­i­nally pro­posed in Jan­uary,” Miller said.

“You’ve got a rev­enue short­fall of a bil­lion dol­lars. What that means is we go into the ses­sion in Jan­uary with a $400 mil­lion hole,” he said. “That means some­thing is go­ing to get cut. We’re not go­ing to raise any taxes. We’re not go­ing to raise any fees ... We’re go­ing to have to cut some pro­grams.”

Busch, D-30A-Anne Arun­del, said the Ho­gan Ad­min­is­tra­tion brings the bud­get to the Gen­eral Assem­bly, and “hav­ing done this nu­mer­ous years ... there’s not a whole lot of places the gov­er­nor can go” in bud­get cuts, mean­ing spend­ing on things like higher ed­u­ca­tion, cor­rec­tional pro­grams or Med­i­caid might need to be re­duced.

Mitchell said 80 per­cent of the bud­get is man­dated spend­ing and the gov­er­nor is “very much con­cerned” about that.

“Our rev­enues have in­creased by 3 per­cent; how­ever, spend­ing con­tin­ues to in­crease, and so the gov­er­nor is very much con­scious of that,” Mitchell said. “He came in on a pledge to try to rein in spend­ing, so look for some type of pro­posal for man­date re­lief.”

But more un­cer­tainty for Mary­land looms with an in­com­ing Trump pres­i­dency, Miller, Busch and Jen­nings said.

“No one knows what the Trump fac­tor is go­ing to be,” Busch said.

Trump has said he is go­ing to go into his pres­i­dency and “drain the swamp,” a phrase mean­ing get­ting rid of peo­ple in gov­ern­ment who are cor­rupt.

Mary­land is tied to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Miller said. Many Mary­land workers de­pend on fed­eral jobs.

“The pres­i­dent (Trump) says he’s go­ing to ‘drain the swamp.’ That swamp, we’re de­pen­dent upon those jobs,” Miller said.

Busch said those fed­eral workers largely live in Montgomery, Prince Ge­orge’s, Fred­er­ick and Charles coun­ties, but it would have an af­fect on all of Mary­land.

“They start los­ing in­come, their in­come tax goes down, the state cof­fers go down,” Busch said.

“Montgomery county is the eco­nomic en­gine that drives the state. Just to give you an idea, there’s a lit­tle more than a mil­lion peo­ple in Mont­gomer y County. If you took all the East­ern Shore coun­ties, Gar­ret County, Al­legheny County, Wash­ing­ton County, Car­roll County and put them to­gether — that’s 13 coun­ties — Montgomery County would have 200,000 more peo­ple than all those coun­ties put to­gether,” Busch said “So the eco­nomic en­gine that comes out of Montgomery County af­fects the wel­fare of ev­ery­body in the state of Mary­land.”

Mar yland’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion starts Jan. 11.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @jboll_ star­dem.

PHOTO BY JOSH BOLLINGER

From left, Spe­cial Ad­vi­sor to the Gov­er­nor Keif­fer Mitchell, Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader J.B. Jen­nings, House Speaker Michael Busch, Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Coun­ties Board Pres­i­dent Kevin Kamenetz and Se­nate Pres­i­dent Mike Miller at the leg­isla­tive pre­view Fri­day, Dec. 9, in Cam­bridge.

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