Party leaders wary heading into legislative session
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.
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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.