Baltimore lawmakers vow 'any means necessary' to regain state funding

"We are prepared to take any means necessary," Baltimore senator says of restoring state funding.

Infuriated Baltimore state lawmakers vowed Thursday to reverse Gov. Larry Hogan's budget cuts that revoked money for programs passed last year to help the city's poorest residents.

"This is a watershed moment," said Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat on the Budget and Taxation Committee. "We are prepared to take any means necessary."

Hogan erased at least $32 million planned for new or expanded Baltimore initiatives, including scholarships to poor students, extended hours at Enoch Pratt Free Library branches and mentorship programs for students who hope to go to college. Other new programs would pay for after-school programs, teacher retention and encouragement of development in blighted areas.

Meanwhile, Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, who lobbied for many of the Baltimore bills as a state senator last year, predicted dire consequences if state funding for city schools is reduced by $42 million from last year, as the budget proposes.

"We can't recover from that," she said. "If we're ever going to move the city forward, part of it has to be what we do for our children."

The declining state education aid is a function of a funding formula, though in past years the state further subsidized city schools with one-time grants. Hogan did not propose one this year.

Del. Curt Anderson, chair of the all-Democratic Baltimore City delegation, said Hogan told him at a breakfast meeting with the Legislative Black Caucus that local delegations need to negotiate with fellow lawmakers about how to find the money, since the budget is now in their hands. A spokesman for Hogan confirmed the governor's position.

"I see room to work with the budget committees to get this money back, but we're not going to have the governor's help," Anderson said. "We're not counting on him."

Lawmakers said it was too soon to identify what they planned to cut in order to restore funding to the city. Hogan's $43.5 billion spending plan was unveiled Wednesday. Legislative budget analysts will present their first review to lawmakers Monday.

Hogan said Thursday that he warned the General Assembly not to pass new funding initiatives last year because the state could not afford them. The Baltimore initiatives became law without his signature, and he said new spending in next year's budget was sacrificed to close a $544 million budget gap.

"We were not able to fund all of the new wishes that the legislature tried to add into the package because there is simply no money to pay for them," he said.

The governor, a Republican, said that Baltimore receives more money than any other jurisdiction in the state, and that total state aid for Baltimore is increasing compared with last year.

"Saying we're not focused on Baltimore is completely misleading," Hogan said.

The Baltimore package was pushed last year by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. The Democrats said this week that they would seek to restore it but did not offer suggestions on how to pay for it.

Pugh said she requested a meeting with Hogan, who promised at her inauguration in December that he had "a shared vision for Baltimore" and would work with her. The Democrat hopes to leverage her relationship.

"I know the state has shortfalls and so do we, but I'm a little bit disappointed because those were very, very important programs helping us to move our city forward," Pugh said.

"I'm not afraid to ask for help."

While some lawmakers may complain that Baltimore gets a lot of state funding, Pugh said the city has more needs than many jurisdictions.

"We've got a lot of problems in Baltimore, we understand that," she said. "But we also know that part of what we are hoping the state will understand is our need to be a partner in all of this. … There is a lot of optimism in our city of what it can be, but we need state help, we need federal help, and we'll do our part."

The governor's position that legislators can work out among themselves how to pay for the programs frustrated Del. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat.

"You're making us get on our knees and beg again," McCray said.

One of the programs, the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative, was supposed to get $12 million. Hogan proposed $3 million.

McCray said just a small amount of money spent in that program has yielded transformational effects. In the Station East neighborhood, a community association used the program to repair rundown facades on a block of homes. Instead of a row of homes that look mostly vacant, now "the whole block looks different," he said.

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