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The Aegis
The Aegis Opinion

Sen. J.B. Jennings: State budget surplus, mental health crisis require common-sense solutions | COMMENTARY

There are certain things one can count on each year with regard to the Maryland General Assembly. The legislative session will convene at noon on the second Wednesday in January, and the session will adjourn 90 days later at midnight on a Monday in April. During the time in between, the members of the General Assembly will consider an array of legislative proposals on a variety of issues that ultimately will impact the lives of all Marylanders.

With more than 2,000 legislative bills introduced during this session and adjournment just around the corner, it would be remiss to ignore the major issue driving much of the legislative conversation in Annapolis this year — Maryland’s unprecedented budget surplus.

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In an ideal world one would expect the General Assembly to return to Maryland taxpayers the $7.5 billion budget surplus, which was created by higher than expected Maryland tax revenues and a massive infusion of federal funds created by taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, reversing the majority party’s will to spend is an unrealistic expectation.

In reality, the only option left is to work to ensure the surplus is allocated in such a way as to advance legislative proposals that strengthen our communities without launching new programs that will require future tax or fee increases on Maryland residents in order to sustain them.

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With this in mind, I support a combination of legislative priorities that incorporate tax relief through a reduction in state sales and retirement taxes while at the same time tirelessly defending Maryland’s small businesses against onerous legislative proposals that may financially devastate these businesses as they continue to recover from post COVID-19.

Moreover, I continue to support public safety measures that impose stricter penalties against violent offenders, while supporting legislative opportunities to make a difference in the lives of Marylanders on issues, such as mental health, that have been exacerbated by the nearly two years of shut downs, school closures and quarantines caused by COVID-19 restrictions.

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As the ranking Republican member on the Senate Finance Committee, I am keenly aware of the mental health crisis in Maryland.

According to testimony provided by the Mental Health Association of Maryland before this committee, “nearly 40 percent of Marylanders reported symptoms of anxiety or depression last year, and yet a third of those individuals were unable to get needed counseling or therapy; over 45 percent of Maryland youths aged 12 to 17 who reported symptoms of depression over the last year did not receive any mental health care; nearly 3,000 Marylanders died from a drug overdose last year and another 650 lost their lives to suicide.”

This is why I am particularly proud to announce that I, with my fellow Harford County senators, were able to secure $2 million in funding that was allocated in this year’s state budget for the Klein Family Harford Crisis Center. Founded in 2018, this community crisis center operates a public/private partnership with the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health and provides three levels of care regardless of insurance or ability to pay to those struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues: urgent care walk-ins, residential crisis beds, and an outpatient mental health center. The Klein center is open 24 hours, 7 days a week and provides county residents a more effective alternative to a hospital emergency room. Without this funding 24-hour urgent care would not be possible.

I continue to be awed at the resilience and strength of residents of Baltimore and Harford counties as well as all over the state. Over the past few years, the pandemic has drastically changed each and every one of our lives either personally or indirectly.

While so much has changed, my priorities as your elected state Senator remain the same: to advance common-sense legislative initiatives that make our community a safe and affordable place to live, work, raise a family and retire.

In closing, I want to encourage all to stay engaged in the legislative process and to reach out to me anytime with your comments, concerns and ideas — by phone (410) 841-3706 or via email jb.jennings@senate.state.md.us. It’s an honor to serve you.

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Jennings is Republican senator for District 7 representing Harford and Baltimore counties.


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