FY2019 state budget doesn't do enough to give back to MD taxpayers [Commentary]

One of a series of weekly commentaries from Harford County state legislators regarding the 2018 Maryland General Assembly session.

In his State of the State Address, Governor Hogan stated: “let’s work together to protect hardworking Marylanders from the impact that the federal tax overhaul will have on Maryland’s state and local taxes… we certainly can come together in Annapolis to ensure that this money remains in the pockets of Maryland citizens where it belongs.”

The Senate President and the Speaker of the House agreed. The federal tax cut will lower taxes paid to the IRS for many, but the state will have a windfall due to the way taxpayers are asked to report. The House Ways and Means Committee (of which I am a member) has worked with the Appropriations Committee to try and mitigate the tax changes passed by Congress in FY 2019’s operating budget by passing legislation to help taxpayers keep their money in their pockets.

While these bills are still in the Senate, once sent to the governor they will become effective. Included is a pension income exclusion that will expand and allow income from IRAs and annuities to be included within the subtraction modification on tax returns while the existing state subtraction modification for retired military has a four-year phase-in of additional exemptions until it reaches 100 percent of total retirement income.

Another bill extends a subtraction modification for retired correctional officers in addition to retired law enforcement, fire, rescue and emergency services personnel.

As of today, over $30 million in new state funding is in the FY2019 budget to promote safety in Maryland’s schools. This money can be used for school resource officers, counselors and additional technology to protect our most valuable resource… our children. We believe that the increase in resources will help address the widespread problem of school safety.

In addition, an emergency administration bill would require each school system to develop a school emergency plan and to complete safety assessments annually. The school’s plans must include a detailed plan for addressing behavioral threats and emergency events. Each school must have at least one threat assessment team to provide guidance to students, faculty and staff on recognizing threatening or aberrant behavior. Members of the school community to whom threatening behavior should be reported must be identified. Each local school system must employ a security administrator who is certified by the Maryland Center for School Safety. A Safe Schools Fund will be established to provide grants to local school systems to implement these emergency plans and to install other safety improvements.

In the FY2019 budget, $39 million is dedicated to the opioid crisis through the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, which is aiding in battling the epidemic, through addiction counseling and law enforcement efforts to battle drug trafficking. Del. [Andrew] Cassilly and I have also proposed specific legislation that fights this epidemic through heavier penalties imposed on selling, distributing, or providing heroin and/or fentanyl to minors.

I supported a number of amendments to the budget. Among them an amendment to shift $1 million from the Maryland Defense Act, which is allocated to the Attorney General’s Office to sue the federal government, to support school resource officer programs and enhance student and school safety. Sadly, these amendments did not pass.

So, while we supported the FY2019 operating budget, Del. Cassilly and I did not support the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, also known as the BRFA. Right now, over 70 percent of the state budget is mandatory spending. Common sense solutions must prevail. We need to meet the needs of individuals and organizations in Maryland, but excess funding from the federal government should be returned to the people who earned it in the first place. Working with Governor Hogan, the conservatively balanced FY2019 operating budget promotes stability and growth in our state. We choose not to support the BRFA, but to gladly support the governor’s budget for the upcoming year, and will continue to work toward a stable and thriving state.

I appreciate the bi-partisan efforts through legislation to give back to the taxpayers what they deserve. But, I do not feel that the passed legislation goes far enough to return the projected windfall back to the taxpayers; we will wait to see what the FY2020 budget and legislation does to give the citizens of Maryland their due refunds.

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