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Hogan releases $68M for state employee raises

Gov. Larry Hogan releases $68 million to allow state employees to keep the pay raise they received Jan. 1.

Maryland state employees will continue to get the 2 percent pay raise they received Jan 1.

Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that he will spend $68 million designated by the General Assembly to keep the raise in place July 1, when the new budget year begins. He made the announcement while proclaiming Wednesday as State Employee Recognition Day.

Hogan's original budget proposal in January would have canceled the cost-of-living increase for state employees, including those who work for state universities. The legislature made enough cuts elsewhere to retain the raises and urged the governor to use the money for that purpose.

Lawmakers also found another $110 million to restore some Medicaid spending and aid to 13 school systems, including Baltimore's, where the cost of educating children is higher. The legislature passed its budget over Hogan's objections to some of the alternate cuts, especially the decision to pay $75 million less into the state pension system than the governor proposed.

Hogan did not say whether he plans to restore funding for the heath care or education programs. The Assembly does not have the power to require the governor to spend that money.

In a news release, Hogan praised state employees for the work they do.

"State employees are the backbone of our government and it is an honor to serve the people of Maryland alongside them," he said. "What I witnessed last week in Baltimore once again underscored their selfless dedication and commitment to our citizens."

Hogan said that in spite of the state's fiscal challenges, he would give employees the raises they "need and deserve."

Jeff Pittman, a spokesman for the state employee union AFSCME, said the decision should not be viewed as granting a raise.

"Today's announcement is Governor Hogan just admitting he won't cut the money state employees have already got," Pittman said. "Our concern is that Governor Hogan has not said whether he will furlough state employees."

Hogan said in January that he would balance the state budget without furloughs or layoffs. A spokesman for the governor, Doug Mayer, said Wednesday that there have been no discussions of furloughs since then.

One of the architects of the plan that gave the governor the discretion to spend the money to restore the pay raises hailed Hogan's decision as "great" but kept the pressure on him to restore the school aid and Medicare spending.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the time Hogan has spent in Baltimore since the rioting last week might have helped him see how much that money is needed.

"I really am hopeful that the governor and his presence in the city will help him see the way to releasing the remaining money," she said. McIntosh said the $11 million in education aid that would go to Baltimore alone — out of about $68 million statewide — could make the difference in whether summer school programs are available to students in the city this year.

McIntosh's Senate counterpart, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, also welcomed Hogan's announcement Wednesday.

"To have taken [the pay raise] away just wouldn't have been fair, so I give the governor credit for taking that step," said Kasemeyer, a Howard County Democrat. Like McIntosh, he urged Hogan to release the education and health care money the legislature earmarked for those purposes.

"It would all make him look good," Kasemeyer said.

But Hogan said at a news conference Wednesday that his experience in Baltimore over the past week "doesn't impact whatsoever" his decision on whether to release the other money. He said "not a single person" he had met in the city mentioned a need for more education money, while many asked for recreation centers and jobs.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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