Gov. Larry Hogan outlined a budget that he said reduces spending for next year. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun video)
Gov. Larry Hogan presented his budget proposal for the next fiscal year as something of a miracle — record funding for education, no tax increases, a $500 million projected shortfall closed, and no cuts to speak of. But it turns out that his administration is subject to the laws of math just like the rest of us. There are cuts to speak of, all right, and they fall squarely on Baltimore.
Mayor Catherine Pugh, Del. Maggie McIntosh, Sen. Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Michael E. Busch might dispute the governor's claim that he cut "almost nothing." In fact, he decimated the package of aid they and others put together last year to help Baltimore recover from the 2015 unrest. Mr. Hogan is, among other things, proposing to cut $8 million in incentives for teachers to work in the most challenging schools, $5 million for scholarships, $7.5 million for after-school programs, $5 million for a program to help anchor institutions like universities foster community development, $9 million from the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative Program Fund and $3 million to help keep city library branches open longer.
Meanwhile, although Mr. Hogan can rightly claim that K-12 education spending overall is at its highest level ever, direct state aid to Baltimore City schools is set to decline by $42 million at a time when the district is already facing a severe projected budget shortfall. Most of the reduction is due to a small decline in enrollment, but Mr. Hogan has provided extra funds in the past for jurisdictions in that situation.
Cuts fall elsewhere, too. State workers, for example, will receive no cost of living or step increases in their salaries next year. And Maryland's disabled residents and their caregivers will no doubt feel a proposed reduction in the growth in wages for woefully underpaid developmental disabilities service providers. The law had required a 3.5 percent increase in an effort to improve the recruitment and retention of such workers, but Mr. Hogan is limiting it to 2 percent. Promised aid for Prince George's Hospital declines by $15 million.
Mr. Hogan's proposal does win an irony award, though. In his first year in office, Mr. Hogan refused to spend funds legislators had set aside to help fund education because he objected to their reappropriation of money that had been designated as an overpayment into the state workers' pension fund. This year, Mr. Hogan is proposing to cut nearly $49 million in funds earmarked for an overpayment into the pension fund.
To be sure, there are positive aspects to Mr. Hogan's proposal. His boast that he managed to spend less money through the general fund this year than last reflects some tight management of agency budgets. Most agencies see their appropriations relatively flat, or even somewhat lower than last year, and the overall state workforce declines slightly under Mr. Hogan's proposal. He has not copied his predecessor's practice of raiding special funds, like Program Open Space, during times of budget duress, though his plan for closing out the current fiscal year with a positive balance in the state's accounts does rely on a $170 million transfer from the Rainy Day Fund. Mr. Hogan has also continued his practice of limiting proposed bond issues for capital projects, an important policy given that debt service payments are projected to be the fastest growing portion of the budget in the years ahead.
We also applaud him for taking up the idea of limiting the amount of extraordinary revenue that can be used to pay for ongoing expenses. Maryland has suffered from volatility in its revenues in recent years related mainly to capital gains taxes. Though the details of his proposal will be crucial, the concept is sound. We are less optimistic about his proposed reform to prevent mandated spending from growing faster than state revenues. Though it is a problem worth addressing, we favor a systematic review of the costs and benefits of the mandates enshrined in state law rather than the blanket relief Mr. Hogan is suggesting.
But there is no mistaking that Mr. Hogan's budget ax falls heavily on Baltimore City. It's wonderful that Mr. Hogan spoke at Mayor Pugh's inauguration and that he has voiced his commitment to the city in the wake of the riots that followed Freddie Gray's death. But this is a time to put our money where his mouth is. Baltimore has real needs, including a school system fighting to right itself fiscally and educationally and a police department that faces the prospect of expensive (and necessary) federally mandated reforms. A spokesman said the governor's spending proposal reflects his priorities for using a finite amount of money. Fair enough. But that means giving Baltimore the help it needs to recover is clearly not among them. In most cases, the legislature can restore the cuts. We hope and expect that it will.