A package of House-passed bills aimed at bolstering Baltimore's economic health was approved by a Senate committee Thursday, putting them on a strong trajectory to become law.
The bills are part of an almost $300 million package put together by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to aid the economically-distressed city. With their joint support, the bills are expected to pass.
The bills provide state assistance for a variety of purposes, including the demolition of vacant buildings and the renovation of others in Baltimore and surrounding counties.
One of them provides grants to schools to help them add summer and after-school enrichment programs. Another would provide grants to "anchor institutions" as an incentive to locate in neighborhoods targeted for redevelopment.
"It was a great afternoon for Baltimore -- tough to beat," said Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who serves on the committee.
The Senate Budget & Taxation Committee approved some of the bills unanimously but passed others along party lines as the minority Republicans objected to the mandated spending in the bills, which now go to the Senate floor.
Some have been changed from the House versions, but Ferguson said the differences are minor and should be easily resolved.
Gov. Larry Hogan has expressed reservations about the package based on provisions requiring the governor to include specific minimum amounts in the state budget for the programs it creates.
Five House-passed bills that the panel approved Thursday include about $50 million in required spending in the budget Hogan will submit next January.
Some of the spending is for purposes Hogan has endorsed, such as building demolition and redevelopment of blighted neighborhoods. But he has taken a hard line against mandates.
"There's a lot of elements in that package we agree with," said Hogan spokesman Matthew A. Clark. "The mandated elements, we don't want to see more mandates."
Ferguson said he appreciates Hogan's position but believes the spending requirements serve a purpose.
"The mandates provide a level of certainty that demonstrates a kind of investment to solve complex problems," he said.