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Maryland spending board approves $63 million in state budget cuts

The state Board of Public Works approved $63 million in budget cuts proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday after dropping a plan to reduce aid to local governments by $6 million.

The Maryland Constitution gives the board power to make budget cuts between General Assembly sessions at the suggestion of the governor. Hogan, a Republican, won the votes of the two Democrats on the board, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

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"This is not something new," Franchot said. "This is one of the most important functions of the board."

The cuts amounted to less than 0.2 percent of the state's $43.5 billion budget. They included some reductions in aid to local governments, to colleges and to the juvenile justice system. Thirty vacant positions in higher education were eliminated.

Hogan's original plan called for about $68 million in cuts, but the administration dropped its proposal for a 3.6 percent reduction in the $166 million local aid program known as disparity grants, which benefit the state's less-wealthy jurisdictions.

The board's action preserves $1 million in aid to Baltimore and $4 million in assistance to Prince George's County that otherwise would have been cut. Several smaller spending cuts in the revised plan brought the savings up to $63 million.

Maryland faces a potential shortfall of $742 million for the budget year that begins next July. Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley said last week that the administration wants to get a jump on dealing with that problem.

Hogan used the occasion to once again call for relief from the spending mandates imposed by the General Assembly. The mandates require the governor to propose minimum amounts of spending for certain programs.

"We need to stop spending more than we take in," he said.

Kopp said the mandates cover such priority programs as K-12 education and public health. She noted that the legislature has routinely managed to balance the budget by the end of its annual 90-day session, as required by state law.

State fiscal officials are expected to get their next snapshot of Maryland's finances on Sept. 20, when the Board of Revenue Estimates reports on tax collections. That forecast sets the stage for the budget decisions the General Assembly and Hogan will confront when lawmakers return to Annapolis in January.

Many of the cuts approved Wednesday were routine budget actions, such as holding off on filling vacant positions in state agencies.

Franchot complimented Hogan on posting the proposed cuts online last Thursday. When former Gov. Martin O'Malley presented cuts to the board, Franchot said, it was done with little notice.

But Kopp noted that a 2016 law required that the administration give three business days' notice of its intent to bring cuts to the board.

After the original plan was posted, the administration dropped its proposal to reduce funding for disparity grants.

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