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Maryland lawmakers pass $46.6 billion budget, boosting funding for public schools to record level

The Maryland General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to pass a $46.6 billion budget that increases funding for education by more than what Gov. Larry Hogan proposed — but not as much as some school advocates desired.

The Senate voted 47-0 and the House of Delegates voted 123-12 to pass the spending plan after reaching a compromise to provide $255 million in additional money to begin implementing a state commission's recommendations to improve schools.

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With more than $7 billion for public schools, it’s the most money ever spent on education in the state. The budget also includes $500 million for school construction funding.

It does not contain new taxes, but Democrats removed from consideration a series of tax credits proposed by Hogan, a Republican.

“We think it’s going to be a first step,” said Del. Maggie McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “It was less than what the House wanted, but it’s a compromise.”

The funding helps implement recommendations from the so-called Kirwan Commission, which has proposed ambitious new programs to boost student performance. It recommended implementing full-day prekindergarten for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds; hiring and retaining high-quality and diverse teachers; and increasing standards and services with the goal of making all students ready for college or a career.

Senate Democrats are advocating for passage of legislation to apply sales tax to out-of-state online companies, such as Amazon and eBay, that sell third-party products as a way to help pay for the Kirwan Commission recommendations.

“The budget passed today kickstarts much-needed increases in teacher salaries, pre-kindergarten expansion, and other research-backed strategies for improving our schools,” said Cheryl Bost, president of the state teachers’ union. “But this budget alone won’t plug the $2.9 billion funding shortage facing Maryland public schools. We need a long-term plan. That’s why it’s critical that the legislature pass and the governor sign the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future bill to further address that shortfall.”

The budget also includes more than $7 million for the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today program — nicknamed BOOST — which provides a limited number of scholarships for children from low-income families to attend private schools. A House of Delegates committee voted to cut funding for the program and bar new students from entering it, but that cut was largely restored through negotiations with the Senate.

McIntosh said she also was pleased the budget included money for expanding the testing of rape kits and providing more money to upgrade technology at the Baltimore Police Department.

But lawmakers expressed their displeasure with the management of the University of Maryland system, including that the chancellor promoted jewelry company Pandora’s charm bracelets and how his chief of staff was treated for raising it as an ethics concern.

The budget cuts $642,600 from the system — the amount that Chancellor Robert Caret is paid annually.

Sen. Nancy King, the Montgomery County Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee, said the negotiations between the Senate and House resulted in a “pretty good product.”

But Sen. Andrew Serafini, a Washington County Republican, warned that although he supports the budget, tougher financial times are looming for the state — and the spending promises being made now for increases in education may result in tax increases in the future.

Serafini compared the state to an individual with an adjustable-rate mortgage about to increase, a tenuous employment situation, triplets heading to college, a pregnant wife and a mother-in-law moving in. There’s just not enough money set aside, he said, to pay for all of the state’s needs — particularly the significant increase in spending on public education as recommended by the Kirwan Commission.

“I don’t see how we can do all of this without significant tax increases,” said Serafini, a Washington County Republican.

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Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller responded that there are other ways of raising money, such as taxing marijuana and legalizing sports betting.

“These are alternatives to tax increases,” said Miller, a Democrat. “And we are doing our very, very best to move forward without any tax increases.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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