Governor Larry Hogan announces his budget plan for Maryland. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun video)
Gov. Larry Hogan is proposing cuts to programs passed to help Baltimore recover after the riots of 2015, $10 million to lure Amazon’s new headquarters to the state and a small raise for state workers.
State analysts started poring over the Republican governor’s $44.4 billion state budget proposal in detail Wednesday, providing a deeper glimpse into the final spending plan of Hogan’s four-year term.
Among the first revelations reported by budget analysts from the Department of Legislative Services: the governor wants to cut $21 million from planned spending this year on four state programs intended to help city school students and encourage community redevelopment in the city.
Those initiatives are part of a $290 million, five-year plan approved in 2016 after the unrest in Baltimore highlighted endemic poverty in the city. Hogan also suggests reducing spending on those programs in the future.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers would protect that aid. Cumulatively, she said, the Hogan administration has proposed trimming 54 percent of the $290 million plan over the years.
Hogan previewed his spending plan Tuesday. He said it proposes spending record amounts on K-12 education, contains no new taxes and would hold down college tuition increases to 2 percent.
Democrats who control the General Assembly skipped the governor’s traditional budget briefing over breakfast Wednesday morning to protest Hogan’s decision to release parts of the proposal to the press before telling lawmakers about it. Members of the GOP minority caucus received a briefing in advance, frustrating Democratic leaders.
“It’s really not a good way to start the session,” McIntosh said.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer called the Democratic boycott “a perfect example of the silliness that Marylanders are tired of.”
“We have serious business, and being upset about breakfast invites is counterproductive,” Mayer said.
Mayer noted the governor did not fully fund the Baltimore recovery programs last year either, and that if the General Assembly could come up with a way to pay for them, the administration would welcome negotiations.
“If the legislature wants to fund these items, we are more than willing and happy to hear their ideas on how to do that,” he said. “The state can only spend the revenues they have, not the revenues we wish we had.”
The legislature can cut Hogan’s budget proposal, but it cannot increase state spending without his support.
The governor’s spending proposal was built on revenue estimates set before Congress revamped the federal tax code last month. Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is expected to release new figures next week that take into account how the federal policy changes impact Maryland’s tax code.
Budget leaders say those figures could upend the governor’s budget and shape debate on how to spend state resources. Initial estimates from the Department of Budget and Management suggest Maryland residents could pay as much as $680 million in extra state taxes next year unless the state changes its tax laws.
Hogan and the Democratic General Assembly leadership both have said they plan to introduce changes in the state tax code to help mitigate potential increases.
Hogan’s budget, analysts said, would expand a statewide program that gives students from low-income families money to attend private schools. That program, criticized by the state’s teachers union as a voucher program, would increase by $3.35 million to make $8.85 million available for scholarships.
Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said it was irresponsible for the governor to spend that money on a plan that benefits private schools rather than public ones.
Hogan would set aside $10 million in hopes of luring Amazon’s new headquarters to the state, a small part of the billions of dollars in incentives the state promised the internet retailer if it built a campus in Maryland.
He would raise state worker pay by 2 percent beginning next January, halfway through the state’s fiscal year. Hogan announced Wednesday that he has struck contract deals with all of the state’s employee unions.
As details of the budget proposal emerged Wednesday, different advocacy groups began to complain that their top priorities were left out.
The Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition noted that state law calls for those who care for substance abusers to get a 3.5 percent pay increase. Hogan’s plan budgets a 2 percent raise.
“In the midst of a deadly opioid crisis and with rising demand for mental health and substance-use disorder treatment, we are deeply disappointed,” said Howard Ashkin, president of the Maryland Association of Treatment of Opioid Dependence.
Another provision likely to spark debate is the proposed transfer of most of the expense of assessing property values in Baltimore and the counties to their local governments, a move that would save the state $20 million a year.