Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will preside over the state Board of Public Works this Wednesday amid intense lobbying against his proposals to cut $672 million from the upcoming state budget because of an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Advocates for education and state employees, as well as others who favor waiting to get more data about the state’s incoming revenues and possible assistance from the federal government, are urging Hogan’s fellow board members to vote against the cuts — or to at least postpone action.
Maryland and other state governments across the country have lost significant portions of their projected income and sales tax revenue due to stay-at-home orders and other restrictions.
Hogan proposed Friday that the state reduce spending for the fiscal year that starts Wednesday by $1.45 billion, including the $672 million in cuts to be considered Wednesday by the board. The cuts would have wide-ranging effects across state government, including eliminating employee raises, cutting vacant positions and slashing funding for programs ranging from school security to prosecuting violent crime in Baltimore.
The board consists of Hogan and two Democrats: State Comptroller Peter Franchot and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp. Since March 18, Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford had led the biweekly meetings so Hogan could concentrate on the state’s response to COVID-19. Hogan’s spokesman said Monday the governor would chair this week’s meeting.
Both Franchot and Kopp’s staffs said Monday it was too early to know if they would support or reject the cuts. Aides for both said they were asking questions and researching the proposals.
State employees’ unions object to proposals that would eliminate their raises, and have asked the board to postpone voting on the cuts to give more time for review and for more information to become available about the state’s finances. For instance, the deadline for filing state income taxes was extended this year from April 15 to July 15.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3, which represents more state workers than any other union, planned a car caravan Tuesday from Baltimore to Annapolis to protest the cuts.
The Maryland State Education Association, the teachers’ union, urged Franchot and Kopp to vote against what it said were $110.8 million of immediate cuts to education programs. That list includes state grants that go to poorer counties that are often used to help fund schools, smaller contributions toward teacher retirements, and cuts to the Healthy School Facilities Fund, which pays for projects like air conditioning and mold remediation in public schools.
And the Maryland Association of Boards of Education said Monday it “strongly opposes the deep cuts to state funding for public schools,” such as the proposed reduction in spending on heating and air conditioning upgrades.
“Marylanders overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment just two years ago to ensure we add to, not subtract from, these very programs and services,” the association said in a statement.
The group asked residents to contact state officials and urge them to oppose the cuts.
The nation’s governors are lobbying Congress to send billions in relief to state governments to help them balance their budgets in light of the public health emergency. Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said the governor is “leading the bipartisan effort nationally to secure federal aid to prevent cuts and protect state workers.”
As chair of the National Governors Association, Hogan stressed the urgent need for federal aid to help states address budget pressures brought on by the pandemic during a White House call Monday.
Hogan said on the call that states “face the prospect of devastating cuts to essential services,” according to a statement from his office. He has called on Congress to provide an additional $500 billion for states and territories.
Franchot’s spokeswoman, Susan O’Brien, said that as recently as Friday afternoon, the comptroller’s staff confirmed via text message with the governor’s liaison to the board that Rutherford would lead the next meeting, as well.
Franchot asked Hogan Monday morning to return to the meeting.
“Given the magnitude of these proposed budget reductions and their inevitable effect on state employees and our essential public priorities, the comptroller believes that Governor Hogan himself should make the case directly to his colleagues and to the people of Maryland,” O’Brien said in a statement.