The $47.9 billion state budget that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan submitted Wednesday was well-received by lawmakers from both parties. Over the coming weeks, lawmakers will pore through the details of the budget.
Here are some initial reactions to and highlights of the governor’s plan:
Lawmakers like what they see
Hogan, a Republican, briefed legislative leaders from both parties over breakfast Wednesday morning. The lawmakers emerged with a positive outlook on the upcoming budget negotiations.
“A lot of refreshing tones were hit by the Democratic leaders and the governor about working together,” said Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican who is the minority leader in the House of Delegates.
At the breakfast, there was no “political gamesmanship,” Kipke said.
“The Democratic leaders, I heard them say: ‘Your goals are our goals as it relates to environment, public safety, education and infrastructure.’"
Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriation Committee, also was pleased with what she heard from Hogan.
“The devil’s in the details and we just need to have time to go through those details, but it’s generally a very upbeat, good budget at this point,” McIntosh said.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, told senators: “There are a lot of places where I think there’s a substantial amount of agreement.”
Focus on crime
As promised, Hogan’s budget allocates $2.6 million to fund 25 employees in Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office to prosecute Baltimore City criminal cases — a plan Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has objected to, calling the proposal “problematic.”
But Frosh said Wednesday he welcomed the support.
“The governor directed us to address the crime problem in Baltimore and we are absolutely willing to do that,” Frosh said.
Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Harford County Republican who is the Senate’s minority leader, called the funding for extra prosecutors “huge.”
“I think it’s needed,” Jennings said. “I don’t think the state’s attorney’s office is doing enough there. At this point, I think the state is having to come in and try to push there and get stuff done and try to put some of these criminals away.”
Mosby defended her office’s efforts Wednesday.
“The erroneous perception that violent offenders aren’t being convicted in Baltimore City contradicts the 95 percent felony conviction rate my office has earned,” said Mosby, a Democrat, in a statement. “The problems our city face require us to set aside politics and invest in long-term collaborative and holistic solutions — not politically motivated finger-pointing."
The state’s attorney’s conviction rate only includes cases that prosecutors moved forward with, and not cases that were dropped.
No money to settle the HBCU lawsuit
Hogan previously offered $200 million to settle a longstanding lawsuit over disparities in Maryland’s higher education system, a figure far less than what the advocates for the state’s four historically black universities are seeking.
However, no money is set aside in Hogan’s latest budget to settle the suit, meaning such a deal is unlikely to be funded next fiscal year.
Concern over structural deficit
Though the state’s budget must be balanced each year, legislative budget analysts say they’re concerned about the size of the state’s structural deficit, forecasting a $701 million shortfall by fiscal year 2022 and $1.1 billion by fiscal year 2025.
The shortfall could be “exacerbated” by Hogan’s plans to for tax cuts, the analysts say.
“The magnitude of the structural deficit forecast for the coming years ... is troubling as it occurs despite expectation of steady revenue growth,” the analysts wrote.
Cobbling together money for the Howard Street Tunnel
Many cheered Hogan’s December announcement of a deal to expand the Howard Street tunnel and upgrade surrounding roads and bridges, seen as key to the city’s economy. The state is committing $80.3 million next year to the project, which will allow trains with shipping containers stacked two high to travel through the city.
The state’s money comes from a variety of sources: $10 million from the Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority, $10 million from the Maryland Transportation Authority and $5 million from a pot of money normally dedicated to highway projects in the city.
McIntosh said she opposes using part of the city’s highway money for the tunnel. “We’ve got to find another way,” she said.
Other sources contributing to the $80 million to be spent next year include CSX, which owns the rail line; the state of Pennsylvania; and Ports America, which operates port facilities in the city.
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The federal government has awarded a $125 million grant for the project.
Money for education
The budget includes $355 million to pay for additional public school programs that have been recommended by the state’s Kirwan Commission. Lawmakers are expected to spend much of this General Assembly session looking for long-term funding sources to pay for the Kirwan programs, such as expanded pre-kindergarten, improved career and college prep programs, additional community schools, more support for high-poverty schools and increased teacher salaries.
Four school systems that have declining enrollments are getting more money than they would otherwise under the state’s funding formulas: Baltimore City and Dorchester, Garrett and Queen Anne’s counties.
There’s also $333 million set aside to pay for school construction projects, and room to add $400 million more if lawmakers pass a bill that would allow the state to borrow more money for school construction that would be paid off using a portion of casino revenues.
Hogan and Democratic leaders have proposed separate but similar plans to borrow more money for school construction. Each plan would generate about $2 billion more for school construction over five years.
Sen. Nancy King, a Montgomery Democrat and Senate majority leader, called the school construction money “a pretty good chunk.”
“The education funding is good,” she said.