Hogan’s budget moves to House floor, growth in private school scholarships cut

The House Appropriations Committee on Friday sent Gov. Larry Hogan’s $43 billion budget to the House floor for votes this week. It made $90 million in trims to general fund spending while adding back $74 million in other areas, including $8.4 million more to fund a 3.5% pay hike for caregivers of the developmentally disabled and $15 million restored for a Prince George’s regional hospital. The longest and most substantial debate occurred over a nearly $5 million cut in Hogan’s proposed funding of the BOOST Program to pay for scholarships of low-income students to private schools, including religious ones.

Open Source textbooks could save students a bundle

As the cost of college has skyrocketed, students and parents could soon get relief on expensive textbooks under the Textbook Cost Savings Act of 2017 that would provide funding to develop free open source learning materials.“The state is moving rapidly towards free textbooks online,” said the bill’s sponso rSen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, in an interview. “If the bill passes it will be state policy that we want to move in that direction as much as possible.”

Md. retailers want online merchants to charge sales tax

Maryland retailers are again pushing for the state to collect sales taxes from online merchants not based in Maryland, helping them and potentially raising hundreds of millions for the state. Brick and mortar stores are struggling to compete with online sellers in other states, retail business interests testified in Annapolis on Wednesday in support of the Main Street Fairness Act of 2017.

Extra pension fund payment from state surplus would continue under bill approved by House

A bill to pre-fund future pension and health insurance liabilities for state workers passed overwhelmingly in the House of Delegates last week in a 130-5 vote — and now waits in the Senate Budget and Tax Committee for a hearing. The bill, HB28, sponsored by Del. Carol Krimm, D-Frederick, would require 50% of the general fund balance in excess of $10 million be split equally between the pension system and the Postretirement Health Benefits Trust Fund, up to $25 million for each fund.

Finance Committee approves mandated reimbursement increases for mental health

Several hundred rallied in Annapolis Thursday in support of the Keep The Door Open Act, a bill that would increase funding for mental health and addiction treatment and tie the reimbursement rate for service providers to the Consumer Price Index. A few hours later, the Senate Finance Committee voted to send the bill, SB 476, to the full Senate after 16 groups representing hospitals, service providers and nonprofits spoke in support of the bill. Opposition from two cabinet officials at the hearing won a small concession from Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles, who added an amendment that would sunset the act in five years.

Hogan moves to suspend $50 million supplement to pension system

In his State of the State speech Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan worried about the state’s pension system’s $20 billion unfunded liability, and urged legislators to pass a new pension option like a 401(k) for new employees. But in his fiscal 2018 budget, the governor withholds a mandated $50 million supplement to the State Retirement and Pension System due to declining revenue estimates that have left a slim $70 million surplus in fiscal 2017.

Legislature’s fiscal chief presses for spending reform

Maryland’s legislative leaders are getting pressure to fix their approach to spending not just from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan but from their own top budget expert, Warren Deschenaux. In his analysis of the $43.5 billion state budget Hogan sent to the legislature last week, Deschenaux told legislators Monday, “This is another kick-the-can-down-the-road budget,” putting off hard choices about future spending.

Hogan gives caregivers for disabled smaller raise than promised; most earn fast-food wages

The budget Gov. Hogan rolled out Wednesday is short on mandatory funding increases for workers serving Marylanders with developmental disabilities — putting providers in direct competition with fast food chains, said Senate Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton in a press briefing Wednesday. Hogan’s budget cuts the mandatory 3.5% wage hike to the Developmental Disabilities Administration to 2%. The legislature needs to make up the 1.5% reduction before the end of the session, said Middleton, a long-time advocate for DDA caregivers.

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State police audit finds potential savings if more civilians were hired

Maryland taxpayers could save $11 million annually if 127 of the current 1,426 uniformed positions in the Maryland State Police were replaced with civilian employees, according to a report released by the Office of Legislative Audits. The audit found the positions were not involved in daily law enforcement activities. The savings would be found in lower salaries and fringe benefits attributed to civilian employees, which would include a $7.8 million reduction in annual pension costs.