In Harrisburg on Wednesday, a reluctant Democratic governor and the Republican legislature have finally come to an agreement on a budget — not for next year, but for the final three months of this fiscal year. A year of rancor and dispute came close to bankrupting schools and social agencies as the legislature refused to pass Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed tax hikes for a major increase in school aid. At the Maryland State House on Wednesday, the Democratic House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to approve its final vote on Gov. Larry Hogan’s $42 billion budget, with bipartisan praise of a bipartisan process.
Gov. Larry Hogan wants the General Assembly to reduce how mandated spending puts pressure on the state’s budget. His goal is a good one–only 17% of the state’s own-source spending in fiscal 2016 is flexible absent legislation. But if he wants to realize this goal, he needs to adopt an approach that matches his periodic rhetoric of bipartisanship.
The Maryland Senate Thursday unanimously passed Gov. Hogan’s $42 billion budget. That earned praise from the Republican governor mixed with concern about reductions in the Rainy Day fund and highway user revenues, as well as $132 million in funds fenced off for legislative priorities. “Working in a bipartisan fashion to give our great state a sound fiscal foundation is a shared responsibility,” Hogan said in a statement, “and today’s vote shows both leadership and partnership toward a common goal.”
There has been much talk of bipartisanship at the State House this legislative session, but not a lot of evidence of it, until Thursday morning in the Senate. “I want to thank the governor,” said Senate President Pro-tem Nathaniel McFadden, the chair of the all-Democrat Baltimore City delegation. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday morning provided an additional $12.7 million in his third supplemental budget for Baltimore City schools, money the school district had lost due to declining enrollment.
The Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates on Wednesday decided to write down state revenue estimates for fiscal 2016 and 2017 by approximately $51 million from estimates made last December. State Comptroller Peter Franchot said the new estimates reflected weak sales throughout Maryland during the recent holiday season. Economic growth has continued to be stagnant in the last few months.
Budget Secretary David Brinkley sparred with Democratic legislators Tuesday over the Hogan administration’s proposal to gain relief from legislative spending mandates that exceed projected revenues. Prior to Brinkley’s testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, he joined Gov. Larry Hogan at a press conference in which the governor defended the initiative.
Senators on the budget committee on Tuesday began doing the only things they can do with Gov. Larry Hogan’s $42.3 billion budget — cutting it around the edges and fencing off money for special purposes. That included a $58 million cut in Medicaid reimbursement to health care providers — based on lower enrollment estimates — and cutting part of Hogan’s modest legislative agenda, $3 million for Early Graduation Scholarships for students who complete high school in three years or less.
Years of stagnant or reduced behavioral health budgets have jeopardized critical access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment. Without action, we fear that community health providers may close up shop, and Marylanders who urgently need behavioral health care will instead find closed doors or dead ends. Commentary by Sen. Guy Guzzone and Del. Antonio Hayes.
Instead of conducting a physical property inspection, the state would use satellite imagery and other technologies to assess home values, under a bill presented to the Maryland Senate’s Budget and Tax committee on Wednesday. Senate President Mike Miller also testified in favor of a bill that would allocate state and county funding for a new local hospital in Prince George’s County.
As the legislature’s budget analysts drilled down in the governor’s $42 billion spending plan, they’ve come up with a few surprises that weren’t previously announced. Members of the fiscal committees were briefed Tuesday.