The Board of Public Works on Wednesday morning voted to approve Gov. Larry Hogan’s request to cut $413.17 million from the state’s FY 2021 budget —a 2.07% reduction from the general fund.
Comptroller Peter Franchot sided with Hogan and voted yes. Treasurer Nancy Kopp voted no.
The $413.17 cut is significantly smaller than the $672 million cut that Hogan had originally proposed. More than $200 million in proposed cuts were shelved for consideration at a later date after Franchot said that he would vote no. The cuts targeted education and pay raises for state employees. The cuts could have resulted in many state employees being furloughed.
In total, Hogan has asked for $1.45 billion in budget cuts to offset the massive revenue loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In May, the Board of Revenue Estimates projected a $900 million to $1.1. billion loss in general fund revenues for FY 2020. Today marks the beginning of FY 2021. FY 2020 data will be released later this month.
The Board only has the authority to make up to a quarter of spending cuts when the General Assembly is not in session. So lawmakers will be tasked with reviewing the remainder of the proposed cuts when the Assembly reconvenes in Jan. 2021.
Prior to the vote at Wednesday’s meeting, Hogan stressed the importance of making the cuts.
“The three of us have a tough decision: do we fight to protect special interests, or do we fight to protect workers? Do we cut spending, or do we cut people? And I am going to fight to keep people in their jobs.”
Hogan said he never would have recommended the cuts under normal circumstances.
“I can tell you that I don’t like a single one of them or the other hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts that they are going to have to bring back before us next month. They’re all painful. And I would not have recommended a single one of these cuts. Frankly, I could never have imagined even considering voting for them. But, sadly, as painful as these cuts are-the alternative to not taking action is much more severe.”
Hogan stressed that next time the board meets its members will have to come up an alternative proposal to compensate for the more than $200 million in cuts that were taken off of Wednesday’s agenda.
Kopp based her objection to the cuts partly on timing. She urged that their consideration be delayed until later this month when FY 2020 data is available.
“I would simply urge us once again to wait until the 2020 revenue are in, two weeks from now-and look at these cuts and at the total picture of the federal money-the reserves-and use the time to educate people.”
Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost celebrated the Board’s decision to remove the proposed education cuts from its agenda.
“The rejection of Gov. Hogan’s attempt to defund our public schools during the middle of a pandemic is a win—but it’s incredibly disappointing that the governor tried this in the first place,” Bost, a Baltimore County Elementary School teacher, said in a statement. “Educators should be focusing on how to ensure the safety and success of our students next year, rather than organizing to stop cuts to our already underfunded schools. We thank Comptroller Franchot and Treasurer Kopp for opposing these dangerous cuts and call on the General Assembly to continue to reject cuts to our schools and to override Gov. Hogan’s misguided veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and improved funding for all schools.”
Bost said educators “can’t do more with less.”
“We can’t close expanding gaps in equity with inequitable and inadequate funding,” she said. “We can’t accept the governor undercutting the safety of educators and students by trying to defund public schools. We need to rise to the moment and give all students the support they deserve. Rest assured that educators will step up; we hope that our elected officials at all levels will do so as well.”
Senate President Bill Ferguson called on Congress to act to help states suffering from budget shortfalls.
“Unless the Federal government takes action, what we saw today is a forecast of things to come. The COVID-19 crisis has wreaked havoc on state budgets throughout the country, and we will face more cuts without help,” he said in a statement. “I am appreciative that Comptroller Franchot and Treasurer Kopp mitigated the worst of these cuts, and am hopeful that the Board of Public Works can continue to carefully evaluate potential cuts and their effects on Marylanders as they move forward.”