ANNAPOLIS – A committee of Maryland legislators on Friday afternoon pushed forward a state budget that would fully fund education, provide funding to keep intact state employee raises and include subsidies for physicians who accept Medicaid, among other priorities.
Leaders in the Democratically controlled General Assembly were angered this week that Gov. Larry Hogan’s latest supplemental budget, which returned $75 million legislators cut from the state’s pension fund, does not ensure the Democrats’ funding priorities.
In particular, House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, criticized Hogan’s third budget proposal Thursday because it lacked important initiatives that legislators had restored, including $62 million in supplemental education funding that was cut in Hogan’s original budget.
Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, said Friday that he had been playing middleman between an irate Busch and the brand new governor, a Republican.
“I hope the governor learns the legislative process and the speaker learns there is a new governor in town,” Miller said.
Busch was unable to be reached for comment on Friday evening.
The original budget Hogan proposed in January halved supplemental education funding, which Democratic legislators characterized as vital. Miller said earlier Friday he was hopeful legislation that would mandate the additional funding for 13 school districts — known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index — would force into the budget $62 million more that has been expected but is not constitutionally mandated.
“(The GCEI bills) are already in, there are bills in both chambers, the hearings have already occurred, it’s just a matter of moving the bills,” said Senator Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, vice chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee.
But Delegate Jason Buckel, R-Allegany, said that it was unlikely any GCEI bills were in a position to move forward through the Ways and Means committee and onto the chamber floors for a vote before the session ends.
“I suspect, and I hope, that President Miller’s statement is simply part of the budget posturing that everyone seems to be engaging in,” Buckel said.
Legislators have been trying to come to a compromise on the $40.7 billion state budget, which faced a $700 million structural deficit the governor attempted to close in one year.
The strain between the legislature’s Democratic leadership — particularly Busch — and the Republican administration has meant Hogan’s legislative agenda, including tax cuts that were the centerpiece of his successful gubernatorial campaign, has stalled in the General Assembly.
“It was going swimmingly up until yesterday after the governor decided he had had enough conversations with the speaker and didn’t want any more. He dropped a bombshell on us,” Miller said Friday.
“The governor said that neither the governor nor the General Assembly is going to get all the things that they want,” Hogan spokeswoman Shareese Churchill said Friday. “But at the end of the day, the governor hopes that the taxpayers get what they want, which is tax relief.”
Hogan’s legislative agenda includes three tax-relief measures — one for small-business owners; one for military retirees; and one for fire, rescue and emergency personnel and volunteers. Bills associated with the first two initiatives have passed unanimously in the Senate, but the third has not emerged successfully from committee.
House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, said that Hogan is using the budget as a tool to ensure that Marylanders get tax relief.
“The best thing about having a Republican governor is there are now checks and balances in the system,” Kipke said.
The conference committee, a group of delegates, senators and administrative advisers, met Friday to hash out the details of the budget and decide what to fund.
They decided to restore the education funding, kept state employee raises, and gave physicians subsidies to accept Medicaid, as was expected, largely by halving to $75 million a planned payment to a state employees’ pension fund.
As an olive branch, they also voted to give an additional $4 million to private schools for textbooks and technology, rather than including a $5 million budget initiative the governor proposed last week to give tax credits to businesses that support private schools.
Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said the governor should be pleased with the result.
“The non-public schools in the state I hope will celebrate their successes in this budget,” she said.
The legislature has until the end of the session, which is Monday at midnight, to pass the budget if they do not want to enter a special session. But legislators say they are not expecting that to happen.
“It could happen,” Kipke said. “But the governor’s going to have to answer to my wife, I’ll tell you that.”