Many issues boiled over and tempers flared as the clock ticked down to the end of the 2015 legislative session. CNS-TV video by Nicole Fierro.
ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed 121 bills into law Tuesday morning, but some uncertainty remained about whether he would fund supplemental education funding, state employee raises and Medicaid physician subsidies with money parceled off by the General Assembly.
Hogan, a Republican, avoided controversy with this first round of legislation. He did not address a bill passed at the eleventh hour on Monday that would mandate the currently supplemental K-12 schools funding, or a bill that would give ex-felons the right to vote. He also did not yet sign the repeal of the “rain tax,” which passed the legislature and was part of his agenda.
Hogan is scheduled to hold two more bill signings in the next few weeks and a session to veto bills at the end of May.
He instead signed less controversial legislation, including a bill to create a council that would reduce the state’s incarcerated population and reduce criminal recidivism, and a bill that requires hotels and other business to allow for direct dial when calling 911 called “Kari’s Law.”
Over the 90-day General Assembly session, the Democratic-majority legislature had been at odds with Hogan over the budget, which the first-term governor wanted to keep trim to follow through on his campaign promises of fiscal responsibility and lowering taxes.
Hogan attempted to resolve the state’s $700 million structural deficit in one budget year.
The legislature in the last few days “fenced off” about $202 million of the state’s $40.7 billion budget to give $68 million to supplemental education funding, $62 million for state employee raises, $45 million for physician subsidies for Medicaid and $27 million to other social programs.
The governor said at a Tuesday morning press conference that this decision would leave a $200 million structural deficit for the next year, and legislators were left wondering whether he would spend the unallocated funds for their intended purposes, or if the money would remain unspent in the state’s general fund.
Nonetheless, Hogan said Tuesday he considered the $40.7 billion 2016 fiscal plan, which goes into effect July 1, a “win.”
“The budget that was passed was much better than it could have been, and there were some bright spots,” Hogan said. “Forty consecutive tax increases over eight long years is finally broken. We actually have tax cuts, instead of tax increases, which is almost unheard of.”
A particular sticking point has been the supplemental education funding, which provides 13 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions with additional school funding. Hogan has implied he does not want to fund it and the legislature responded in the last few hours of the session by passing a bill to mandate it in the next fiscal year. The governor now has the option to sign it into law.
“How’s it going to be received by the general public?” House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said of the possibility Hogan won’t give additional money to schools.
“If the General Assembly appropriated the money for them, they’re going to be asking the question of the governor, ‘Why aren’t you funding them?’”
As part of the back and forth with the legislature, Hogan wanted to return $75 million to a planned contribution to the state pension fund that legislators had appropriated to help fund education and other programs. A bicameral budget committee chose to disregard Hogan’s request.
Of the 25 bills the governor introduced, legislators passed eight, including a “rain tax” repeal, legislation to help charter schools, and tax relief measures for military retirees, all of which were promises he made during his campaign.
Some of the bills were watered down. Senator Michael J. Hough, R-Carroll and Frederick, said that a bill on public funds for state elections turned out so different from what Hogan envisioned that the governor might have to veto it.
“Hogan’s agenda probably could have been treated better, but everyone wanted what they wanted,” said Delegate William Folden, R-Frederick. “Nobody was going to give up their vision.”
Hogan also put a provision in the budget that would give tax breaks to corporations that donated to private schools, but it was immediately struck down in what he called “among the most disappointing actions” by members of a bicameral committee charged with hashing out the details of the budget.
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford, said Friday that despite any appearance of animosity in the last two weeks, the legislature and Hogan had mutual respect for one another.
“We can move beyond this,” Szeliga said. “One disagreement doesn’t shape an entire relationship.”
State Senator Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said Monday that after all the negotiations, the “ball is now in (the governor’s) court” to choose to fund education, state employee salaries, and a handful of other social programs.
“We’ve left it in his hands, and hopefully he won’t punish the school children of Maryland because he didn’t get all he wanted,” said Madaleno, the vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation committee.