ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan proposed a second amendment to the state budget Thursday afternoon that would restore $75 million to Maryland State Retirement and Pension System, the latest attempt in a seemingly winless battle between the governor and the General Assembly to fund different priorities.
“While we’re not going to get everything we want, the legislature’s not going to get everything that they want,” said Hogan, a Republican. “I think we’re working together in a bipartisan way and I think the taxpayers are going to get what they want, which is the most fiscally responsible budget in decades.”
Speaker of the House Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, pointedly noted that Hogan’s proposal ignores the legislature’s main priorities, like supplemental education funding, Medicaid costs for vulnerable populations and 2 percent pay raises for state employees.
The budget, which passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate a few weeks ago, cut $75 million from planned contributions into the state employees’ pension fund to pay for those priorities. Busch emphasized that 176 of the 188 legislators voted in favor of this budget, a majority of both Republicans and Democrats.
“The members of the House would like to see some kind of indication of the administration, the governor, of their intent to fund the programs that were passed overwhelmingly in the state budget this year,” Busch said.
But Hogan is taking authority to protect his agenda, which he said includes record funding for K-12 education and keeping his election promises to cut taxes and government spending.
“Robbing the pension is not a good idea,” Hogan said. “I was elected on a mandate of putting Maryland on a new path, but there are some folks here who don’t want to change. There’s going to be some natural friction, but I can tell you think no one’s worked harder on bipartisanship than me.”
Hogan put forward three tax-relief measures in his legislative agenda — 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 and have moved to the House, but the third has not emerged successfully from committee.
Senate President Thomas V “Mike” Miller Jr., D- Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, told Senators Thursday that the House could vote on the budget Friday morning, but many delegates and Busch didn’t have that expectation.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to move the supplemental,” Busch said, as it doesn’t include the priorities the General Assembly worked hard to pass.
But Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said fully funding the pension is a more responsible long-term plan for the state.
“Kudos to Governor Hogan because that raid on the pension contribution was very bad fiscal policy,” Franchot said.
The $40.7 billion state budget the Senate passed and its companion legislation reinstated about $62 million for supplemental education funding to 13 jurisdictions, about $60 million for state employee raises and about $45 million for Medicaid subsidies for physicians.
Delegate Ben Barnes, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, said Hogan’s supplemental budget is irresponsible and now unbalanced.
“If the governor believes additional reductions are warranted, he should have the strength of his convictions and make (specific) reductions,” said Barnes, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “If the governor wants to be serious about working with the legislature, this is not the way to go.”
Education advocates are also upset the governor still hasn’t fully funded education, specifically the supplemental education budget — known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index — that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as Baltimore and 10 other jurisdictions, have grown reliant on.
“Educators, students, and parents have been pleading with Gov. Hogan for weeks to release the nearly $70 million in school funding restored by the General Assembly so we can avoid increased class sizes, educator layoffs, and critical program cuts,” Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “His (latest) supplemental budget proposal continues to ignore the General Assembly’s work.”
House Judiciary committee member Delegate Brett Wilson, R-Washington, said funding the pension is just smart planning.
“It’s refreshing to see people who stand up for what they believe in, and I trust that we’ll end up with the best possible result for people,” Wilson said.
–CNS correspondents Nate Rabner, Katelyn Newman and Anjali Shastry contributed to this report.