Maryland Board of Public Works OKs $413M in budget cuts, more expected

FILE — Maryland Board of Public Works, shown in a March 2020 photo, considered state budget cuts Wednesday, July 1, 2020 in response to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. (AP Photo/Brian Witte, File)

Maryland’s three-member Board of Public Works approved $413 million in cuts from the fiscal year 2021 budget as part of a larger effort to deal with revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot voted in favor of the cuts, although Hogan said of the reductions on Wednesday, “I can tell you I don’t like a single one of them.”

Hogan called the proposed reductions “painful” but said the state had little choice, given the drastic drop in revenues. “In order to make it through these difficult times, we’re going to have to step up and make some very difficult decisions,” Hogan said before taking the vote.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp objected, saying the panel should wait until after the July 15 tax deadline. “I don’t think the timing is right,” said Kopp, conceding that budget cuts must be made given the fiscal outlook.

But she insisted that Maryland should take more time to analyze the fiscal situation and educate the public on where the proposed cuts would fall.

“It isn’t that we can’t make tough decisions; it’s just an issue of timing,” Kopp said.

Franchot explained that he had balked at cutting an additional $205 million, saying he didn’t want to cut into cost-of-living increases for state employees.

But, he said, he agreed with the governor that more cuts will be needed. “I agree with you that we shouldn’t sugar coat things,” Franchot said.

Among the items cut from the budget:

  • $131 million in higher education funds, including money for the University System of Maryland and community colleges
  • $1.6 million in funding for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
  • $2.5 million for the Office of Attorney General, including money for positions aimed at prosecuting violent crime in Baltimore.

Originally, the board was set to vote on a proposed $672 million in cuts. After Franchot made clear he would not go along with all the cuts included in that proposal, the agenda was revised.

However, Hogan said Wednesday, “People may have to postpone or forego a raise. Worthwhile programs will not be able to be funded or will get trimmed. Departments won’t see increases. But funding everything and cutting nothing is not an option.”

Hogan said the state will have to find ways to save an additional $205 million, or face the termination of thousands of state jobs.

Noting that a number of cuts to public education were deferred, Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost released a statement, saying, “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.”

Jerry Smith, president of the Maryland Professional Employees Council, issued a statement expressing his group’s willingness to negotiate any further cuts.

“MPEC is pleased that these cuts will not go into effect at this moment when there is still so much to be decided,” Smith said.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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