Final budget negotiations ahead after Md. House passes $58.5 billion spending plan with tweaks to Senate proposal

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The House of Delegates approved a $58.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday, and negotiators are likely to start meeting soon to reconcile differences with the budget proposal passed by the Maryland Senate last week.

The House made about four dozen changes to the Senate budget plan, including increasing appropriations for potential launches of a paid family leave insurance program and a legalized cannabis industry in the state. The chamber also sought, again, to phase out a publicly funded private school voucher program.

Like the Senate, the House has set aside $350 million for a tax relief deal being negotiated between top lawmakers and the office of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

The budget bill passed on a bipartisan basis, 113-15, but only after House Republicans failed in a series of attempts to amend it.

Republicans sought amendments that would have limited access to abortion in Maryland, cut a $6.4 million appropriation to provide lawyers for tenants in eviction cases, and struck $18 million in funding for some initiatives within the sweeping Climate Solutions Now bill under consideration.

Those amendments, and eight others, failed.

Among the biggest differences in House and Senate versions of the budget bill is a $46.5 million appropriation to begin implementing policies related to legalizing cannabis in Maryland — an issue that’s likely to be on November’s ballot.

Much of the debate in the House chamber Thursday centered on the allocation for the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today, or BOOST, Program.

The Appropriations Committee has moved for years to limit future growth of the publicly funded private school voucher program by limiting access to current students and their siblings only, and the committee approved the same amendment this year. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would cap participation in the program at $10 million.

The House also nixed a $50 million Senate appropriation to support apprenticeship programs in the state, and reduced the appropriation for a Western Maryland economic development program from $20 million to $10 million.

The House increased proposed funding to help launch a paid family leave insurance program to $21 million; the Senate had included a $17 million appropriation.

The House also included a $3.5 million appropriation to the Abortion Care Clinical Training Care Fund. That appropriation is contingent on enactment of House Bill 937, which passed the House and is under consideration in the Senate and would expand the types of medical professionals in Maryland who can provide abortion services.

The budget plan includes a $537 million structural balance and leaves more than $3.3 billion in cash reserves.

Like the Senate, the spending plan would steer $800 million to education reform efforts and generally increases spending in public schools, which will exceed $7.9 billion in 2023.

“The Appropriations Committee has a history of producing budgets that are both fiscally prudent and socially responsible. And this year is no exception,” the committee’s chair, Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), said earlier this week.

She said the budget plan “invests in our greatest asset, our citizens,” by maintaining a commitment to education funding and boosting spending on programs that will help Marylanders facing financial and other hardships.

On Thursday, House Minority Whip Haven Shoemaker (R-Carroll), who ultimately voted in favor of the spending plan, first offered a word of caution about the speed at which state spending has increased. He noted that the state budget has grown from about $40 billion in 2015 to the $58.5 billion figure now.

“I am concerned about the explosion in state spending, just during the time that I’ve been in the House,” Shoemaker said.

McIntosh noted that Maryland’s governor still largely drives the state budget process, and that part of the influx over the past two years has been from federal stimulus funds intended to blunt the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She noted this will be the final year Maryland’s governor will have such an outsize influence on the state’s spending. Under current law, legislators are largely limited to reducing the governor’s expenditures for programs; after voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2020, the next General Assembly will have more power to move money between programs in state government.

“It’s the last year we’re going to see a budget process like this,” McIntosh said. “Next year, those of you who return will have the ability to put more of an imprint on the budget of the state of Maryland.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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