Maryland Senate passes $58.5 billion budget plan; House to vote next week

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The Maryland Senate approved a $58.5 billion budget plan on Friday morning that would increase temporary cash assistance payments, fund the launch of a state paid family leave program, steer an additional $700 million to government construction projects, and provide an estimated $350 million in tax breaks — though lawmakers are still inking a deal on what form the tax relief would take.

“There’s a lot of important things there. We’re really touching a lot of lives,” Senate Budget and Taxation Chair Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard) said on the Senate floor Friday morning. “…When we put our money to something, when we put our value to something, we’re really saying that that matters to us as a society, as a community.”

The Senate budget plan came together as Maryland continues to project higher-than-expected tax revenues. The Board of Revenue Estimates projected last week that the state’s surplus for this fiscal year and the next is now $7.5 billion.

After finishing much of their budget work for the year, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Monday fenced off more than $1.3 billion in additional spending. Traditionally, when the legislature fences off funding, the governor chooses whether to release that money when the next fiscal year starts on July 1; lawmakers are hoping to reach an agreement with the Hogan administration this year that would cement the additional spending before the legislative session ends on April 11.

Legislators are also negotiating with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and his team on a $350 million allocation for tax relief. The Senate budget plan includes a line item for tax breaks, though details are still being worked out, Guzzone said.

He and Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, both reiterated their commitment to a negotiated tax relief plan.

“There is absolutely a desire in both the houses and the administration to do that. We’re still in conversation. We’re getting much closer to a decision,” McIntosh said.

Ahead of Friday’s final vote on the Senate budget plan, Guzzone highlighted other targeted funding in the budget plan, including an additional $104.8 million increase in payments to nursing home and behavioral health care providers; an $800 million allocation to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund to support education reform; an additional $30 million for rental housing assistance to bring the total in the budget to $90 million; $5 million to support the launch of a new 9-8-8 statewide crisis line; and a multimillion-dollar economic development plan for Western Maryland.

“We’re taking, I believe, the right steps … to make sure we’re doing the right things for today and helping the people who need it the most right now, and setting ourselves up for the future so we continue to be successful as a state,” Guzzone said. “This is, I believe, very much a reflection of our values.”

Other details from the Senate budget plan include:

  • Changing the way nearly $45.9 million in Hogan’s Re-Fund the Police Initiative is allocated. The governor proposed increasing the State Aid for Police Protection Program by 50% in October, which would have included an $8 million appropriation to Baltimore City. “However, the manner proposed for awarding those funds does not reflect a distribution in line with where the highest instances of violent crime are occurring across the State,” the committee narrative explains. Instead, lawmakers want the funding distributed local jurisdictions in proportion to the number of reported violent crimes in the state’s official annual crime report. The amendment is expected to steer dramatically more funding to the city.
  • Restricting $500,000 from the Maryland Department of Health until a report is completed to address concerns about staffing and accreditation at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and details on federal assistance the state received to clear an autopsy backlog.
  • Requiring the Hogan administration to issue reports on how several state agencies used federal stimulus funding.

The budget also includes a shift, proposed by Hogan in a supplemental budget earlier this week, of $100 million from the general fund to offset the effect of a 30-day gas tax holiday on the Transportation Trust Fund, Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund and Waterway Improvement Fund.

On Friday afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee was already at work adding their own amendments to the Senate budget plan. While passing a bill that is very similar, the House did include additional fenced-off funding, including $46.5 million to help state agencies implement cannabis reform policies in the future, $6 million to fund local health departments and domestic violence centers, and $3.5 million to support clinical training for health care professionals who lack training to offer abortion services in Maryland.

The budget bill is expected to hit the House floor next week.

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