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Hogan, Busch draw lines in the sand

Busch, Hogan follow divergent paths; is there a compromise?

ANNAPOLIS—With just four days left in the session, Gov. Larry Hogan and House Speaker Michael E. Busch each drew a line in the sand over proposed spending for the coming fiscal year.

Both met with reporters Thursday to discuss divergent paths for moving the state budget forward, even as they expressed hope of a compromise by the end of the current 90-day General Assembly session.

“We’re going to come up with a bipartisan solution,” Hogan said during a brief exchange with reporters. “We’re not going to get everything we hoped for and they’re not going to get everything they hoped for, but I believe by working together over the next few days we’re going to come up with a solution.”

Hogan, speaking with reporters Thursday afternoon just feet from Busch’s office, discussed a third supplement to his $40.4 billion budget that seeks to restore a $75 million cut to a supplemental payment to the state employees pension system.

“We’ve said hundreds of times over the past several months that our biggest concern was the pension,” Hogan said. “Robbing the pension is not a good idea.”

The House eliminated that payment, which is over and above the required annual contribution, and placed it in a pot of money that was to be used to pay for $178 million in legislative priorities. The two largest of those priorities are the restoration of a nonmandatory education spending formula, and a 2 percent cost of living raise for state employees. Hogan chose not to fund either in his proposed fiscal 2016 budget.

The governor appeared to lean toward support for the increased school funding — he mentioned it twice during his brief remarks — but did not speak of the raises. Many Republicans, including Hogan and his staff, believe the legislature is paying for the promised 2 percent cost of living increases by raiding additional funds meant to build up an underfunded pension system.

Hours earlier, Busch met with reporters to say that he would not formally introduce Hogan’s second supplemental budget until the governor and legislature reached a formal agreement on protecting legislative priorities including the funding for education and raises as well as for Medicaid.

In a second meeting with reporters, a few hours later, Busch said he had only seen Hogan’s proposed third supplemental budget because a reporter shared it with him.

Busch said Hogan’s last two supplemental proposals do “not address the priorities that reflect the hard work of both Democrats and Republicans during the budgetary process.”

“The governor puts his budget in,” Busch said. “The legislature has its opportunity to work the budget; 176 of 188 legislators voted for the priorities in the budget, and we were hopeful that the governor would address those priorities.”

Busch went on to say that Hogan “seems to have no interest in funding the priorities of the Maryland General Assembly, both House and Senate, and both political parties.”

Both announcements come in the waning days of the session when Hogan’s budget remains in limbo in a House and Senate conference committee. The committee last met on Tuesday and so far has not scheduled any additional meetings despite what appear to be relatively minor differences between the two chambers.

Both Hogan and Busch appear to be communicating more lately through the press. Busch met with Hogan on Tuesday and described it as “somewhat strained that I would request a meeting.”

Meanwhile, Hogan has met more recently with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who left the floor during bill debates on Thursday to meet with the governor.

Miller returned to the chamber and in updating the Senate irritated House leadership when he declared that Busch would formally introduce Hogan’s second supplemental budget, which was proposed April 2.

“I was told he was going to read it across the desk first thing (Friday) morning so I would hope he would do that,” Miller told reporters.

“The governor sent down a supplemental budget and he needs it read across the desk,” Miller said. “In that supplemental budget is additional monies for police, state police, opening the Annapolis barracks and the governor wants that to be put in play in terms of budget discussions.”

Hogan also wants other items of his agenda put into play. They include tax breaks for small businesses as well as military and first responder retirees, expanded charter school legislation, and tax breaks related to donations to nonpublic schools.

Miller called for Hogan and Busch “to meet as quickly as possible” and called for “cooler heads to prevail.”

The legislature must pass a budget by midnight Monday, the close of the 90-day session, or it will be required to go into an extended session, where only the budget can be discussed. Hogan has already signed the order to extend session, a move that has not been uncommon in recent years.