ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan released detailed budget numbers to the Democrat-controlled General Assembly Wednesday morning, and part of his plan quickly drew fire from the Senate president.
In a preview Tuesday, the governor touted that his proposed budget would decrease general fund spending. Indeed, details released Wednesday propose a $19.5 million reduction in general fund spending, approximately one tenth of a percent.
However, the proposal would increase total state spending to $43.541 billion — $467 million or approximately 1 percent more than was spent in 2017.
Along with the budget, the governor submitted recommendations that would reduce spending mandated by the legislature by a total of $247 million.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. criticized one such reduction that cuts mandated funding for Prince George’s Medical Center by $15 million; a separate line in the budget reduces funding for the hospital by another $7.5 million.
Miller, a Democrat whose district includes part of Prince George’s County, assured lawmakers the money would be restored before lawmakers adjourn in April.
“We’ll find a way to make it happen this year,” Miller said.
The Democrat-controlled legislature and the Republican governor have disagreed over how to pay for the hospital center, which is slated to open in 2020.
David Brinkley, Hogan’s budget secretary, said the budget action for the next fiscal year isn’t intended to hold the project back in the long term.
“What we’ve done is fulfill the commitment, but we’ve been able to stretch it out based on where they say their timeline is,” Brinkley said. “So, you know, the legislature can work with it either way they want to go, but we’re trying to deal with some realistic expectations and timelines with that.”
Hogan’s proposed state general fund budget includes a 92 percent cut to funding for the Department of Housing and Community Development. Under the proposal, total funding — which includes state and federal dollars — for that agency would fall by about 7 percent.
At least three programs in the Department of Housing and Community Development that promote low income housing would lose all of their general fund money, cuts worth $21.6 million.
However, Operating Manager David B. Juppe at the Department of Legislative Services told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service that the proposed cuts are not “gutting” the Department of Housing and Community Development because the department receives hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding. The cuts primarily affect specific programs that the legislature mandated funding for last year.
The proposed budget reduces the number of authorized, full time positions in the state government by 442, but increases the number of available contractual positions by the same amount.
The budget allocates $165 million less to the state’s reserve fund, basically the state’s savings accounts, than 2017’s budget. Because contributions to the fund are listed as an expenditure, this causes the overall increase in spending elsewhere to appear smaller than it is.
Under the proposed budget, spending on items other than the reserve fund will increase by a net total of $632 million, a 1.4 percent increase over 2017.
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, said Tuesday he thinks “It’s a pretty good budget” and that he was not concerned about the budget drawing from the “rainy day” fund. “That’s what the money is there for,” he said.
Lawmakers were finding out more about some of the cuts as more of the budget plan became public Wednesday.
“The real budget story is where did they get the money to do what they did?” asked Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore. “I know they transferred money from the Rainy Day (Fund,) but I also know that there are programs that were cut.”
Money for initiatives approved last year aimed at helping Baltimore, including a scholarship program and afterschool programs, were among items omitted from the governor’s proposal.
The governor’s plan also cuts back on wage increases for people who provide community services for the developmentally disabled, part of a law passed in 2014 when lawmakers raised the state’s minimum wage to keep those providers’ pay above minimum wage. The law included a 3.5 percent rate increase annually over 4 years, but the budget scales that back to a 2 percent increase, said Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles.