ANNAPOLIS — A compromise bill that will provide some financial relief to low-income workers and businesses hurt by the pandemic is now law after a light-speed effort by Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly.
The passage of a roughly $1.2 billion bill Friday, in less than a month, is one of the few bright spots in a young 2021 session for the second-term Republican governor, who watched last week as the overwhelming Democratic majorities overrode his vetoes on every major bill passed last year. Hogan wasted no time taking a shared victory lap.
“At a time when so many Americans have stopped believing that democracy can work for them and as Washington remains divided and gridlocked, Maryland, once again, has shown the nation that both parties can still come together,” said Hogan. “That we can put the people’s priorities first and that we can develop real, bipartisan, common-sense solutions to the serious problems that face us.”
Hogan, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones all identified providing coronavirus pandemic aid package as among the top priorities for the session.
“The RELIEF Act offers a real lifeline to those hardest hit people who are struggling to get by and small businesses that are desperately trying to stay afloat,” said Hogan.
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate. Only Republican Rick Impallaria, R-Baltimore and Howard counties, voted against it in the House.
Jones said lawmakers are already receiving praise for the efforts with Hogan.
“Not often times as legislators do we get thanks,” said Jones. “This is a big deal. This is of historic proportions. We have a governor who sees that we all represent the same people. The fact that we were quickly able to do this says a lot to us. The key to that was communication. We talked to each other.”
The two legislative chambers reached a compromise late Friday after a controversial House amendment to provide payments to low-income workers, some who are undocumented immigrants, who do not use a Social Security number to pay their taxes was nixed.
“While it was a rush to pass this bill, it was not a rushed effort,” said Ferguson. “Senators and members of the House as well have been working tirelessly since this pandemic began, speaking to constituents, hearing their needs, their concerns, their fears and hearing what needs they most needed met. There is not a single Marylander who will not be affected by this bill and it will directly affect millions of Marylanders including and especially those who have fallen through the cracks despite efforts of previous state and federal aid.”
The aid package, estimated to cost between $1.1 and $1.2 billion, is the first bill passed this year by the General Assembly. It contains a mix of provision to provide financial support to struggling Maryland residents and businesses and to exempt them from some taxes.
Under the bill that passed Friday, low-wage workers under the Earned Income Tax Credit would be eligible for an increase that amounts to an additional $540 for joint filers and $300 for a single filer annually for three tax years, 2020-2022.
There are also provisions to provide businesses and nonprofits with an additional $100 million in financial relief; forgiveness of some state loans made to businesses last spring; up to $9,000 in sales tax payments that some businesses can keep over the next three months; as well as housing and utility assistance.
Under the compromise reached late Friday, the House withdrew a controversial amendment providing payments to those with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers in return for a commitment from Senate leaders to work together to pass legislation to provide a larger benefit under a program similar to the Earned Income Tax Credit. Passage of that bill could come as soon as next week. Critics of the amendment said it would have steered relief to undocumented immigrants.
Republicans in the House had said the amendment added in the 11th hour Thursday broke a deal between the House, Senate and Hogan.
Members of the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus and the Legislative Black Caucus pushed for inclusion of those immigrant taxpayers. The two groups of lawmakers combined make up about two-thirds of the 99-member House Democratic Caucus. A number of members of the Black caucus also belong to the Latino caucus.
“We worked really hard with leadership on both sides to come up with this solution, which I think is a very fair and beautiful solution that gives all taxpayers regardless of whether their status the earned income tax credit,” said Del David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery and chairman of the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus. “It’s a win, win, win.”