Md. lawmakers look to iron out budget differences in coming days

Jack Hogan//March 24, 2023

Md. lawmakers look to iron out budget differences in coming days

By Jack Hogan

//March 24, 2023

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, speaks after he was reelected to the position during the start of the state's General Assembly's annual 90-day session on Jan. 11, 2023, in Annapolis. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, notes that the chamber passed the upcoming fiscal year budget unanimously. Senate and House conferees will be appointed to work out the differences in the bills passed by the two chambers. (AP File Photo/Julio Cortez)

ANNAPOLIS — Democratic leaders in the Senate and House are expected to appoint members to a conference committee that will begin meeting early next week to iron out slight differences between the chambers’ proposals for the state’s $63 billion budget.

The state lawmakers are scheduled to pass the budget by April 3.

The state Senate voted unanimously, 47-0, to approve a version of the budget Thursday. The House voted 131-5 to approve a version of it on Friday of last week.

“This week in the Senate, our top priority was, by far, to pass the budget bill,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, said during a news conference Friday.

Conference committees consist of three members from each chamber. Ferguson will appoint three senators and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, will appoint three delegates, according to the Maryland State Archives.

The conference committee will send a report of its recommendations to each chamber.

Among the discrepancies between the Senate and House versions of the budget is the amount of money allocated for implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education plan and for completing transportation projects.

The Senate’s version of the budget includes $800 million above the required contribution for public education and $200 million for transportation projects that can be used for matching federal investments, including for potential light-rail transit systems in southern Maryland and the Baltimore region, Ferguson said.

“We do this because we know that we have commitments ahead, and we are putting down money today to ensure that we meet those commitments moving forward,” he said.

In the House’s version, there would be $900 million set aside for implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and $100 million for transportation.

Democratic Gov. Wes Moore’s proposed budget set aside an additional $500 million for the education blueprint and $500 million for transportation.

“I do want to thank the Moore administration as well,” Ferguson said. “It was collaborative partnership along the way, throughout, that allowed us to get to a place where what we saw yesterday was a unanimously passed budget.”

As part of the budget, the state will preserve $2.5 billion — or 10% of general fund revenues — in its Rainy Day Fund, Ferguson said. The state has a targeted savings rate of 5%.

“Ten percent sounds like a lot,” said Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel. “But, it’s not a lot if we get a recession.”

Rosapepe, who serves as the vice chair for the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said this level of savings represents a change in philosophy in the legislature — one that will better prepare the state to weather inevitable economic downturns without cutting services or raising taxes.

During the news conference Friday, Ferguson said the Senate version of a bill to establish regulations and licensing for the legalization of cannabis on July 1 is “nearing completion” and is expected to be discussed on the Senate floor early next week.

The Senate is also expected to take up a bill early next week that would transfer authority of the Maryland 529 Program, which comprises the state’s prepaid college trust and investment plans, to the Office of the State Treasurer.

Hundreds of parents have reported they had been blocked from accessing their 529 college savings accounts, and a new method of calculating investment returns led to sharp drop in the value of some of those accounts. The proposal to transfer oversight of the program to the treasurer is a response to the turmoil.


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