District 9 Legislative Wrap-Up
Session 2015 – Week 13
Greetings from Annapolis,
It’s crunch time, no time to rest or lose focus. My committee voted nearly 90 bills in one afternoon. Most were House cross-files we had considered, but the sheer volume is astounding. With legislators working fast & furiously to get bills passed, errors can slip through. Sometimes this strategy plays well to leadership, when people are weary and focused on their own bills’ success or failure.
Divided government can be interesting and even messy and contentious. In Maryland, the Governor is the only one who can initiate spending, and we see Governor Hogan using that power to pressure leadership to pass his priorities in order to have a supplemental budget from him to address their priorities. Although there is currently a budget showdown, no one wants an extended session. Compromise is likely.
For perspective as we move forward on the budget, note the share of the budget given to each area of spending from the final O’Malley budget in 2014 and the Hogan budget this year.
|Natural Resources, Env.||2%||2%|
Governor Hogan has sent down 3 supplemental budgets. (These are really just amendments to his initial budget as changed by the legislature.)
In the first, he addressed local governments’ concerns over Highway User Revenues, allocating another $25 million to help meet road repairs after a difficult winter.
In the second, he added $45 million to meet the needs of the Department of Corrections & State Police, as well as to provide tax credits for military retirement, “Hometown Heroes” (police & fire) tax credits and small business property tax credits, paid for with funds available from other sources, NOT tax increases.
The third takes the $75 million cut from programs by the legislature to make the promised catch-up payment to the State retirement system. It is entirely possible to have at least one more, if agreement is reached on such priorities of the Governor as charter schools and rain tax repeal.
The capital budget received unanimous support in the Senate this week, with differences remaining to be worked out in conference with the House. I offer below excerpts from a speech I gave on the Senate floor for your information.
I applaud efforts of the Administration and both budget committees. Having served on the Appropriations committee for 12 years, I know that balancing the budget and meeting spending needs is a daunting task. Thanks for the hard work and difficult decisions you have made.
We pay our debt with the State property tax, but it has not been enough, and we continue to supplement that with general tax dollars. As a result of increased capital spending, we are taking more and more money from the general fund to help pay our debt. To be clear, these are general funds paid on top of property tax revenues.
While we have used general funds in the past, the appropriation today and in the future are expected to grow to an unprecedented and potentially unmanageable amount.
General fund contributions will increase to $395 million next year, $472 million in 2018 and continue to grow in the out years. This supplement continues to compete with other priority spending. Most of all, we are projected to hit our debt limit in two years. I offer this friendly amendment asking the Capital Debt Affordability Committee to reexamine their affordability process to:
1) Better evaluate the cost of increasing debt authorizations
2) Better link the affordability criteria with the State’s current economic and budget condition
It is exactly what was recommended by DLS analysts this year and in years past, and the General Assembly is well within its rights to make this suggestion. Though this will not fix the crowding out of government services in the near-term, it will put our State on a more sustainable footing to begin to fix the problem before it becomes worse.
n a lighter note, it was great to again host University of Maryland student members of the College Republicans. We had frank discussions about the budget and other pieces of legislation being considered. These young people are our future and they are paying close attention to what we are doing.
The session will end at midnight on April 13. Since we did not have a budget complete by the 85th day of session, Governor Hogan called for a 10-day extension to the session, as is constitutionally required. This is unlikely to happen. I will be providing a recap of many of the major issues next week following the end of session.
Continuing to serve you in Annapolis,