Cardin and Mikulski Say No to Offshore Drilling

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Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski joined other East Coast senators Wednesday to reintroduce the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism (COAST) Anti-Drilling Act on Earth Day in an effort to block offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

This week also marked the fifth year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which serves as a reminder of the possible consequences of offshore drilling. The spill is recognized as the worst in U.S. history, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 where he and other East Coast senators joined together to reintroduce the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism Anti-Drilling Act. Capital News Service photo by James Levin
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 where he and other East Coast senators joined together to reintroduce the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism Anti-Drilling Act. Capital News Service photo by James Levin

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said, “We’re introducing the COAST Act to help protect our local economies, marine life, the health of our shore residents and to tell Big Oil that America’s coastline is not for sale.”

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said, “Not only no, but hell no to offshore drilling.”

The legislation is being sponsored by the group of East Coast Democratic senators in opposition of the Obama administration’s plans for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, announced in January.

The administration’s proposal would allow oil companies to lease areas off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia for oil and gas drilling. These states have been designated as part of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022.

Proponents of the COAST Anti-Drilling Act argue that offshore drilling would introduce threats that could irreversibly damage the state of the Atlantic Ocean and cause a ripple effect that would destroy the environment and local economies.

“Oil spills do not respect state boundaries, making the risks of drilling off the Atlantic Coast far greater than the rewards,” Cardin said. “The Chesapeake Bay, which generates more than $1 trillion in economic activity for the mid-Atlantic region, does not need yet another threat to its future health and vitality.”

“I am absolutely opposed to offshore drilling and always will be,” Mikulski said. “Offshore drilling can devastate the environment, harming our unique and fragile coastline and wreaking havoc on the coastal communities whose economies rely heavily on tourism.”

Environmentally sensitive areas such as Chesapeake Bay, the Jersey Shore, and Long Island Sound would suffer from an oil spill, according to proponents of the legislation.

In response to a question at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday, Menendez said there has been no recent interaction with the Obama Administration on this subject.

The House of Representatives led by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., planned to introduce companion legislation to the COAST Anti-Drilling Act Wednesday.

Cardin and Mikulski were joined by Menendez, Whitehouse and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Edward Markey, D-Mass., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,, in sponsoring the Senate version.

By Lily Hua

Annapolis Score Card: What Passed and What Didn’t

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The Maryland General Assembly proposed 2,248 pieces of legislation during the 2015 legislative session. More than 650 bills made it to the governor’s desk, of which Hogan signed 121 into law Tuesday morning.

WHAT PASSED:

Fracking moratorium: Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, more commonly known as fracking, will be restricted under a two-year moratorium so state officials can continue to study the effects of fracking on Maryland’s environment.

“Rain tax” repeal: The stormwater remediation fee, dubbed the “rain tax,” charged homeowners to help fund mandated federal programs to address urban runoff. The bill repeals the counties’ requirement to collect such a fee and instead allows them to find another method of gathering the money.

Charter schools: Low-income students and students with disabilities or limited English proficiency are to be given a greater chance to enroll in a charter school through a lottery process. The bill also provides for a sibling of a currently enrolled charter school student to join the school.

Travel tax: The state would be able to charge third-party travel websites the state’s 6 percent sales tax on the service charge collected when people book through their service. Proponents of the bill say it fills a “loophole” that excluded these websites, but opponents say it is a new tax.

Marijuana paraphernalia: Marijuana was decriminalized in 2014, but paraphernalia, like pipes, were not at the time. This bill follows up on the previous year’s law by decriminalizing the paraphernalia.

Public Information Act: Two bills would allow citizens to file complaints with a compliance board if they feel state agencies are not being fair to their public information requests, and would require state agencies to post a list of public information officers on their websites.

State election public financing: People would be able to voluntarily check off on their income tax returns to give money to a public campaign financing fund for governor.

Second Chance Act: After a period of no criminal activity and having paid their dues to society, people with nonviolent criminal records can shield certain offenses from potential employers. The law would keep the offense on the record for law enforcement officers to view.

Ex-felon voting rights: After being released from prison, convicted felons would be allowed to vote. The bill does not require them to have completed any probation or parole requirements before reinstating their right to vote.

Transgender birth certificates: Transgender residents of Maryland would be able to get new, unamended birth certificates to reflect the gender they identify with. The bill does not require them to have had sex-reassignment surgery.

Speed limits: The maximum state highway speed would be raised from 65 mph to 70 mph for certain highways.

“Yellow alerts”: State police would be able to issue “yellow alerts” to find a hit-and-run driver who seriously injures someone.

Powdered alcohol: The legislature voted to ban powdered alcohol, which can be mixed with water to produce an alcoholic beverage, amid fears of people abusing it and overdosing.

Uber: Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft will be allowed to continue doing their own background checks and vehicle safety inspections with less government oversight than traditional taxi companies.

“Anayah’s Law”: The Department of Social Services would have the discretion to ask the courts to prevent a child from being returned to their parents if there is evidence the child is being abused at home.

Asset forfeiture: A widely criticized state police practice of confiscating property allegedly connected to a crime is now being regulated, so that it restricts the state’s ability to keep the property and requires them to report what they seize.

Film tax credit: “House of Cards” would receive an enticement to stay in Maryland under a new bill that would allow shows and films to continue receiving a tax credit for filming in the state.

WHAT DIDN’T PASS:

Death with dignity: A bill for terminally ill patients with a prognosis of death within six months who wanted a doctor to help them end their lives did not pass the legislature.

Paid sick leave: Small businesses would be mandated to give their employees one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Tax relief to small businesses: The governor introduced a bill to create a tax exemption on the first $10,000 of personal property for small business owners.

Police accountability: Dozens of bills addressing police accountability were introduced at the beginning of the session. Many of them received unfavorable reports from the legislature.

By Anjali Shastry

Maryland Schools Feel Pull Between GOP Governor, Democratic Majority

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Education was touted as a legislative priority by many during the most recent session of Maryland’s General Assembly, but the definition of that priority differed widely, creating some of the toughest tests of bipartisanship between newly elected Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and a Democrat-led General Assembly.

At the close of session Monday night, a Democrat-friendly budget was passed that sets aside $68 million in additional funding for public education and a bill was passed that advances Hogan’s goal of expanding access to charter schools in the state. But the future of those key initiatives remains uncertain.

From the beginning of his term, Hogan championed record funding for K-12 education. His initial budget proposal included $6.1 billion in funding for schools, largely concentrated in capital expenditures.

But it also cut funding to the Geographic Cost of Education Index — a formula that provides additional aid to local school systems where educational resource costs are above the state average — in half, a blow to 13 districts that have come to expect the additional aid.

Legislators, unable to add or transfer funds within the governor’s budget proposal, cut from other programs, including $75 million from planned contributions into the state employees’ pension fund, in order to fence off the $68 million needed to fully fund the index. But Hogan doesn’t have to spend that earmarked money on public education, or at all.

State Senator Nancy King, D-Montgomery, says that anything less than 100 percent funding this year would be harmful.

In fact, legislators passed a bill in the last hours of session Monday night that would mandate full funding of the index in future years if Hogan does not fully fund it this fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“We see the public outcry. It’s teacher layoffs and larger class sizes we’re talking about,” King said. “We don’t have some of the best schools in the country by accident.”

But House Minority Whip Delegate Kathy Szeliga, R-Harford and Baltimore County, said the concern should not be how much is being spent on public schools, but on how well the schools are educating their students.

“When taxpayers are giving $17,000 a pupil (in Baltimore City) and producing a failing school, that’s a problem. Writing another check isn’t the solution” she said, but advancing charter schools is a good start.

Charter schools are a key priority for Hogan; he appointed former Delegate Keiffer Mitchell, a prominent Baltimore Democrat, as a special adviser on the subject, likely to foster bipartisan cooperation on the topic.

The charter school bill that was passed by the legislature on Monday — which allows for more flexibility in teacher certification and student enrollment — is less transformative than the version that was initially proposed, but Hogan said Tuesday he considers it a “solid foundation to build from, and it gives us an opportunity to come back next year.”

In a supplemental budget the governor released days before the end of session, Hogan also requested funding for a tuition tax credit bill known as BOAST, or Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers, which would give businesses tax credit for donating to private schools.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, was starkly against the measure, which held up fiscal negotiations for a period of time. Ultimately, the provision was rejected, as it has been each time it’s been proposed since 2006.

State Senator and Majority Leader Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, said that while there was not as much focus on higher education as she would have liked, she thought the session went well for education overall.

“Aside from a short period of contention, there was a good spirit of cooperation,” she said. “The governor is responsible enough and has education as a priority himself. I think, in the end, everything is going to be OK.”

Community colleges were threatened by a formula adjustment posed by Hogan in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2015 that would result in an $800,000 decrease in year-over-year direct state aid. But legislators worked to restore the funding, and each of the state’s 16 community colleges will receive aid that is at least equal to that of last year.

On Tuesday, Hogan signed a bill that would offer special protection from discrimination to interns or internship applicants. Other education-related bills passed by the General Assembly that on Tuesday were awaiting the governor’s signature include:

a bill that would prohibit educational institutions from accessing a student’s or applicant’s personal electronic accounts;

a bill that would waive out-of-county and out-of-region fees for victims of human trafficking to attend community college;

a bill that would create more stringent requirements for unaccompanied homeless youth to receive a higher education tuition waiver; and

a bill that would establish a two-year pilot program that provides nonprofit organizations funding to create outreach programs that would help encourage low-income students to attend college.

A bill that would require institutions of higher education to regularly report instances of sexual assault on campus and prominently mark the transcript of a student suspended for or dismissed for sex offenses received unfavorable committee reports.

by Deidre McPhillips

Maryland Legislature Passes State Budget, Some Spending Uncertainty Remains

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The Maryland General Assembly passed the state’s $40.7 billion budget hours before the close of the session Monday evening, but left unknown is whether Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will spend more than $200 million in unallocated funds for supplemental education funding, state employee raises and subsidies for physicians who accept Medicaid, among other social programs. 
 
Over the 90-day legislative session, the Democratic-majority legislature has been at odds with Hogan over the budget, which the first-term governor wanted to keep trim to follow through on his campaign promises of fiscal responsibility and lowering taxes. 
 
The legislature opted to rearrange about $202 million to pay for supplemental education funding, reinstate state employee raises, and subsidies for physicians who accept Medicaid and other social programs cut in the governor’s original proposed budget. The bicameral committee representing the legislature’s budget interests finalized the spending-plan details on Friday, choosing to disregard the governor’s supplemental budgets, which had reversed some of the legislature’s spending changes. 
 
The budget passed 10 votes shy of unanimous in the House and unanimously in the Senate three weeks before, but many Republicans changed their minds after the massive spending proposal went through the bicameral committee on Friday.
 
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford Counties, said he was proud to vote for the budget three weeks ago, but was not as happy with it now.
 
“I’m very disappointed in what’s coming from the other chamber,” he said.
 
Hogan said at a news conference Monday afternoon that regardless of what happened with the budget, he considered it a “win” because it “broke the streak of 40 consecutive tax hikes.”
 
He also suggested that if the legislature passed the budget without passing more of his legislative agenda — including some tax repeals and cuts, the state’s public campaign-financing fund and charter school legislation — he might not approve some of the rearranged funding.
 
State Senator Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said that after all the negotiations, the “ball is now in (the governor’s) court” to choose to fund education, state employee salaries, and all the other social programs.
 
“We’ve left it in his hands, and hopefully he won’t punish the school children of Maryland because he didn’t get all he wanted,” Madaleno, the vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation committee, said early Monday evening.
 
The House passed the budget 90 to 49, and the Senate voted for it 33 to 13. Once passed by both bodies, the budget is final without the governor’s signature, but Hogan does need to approve and allocate unmandated spending. 
By Anjali Shastry

Maryland Senate Passes Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana Paraphernalia

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After some discussion and two failed amendments, the Maryland Senate on Friday passed a bill decriminalizing the use or possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

The bill reclassifies possession of drug paraphernalia involving less than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal to a civil charge.

Offenders can be given fines ranging from $100 to $500 depending on the number of violations. The law requires the issuance of citations; and a court appearance if the subject is younger than 21 years old or has committed three or more violations, requiring any further adjudication of those cases to be in district court.

The bill also creates a new criminal misdemeanor for smoking marijuana on public property.

Violators younger than 18 charged with possession of paraphernalia would be subject to juvenile court procedures and would be referred to a substance abuse education or rehabilitation program, under the bill.

A decrease in local revenues and state general funds are expected, according to an analysis accompanying the bill, and civil penalties would be allocated to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to fund drug treatment programs.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City, passed through both legislative bodies.

A companion bill, sponsored by Senator Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, on Friday evening was awaiting a vote in the House.

Senator Stephen Hershey, R-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil and Caroline, was one of three to vote against the bill on Friday.

“I’m just not on board with all the marijuana bills yet,” Hershey, the minority whip, said. “From a federal standpoint, it’s still illegal.”

However, fellow Republican Senator Justin Ready, from Carroll, decided to vote for the bill.

“I feel like this is a great balanced approach,” Ready said. “I think if we legalize stuff, it sends a bad message that it’s OK (to smoke). With decriminalization, we’re bowing to the idea that this is not something we want to send people to jail for.”

The Maryland State Police Department, through a spokeswoman, said Friday they have no position on the legislation.

Much of the Senate discussion Wednesday centered on a floor amendment from Senator Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, proposing to decriminalize smoking marijuana in public places. The bill would still criminalize smoking in a vehicle.

The amendment ultimately died by a vote of 22-24.

Senator Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, also proposed an amendment that would limit police search rights in regards to marijuana. It was quickly shot down with a 3-44 vote.

By Brian Marron

Governor Funds State Pension, Continuing Budget Battle With Democratic Legislators

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Gov. Larry Hogan proposed a second amendment to the state budget Thursday afternoon that would restore $75 million to Maryland State Retirement and Pension System, the latest attempt in a seemingly winless battle between the governor and the General Assembly to fund different priorities.

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 7.15.49 AM“While we’re not going to get everything we want, the legislature’s not going to get everything that they want,” said Hogan, a Republican. “I think we’re working together in a bipartisan way and I think the taxpayers are going to get what they want, which is the most fiscally responsible budget in decades.”

Speaker of the House Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, pointedly noted that Hogan’s proposal ignores the legislature’s main priorities, like supplemental education funding, Medicaid costs for vulnerable populations and 2 percent pay raises for state employees.

The budget, which passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate a few weeks ago, cut $75 million from planned contributions into the state employees’ pension fund to pay for those priorities. Busch emphasized that 176 of the 188 legislators voted in favor of this budget, a majority of both Republicans and Democrats.

“The members of the House would like to see some kind of indication of the administration, the governor, of their intent to fund the programs that were passed overwhelmingly in the state budget this year,” Busch said.

But Hogan is taking authority to protect his agenda, which he said includes record funding for K-12 education and keeping his election promises to cut taxes and government spending.

“Robbing the pension is not a good idea,” Hogan said. “I was elected on a mandate of putting Maryland on a new path, but there are some folks here who don’t want to change. There’s going to be some natural friction, but I can tell you think no one’s worked harder on bipartisanship than me.”

Hogan put forward three tax-relief measures in his legislative agenda — one for small-business owners; one for military retirees; and one for fire, rescue and emergency personnel and volunteers. Bills associated with the first two initiatives have passed unanimously in the Senate and have moved to the House, but the third has not emerged successfully from committee.

Senate President Thomas V “Mike” Miller Jr., D- Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, told Senators Thursday that the House could vote on the budget Friday morning, but many delegates and Busch didn’t have that expectation.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to move the supplemental,” Busch said, as it doesn’t include the priorities the General Assembly worked hard to pass.

But Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said fully funding the pension is a more responsible long-term plan for the state.

“Kudos to Governor Hogan because that raid on the pension contribution was very bad fiscal policy,” Franchot said.

The $40.7 billion state budget the Senate passed and its companion legislation reinstated about $62 million for supplemental education funding to 13 jurisdictions, about $60 million for state employee raises and about $45 million for Medicaid subsidies for physicians.

Delegate Ben Barnes, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, said Hogan’s supplemental budget is irresponsible and now unbalanced.

“If the governor believes additional reductions are warranted, he should have the strength of his convictions and make (specific) reductions,” said Barnes, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “If the governor wants to be serious about working with the legislature, this is not the way to go.”

Education advocates are also upset the governor still hasn’t fully funded education, specifically the supplemental education budget — known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index — that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as Baltimore and 10 other jurisdictions, have grown reliant on.

“Educators, students, and parents have been pleading with Gov. Hogan for weeks to release the nearly $70 million in school funding restored by the General Assembly so we can avoid increased class sizes, educator layoffs, and critical program cuts,” Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “His (latest) supplemental budget proposal continues to ignore the General Assembly’s work.”

House Judiciary committee member Delegate Brett Wilson, R-Washington, said funding the pension is just smart planning.

“It’s refreshing to see people who stand up for what they believe in, and I trust that we’ll end up with the best possible result for people,” Wilson said.

by Grace Toohey

–CNS correspondents Nate Rabner, Katelyn Newman and Anjali Shastry contributed to this report.

Legislators Are ‘Waiting to See’ What Governor Hogan Does on State Budget

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Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday morning asked a Maryland Democratic leader to support his fiscal agenda, but by the afternoon, a committee charged with hammering out budget differences appeared to be waiting for him to make the next move.

In a meeting with Speaker of the House of Delegates Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, Hogan asked the legislature to keep pushing forward his agenda, including making Maryland friendly for entrepreneurs and funding charter schools, Secretary of the state’s Department of Budget and Management David Brinkley said.

“No, he’s not happy that he doesn’t have some of his initiatives through,” Brinkley said. “There’s still ample opportunity for the legislature to move forward on this.”

A conference committee met Tuesday in Annapolis to hash out the differences, but put the more contentious items on hold for another day to focus on “innocuous” items, said Delegate Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery.

“We’re just looking at where we are in terms of our fund balance, see where we are structurally, and quite frankly, we’re still waiting to see what the governor does to restore the priorities that a majority of the Senate and the House approved,” said Zucker, a member of the House Appropriations committee.

“It will be very interesting to see if he doesn’t get what he wants, what will his reaction be?” said Senator and Vice Chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery. “And it’s human nature. It’s easier to say we tried, but (if) I don’t get what I want, you don’t get what you want.”

Hogan, a Republican, was elected on a platform of reducing taxes and state spending. He is attempting to address a $700 million structural deficit in the state budget in one year.

In order to do so, his initial budget rescinded a 2 percent cost-of-living raise given to state employees in January and subsidies for physicians who accept Medicaid, and halved the supplemental public education budget — known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index — that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as Baltimore and 10 other jurisdictions, have grown reliant on.

The Democrat-controlled legislature restored all three of these initiatives, but did not include all of Hogan’s agenda.

After the House of Delegates and the Senate both passed amended budgets, Hogan last week introduced a supplemental budget to push forward some of his priorities.

The $45 million supplement provided tax breaks for businesses that contribute to private schools, gave $2 million to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to combat heroin addiction and $8.2 million to the Maryland State Police for a new barrack in Annapolis and 100 new troopers.

He also accounted for three tax-relief measures in the supplement — one for small-business owners; one for military retirees; and one for fire, rescue and emergency personnel and volunteers. Bills associated with the first two initiatives have passed unanimously in the Senate, but the third has not emerged successfully from committee.

The governor has significantly more authority than the legislature on budgetary matters, according to Warren Deschenaux, the director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the Department of Legislative Services. Only Hogan can add money to the budget, like he did with the supplemental budget. If the legislature wanted to increase the budget, they would have to go to the governor, but otherwise they can only reduce or redistribute what is already there.

“(The legislature has) to say, mother may I,” Deschenaux said, “and sometimes you may, and sometimes you may not.”

By Anjali Shastry

Small-Business Initiatives Advance in Maryland Senate

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In his first State of the State address nearly two months ago, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan repeatedly referred to small businesses as a barometer for Maryland’s health, advocating for a focus on business-friendly policies to boost the state’s economy.

The state Senate agreed Tuesday, passing a bill that would create a small-business advisory panel in the Department of Business and Economic Development and advancing a tax-relief measure Hogan has said will benefit more than 70,000 small-business owners.

The advisory panel echoes Hogan’s promise to consider how each decision he makes will affect small businesses. The six-member council, which would include small-business owners, would review bills and help inform lawmakers about the legislation’s potential consequences for businesses.

“It gives the small-business community a voice in the regulatory process that they haven’t had before,” said Senator Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, the chair of the Finance Committee.

Meanwhile, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Friday approved Hogan’s Small Business Personal Property Tax Relief Act of 2015. The bill would excuse a business from paying a tax on $10,000 or less in personal property, which includes work-related property such as office equipment.

The bill should save eligible businesses an average of $72 in taxes per year, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The two measures advanced with strong support in the Senate chamber, though a few senators were concerned the advisory panel was a “feel-good bill” that would not make state regulations more business-friendly.

The proposed panel “makes the regulatory process in the state so bureaucratic as to slow down any effort to help improve working conditions,” said Senator Richard Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, vice-chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

But Madaleno described himself as the “floor leader” in the discussion of Hogan’s tax-relief bill.

“It’s more of a headache elimination for the smallest businesses,” he said. “To me, that had a real impact on reducing a burden on small businesses.”

Hogan Introduces New Budget Supplement For Tax Relief, Education, Law Enforcement

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Republican Gov. Larry Hogan introduced a budget supplement Thursday calling for $44.8 million in tax relief, education spending, substance abuse treatment and police hires, among other items.
 
The proposal caused quite a stir when it was delivered to state legislators, who will adjourn for the year at midnighton April 13
 
“I think it looks great,” said Delegate Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore County and Harford, the House minority whip. “The governor is funding some of his priorities.”
 
But some Democrats were as concerned about measures absent from the supplement as they were about the items it sought to fund. 
 
Hogan’s initial fiscal 2016 budget, which has passed in the House of Delegates and the Senate, planned to reverse a recent 2 percent raise for state employees; the latest proposal does not attempt to preserve the higher salaries.
 
Another notable absentee — the Geographic Cost of Education Index — has some public education advocates worried. Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, said afterThursday’s floor session that he hadn’t yet read the supplement closely, but that “the worst thing (Hogan) could do is to cut education funding.”
 
Some public education advocates said Hogan is using the index, a supplemental funding source for state public schools, as a bargaining chip to pressure the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to support his legislative initiatives. Hogan’s initial budget cut the index in half, from about $133 million in fiscal 2015 to about $68 million. Legislators earmarked funds to replenish the index, but Hogan has not yet approved the restoration.
 
“After the hard work of the General Assembly to restore more than 90 percent of his cuts, he has decided to hold hostage nearly $70 million in public school funding in exchange for his agenda,” Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller said of Hogan in a statement.
 
The Maryland State Education Association, which advocates for the interests of public schools, also criticized a provision in the supplemental budget that would allocate $5 million for organizations that provide financial aid to private-school students. Delegate and House Appropriations Committee member Carol Krimm, D-Frederick, agreed.
 
“Our obligation under the Constitution is to fund public education, so I think that really has to be scrutinized,” she said.
 
Hogan said in a statement that the $5 million would help low-income students.
 
He accounted for three tax-relief measures in the supplement — one for small-business owners; one for military retirees; and one for fire, rescue and emergency personnel and volunteers. Bills associated with the first two initiatives have passed unanimously in the Senate, but the third has not emerged successfully from committee.
 
The supplement also allocates millions of dollars to bolster public health and law enforcement. Among other provisions, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would receive $2 million for treating heroin addicts, part of Hogan’s plan to combat what he has called an “epidemic” of heroin use in the state. State Police would get about $8.2 million to reopen a barrack in Annapolis and train 100 new troopers.
 
“I’m pleased with the increase in state troopers; I’m delighted that’s there’s going to be more money for private education; the tax deductions are a good idea,” said Delegate Barrie Ciliberti, R-Carroll and Frederick, who is on the Appropriations Committee. “The governor is firm in his commitment to lower taxes, to help businesses.”
 
The supplement also set aside $4.5 million for capital projects at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Doctors Community Hospital in Prince George’s County and a new facility for the study of drones and other unmanned vehicles at Southern Maryland Regional Higher Education Center in St. Mary’s County.
 
Now it’s up to the senators and delegates to respond to Hogan’s latest proposal, which will add to the already-passed budget. Ciliberti said Hogan, Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch will have to resolve the disagreements.
 
“We have to wait and see,” Ciliberti said. “This will go to conference committee, there will be more supplemental budgets, there will be more yelling and screaming, and the final analysis is going to be done among the powers that be — the governor, the speaker, the president.”
By Nate Rabner
 
–Capital News Service correspondents Grace Toohey and Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.