In his last budget presentation as Maryland governor, Larry Hogan released a proposed $58.2 billion fiscal year 2023 budget with a focus on law enforcement, tax cuts and education.
The spending plan includes $601 million towards higher education, $383 million for state and local parks and $30 million for the More Jobs in Maryland tax credit program slated to assist 84 small businesses and 3,540 jobs.
Two of the biggest items from the Republican governor: a first-year elimination of income taxes for 70,000 low-income seniors at $188 million and $3.6 billion in savings for the state’s “rainy day fund.”
The usual black budget books have now become purple – a symbol to show bipartisanship.
“We’ve been through a lot together, especially over the last two years as we have tirelessly battled a global pandemic,” he said at the State House on Jan. 19. “I can think of no better way than to begin this last year by presenting a budget which continues to keep the promises we made and builds on bipartisan progress that we have achieved to change Maryland for the better.”
According to the spending proposal, about $8.15 billion would be allocated for education, including a record $1 billion for school construction.
Some of the education funding includes $144 million to support pre-kindergarten for low-income three-year and four-year-old children, which connects to part of the legislature’s approval for the massive Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education plan.
Some lawmakers noticed one major flaw: an omission of $125 million ($99 million to Baltimore City and $26 million to Prince George’s County).
Those two majority-Black jurisdictions represent part of the Blueprint of Maryland’s Future funding formula to help fund low-income schools. Hogan vetoed the multi-billion education plan two years ago but the legislature overrode his veto for the plan to become law.
“We made some adjustments because Baltimore City and Prince George’s County have a higher share of students who live in poverty and they needed extra help,” said Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Glenarden, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “I guess the governor didn’t see a need to provide that extra help to Baltimore City and Prince George’s County who are taking care of the state’s children, [just] to be clear. That needs to be addressed.”
Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City), also a member of the Appropriations Committee, said there appears to be “hostility to adequately fund” public education, in comparison to Hogan pushing his “Refund the Police” initiative.
“It is striking that he would defund our neediest learners at the same time he’s trying to refund the police,” Smith said.
Although public safety would represent 5% of next year’s total expenditures, it could represent the biggest increase at 14% from this year’s spending plan.
Hogan wants lawmakers to approve a three-year, $500 million proposal for public safety. The expenditures include: $190 million in salaries and bonuses; $87 million in capital projects; $60 million in grants; $10 million for scholarships and loan repayments for police officers and students pursuing careers in law enforcement; and $9.2 million to continue efforts to modernize the state police vehicle fleet.
Locally, the state attorney’s offices in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County have been slated to receive $1.8 million and $1.2 million, respectively.
Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-District 47) of Cheverly called Hogan’s refunding plan “inflammatory,” especially when the state already invests in law enforcement and other public safety agencies.
However, Augustine said police reform should be all-inclusive. He has sponsored legislation for the state’s Department of Health to oversee a grant program that involves behavioral health services for mobile response crisis teams. It’s goal: “minimize law enforcement interaction for individuals in crisis.”
An additional behavioral services tool supported by Augustine would create a statewide “988” hotline specifically for mental health and substance crises. It would need $10 million to staff call centers and 24-hour accessibility.
A “Fund Maryland 988 Campaign” includes agencies from Baltimore City, nonprofit organizations and health care advocates.
“I am in support of public safety but I just think it really should be comprehensive and it needs to be in a way that is going to make us all a little bit safer,” Augustine said.
The legislature has final approval of the budget but can only cut certain items. The budget must be balanced before the next fiscal year begins on June 30.