COVID-19, education top Hogan's budget priorities for Maryland
COVID-19 relief and education funding are top priorities in Gov. Larry Hogan's 2022 budget proposal, which he unveiled in Annapolis on Tuesday and will present to the legislature on Wednesday.
Maryland managed to avoid the "fiscal Armageddon" that financial forecasters predicted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Hogan said. He credited the state's early budget reductions, a freeze on non-emergency spending, and COVID-19 economic relief from the state and federal government with helping ease the economic blow of the pandemic.
"Without all of those actions, the budget that we are presenting tomorrow would look radically different," he said.
The budget does not include any tax increases or cuts to essential state services, Hogan said.
He declined to provide the overall budget total and other detailed information that will become public when he presents the budget to the legislature tomorrow.
Here are the parts of the proposal that Hogan highlighted Tuesday:
- Hogan's $1 billion RELIEF Act, which would provide stimulus checks to working Marylanders who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit and millions of dollars in tax breaks, including a permanent repeal of the personal income tax on unemployment benefits.
- Education funding, including $7.5 billion for K-12 education and $411 million for higher education projects.
- Infrastructure, including $1 billion for roads and highways and another $1 billion for mass transit.
- Public safety and policing, including nearly $75 million to fund police aid to local governments, $43 million for law enforcement grants and $250 million to support a juvenile crime reduction strategy.
- $978 million for mental health and substance abuse programs to help combat the opioid epidemic.
Hogan's educational priorities reflect many of the reforms proposed in the massive Blueprint for Maryland's Future, also known as Kirwan.
That bill, which the legislature passed last year and Hogan vetoed, would cost about $4 billion per year when fully implemented. Lawmakers are expected to override Hogan's veto during the 2021 session.
Hogan's budget includes $151 million for tutoring, $53 million to expand pre-k for 4-year-olds, and $833 million for school construction funding — enough to fulfill every funding request in every local jurisdiction, Hogan said.
He continues to disagree with the legislature over the need for Kirwan, which he has criticized as too costly.
"For six years in a row, we've provided record funding for education and we're continuing to do that," Hogan said. "We still don't agree with $4 billion more per year."
Hogan's proposed funding for policing could also bring a legislative fight. Lawmakers have vowed to implement strong police reforms in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis and a national reckoning over police brutality.
It's not clear whether legislators will have an appetite for increased spending on policing. Hogan has said he agrees there is a need to look at police reform, but that he draws a line at calls to reduce police funding.
Maryand's finances have stayed remarkably strong during the pandemic, buoyed by continued spending, steady tax revenues and federal financial support.
Hogan said that was a stark difference from what was predicted in March.
"If you had told me last spring, when we faced the prospect of a near fiscal armageddon, that we would be able to introduce a budget that provides a billion dollars in immediate tax and stimulus relief for struggling families and small businesses, that makes record investments in education, public health and other key priorities, and is structurally balanced without any tax increases, furloughs or cuts to services, I would not have believed it," Hogan said.
Madeleine O'Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @maddioneill.