Turns out there is some pain in Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed spending plan after all.
The first-term Republican cheerfully announced at a news conference Tuesday that he could trim spending and eliminate a $750 million deficit with “no serious cuts.”
On Wednesday, he released his actual budget proposal for fiscal 2018, triggering immediate criticism from advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers about cuts to some mandated spending increases, a reduction in the operating subsidy provided to Prince George’s Hospital Center, the elimination of some funding to address pressing problems in Baltimore; and a reduction in spending on state grants to that city and other poorer jurisdictions that receive relatively little revenue from income taxes.
“This is a reminder that when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. “You can’t believe all the hype that comes out of the governor’s press operation.”
Much of the pushback related to legislation that the governor is proposing to keep spending in check amid dimming revenue forecasts. The measure, known as a budget-reconciliation bill, would pause some of the state’s mandated spending, including many funding hikes that take place automatically each year under state law.
One such requirement is a 3.5 percent increase in the reimbursement rates for care providers who work with the developmentally disabled. Hogan cut that amount to 2 percent for next year to achieve an estimated savings of $8.4 million.
Critics said the plan could cause care workers to seek better-paying jobs in other fields. “It magnifies the problems that we’re already having to deliver quality services to the disabled population,” said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), who pushed to include the annual increases in a minimum-wage bill that passed in 2014.
“Be empathetic with the population that these people are serving. . . . When they don’t have that consistency, the progress you can make with a person with disabilities is weakened.”
Hogan’s budget-reconciliation bill would also cancel spending on a host of initiatives that the legislature approved last year to help Baltimore, including funding for after-school and scholarship programs, parks and adult education.
Overall spending on local aid would remain relatively flat under Hogan’s fiscal plan, increasing by only $1 million in 2018.
In total, the budget-reconciliation measure would save an estimated $248 million, with nearly 20 percent of that amount coming from halting a requirement to sweep some of the state’s surplus money into Maryland’s public-pension system.
Hogan has also proposed legislation to provide tax relief for military retirees, police, firefighters and other emergency-response personnel, which he tried unsuccessfully to push through the legislature earlier in his term.
Budget officials said those proposals would affect revenue starting in 2019.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) criticized Hogan for allocating far less in operating funds to the Prince George’s County hospital system than lawmakers were expecting after a prolonged and bitter dispute last year.
Hogan announced in February that he would provide $15 million for the hospital in fiscal 2017 and would give $55 million total in operating funds over five years. The General Assembly, meanwhile, passed a law calling for $30 million for the hospital in fiscal 2018, $15 million in fiscal 2019 and $5 million each in fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2021.
In the budget proposal released Wednesday, Hogan allocated $7.5 million for fiscal 2017 and $15 million for fiscal 2018.
“We had an agreement,” Miller said. “The governor is reneging on his pledge to Prince George’s Hospital.”
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the agreement forged last year is flexible and is not being violated by the governor.
Funding is “still on track — it’s just being pushed into outer years,” Mayer said, adding that Hogan consulted the University of Maryland Medical System, which is taking over management of the hospital, before deciding how much to allocate.
Labor groups also raised concerns with the proposed budget, with state-employee unions chiding the governor for eliminating a cost-of-living increase for workers on the state payroll.
Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, the largest union representing state employees, said the plan shows a “lack of respect” for the work his group’s members do.
He criticized the state for agreeing to offer millions of dollars in tax credits and incentives to keep such corporations as Marriott International and Northrop Grumman in the state without making sure it could afford pay bumps for its employees.
“You don’t need to give money to big businesses that are running massive surpluses — they’re doing fine,” Moran said. “It’s Maryland’s working families that are not doing fine.”
Mayer said the pay increases would “not be feasible with the budget realities we’ve been facing.”
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.