Maryland Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley resisted calls for austerity relief from Democrats on Thursday despite higher-than-anticipated revenue projections, an indication that the partisan spending battles that dominated this year’s legislative session could continue in 2016.
Appearing before the House and Senate committees that handle fiscal matters in the Democrat-controlled legislature, Brinkley shot down a question from Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) about whether Gov. Larry Hogan (R) would be open to raising property taxes to help offset the state’s rapidly growing debt.
Madaleno noted that former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican during whose administration Hogan served as appointments secretary, reluctantly supported such a move in 2003. But Brinkley wasn’t swayed.
“No, this governor will not support a property-tax increase,” the budget chief said of Hogan, who won an underdog victory last fall by promising to roll back many of the tax and fee increases enacted by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is also a Democratic presidential candidate.
Brinkley also signaled that the administration will not use the projected increase in revenue to provide more aid to Maryland’s costliest school systems, despite calls from the Maryland State Education Association to do so.
Hogan announced in May that he would withhold half of the $136 million needed to fully fund a supplement to the state’s most expensive school districts, under a formula known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index. Instead, Hogan used the money to bolster the state’s depleted pension system for public employees.
The teachers union wants Hogan to release the rest of the money, or $68 million, to schools, citing recent revenue projections as proof that the state can afford to be more generous. Maryland officials announced last week that the state is on track to bring in $212 million more than it originally anticipated for this fiscal year and next.
“The children in our public schools deserve a full commitment from their leaders,” the union said in a letter to Hogan. “Such support is not only fiscally possible, but is a prudent investment in the future of our state.”
Brinkley said the administration already agreed to increase education spending to a record amount this year, and he noted that other governors have not included any GCEI funding in their first-year budgets.
“I think what’s lost in the conversation is the fact that a lot of people expected 0 percent funding of GCEI,” Brinkley said.
Democrats, though, noted that with Maryland’s student population continuing to grow, per-pupil spending is below record levels, under Hogan.
Brinkley and other budget officials urged caution with the higher-than-anticipated revenue, warning that the state’s fiscal picture could change because of the shaky global economy and the potential of another federal government shutdown.
“None of us wants to be in a situation where we have to come back to retroactively make other cuts,” he said. “That’s far more painful than the conversations we’ve had with some of our agencies. . . . We can’t continue to do things the way it’s happened in the past and expect a different outcome, and that’s what you’re asking us to do.”
Thursday’s hearing also included testimony from Sue Esty, legislative director for the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who criticized some of the state’s plans for cutting agency spending by 2 percent across the board.
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has proposed saving about $24 million, in part by ending roll call for officers between shifts and increasing shifts from eight hours to 10 hours. Esty said the changes could make officers’ jobs more dangerous.
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