Gov. Larry Hogan warned Saturday that he will not release money Democrats earmarked for certain school districts if there is no agreement on the overall budget before the legislative session ends Monday at midnight.
“I think that it’s a real bad deal for them if they can’t come up with any kind of a fiscally responsible budget,” Hogan said, hours after presenting a compromise proposal that added some additional funds for schools and employee pay raises. “It’s going to be really bad news for them.”
The standoff between the first-term Republican governor and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly continued Saturday over the budget, the governor’s legislative agenda, employee raises and top lawmakers’ push for additional funding to aid school systems that face high operating costs.
The General Assembly is expected to pass some version of the budget by midnight Monday. Hogan cannot veto the spending plan, but he can choose not to spend some funds the General Assembly has targeted for its priorities.
Little progress has been made despite efforts from both sides to end the bickering that started about two weeks ago, when Hogan issued three supplemental proposals that did not include Democratic priorities and he refused to indicate whether he planned to ultimately provide funding for schools.
A conference committee made conciliatory gestures toward Hogan on Friday, addressing some of his priorities in an amended budget agreement that added money for private schools, state troopers and the state pension fund. The committee also said that if there was money available at the end of the fiscal year, it would potentially add $50 million, totaling $125 million, to the state employee pension system.
On Saturday, the House advanced watered-down Hogan bills to reform charter schools and expand an income-tax exemption for retired military veterans. It also moved a bill that repeals a requirement that the state’s largest jurisdictions charge a fee for cleaning pollution out of storm water, known by critics as the “rain tax.”
Hogan, in turn, offered a counterproposal Saturday to withdraw his last two supplemental budget plans and submit a new one that would fund pay raises and add $150 million to the $1.6 billion that the law requires for the pension fund this year. The General Assembly cut that additional amount in half, which Hogan criticized.
His plan also would fund the school districts at 75 percent, rather than the 100 percent that Democrats want.
“We made a proposal to them that we think is fair, that accomplishes many of the things that they’re trying to get done and is a little bit more fiscally responsible and doesn’t blow a hole in the pension or in the out-year budget,” Hogan said. “We made what we think is a pretty substantive, real, balanced compromise proposal, and I think they’re giving very serious consideration to it. We’re hopeful. . . . The proposal that we made today is the most substantive and real discussion that we’ve had in 90 days.”
The warning from Hogan came after a 30-minute meeting with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
Hogan called the meeting “productive.” Busch said it was “cordial.” Miller said the governor is “going to have some decisions to make.”
From all indications, the two sides are not any closer to a resolution as the 90-day legislative session comes to an end.
“I would hope the governor would embrace the fact that everyone has worked in good faith to achieve this,” Busch said during an interview to discuss the meeting. “We’ve been open about what we could accomplish and what we couldn’t accomplish.”
The bipartisan committee, made up of senators and delegates, reconciled their differences over the budgets that the House and Senate approved last month. Included in the new plan is an additional $4 million to pay for textbooks and technology at private schools. The money was seen as a compromise to Hogan’s bill that would give tax credits to companies that donate to private and public schools.
Lawmakers also added $1 million for state police, another item that was included in Hogan’s supplemental budget proposal.
Before the meeting, Miller said he had hoped that budget talks would have been more fruitful.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Miller said on the Senate floor as he prepared to head up to the second floor for the meeting. “We had a win, win, win, win, win and we were deprived of that. . . . It could have been much better.”
Meanwhile, the Senate took steps Saturday to prevent a similar standoff with Hogan over future school funding.
A Senate committee advanced a bill that would mandate that the state give extra funding to jurisdictions where it’s more expensive to educate children, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.