But lawmakers said they want to see a greater emphasis placed on those who need that assistance, as the state and its residents continue to contend with the economic and health fallout from the virus.
“We want to do everything possible to help individuals who have been worst hit by covid,” said Sen. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard), chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. “There are issues out there, issues that have been difficult to tackle, but covid has brought them to light.”
Hogan’s proposal is 2 percent smaller than the spending plan he presented for fiscal 2021 and would leave Maryland’s rainy-day fund with a balance of $991 million, down from $1.2 billion right now.
The budget does not include any widespread layoffs or furloughs of state employees. It pumps $7.5 billion into K-12 education, $803 million into school construction and $1 billion into an economic stimulus package.
Hogan said Tuesday that the state did not experience the worst-case economic scenario that many forecasters predicted at the start of the pandemic, when there were widespread shutdowns and layoffs. That’s because Maryland’s economy bounced back more quickly than expected, and the state received financial help from the federal government to alleviate the effect of widespread shutdowns.
“Our state economy didn’t experience the drastic downturn expected by leading national economists, and we now face deficits that pale in comparison to the initial doomsday predictions,” Hogan said in a letter to Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).
According to legislative analysts, Hogan’s budget includes a 2 percent tuition increase for in-state students in the University of Maryland system; a $100 payment increase until June for those who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; and $125 million in mandated funding for Metro. The spending plan does not include about $1.4 billion the state received from the December federal coronavirus relief deal.
Guzzone said lawmakers will look program by program as they pore over details in the thick budget books to ensure that the state is doing enough to help those who are in need.
For example, Guzzone said, the budget needs to address the growing need for tutoring, access to broadband, mental health, and programs that address health-care disparities. Hogan’s proposal calls for spending $978 million for mental health and substance abuse programs and funds local health departments above their state grant formulas.
“I think he’s done a good job of presenting a budget to us,” Guzzone said. “We’re going to try to take it to the next level to do some good work.”
Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said many of the issues Hogan prioritized were laid out by the General Assembly, particularly his funding for education. Hogan’s plan includes funding for the initial framework of Kirwan, a multiyear investment for overhauling public education. Last year, the General Assembly approved a bill that lays out the rest of the plan for Kirwan. Hogan vetoed that measure, however, citing concerns about the cost. The legislature is expected to overturn his veto.
“We’re happy to see how he’s treating K-12 schools,” McIntosh said. “He took the direction that we had given him.”
McIntosh raised concerns, however, about several tax cuts Hogan wants, including a $1 billion tax-relief package for retirees.
From a health standpoint, she said, older Maryland residents were greatly affected by the pandemic — but not from an economic standpoint.
“Every document that I have read about who the pandemic has hurt and who it has not leads me to believe retirees have more discretionary money than any other age group,” McIntosh said.
She said as the state looks at how to spend the federal dollars it has to consider “how to make people as whole as possible. . . . How can we help the unemployed? How do we make sure people have food on their table, make sure they have safe housing?”