Maryland’s House of Delegates on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to Gov. Larry Hogan’s $43.5 billion budget after restoring nearly three-quarters of the $112.3 million in spending requirements the Republican leader had wanted to cut.
The chamber, which is on track to advance the revised fiscal plan to the Senate this week, added amendments to salvage funding Hogan planned to slash for a new hospital in Prince George’s County, state grants for poorer jurisdictions and teacher-retention, after-school and scholarship programs.
The plan would leave a general fund balance of $137 million at the end of fiscal 2018.
Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the spending plan “restores our commitments despite uncertainty in our current fiscal environment,” referring to reduced revenue projections for the state.
The revised legislation would cut by more than two-thirds the $6.8 million Hogan proposed for scholarships to help low-income students attend private schools. The change would eliminate assistance for students previously enrolled in private schools but continue support for those whom the program recently helped switch from public to private institutions.
During a wide-ranging news conference Wednesday, Hogan noted that the legislature approved the scholarship program last year with broad bipartisan support, adding that Democrats are “playing politics by attempting to cut this important funding, limiting opportunities for deserving kids in our state.”
The House removed a provision in Hogan’s spending plan that would halve the $30 million in operating funds that existing law provides for the Prince George’s Regional Medical Center in fiscal 2018. The governor plans to make up for his proposed reduction in future budgets as part of a pledge to provide $55 million to the hospital over five years.
Lawmakers also restored $8.4 million for state grants to Baltimore and other jurisdictions that receive relatively little revenue from income taxes.
Additionally, the revised legislation would provide $4 million more than Hogan’s proposal to cover the cost of giving new teachers extra hours to adjust to their jobs and provide extra pay to educators who are certified with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
The House plan provides $5 million in state grants for the Public School Opportunities Enhancement Program in fiscal 2018, which Hogan’s proposal did not fund.
It reinstates $5 million in mandated annual funding for a program providing higher-education scholarships to students from poor school districts who meet strict academic and social requirements through middle and high school.
The House struck a provision that would have placed a 2 percent cap on increases to reimbursement rates for care providers who work with the developmentally disabled, allowing for a 3.5 percent increase instead. The change will cost the state $8.4 million.
Republicans tried to block several of the House amendments Wednesday, including one that would save about $1 million by using civilians to replace 50 state troopers, largely through attrition. Those troopers work in administrative and support positions.
“To cut the state police at a time when our state is experiencing such violence and a heroin epidemic is simply unconscionable,” Hogan said during his news conference.
McIntosh said during Wednesday’s floor debate that no troopers would be taken off the streets or laid off.
“This is not about removing state police,” she said.