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Maryland agrees to contract with state employees; Hogan proposes 2018 budget


Maryland state employees, whose contracts expired Dec. 31, will receive a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment in 2019 and a break on insurance premiums this year under a new labor agreement announced Wednesday.

The three-year deal, which will be voted on by union members on Jan. 31, follows lengthy and, at times, bitter negotiations with the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that highlighted staffing shortages and working conditions for correctional officers and other employees.

"These contract agreements are tremendous news for the state and our hard-working employees," Hogan said in a statement. "There have been no furloughs or layoffs, and we are very proud of that."

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, which represents the largest group of affected workers, credited union members with forging the agreement and noted that Hogan tried to rescind a promised raise for state employees in his first year in office.

The Hogan administration "came to the table with zero," Moran said. "Our members earned every dime they fought for in this agreement."

In addition to AFSCME, the contracts affect workers with the Maryland Professional Employees Council, the American Federation of Teachers Healthcare-Maryland and Teamsters Local 355 — about 25,000 state employees in all.

To address staffing shortages, Hogan's office said, the state plans to offer a hiring bonus of up to $5,000 to correctional officers who meet eligibility requirements and a $3,000 retention bonus for certain registered nurses and correctional officers.

Hogan also unveiled a $44.4 billion budget proposal Wednesday that, much like his 2017 plan, increases state spending by about 2 percent without raising taxes and trims planned funding for some programs that are priorities of the Democratic-majority legislature.

Hogan's plan would allocate $15 million more for schools than state funding formulas require, limit tuition increases at public colleges to 2 percent, expand tax breaks for businesses that create new jobs in designated high-unemployment areas and leave the state with about $1 billion in cash reserves.

Democrats and their allies sharply criticized Hogan for pulling back on mandated spending, including funds for a regional hospital in Prince George's County, aid to Baltimore City and money to increase state support for local care providers who work with the developmentally disabled and people dealing with substance abuse and mental-health issues.

Hogan's proposed reductions would save the state about $406 million next fiscal year.

He proposed many similar cuts in his 2017 budget, but restored much of the funding after negotiations with the legislature.

Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, called the budget proposal "kind of a replay of last year."

Hogan's budget would provide about $8 billion in operating funds for public K-12 education, an increase of about 1 percent compared to the current fiscal year.

His plan would also spend about $9 million — or about 60 percent more than the current budget — on scholarships that help students from low-income families attend private schools.

The state teachers' union compared the scholarship support to a voucher program, saying that Hogan's proposal aligns with the priorities of the Trump administration and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Other advocacy groups criticized the governor for not following the terms of a 2017 bill he signed that requires the state to increase by 3.5 percent its reimbursement rates for care providers who work at local mental-health and drug-treatment clinics. Hogan's budget would limit the increase to 2 percent, saving $8 million.

"In the midst of a deadly opioid crisis and with rising demand for mental-health and substance-use disorder treatment, we are deeply disappointed that the budget shortchanges the urgent needs of Marylanders who desperately need treatment," said Howard Ashkin, president of the Maryland Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence.

Shareese DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the opioid crisis is an "incredibly important issue" for the governor, noting that the administration has provided more than $500 million to combat the problem over the past three years.

"If the General Assembly finds another way to fund these providers, our administration stands ready and willing to help make that happen," she said. "Unfortunately, due to the legislature forcing state spending to grow faster than incoming revenues, we could only provide rate increases that were allowable within the constraints of revenue growth."

Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery County), the vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, who is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Hogan in November, criticized the governor for proposing to set aside $10 million to draw Amazon's new headquarters to the state, which Madaleno called "corporate welfare."