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Maryland Senate approves state budget proposal that gives $200 million more for education

The Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

The Maryland Senate unanimously approved a $44.5 billion budget Thursday that allocates $200 million in new education funding, using additional tax revenue that state residents are expected to pay as a result of changes in the federal tax code.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had proposed changing state law to fully offset an estimated $400 million in additional state taxes Marylanders would have to pay as a result of changes on the federal level affecting which state tax deductions residents can claim.

But lawmakers opted for an increase in standard deductions that would reduce the extra tax burden to $200 million, rather than eliminating it altogether.

Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chair Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County) said fewer than 10 percent of residents would see a net increase in their overall taxes as a result of the changes approved by the Senate.

Committee members viewed it as their job to make “sound fiscal decisions,” he said, including to fund proposals expected from the Kirwan Commission, which is studying how to make education in the state more equitable.

“This fund demonstrates our commitment to education excellence now and in the future,” Kasemeyer said.

The Senate bill restored more than $110 million that was cut by Hogan, including $10 million for school safety grants, $5 million for violence-prevention initiatives and more than $20 million for providers serving the elderly and children in foster care.

“The budget passed today has its priorities in the right place,” said state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), vice-chair of the budget and tax committee.

The spending proposal now goes to the House of Delegates.

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The Senate budget bill, which eliminates the state’s structural deficit, also proposes allocating nearly $40 million to address Maryland’s opioid epidemic. It would provide a 2 percent salary increase for state employees beginning Jan. 1, 2019.

“We are encouraged to see the Senate take this important first step,” said Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse. She said the spending proposal would be Maryland’s fourth consecutive balanced budget with no tax increases, one for each year Hogan has been in office.

On the Senate floor, where the budget proposal was approved 45-0, its passage was celebrated as a bipartisan success.

“Not everybody likes everything that’s in it, but it was an effort of bipartisanship,” said Sen. George C. Edwards (R-Garrett), a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. “It’s one of the best budgets I’ve seen in the long time I’ve been here.”

When Edwards thanked Kasemeyer, who is retiring at the end of the year, the Senate gave him a standing ovation.

Maryland lawmakers also advanced bills Thursday that would ban bumpstocks, raise the legal age for marriage to 17, address sexual harassment in the General Assembly, require casino revenue to be spent on public education and put questions about sports betting and education funding before the voters in November.

The House gave final passage to a bill that would put a referendum on the November ballot to legalize sports betting at Maryland casinos and racetracks if the Supreme Court lifts the ban on sports betting in most states. The Senate has not acted on the bill.

Federal law allows sports betting in four states — Nevada, Montana, Delaware and Oregon — all of which offered it before a 1992 federal ban took effect. Of the four, only Nevada and Delaware allow sports betting.

The House advanced a bill that would prohibit marriage for people younger than 17. Delegates also voted to ban bump stocks, devices used to accelerate the firing of semiautomatic weapons. That bill will next advance to the Senate.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that asks voters to decide whether the state constitution should be amended to create a “lock box” on casino revenue. Such a change would require the state’s share of casino money to be spent on public education starting in 2020.

That vote came after a long debate over an amendment offered by Sen. Gale H. Bates (R-Howard), a former teacher, which would set aside $125 million to spend on security enhancements in schools. Bates said the money would be used to add metal detectors, panic buttons and security cameras. Hogan offered a similar proposal in a separate bill that has not moved out of committee.

The Senate rejected the amendment, with some senators saying that adding the idea to a bill that requires a constitutional amendment did not make sense.

Madaleno said the state has already added millions of dollars to improve school safety. Other measures that specifically address school safety are awaiting action by legislative committees.

The Senate blocked a late-filed bill from Sen. William C. Smith (D-Montgomery) that would prohibit certain weapons on college campuses. A similar bill was heard in a House committee earlier this week.

A bill designed to strengthen the legislature’s policy on sexual harassment cleared a key hurdle, winning unanimous approval in the House Rules Committee. The measure is expected to be taken up by the full House on Friday.

The bill would make numerous changes to the General Assembly’s anti-harassment policy, including requiring an independent investigator to handle certain sexual harassment complaints, requiring the state Ethics Commission to provide anti-sexual-harassment training to lobbyists and requiring the Department of Legislative Services to list on its website the names of lawmakers who attend such required training.