Gov. Larry Hogan last week released a $44.6 billion state budget for the upcoming 2020 fiscal year, fortifying his objectives for the 2019 General Assembly session — education, economic growth, health, state employees, transportation and the environment — into writing.

The budget grew 4 percent over last year and includes $19.6 billion for operating expenses.

At a press conference Thursday, Hogan (R) said he made a record investment of $6.9 billion for Maryland’s kindergarten to 12th-grade education and has set aside $438 million in a “building opportunity fund,” a $3.5 billion, five-year school construction program.

Maryland senators and delegates said based on the budget highlights, many of the priorities of the legislature were funded as they liked.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.(D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) said a proposed salary increase for state employees and correctional officers, money for retirement relief and provisions for much-needed facilities in some areas of the state were all good things.

“More businesses are open and more people are working than ever before,” Hogan said.

In addition, he said that Marylanders should be allowed to deduct 100 percent of interest paid on student loans for income tax returns.

Hogan said no new taxes were implemented for the fifth year in a row, and all state employees will receive at least a 3 percent raise, including members of the AFSCME trade union who Hogan said refused to negotiate.

He said these proposals were made with the goal of easing tax burdens on hardworking families and individuals.

Transportation expenditures rose 4 percent, with a total of $3.3 billion funding the state’s transportation network.

State highways got $1.7 billion of support, while $221 million went to Metro’s Purple Line and $167 million to improvements for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Hogan said Program Open Space, an initiative that works to restore the Chesapeake Bay, would return to full funding of $62.6 million.

However, total expenditures for natural resources and the environment fell 5 percent since last year, to about $1.03 billion.

Hogan said “fiscal discipline” and “belt tightening” have been and will be the priority for his budgets and warned against reckless spending.

And $1.3 billion was put in reserve in the case that the state faces an economic downturn. “We want to remain vigilant about maintaining savings,” the governor said. “That is what our budget has once again accomplished.”

Funding for health remained the same at $14.6 billion, with $1.3 billion for the developmentally disabled and about $250 million for those with substance use disorders.

In the budget, revenues across the board are expected to rise an average of 2 percent, though lottery and other special funds are expected to bring in $172 million less.

However, Miller said there was not enough money set aside for Baltimore. He said the city has a major crime problem, with a lack of funding for police officers and an “embarrassing” response time of 15 minutes.

“People need respect, they need their properties to be protected,” Miller said. “They need their personal lives to be protected, and we’re not doing that in Baltimore city.”

House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery) said she was happy to see the increase in salary for state employees, but said she hopes more correctional officers will be hired.

She said the budget funded many legislative priorities, but that “the devil would be in the details,” after she had read more than just the highlights.

Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore) said the Kirwan commission — a panel nicknamed for its chairman and charged with developing educational improvements — had asked for $325 million, but only received $200 million.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Harford and Baltimore counties) had no criticisms of the proposal, and said Hogan presented a balanced budget that fully funds education and other priorities.

“It should diminish partisan rancor over the budget, that is our only constitutionally mandated duty,” Szeliga said.

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by AvenueNews.com

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