By William J. Ford
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan released copies of his $46.6 billion fiscal 2020 budget proposal Friday that increases education spending, seeks to cut taxes and provide at least a 3 percent raise for state employees.
The fifth budget from Hogan, which doesn’t include a tax increase, outlines a 4.2 percent increase from last year’s spending plan.
“Over the next four years, we have a tremendous opportunity not only to building upon the success we’re already experiencing, but to continue to make truly transformative changes all across the state,” Hogan said in a letter address to the legislature. “With your help, we will continue to make Maryland a better place to live, work, raise a family and retire.”
The budget allocates $200 million in recommendations from the ongoing work by the Kirwan Commission, a group the legislature created in 2016 to analyze ideas to revamp the state’s public education.
The budget also proposes using $65 million of the $125 million from dedicated casino revenues toward school construction projects and loans to assist local governments. Voters approved in November to use at least half of the revenue from the casinos toward education based on a “lockbox” initiative.
However, legislatures and education advocates want the majority of the money to go toward the classroom, teacher salaries and other instruction enhancements.
Some education groups have criticized Hogan’s BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) education initiative that allows public money for students in low-income areas to attend private schools. The proposed budget asks for another $3 million to increase funding for the program to $10 million.
“It’s a program utilized mostly by families which already send their kids to private schools and research demonstrates that private school voucher programs result in worse academic outcomes,” said Steven Hershkowitz, a spokesman and policy director with the Maryland State Education Association. “Before this program, which drains much-needed resources away from our underfunded public schools [and] grows even larger, the legislature should instead phase it out.”
Other parts of the budget include:
• About $7 billion for state aid for public schools with an additional $11 million for Baltimore City and nearly $800,000 for Cecil County.
• More than $3 billion for transportation projects that include $10 million to complete a new interchange at the intersection of Route 210 and Kerby Hill and Livingston roads in Oxon Hill.
• About $248 million for the opioid crisis and other substance abuse.
• Nearly $57 million for businesses located in the state’s 149 “opportunity zones, which offer waiver fees and tax incentives.
The budget also earmarks at least $20 million to combat violent crime in Baltimore, including about $4 million for the city’s Safe Streets program managed by the city’s health department.
Hogan, who in November became Maryland’s first Republican governor in 64 years elected to a second term, announced this month a series of initiatives to target crime. He also introduced two pieces of legislation, one to increase the minimum sentence to 10 years for repeat offenders who use a gun to commit a violent crime, and the other to give transparency to sentencing guidelines for how judges deliberate and rule on cases regarding violent crimes.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. expressed displeasure that the budget provides no specific funding for police training in Baltimore, something he said the Senate will work to rectify.
“There is a major crime problem in Baltimore City,” Miller said. “They’ve got a 15-minute response time. That is embarrassing. Baltimore City [police] should be responding to crime in seconds, not minutes. When Baltimore City hurts, our entire state hurts.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.