Newly sworn-in Gov. Larry Hogan started his tenure in office with a bang last week when he announced his 2016 budget, following through on his campaign promise to close the state’s looming budget gap.
“Maryland’s FY 2016 budget establishes balance without slashing agencies, laying off workers and while fully funding education and all of our essential priorities,” said Hogan in his Jan. 22 news conference announcing his proposed budget.
The budget, he told news crews and officials gathered in Annapolis, achieves three main objectives: It is structurally balanced; it does not raise taxes or fees or eliminate agencies, departments or services or require furloughs or layoffs; and it increases spending on kindergarten through grade 12 education and higher education.
While some praised Hogan’s fiscal conservativism, for many in Maryland’s government, the budget left much to be desired. The legislature’s chief budget analyst, Warren Deschenaux, criticized the budget’s unspecified call for state agencies to cut 2 percent from their budgets, and though education overall would see a record high in funding, areas such as Baltimore City and the counties surrounding Washington, D.C., will lose millions of dollars in funds over the next few years.
“I’m really disappointed that there are such enormous cuts to our education budget. Baltimore County is due to lose nearly $13 million and Baltimore City over $30 million,” said Baltimore County Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee. “If the governor is serious about creating a better business environment, research has shown that one of the most important aspects businesses look at when considering where to locate is the quality of a state’s schools. Such dramatic cuts to our school budgets will, no doubt, have a detrimental effect on the quality of our public schools.”
Hettleman was far from alone in her critique of the governor’s education spending plan.
“It’s just not a tenable way to fund education,” said Montgomery County Sen. Roger Manno (D-District 19), who sits on the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee and chairs the Spending Affordability Committee. “You might be able to balance the books that way, but it seems to me that that’s a hell of a way to balance the books: on the backs of kids.”
Manno said he understands the difficult financial situation the new governor came into but stressed that the state has grappled with deficits before and managed to not cut funding from education and environmental programs.
“We don’t deconstruct state government because revenue estimates came in south of where they thought they’d be,” said Manno. “We figure it out.”
Manno was also concerned about the lack of funding included in the budget for some of the Jewish community initiatives in Montgomery County.
“Some things pay for themselves,” he said of Jewish social service agencies and programs that had seen state dollars in the past but would not be seeing funding in 2016. “They’re investments in communities and people that yield huge dividends, and the truth of the matter is this: They define us. What we do down here is who we are.”
The Baltimore Jewish Council is also concerned about funding for community programs that have received state aid in the past. In the FY 2015 budget, the Jewish Museum of Maryland was allotted $12,533 in funds from the state; Sinai Hospital received $2.5 million; and the Hillel Center for Social Justice at the University of Maryland was the recipient of $1 million in funding for construction. This year, Executive Director Arthur Abramson sees few of the items he and the BJC have been advocating for in the governor’s proposal.
“We are concerned — based on prior conversations with the governor and others — that, as we peruse the budget, we’re not finding some of the items that we believe are vital to our community and that we expected, based upon prior conversations, would be in the budget,” said Abramson, who added that he and his staff are in communitcation with both the governor’s office and legislators about what can be done to salvage some of the funds he said the community desperately needs.
In particular, Abramson said, the BJC is looking for funds to help equip Sinai hospital with the tools necessary to respond to any potential attack on the community of Northwest Baltimore and funds for Northwest Hospital’s domestic violence and elder abuse programs.
“We are dependant upon funding and we hope that Gov. Hogan will continue providing the necessary money to enhance the quality of lives for those people who require our efforts.