Budget Plan Finalized Stormwater, Film Tax Credits, Bail Reform

House and Senate budget conferees completed their work Thursday evening on the State’s $38.7 million fiscal 2015 budget, removing language on stormwater management fees that was proposed in conference earlier this week and increasing funds in the budget for film tax credits from $7.5 million to $18.5 million.

Differences in the Senate and House budget plans were not as substantial as in previous years, as both chambers agreed to use pension reinvestment funds to balance the fiscal 2014 and 2015 budgets.  The stormwater amendment and funding for film tax credits became two of the more controversial items.

As reported by MarylandReporter.com, the stormwater amendment,

…would have allowed all of the 10 jurisdictions affected by the 2012 legislation to siphon a percentage of their property taxes to fund stormwater remediation programs, an initiative devised to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Instead, only Carroll and Frederick counties will be allowed to establish alternative sources of funding for the “rain tax,” as it is derided by its opponents.

The language now dealing specifically with Carroll and Frederick counties has been included in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act. Further details can be found on Conduit Street.

The film tax credit discussion heated up when an amendment was adopted by the House to allow the State to take action against a movie production company that moves filming out of state.  As reported by the Baltimore Sun:

The House last week signaled its resentment over the “House of Cards” threat by tacking an amendment on a budget-related bill to require the state to use its eminent domain powers to acquire the assets of any production company that has received tax credits and moves its filming out of state. On Thursday, House budget conferees agreed to drop the eminent domain provision and tentatively concurred to higher funding.

The House Ways and Means Committee, however, has yet to approve the credit increase or spell out under what conditions credits might be available.

Budget conferees also agreed on funding to partially fund extra costs for public defenders – arising from struggling bail reform efforts. As reported on Conduit Street, the budget-based approach appears to do the following:

  • Provide $10m in state budgeted funds to support the Office of the Public Defender hiring “panel attorneys” to provide indigent representation at bail review hearings
  • Additional costs beyond that budgeted amount placed as a new direct mandate on county governments (who do not currently pay for public defenders)

In response to a request by MACo and others, budget conferees approved budget narrative directing the Maryland State Department of Education to compile and submit information on the “nonrecurring costs” process allowing counties to make one-time investments in school budgets without those funds being built into the state’s permanent funding requirements. As reported on Conduit Street, MACo had supported HB 1145, a revision to the nonrecurring cost process as a legislative initiative for the 2014 legislative session, but resistance to the changes prevented the bill from advancing in the House.

MACo will provide further information, including information on specific county items of interest, as the budget and budget reconciliation bills are released by the conference committee charged with resolving House/Senate differences – as soon as today.