Contentions Build Over Governor’s Proposed Budget

In an opinion piece for Center Maryland, contributor Don Fry discusses the differences that are beginning to “percolate” over Governor Hogan’s proposed fiscal 2016 budget. While legislators from both parties are pledging bipartisanship and cooperation, some of the reductions and actions to address the structural deficit are becoming contentious.

Most contention that is emerging over Hogan’s budget centers around more than $700 million in proposed constrained spending that is the main element of the governor’s plan to eliminate the state’s structural deficit in one year and to keep state operational spending within available revenues going forward.

Some of the largest spending reductions would come in a few major budget categories, the most notable being a $200 million cut to Medicaid funding. Other reductions include a 2 percent across-the-board reduction to spending in every state agency, the elimination of raises for state employees, and a 50 percent reduction in a geographical formula that provides additional funding for K-12 education to districts where the cost of education is higher.

The budget for FY 2016 includes $6.1 billion in state funding for public schools – a slight overall increase from the current year, but cuts in state aid are proposed for 10 jurisdictions including Baltimore City, where state education aid is slated to be cut by 3.7 percent, according to the state Department of Budget and Management.  Education funding cutbacks are also budgeted for Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Garrett, Harford and Kent counties.

Fourteen jurisdictions budgeted for education funding increases include Talbot, Prince George’s, Wicomico, Baltimore, Caroline and Howard counties, all of which are budgeted for 2.5 percent overall increases or more. Yet lawmakers in many of these jurisdictions are complaining loudly about proposed cuts to key categories within these allocations.

The opinion piece indicates that the Legislative Black Caucus has sent a letter to the Governor expressing concerns that the education reductions disproportionately affect poorer jurisdictions and others are questioning why the budget is closing the structural deficit in one year when the General Assembly’s Spending Affordability Committee recommended closing it in two.

The FY2016 budget will be the most significant issue of the General Assembly. While legislators may cut spending and negotiate changes, they may not shift money from one priority to another. Over the years I have learned a couple of key points regarding governing:

  • * Budgets drive policy – policy doesn’t drive budgets.
  • * A budget document – although not the most sensational or emotional issue presented to the legislature – is more than a set of numbers but serves as a reflection on the philosophical approach of a governor to governing.

Don Fry is President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.