Steiner Queries Leadership on Budgets, Other Looming Battles

Wednesday morning at the Annapolis Summit, a legislative conference hosted by The Mark Steiner Show and The Daily Record, Governor Larry Hogan, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, of Anne Arundel County, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, of Calvert County, discussed a host of topics relating to the upcoming legislative session.

Education

When asked about his plans for education funding, Governor Hogan emphasized that “education is, has been, and will continue to be our number one priority… we are going to increase funding for education.” Governor Hogan also announced that his budget will include funding for the development of six new Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, more commonly known as P-Tech schools, throughout the state. The P-TECH education model, co-developed by IBM, is an innovative, nationally recognized approach that blends high school, college, and work experience into one. In six years or less, students graduate with a high school diploma and a no-cost, two-year Associate degree in a STEM career field.

President Miller and Speaker Busch also discussed the importance of emphasizing strong, smart education funding. President Miller said that he was looking forward to recommendations from the Commission on Innovation on Excellence in Education, a committee tasked with issuing guidance on how to improve Maryland’s public education system. Speaker Busch lamented that students are faced with “too much testing” and that the state should “get back to the basics” of education.

Public Safety and Public Health

When asked about examples of bipartisan success, Governor Hogan stated the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act last year was one of the biggest accomplishments. Later, both President Miller and Speaker Busch echoed the importance and success of the Act. While work continues on implementation of Justice Reinvestment, focus has shifted to issues with the state’s cash bail system. President Miller responded to a question from the audience on cash bail by noting that reforms are currently pending in front of the Court of Appeals, and that the Senate will be working to address concerns with indigency determinations.  These determinations help ensure that poor detainees are properly assessed for public defenders or appointed counsel.

On public health issues, Speaker Busch expressed concerns over Medicaid funding and the impacts pending federal actions to repeal the Affordable Care Act could have on Marylanders.

Transportation

Governor Hogan boasted that he has placed “unprecedented amounts of money into transportation,” and will fix all sixty-some structurally deficient state-owned bridges during his tenure. About the infamous “Scorecard Bill,” which the Governor has dubbed the “Road Kill Bill” and vowed to get repealed, he stated that “no one will admit who wrote the bill. They did it in smoke-filled rooms in the middle of the night.”

Echoing sentiments expressed in  his recent Baltimore Sun opinion piece, Senate President Mike Miller later discussed how he had “pushed 20 years to increase the gas tax to fund infrastructure,” to address the fact that Maryland is a “gridlock state.” About the Scorecard Bill, he emphasized how the General Assembly had refined the bill last session, in part in response to feedback from MACo – and criticized the Governor’s administration for not providing similar feedback.

Budget

Governor Hogan emphasized that statutory mandates presented the primary challenge in budgeting to address shortfalls in revenue, insinuating that he may take some action this session to seek relief from such mandates. He stated that he only had the capability to adapt approximately 17 percent of the budget in order to balance it. Others pointed out that Maryland’s Governor has significant authority in the budgeting process under Maryland law- more so than in any other state. The Governor suggested that he would “likely” introduce a budget reconciliation bill this session. However, he still planned on funding education at “record” levels.

When asked what happens if there is insufficient revenue this year, Senate President Miller said that “everything will get funded, it’s just a question of where the Governor’s priorities are.”