- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2016

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday he will submit a budget that calls for $17.1 billion in spending that prioritizes education and transportation and foresees a $445 million surplus in fiscal year 2017.

Mr. Hogan also vowed to bring some order to a budget process that has been chaotic in recent years, promising to fulfill all requests mandated by the legislature, but saying in exchange for a single unified bill, the legislature will have to give up some of its powers to tinker with how he distributes the money.

“Our administration has said repeatedly that we would bring fiscal restraint back to Annapolis, hold the line on spending, and increase funding for top priorities like education and infrastructure. This year’s budget accomplishes all those things,” Mr. Hogan said. “I hope that it will set the stage for bipartisanship, cooperation, and continued fiscal responsibility.”

His plan, which he will introduce in full later this month, includes a Rainy Day Fund of $1.1 billion and $6.3 billion spent on elementary and secondary schools.

Mandates, such as minimum funding for education and health care, have been a source of contention in previous budget negotiations. Mr. Hogan said 83 percent of the money in the budget already is tied up in those mandates, leaving him only 17 percent to close deficits, fund his own priorities and cut spending.

The first-term Republican governor is asking the General Assembly to repeal or rewrite many of the mandates, giving him more flexibility and taking power away from the Democrat-controlled legislature.

“Democrats will dislike it, no doubt,” state Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said of Mr. Hogan’s “mandate relief” plan. “They’ll have less ability to move money around.”

Mr. Hogan said his budget will include about $400 million in tax cuts spread across small businesses, retirees and middle-class families. And he said he has eliminated 90 percent of the structural deficit he inherited from his predecessor — joking that he was “paying down the bar tab” from former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s tenure.

House Speaker Michael Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said low taxes are important but that the state must meet obligations on education and state employee salaries.

“What’s the cost?” Mr. Busch said. “What programs do you reduce or cut to make that happen?”

Mr. Hogan was elected in 2014 on a platform of fiscal responsibility, promising to control spending and undo tax increases enacted under Mr. O’Malley. The state’s second Republican governor in 50 years, Mr. Hogan failed to win tax cuts from the legislature last year — with the exception of repealing the “rain tax,” a widely unpopular stormwater fee.

Mr. Hogan will need Democratic support to push his tax proposals through the legislature, but he did not give details about his plans, irking Democrats.

“Last year, Governor Hogan made deep cuts to public education, the state workforce and services for the developmentally disabled, and raised college tuition. ‘Mandate relief’ is just Hogan-speak for ‘larger class sizes’ or ‘higher tuition bills,’” Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director Pat Murray said in a statement.

The 2015 General Assembly session was marked by partisan tension over education spending, ending with Mr. Hogan refusing to release $68 million the legislature had fenced off specifically for schools.

On Thursday, Mr. Hogan warned against trying such tactics again.

“To my friends in the General Assembly, let me be very clear, fencing off money will not work,” he said. “We’ll be happy to hold onto the money, increase our reserves, protect our pension system and put us in a better long term financial situation.”

Mr. Busch said the legislature will take “action it deems appropriate” when it comes to tinkering with the budget, but said they would “work in concert with the governor to get the progress we want.”

Mr. Hogan already has made a series of moves to cut spending without the help of the legislative body, such as canceling the Red Line transportation project in Baltimore and closing the Baltimore City Detention Center.

He also has proposed new spending this year, such as $700 million to tear down vacant buildings in troubled neighborhoods in Baltimore.

Keeping the budget under control is necessary to prepare for worst-case scenarios, such as the events in Baltimore last year, he said.

“The next recession, federal shutdown, riot, major weather event or other unforeseen emergency could easily plunge our state back into a fiscal crisis,” the governor said.

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