- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Democrats who control Maryland’s legislature are hoping Republican Gov. Larry Hogan approves spending $80 million that lawmakers have fenced off for education, health care, public safety and agriculture, but a Hogan spokesman says the governor hasn’t decided yet due to economic uncertainties.

The money could be released at the start of the new fiscal year Friday, though Matt Clark, the governor’s spokesman, said the decision won’t be made this week.

“We’re not making that decision on July 1,” Clark said. “That decision has not been made, but we are very uncomfortable with this approach and don’t feel good about raiding the piggy bank in this way.”

Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers steered the money into areas they believed Hogan would be inclined to support.

“We tried to make it a good blend, and I’m very hopeful that he does release the money in a timely fashion,” McIntosh said.

The question of whether to spend the money is the latest sign of fiscal wrangling between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature, though it’s a relatively small amount in the overall budget picture. Maryland’s general fund for the fiscal year starting Friday is about $17.1 billion. The state has a rainy day fund of about $1 billion, apart from the $80 million that Democrats set aside for the governor to approve.

Last year, the governor and the General Assembly wrangled over how much to fund a formula that directs money to jurisdictions where education costs more. Hogan proposed funding it at half its total amount, about $68 million. The legislature set aside another $68 million to fully fund the formula, but the governor had the final say, and he declined to spend the money.

This year, Clark said the governor supported about half the items now in question in his initial budget plan. But, he said, lawmakers have left him with an “all or nothing approach” that feels more like political maneuvering than sound fiscal policy.

“The administration is of the view that we need to be fiscally responsible and set aside appropriate amounts of money for the future,” Clark said. “The next financial crisis or natural disaster could have serious implications for the state budget, and we’ve already seen what can happen when you don’t save enough money.”

But Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat on the Senate’s budget committee, said the governor is “drawing artificial lines and trying to look big by not going over those lines.”

“I don’t know why the governor wants to withhold these funds, some of which are one-time projects,” Madaleno said. “They’re not putting us on the hook for anything. They are just good investments for strengthening our state.”

Here’s a look at some of the main parts of the $80 million:

EDUCATION

About $19 million would provide additional one-time funding to local education agencies to support a portion of their share of pensions for teachers.

HEALTH

About $13.2 million would go toward medical care provider reimbursements to increase primary and specialty physician evaluation and management rates to 96 percent of Medicare.

PUBLIC SAFETY

About $9.2 million would provide funds to design, construct and build statewide unified public safety communication; $6.6 million would be allocated to begin design and demolition of buildings at the Baltimore City Correctional Complex.

AGRICULTURE

About $6 million would be used for the Maryland Agricultural Cost-Share Program to provide funds for financial assistance for the implementation of best practices that reduce soil and nutrient runoff from Maryland farms.

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