- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2016

ANNAPOLIS | The Maryland Senate unanimously passed its version of Gov. Larry Hogan’s $42.3 billion budget Thursday, the second consecutive year the Democrat-led chamber has approved the Republican governor’s spending plan with little or no floor debate.

Democrats have been largely assuaged by Mr. Hogan’s supplemental budget that increased funding for many their priorities. Introduced last week, the supplemental offered more money for Baltimore public schools, five public colleges and drug addiction treatment services in prison.

In addition, the state has a $400 million surplus, a buffer that has helped Republicans and Democrats rally around a consensus budget.

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat, praised Mr. Hogan’s budget and said the first-term governor did a good job listening to lawmakers about spending priorities.

“I think the governor’s gone out of his way to help make Baltimore city whole again after the April unrest,” Mr. Brochin said.

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, Baltimore County Republican, said the budget makes only minor changes that both parties could accept and commended the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee for an “incredible” job balancing the two parties’ spending priorities.

Last year, Senate Republicans voted for their chamber’s version of the budget but rejected the version that emerged from the Senate’s conference with the House of Delegates.

The fiscal 2017 budget now goes to the House for approval.

The spending plan would provide more than $6.3 billion in public school funding, $10 billion for Medicaid, $12.1 million to help with substance abuse disorders and $21.5 million for a Baltimore demolition project.

The Senate cut about $80 million from the rainy-day fund because the governor’s budget allocated more than required for this year’s contribution. The entire fund has more than $1 billion.

Some senators opposed a provision to cut $2.2 million for a state project to assess land values by flying aircraft over people’s property for tax assessments.

Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery Democrat, said the provision wouldn’t prevent Google Earth or any other such mapping technology from using unmanned aerial vehicles to look at land, but that the state should not put money toward what could be a violation of privacy rights.

Mr. Manno said the operating budget had been a relatively smooth process, but he pointed to capital budget disagreements over infrastructure projects such as mass transit, the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in southern Maryland and the Watkins Mill interchange in Montgomery County as potential sticking points for the two parties.

Mr. Hogan thanked the Senate for the vote but expressed concerns about amendments to reduce the rainy-day fund and reallocate certain money. He also encouraged the legislature to act on a bill to cut back on mandated spending.

“In order to keep moving forward, and to build upon the progress of the past year, we must continue to focus on our long-term finances, live within our means and strive for the much-needed mandate and tax relief our citizens expect and deserve,” said Mr. Hogan, who campaigned on a pledge of reducing spending.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in the afternoon approved a modest tax-relief plan. It would decrease tax liability by 1 percent to 3 percent for the state’s top four tax-rate brackets over five years.

The plan, which would total about $670 million over five years, would affect single tax filers who earn more than $100,000 and joint tax filers with a combined income of more than $150,000.

The committee also moved to expand the state’s earned income tax credit. People who earn less than $100,000 a year would get an exemption of up to $50 a year for four years.

Both the legislature and the Hogan administration have been pushing to accelerate an earned income tax credit expansion.

The Maryland Center on Economic Policy criticized the plan.

“This is a giveaway to the very wealthiest of Marylanders, at the expense of everyone else,” said Benjamin Orr, the center’s executive director. “It can’t legitimately be called middle-class tax relief. Strengthening the earned income tax credit to help working people who struggle to get by on low wages is an important and welcome step that shouldn’t be paired with a tax break that gives the greatest benefit to millionaires.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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