Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. plans to release a so-called “Accountability Budget” on Wednesday morning. In previewing his budget plan on Tuesday, Hogan promised increased funding to fight crime in Baltimore, no new taxes and a continued investment in Maryland public schools.
Hogan said the 2021 budget plan, which will be presented to the General Assembly in full on Wednesday morning, “reflects the most important and urgent priorities of Marylanders: crime, education, transportation and the environment, while keeping the commitment I first made five years ago to bring fiscal restraint to Annapolis and to hold the line on unaffordable spending.”
The $47.9 billion budget plan limits budget growth to one percent and keeps $1.3 billion in savings, Hogan said.
Hogan said the major focus of his administration this legislative session will be addressing crime and violence, particularly in the city of Baltimore, where 348 people were killed last year.
The governor’s budget will include increases in police funding statewide, as well as:
- $6.9 million for grants to support crime prevention, prosecution, and witness protection;
- $2.7 million for the Baltimore Regional Intelligence Center; and
- $2.6 million for 25 new prosecutors and support staff for the Office of the Attorney General to prosecute violent crime in Baltimore.
“The number one concern of Marylanders is crime. Citizens are demanding more accountability for the violent criminals who are shooting and killing people on the streets of Baltimore City,” Hogan said.
But members of AFSCME, the state’s largest employee union, took issue with Hogan’s focus on criminal justice funding at an afternoon press conference.
The union has been advocating against staffing shortfalls at key state agencies, including the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Department of Juvenile Services and Department of Health.
Employees at the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center, Clifton T. Perkins Hospital and Jessup Correctional Institute said Tuesday that a lack of staff and resources at their facilities has led to diminished services to help incarcerated children, adults and psychiatric patients, and has made working conditions more dangerous for state employees.
“I joined this job to serve with honor. But instead, we are a warehouse unable to move inmates into programs and services they need. Instead of serving with dignity, we are tired and overworked,” said Oluwadamilol Olaniyan, a correctional officer at Jessup who told of being forced to work many hours overtime. “…After 16 hours, the body and mind are tired.”
AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran said violence in the city is directly tied to staff shortages in the state’s probation and juvenile services departments.
“He hasn’t invested in making Baltimore safer and he hasn’t invested to keep his own employees safe on the job,” Moran said of Hogan.
The union urged lawmakers to pass legislation requiring staffing increases.
Earlier in the day, Hogan said his administration has been hiring correctional officers and other critical state employees at a record pace, but some agencies still face shortages. Beginning in the third quarter of 2019, vacancy rates in state agencies decreased and the vacancy rate this year has been lower than a year earlier, according to the Hogan administration.
“We’re working on the root causes of crime. We’re working on doing things about these neighborhoods and about education and about job creation and all those things,” Hogan said of his administration’s crime-fighting efforts. “But right now, we got to stop the bloodshed in the streets that’s happening nearly every single day.”
The budget will also include $7.3 billion in kindergarten through grade 12 education funding, a record level driven in part by legislatively mandated funding increases, though Hogan noted that his proposal would spend more on education than required by the state’s current funding formula.
However, the governor used the morning press conference to warn against spending mandates by General Assembly lawmakers, particularly when it comes to consideration of the Kirwan Commission education reforms, which could cost the state up to $2.8 billion more annually in 2030.
Initial policy reforms and funding requirements are expected to be passed by the General Assembly this year.
“Currently 83 cents out of every single tax dollar is eaten up by spending which is mandated by the legislature, leaving our administration only 17 cents to work with to do all of our budget-balancing, belt-tightening and reining-in of spending,” Hogan said.
He said the state “should not and cannot” afford Kirwan Commission-driven spending increases “without any plan whatsoever about where the funding is going to come from.”
The governor’s proposed 2021 budget, however, includes more than $350 million for initiatives consistent with the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, including $65.5 million for special education grants, $64 million for pre-kindergarten supplemental grants, $65.2 million for expanded community schools with services for low-income students and $45.6 million for expansion of early childhood initiatives.
About 75 percent of the new debt in the state’s capital budget is expected to go to education projects, including $730 million for K-12 school construction and more than $400 million for higher education projects.
Other budget highlights Hogan promised on Tuesday included $57.2 million for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund and $80.3 million for the Howard Street Tunnel project. The tunnel project will allow double-stacked containers to be moved in and out of the Port of Baltimore. Hogan said those tunnel improvements ― estimated to cost a total of $466 million when federal funds and a contribution from CSX are included ― are expected to generate more than 7,000 permanent jobs and more than $1 billion in new container activity at the port annually.
Hogan will meet with legislative leaders to discuss the budget on Wednesday before the documents are released publicly at 10 a.m.