Senate Moves Forward With $47.9 Billion Budget Plan

The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a $47.9 billion budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee made 162 amendments to the budget proposal presented by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in January.

The chamber’s spending proposal represents 0.6% growth over the current year’s general fund budget and maintains more than $1.3 billion in cash reserves.

The Senate’s budget plan eliminates a $37 million structural deficit in 2021 and results in a $29 million surplus.

State funding for education is at $7.2 billion, including $362 million to support implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform plan.

Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard) called the plan a “reasonable, responsible, thoughtful budget” that keeps an eye to the future.

“We recognize that budgets are not just about the year that we’re in, but they’re about multiple years and stretching our priorities over multiple years and trying to put ourselves in a position to sustain and do the things we need to do,” Guzzone said.

The budget and accompanying Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act includes several amendments where legislative priorities differed with Hogan’s.

That includes restoring a $1.6 million grant for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, fully funding a $750,000 grant to the city of Annapolis for providing services as the state’s capital, and rejecting a provision of Hogan’s budget that would have diverted $5 million from Baltimore’s highway budget to help pay for improvements to the Howard Street Tunnel.

The Senate plan restores about $84.6 million to legislative priorities not funded by the governor. That includes $39.5 million for a proposed rate increase of 4% for community service providers in the Developmental Disabilities Administration, behavioral health providers and Medicaid service providers.

The Senate also maintained higher education formula funding increases ― which Hogan proposed to slow down ― for independent colleges and universities ($11.1 million) and community colleges ($18.2 million). Overall, funding for community colleges increases by $36.6 million to $367.2 million and state support for public four-year colleges increases by $65.2 million. Overall spending for higher education is nearly $1.7 billion.

The Senate budget plan also includes a 2% salary increase for state employees. If final 2020 revenues are higher than anticipated, the Senate plan would provide an additional 1% increase in 2021 for members of the state’s largest employee union, AFSCME.

The Senate budget plan does not include $17.9 million in tax relief proposals included in Hogan’s budget.

The full Senate is expected to give final approval to a budget plan on Thursday, then the House of Delegates will take up a spending plan. Lawmakers must pass a final budget by March 30.

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.