The Maryland General Assembly gave final approval Friday to a $52.4 billion budget that House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) said is worthy of a moniker: “I call this The Recovery Act,” she said.
The budget plan — dramatically expanded from the $49.35 billion budget originally introduced by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in January thanks to a rebounding economy and federal stimulus funds — provides increased financial assistance to the most vulnerable Marylanders, expands education funding to get children back to school and address pandemic-related learning losses, and replenishes depleted state savings accounts.
Just this week, after the budget passed through both chambers, Hogan and lawmakers added nearly $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money to the funding plan, which takes effect July 1, and $1.3 billion to the current year’s budget.
“When you have that kind of money, there’s a tendency to want to spend it all,” McIntosh said.
Instead, she said, the governor’s office and fiscal leaders decided to save some of the cash and spend the rest on programs to help the state’s economy long-term.
About $300 million will be invested in expanding broadband interest, $100 million will go to counties for workforce training, about $600 million will go toward reopening schools, including $80 million to improve the heating, air conditioning and filtration systems at every school building, McIntosh said. The budget bill also mostly covers the costs of the bipartisan RELIEF Act, a state-level stimulus program passed earlier this session to make direct stimulus payments to low-income Marylanders, expand the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, slash taxes on unemployment income and provide financial assistance to struggling businesses.
“We are not fully recovered. Unemployment is not below 5%. There are small businesses — small business men and women — families that are struggling. We provide in this budget fully funded agencies to help them get back on their feet,” McIntosh said.
The final spending plan also leaves $2.1 billion in state savings accounts and wipes out any projected deficits for the next two years.
“We don’t know what the future brings, but we do know this: we have paved a way for Maryland to move forward and we have invested in Marylanders in a historic way,” McIntosh said during a House floor speech that was punctuated with applause.
Del. Wendell R. Beitzel (R-Garrett and Allegany) stood on the House floor to encourage all of his minority party colleagues to vote in favor of the budget plan, something he couldn’t recall ever doing before. “When we left here last year, we were looking at some dire circumstances and things have turned around and we have really been fortunate,” he said.
The budget was adopted 128-8 in the House. It passed unanimously out of the Senate.
“This is a big deal,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said. “…This is a good budget for the people of Maryland, it’s going to get people back to work.”