Monday, November 2, 2015

And then it was gone

(Annapolis) Armed with a series of poster boards, the House Appropriations Chairman Maggie McIntosh proclaimed, “We have closed the structural deficit.” It was a victory lap of sort for legislative leaders who had to endure complaints of “business as unusual” from the states Chief Executive.

The structural deficit came from a series of issues. They included overspending, mandates on programmatic activities, an under-funded pension fund and an economic climate where people were tightening their belts. These issues partly laid the ground work for a Republican Governor to win in Maryland in 2014. With one party controlling the Executive branch and another controlling the legislative controls the “kumba-ya moment” which seem to begin this process went “south” quickly.  

 When last we left the Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and the Legislative Leaders (Sen. Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and Speaker Michael Bush) following the 2015 session was in the review mirror with both sides claiming victory. Underneath the pleasantries was an animosity about being up staged.

The Governor provided two supplemental budgets. He was pissed they never got a hearing on either side of the aisle. He went against the wishes of his partners in the legislature by deriding the savings they found. Instead of taking the extra money and use to shore of education funding, he used it to firm up the State Pension program.

The legislative Leaders did do the heavy lifting by cutting and trimming programs to get to a balance budget. They took aim at the Governor Hogan’s cuts to education. They restored the cuts but, also found money to fund the Geographic Index -GCEI (this is part of the Thornton Funding plan which gave large jurisdictions more money).

In the waning days of the 2015 Session the Legislature heard the governor wasn’t going to put in money for GCEI. They in turn put in a measure which said if you don’t fund GCEI this year, going forward it would become a mandate. The irony here is that Democratic and Republican governors have used discretion in funding this program (some have even decided not to fund it in lean years). So as of July 1, 2015 this becomes a mandate.

Spinning the Debate

“Halloween is over,” said Senator Richard Madeleno of Montgomery County as he stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow Democrats crowing there success. The mantra from the legislature has been to add the extra money they found to improve school systems. Despite these calls, the Governor has been reluctant to acquiesce to the request.

Who do you stand for?” President Miller asked rhetorically. In response, Doug Mayer the Deputy Communications for the Governor, had his own questions. “As both Senate President Miller and Speaker Busch know, Maryland is still facing a nearly $1 billion cumulative deficit over the next five years. On top of that, there is a $20 billion hole in the teacher and state employee pension system that the General Assembly has repeatedly failed to address.

Going into the 2016 Session the wars of Budget will continue to be fought. The Hogan Administration often touts its “funding of education at record levels” (because of formulas adjusting for an increase in the number of students – each year will be more than the previous year.). The Democrats crow their ability to make tough choices, find savings, and apply them to areas like education.

These are interesting times for both sides. Are we out of the woods finically? The State Treasurer and the Comptroller will suggest we aren’t. By the way they weren’t spared from being chided by Legislative leaders. Speaker Busch asked, “The Comptroller and the Treasurer to step up to the plate.”

We are two months from the start of the 2016 Legislative Session and budget is just one item to be hotly debated. According to Baltimore County Delegate Adrienne Jones there are some 500 Bills pre-filed, a record.

Del. Maggie McIntosh Announcing End to Structural Deficit