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The Baltimore Sun: Franchot to oppose some of Hogan’s $672 million in proposed budget cuts

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot plans to reject more than $205 million of Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed budget cuts, including the elimination of a cost-of-living increase for state employees and reductions in the state’s contributions to workers’ health insurance and retirement plans.

The Republican governor has proposed a $1.45 billion reduction in state spending for the next fiscal year to mitigate the disastrous economic effects of the coronavirus. That includes $672 million in cuts that the governor put on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting of the state Board of Public Works. Hogan and Democrats Franchot and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp are its members.

The proposed cuts include state employees’ raises, vacant positions and funding for programs ranging from school security to prosecuting violent crime in Baltimore.

They include about 20 programs that “Comptroller Franchot simply cannot support at this time,” spokeswoman Susan O’Brien said in an email.

She provided a list of items Franchot will vote to reject, including: the elimination of $7.6 million for the cost-of-living increase for state workers; the elimination of a $75 million contribution to workers’ supplemental retirement funds; nearly $33 million in funding reductions to employees’ health insurance plans; the elimination of $27.7 million in grants to supplement teachers’ retirement funds, and changes to employee overtime policies estimated to cost the state nearly $20 million.

Other initiatives the comptroller wants to protect include money for: a YouthWorks summer jobs program; rental housing programs; protections against hate crime; annual salary reviews for specific classes of employees; making school buildings healthier for students, and improving safety at public and nonpublic schools.

The remaining cuts would still remove nearly half a billion — $466.8 million — from the state budget, O’Brien said.

“The remaining cuts, if agreed upon by two of the three members, would still be the second largest BPW-mandated budget cut of the past decade,” she said.

Aides to Kopp said Monday that she was reviewing the proposals, which were made public at the end of last week.

Advocates for education and state employees, as well as others who favor waiting to get more data about the state’s incoming revenues and possible assistance from the federal government, are urging the board not to make the cuts — or to at least postpone action.

Unions object to proposals that would eliminate workers’ raises, and have asked the board to postpone voting on the cuts to give more time for review and for more information to become available about the state’s finances.

Hogan, who chairs the National Governors Association, is lobbying Congress to send billions in relief to state governments to help them balance their budgets in light of the public health emergency. Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said Monday that the governor is “leading the bipartisan effort nationally to secure federal aid to prevent cuts and protect state workers.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, who represents parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, said he is working with the rest of Maryland’s congressional delegation to approve federal aid to the states.

While the outcome of those negotiations in Washington is pending, Brown cautioned the board that any steps it takes “in the short term to address Maryland’s budget shortfall should not worsen the recession, hamper the recovery, or further harm working families and communities.”

In a letter, Brown told the board that Hogan’s proposals on the wages and benefits of state workers “severely undermines the dignity and morale of workers upon whom our citizens depend for services.” The state should consider other measures, Brown said, such as encouraging some workers to take early retirement or developing a furlough plan based on salary levels.

The proposed cuts to education also should not stand, Brown said. They would will have a disproportionate impact on schools in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, the congressman said.

“Schools will likely need extra money to feed children and families in hard-hit communities, help children make up for learning time they’ve lost while at home, and ensure schools are safe when they finally return to class,” Brown wrote.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

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