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The Washington Post: Maryland Democrats poised to reject part of Hogan’s budget cuts

Maryland Democrats are rallying to block a proposed pay cut for state workers, along with several other of Gov. Larry Hogan’s suggested budget reductions, as the state grapples with the economic fallout from the pandemic shutdown.

Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), a frequent ally of Hogan (R), said Tuesday that he will not back roughly a third of the $672 million in spending the governor suggested the Board of Public Works immediately eliminate from the state’s $19.5 billion general fund.

“We don’t have to do this right now,” Franchot said of cutting employee pay and other proposals he said would undermine the state’s safety net. “I’m not saying we can hold off everything, because the fiscal prognosis is really grim.”

Hogan’s proposed budget cuts are up for a vote Wednesday before the Board of Public Works, a panel composed of Hogan, Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, which oversees budget actions when the legislature is not in session.

Hogan this week outlined $1.45 billion in proposed cuts for the budget that takes effect Wednesday, but he left the majority of those to the General Assembly to decide whether to adopt when it reconvenes next year.

Kopp (D) said in an email that she thought the $672 million up for immediate vote could wait, too. She said she would join Franchot’s effort to avoid 20 specific cuts the comptroller identified, including a 2 percent pay cut plus furloughs for state workers.

She urged tabling the governor’s entire proposal for at least two weeks to gain a clearer picture of the state’s decidedly dismal financial circumstances.

“I think it should be moved and then, before voting, we can have a full and public discussion of all these moving pieces,” Kopp wrote. “Also, by the way, [we] should try to have [a] clear understanding of who the cuts impact and assure that they are just and equitable.”

Franchot, who is running for governor in 2022, said in an interview that he agrees the magnitude of the state’s budget hole will be known more precisely at the end of August. But, he said, it’s clear today that economic shutdowns designed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus require deep revisions to the state’s $47.9 billion budget. States across the country have similarly scrambled to revamp budgets as revenue nosedived and spending on the pandemic response soared.

“The governor should be complimented for moving aggressively. I don’t believe we should act on everything, but we should act,” Franchot said.

Maryland forecasters say as much as $1.2 billion of state revenue could disappear over the next year.

Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said Tuesday that it’s more prudent to reduce state expenses at the start of the fiscal year, when cuts can be absorbed slowly over 12 months.

“He doesn’t want to make any of these cuts, but he recognizes that not taking action is not an option,” Ricci said of the governor. “If the comptroller doesn’t support these cuts, we look forward to seeing his specific alternatives, because the consequences of inaction and voting ‘no’ are severe.”

Among other actions, Hogan’s proposal to the board slashes a $125 million subsidy to Metro, eliminates some aviation divisions and sells off aircraft, as well as cuts 92 vacant jobs. It curtails aid for poor jurisdictions, universities and child-care subsidies.

Hogan’s suggestion to cut pension contributions for teachers and reduce state employee pay sparked sharp backlash from unions, as well as Democrats who hold power in state politics. State workers would see a promised 2 percent raise evaporate, in addition to taking a 3 percent cut to their current pay under the plan.

U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called the cuts “premature” in a letter sent Tuesday to the Board of Public Works. The senators said a next wave of federal aid to states could ameliorate today’s budget problems and noted Maryland has already received $1.65 billion in federal assistance. Most of the money is designated for pandemic-related expenses.

Hogan, in his role as chair of the National Governors Association, has lobbied for months for a $500 billion federal rescue package for states to use shore up budget shortfalls. A bill that passed the House of Representatives has stalled in the Senate.

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