Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's administration released a balanced budget plan Wednesday that covers all mandated spending for the next fiscal year, but his budget secretary emphasized the need to rein in spending in future years now required in law to put the state on better long-term financial footing.
David Brinkley, the Republican governor's budget chief, said about 83 percent of the state's budget is already spent to fulfill obligations mandated by the legislature. That leaves only 17 percent of discretionary spending for the state to adjust during economic downturns.
"We need some type of mandate relief to address unsustainable budget growth," Brinkley said while outlining the state's roughly $42.2 billion budget, including a general fund of about $17.1 billion.
Democrats have warned that calls for reductions in mandate points to cuts in education, a spending priority that put the Democrat-controlled legislature at odds with Hogan for much of the last session. But Brinkley said mandates don't end with education, and he said the administration is open to negotiating with Democrats on changes.
"We're looking to see, and we've actually been trying to show them some of the language that they've been comfortable in adopting in the past, but we can't do this without the legislature, and therefore we're still in conversations with them about what this specifically would look like," Brinkley said.
Democrats, meanwhile, were still wading through the details of a budget plan that lawmakers will be working to finalize before the legislative session ends April 11.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, the House Appropriations Committee chair, said she still had a lot of questions about the budget, particularly on how Hogan plans to pay for demolishing thousands of vacant buildings in Baltimore in a plan he outlined earlier this month to revive impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods in Maryland's largest city. Brinkley said the governor was planning to include the money in a supplemental budget later in the session.
"Where is it coming from? What programs? My understanding now is that it's money that was already dedicated for Baltimore city," McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said. "So anyway, I do have questions about that."
The plan includes a budget surplus of about $449 million and a rainy day fund of about $1.1 billion.
The governor's budget also includes about $137 million to fully pay for an education funding formula that steers money to jurisdictions where education costs more. Hogan funded it halfway last year, prompting a battle with Democratic lawmakers, who passed a bill on the last day of the session mandating it be fully funded in future years.
Hogan's budget plan also includes modest tax relief provisions he outlined earlier this month, adding up to about $480 million when phased in over five years. The governor's budget plan also holds the debt limit at $995 million, below the level proposed by the legislature. The budget also directs about $150 million more than required by law to pension liabilities.