ANNAPOLIS — As the state’s budget negotiations come to an end, funding for the LYNX program at Frederick High School and a downtown hotel and conference center are in. The salary for beleaguered Planning Secretary Wendi Peters and Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to live stream General Assembly sessions are out.
The Maryland Senate and House of Delegates each gave final approval to the state’s $43.6 billion operating budget on Tuesday morning.
The budget includes a 1.5 percent increase in state spending and reduces the state’s structural deficit from $400 million to $38 million, according to a final conference committee report. It also includes a $100 million balance at the end of the year, which would bring the state’s “rainy day fund,” or savings, to almost $1 billion.
The operating budget takes effect as soon as it is passed by both chambers because the budget bill cannot be vetoed by the governor.
The state capital budget bill authorizes a little more than $1 billion in new state debt.
A final compromise version of the capital budget — as agreed to by a bipartisan conference committee of 10 senators and delegates — is expected to reach the House and Senate chambers on Wednesday. While it’s still subject to final approval, the conference committee agreed to maintain $16 million in grants for a proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center.
The governor has line-item veto power over items in the capital budget.
Budget negotiators restored the lion’s share of an appropriation for the Linking Youth to New Experiences (LYNX) program at Frederick High School, which is planned to get underway next fall. The program is designed to give students flexibility in how they take courses, encouraging different time slots and options for classes, as well as including more internships out of the building.
Hogan (R) included $336,599 for LYNX in his proposed budget earlier this year. The funding was briefly cut in the House version of the budget, but was officially restored to $236,599 before the budget bill’s final passage.
The state’s overall education budget for public schools is $6.4 billion and direct aid to local school districts increases 1.7 percent. Tuition increases at public universities are capped at 2 percent.
Budget negotiators also expanded language included in the budget bill that aims to keep Peters from continuing as planning secretary after July 1.
Peters was appointed to the Cabinet-level secretary position last July by Hogan and was subject to confirmation by the Maryland Senate this session.
Shortly after the Senate Executive Nominations Committee voted unfavorably on her nomination earlier this month, Hogan withdrew Peters as his nominee, but she has remained working as head of the Maryland Department of Planning, against the Senate committee’s intent.
In response to the constitutionally murky situation, the Senate amended the state budget bill to stop Peters’ paycheck at the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.
The conference committee expanded that language to also stop payment for Peters — or any other similarly situated nominee who received an unfavorable committee vote — if she continues working in an assistant secretary or deputy secretary position. The amendment would not stop Peters from from working in state government outside of a leadership position in the planning department.
After the passage of the budget language, Hogan’s office did not specify what would be done with Peters’ position.
“This is yet another example of certain legislators purposefully singling out and bullying a qualified and dedicated public servant because they personally dislike her for some inexplicable reason,” spokeswoman Amelia Chasse wrote in response to an emailed request for comment. “The entire episode is shameful.”
Committee members said they voted against Peters’ nomination after hearing concerns of low morale and micromanagement in the planning office, along with complaints that the state’s previous planning priorities have been put on the back burner.
Live streaming in limbo
The budget conference committee changed an appropriation from Hogan that would have live streamed a video feed of all House and Senate floor sessions during the General Assembly’s 90-day session. Instead, budget negotiators made a $500,000 appropriation contingent on passage of a bill that would require the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission to film the last two weeks of the session.
That bill was debated in the House of Delegates and received preliminary approval Tuesday evening session. It could see final passage this week.
Conference center approved
by conference committee
The new debt authorized in the capital budget includes $16 million in state grants for the downtown Frederick hotel and conference center over the next three fiscal years.
The appropriation has created strong division among Frederick County senators and delegates, with state funding for a project opposed by Republican members.
After the funding was included in the Senate’s version of the capital budget, Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, tried to remove the funding from the bill and to direct the money to other programs. The appropriation was defended by Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3.
Hogan removed prior preauthorizations of funding for the project when he introduced the capital budget earlier this year. On Tuesday, Chasse did not say whether the governor would use his line-item veto to remove the funding.
“The governor will carefully consider each item in the capital budget once it has been finalized,” Chasse said.