Stay Informed

Steve's News from Annapolis

2016-04-03

 
   

There is only a week remaining in the 2016 legislative session. While Committee hearings have been, generally, shorter as we have had fewer witnesses, much of the work is taking place in meetings to hammer out differences and details of pending legislation. Both the House and Senate have had extensive debates in long sessions to address a number of substantial bills.

While we have accomplished much, there is more to do in the final days before we adjourn on April 11.

State Operating and Capital Budget

The Governor presented a budget of over $42 billion for Fiscal Year 2017. The Maryland Constitution requires that we have a balanced budget every year. Following extensive work by both the Senate and the House members, the legislature passed the State Budget by near unanimous votes. Only a few Republicans voted against the budget. The legislature made very few adjustments to the Governor’s operating budget. This indicated that cooperation can be found in Annapolis. The budget achieves a structural balance with general fund revenues exceeding ongoing expenditures by $147 million. There will be a general balance of over $400 million in the coming fiscal year.

The budget maintains the state’s commitment to public schools with funding of $6.3 billion.  This includes funds required under the Geographic Cost of Education Index as well as money for five school systems that have lost enrollment. Additionally, the approved budget includes:

  •  full funding of all statutory requirement
  • funds for a much needed regional hospital in Prince Georges County
  • strategic demolition funds to support statewide neighborhood revitalization
  • support for Baltimore City
  • merit increases for State workers
  • sufficient funds to keep higher education tuition rates to a modest 2% increase
  • and, an increase in funding for treatment and services for people with substance abuse disorders and opioid addiction

 Similarly, both the Senate and House agreed on a capital budget that addresses a range of needs. The legislature’s capital budget stays within the Governor’s funding target. While the Governor can exercise line item vetoes, I am hopeful that this carefully crafted budget holds.

The budget includes $280 million for school construction and another $40 million for school systems with enrollment growth of 150% over the last 5 years or with 300 relocatable classrooms. Additionally, there is $442 million for environmental projects and substantial funding for new academic buildings on college campuses.

Baltimore County benefited in the legislatively passed budget. Towson University and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) both received funds to design new academic buildings. St. Joseph Medical Center/University of Maryland Medical System will receive $1 million in matching funds for renovations to provide birthing and maternity services. Baltimore County government will also receive $5 million for streetscaping.

Although the Governor did not include funds for local initiatives, the legislature adjusted the budget and has provided funds for local projects throughout Maryland. I lobbied hard to see that some locally important projects were funded. Fortunately, many great projects in Baltimore County will receive matching funds, including:

  • the construction of the Radebaugh Park
  • improvements and upgrades at Towson Manor Park
  • the creation of a memorial to veterans of Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom
  • the preservation of historic lime kilns and a log house at Cromwell Valley Park
  • HopeWell Cancer Support Center
  • Good Shepherd School
  • Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department
  • Irvine Nature Center
  • Morning Star Family Life Center, and
  • Baltimore County Humane Society

 Earned Sick and Safe Leave

The House of Delegates debated the Maryland Healthy Families Act, HB 580, this past week. This bill would provide earned sick leave for hundreds of thousands of Marylanders who do not get sick leave at their jobs. It will better ensure that those who are sick have a chance to get medical care and to be out of work and not transmit their colds or disease. The earned leave could also be used for medical appointments, to care for a family member who needs medical care or to be absent as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. 

If passed, the law would apply to businesses with fifteen (15) employees or more. It would allow an employee to earn up to 56 hours (7 days) of paid leave and to carry over a portion of the leave into the following year. The employee would be required to give notice of the absence so the employer can continue to operate without disruption.  It would not apply to employees under the age of 18, those who work in agriculture or workers who regularly work less than 8 hours a week for an employer.

There will be more debate this coming week when the House will decide whether to pass the bill.

Transportation Funding

Regrettably, Governor Hogan has vetoed HB 1013, the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016.  Contrary to his veto message, the final version of the bill that we passed makes it clear that neither the Governor nor the Secretary of Transportation have been stripped of their authority. HB 1013 establishes a more transparent process applying more specific criteria and objectives to major state and local capital projects (over $5 million).

When Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn testified before a House Committee about the Department’s process for prioritizing the counties’ projects, he said that compiling the state’s Consolidated Transportation Plan (CTP) “is like watching a football game, and a soccer game and a lacrosse game, and a basketball game, and they’re all on the same field, and they’re all playing their game at the same time.”

This bill will provide clarity and create a more transparent way for evaluating projects. The State proposes to spend $15.7 billion tax payer dollars over the next six years for projects in the CTP. Decisions of this magnitude should be data driven. The bill requires that each project address specific criteria:

  • Safety and security
  • System preservation
  • Quality of service
  • Environmental stewardship
  • Community vitality
  • Economic prosperity
  • Equitable access to transportation
  • Cost effectiveness and return on investment

 The Department of Transportation will establish weighted criteria to help determine the scoring for each project. Furthermore, the bill applies to future projects and will not prevent existing projects from going forward.

In 2010, my bill, HB 1155, was passed by the legislature to alter the criteria for evaluating and funding transportation projects throughout Maryland. At that time, the legislature and Governor agreed that we needed more specific information before funding road, bridge and transit projects.  I strongly believe that HB 1013 builds upon my legislation six years ago. We need more transparency and stronger criteria when spending taxpayer’s money.  HB 1013 advances those goals.

As the Session comes to an end I want to, once again, thank all who contacted me and shared their concerns and thoughts on legislation. The visits, emails, phone calls and letters helped to better inform me. If you wish to contact me, I can be reached at 410-841-3487 or at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us.

Best wishes,

Steve