Md. House Democrats push for compromise with Republican governor over budget standoff



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ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Maryland Democrats on a budget negotiating team agreed Friday on some measures they hope will encourage Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to support added money for education and break a standoff on the state's $40 billion budget.

House and Senate negotiators reconciled budget differences between the two houses of the Democratic-led Legislature, with some incentives they hope will find favor with the governor, who ultimately will need to approve Democratic priorities of added funding for education and a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for state employees.

"It's more than a gesture," said Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore. "We really are acting in very good faith."

The panel agreed to provide about $7.5 million in state aid for private schools. Of that, $4 million would go toward textbooks and technology, and $3.5 million would be allocated for capital projects for aging schools. It's a compromise to Hogan's proposal to provide $5 million in tax credits for businesses that provide financial support for private school students — a proposal that has met stiff resistance in the House.

They also agreed to directing additional money to shore up the pension system, after Hogan criticized a proposal to tap $75 million of a $150 million extra payment initially planned for the underfunded pension system. To make up for it, the panel decided to steer half of any fund balance above than $10 million to the pension system, though it would be capped at $50 million.

Hogan and the Legislature have been sparring over whether to restore about $202 million to education, state employee pay and Medicaid that Hogan initially trimmed from his budget plan in January to help address a $750 million deficit and finally address a structural deficit.

It was unclear whether Hogan or Republicans on the panel would approve of the changes.

"Republican members are thinking," Sen. George Edwards, a Garrett County Republican who is on the conference committee, said. "I'll leave it at that right now."

The committee also agreed to put the 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for state employees into their base salaries. The governor would either spend money set aside by the Legislature to pay for it or use furloughs to make up the money.

House Democrats also passed some of Hogan's scaled-back legislative initiatives. A measure to expand charter schools, though heavily rewritten by the Senate, was approved by a House committee Friday. A House committee also passed a pared-back bill to provide some tax relief on military retirement pensions. A measure to end state-mandated stormwater management fees also cleared a House committee.

House Democrats and Republicans argued earlier in the day about the fact that the House had yet to introduce two of the governor's supplemental budgets. One of them, announced by Hogan on Thursday, would have restored $75 million of the pension money Democrats used to make room in the budget for education. Democrats said the governor was flouting a budget plan already approved by an overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans. But Republicans contended Democrats were not being fair to Hogan by ignoring his supplemental budgets.

Maryland's session is scheduled to end midnight Monday.

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