Legislative Black Caucus criticizes cuts to education, health care, in Hogan's budget plan



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ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Members of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland on Thursday criticized Gov. Larry Hogan's budget proposal for cuts to education and health care.

The opposition illustrates a major point of contention that will play out this legislative session between the Democratic-controlled Legislature and a new Republican governor who campaigned on bringing fiscal restraint to state government in his upset victory in November in a heavily Democratic state.

Lawmakers from the city of Baltimore and Prince George's County are unhappy about cutting funding in half for jurisdictions where education costs more. The loss of roughly $68 million will fall more heavily on their jurisdictions, as well as Montgomery County, the state's most populated jurisdiction.

There also are reductions to education formulas in Hogan's budget. Prince George's stands to lose a total of about $39.4 million, and Baltimore faces a drop of about $34.5 million in funding that had been expected, according to a letter sent Thursday by lawmakers to the Hogan administration.

"We want to work with this governor, but at the same time we cannot sustain cuts like this in Baltimore city and Prince George's County," said Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat.

The lawmakers have asked for a meeting with the governor.

Erin Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the proposed budget provides more resources per student in Baltimore than any other place in Maryland. She also said the budget delivers an increase of $35 million in local aid to Prince George's County.

"Ensuring that all our students have the opportunity to receive the very best education possible, regardless of where they live, will always be a top priority for Governor Hogan," Montgomery said.

When Hogan released his budget plan last week, he noted that it still has record spending for education, despite the reductions. He also is continuing to make major investments in school construction. The budget, which is a total of about $40.3 billion, closed a shortfall of roughly $750 million for the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, told senators Thursday that Hogan won a mandate for change in November in his victory against Democrat Anthony Brown. While Miller said he was confident there would be some changes in the budget on education, he urged senators who oppose the scope of the cuts to remain agreeable as the new governor works to change the status quo.

"This is going to be a tough time for everybody, a very tough time, probably one of the toughest times that I've been here," Miller, who has been Senate president since 1987, said, noting that Hogan's plan to close Maryland's long-running budget deficit in one year is a challenging undertaking.

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