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Budget Battle Brews In Annapolis As Time Ticks Down

House Speaker Mike Busch talks to reporters about his budget standoff with Gov. Larry Hogan.
House Speaker Mike Busch talks to reporters about his budget standoff with Gov. Larry Hogan.
House Speaker Mike Busch talks to reporters about his budget standoff with Gov. Larry Hogan.
Credit Christopher Connelly/WYPR
House Speaker Mike Busch talks to reporters about his budget standoff with Gov. Larry Hogan.

A budget showdown has been simmering in Annapolis, and with just a few days left before the end of the session, tensions are peaking. House Speaker Mike Busch and Gov. Larry Hogan had tough words for each other Thursday as the two leaders insist on preserving their priorities in the budget.

Busch drew a line in the sand, saying he won’t move forward on the governor’s budget priorities until he gets some assurances on priorities that House lawmakers have expressed.

“The members of the House, the people’s House, would like to see some kind of indication from the administration and the governor of their intent to fund programs that were passed overwhelmingly in the state budget this year.”

House and Senate lawmakers, concerned by Hogan’s initial budget, moved to add $138 million for public education, and also to give state workers a cost of living increase and curb cuts to social safety net programs. The plan had huge support on both sides of the aisle; only 10 of 188 lawmakers voted against the amended budget plan.

“Here we are with just a two three days left in the session and there seems to be no interest in funding the interests of the general assembly, both the House and the Senate,” Busch told reporters.

But the governor has been digging in his heels as well. He sent down a supplemental budget last week that added his own tax relief priorities – which had been killed or watered down by the legislature -- and did not include the money the legislature added for schools, state workers and Medicaid. On Thursday, he sent another supplemental that moves more money toward the state pension fund, money that legislators planned to use to pay for their priorities. The money was earmarked as a supplemental pension fund payment on top of the required $1.6 billion contribution, and the governor said it should stay there.

“Our main concern is fiscal responsibility. And I think most people agree that robbing the pension fund is not a good idea,” Hogan told reporters.

Hogan signed a pro-forma proclamation greenlighting an extra ten days to negotiate the budget if it’s incomplete come the end of session on Monday. Still, the governor says he’s ready to negotiate – and to compromise.

“I think what we’re going to end up with is some of the stuff we wanna get done, some of the things they want to get done. And I think that’s what the voters asked for.

Hogan aides have said he’s waiting for Busch and House budget negotiators to outline what they want in the negotiation. Busch says it’s clear.

"It’s in the budget. I don’t know what could be difficult to understand quite candidly," he said.

For his part, Busch says he’s waiting for the governor to call him to set up a meeting.

If all of this seems like we’re headed nowhere fast with the session clock winding down, Senate President Mike Miller – who has emerged as the Switzerland in this showdown – says he’s sure a budget will pass, on time and with a healthy balance of gubernatorial and general assembly priorities.

“These are people of good will. And if people of good will come together and stay together and communicate, we’ll have a positive outcome. Honestly.”

Budget negotiators are expected to meet later today – and both chambers plan to be in session this weekend.

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