Maryland officials announced on Friday that they are expecting a $2.8-billion drop in revenues for the three months that end June 30. In response, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a state budget and hiring freeze.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, the Republican governor said the budget freeze won’t apply to expenses related to the coronavirus outbreak or to payroll. He did not announce any furloughs or layoffs for state employees, but he said all state agencies will be required to cut their budgets.
The fiscal outlook also affects the outcome of the 679 bills lawmakers sent to Hogan’s desk this week.
“We have not looked at a single one. There is no one in the executive branch of government that is going to waste any time looking at those any time soon. We have 30 days to do that,” Hogan said. “I just put everybody on notice today that it’s very unlikely that anything requiring additional spending will be considered to be signed into law.”
That’s likely bad news for the school system reforms lawmakers passed at the end of their abbreviated legislative session. The bill, which was based on recommendations by the Kirwan Commission, calls for large spending increases, starting with $755 million more in the fiscal year that begins July 2021.
However, the legislation already includes a provision that if state revenues drop 7.5% in a calendar year, school spending only grows by the rate of inflation.
Comptroller Peter Franchot said the anticipated drop announced Friday amounts to a 15% decline.
In a statement issued after Hogan’s press conference, Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat and a champion of the school reforms, warned against being short sighted.
“As we face this crisis together in the long term, we will be forced to make hard choices about priorities and values,” he said. “But this crisis will end, and the cost of containing this crisis cannot be the foreclosure on hope for a better future. Now, more than ever, our decisions about who we are and what we believe about every individual's God-given potential must continue to be our guide.”
Hogan’s press conference was wide-ranging and included several healthcare-related announcements.
The state Department of Transportation is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up a decontamination site for personal protective equipment, or PPE, at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Hogan said the site will be able to sanitize up to 80,000 N-95 masks a day.
“As everyone knows, these masks are in very short supply worldwide,” Hogan said. “This newly developed technology will allow them to be reused, which will help protect our healthcare workers and those on the front lines while we await the new production and additional supply of PPE.”
The state lab is increasing its testing capacity while the state works to acquire more testing kits, Hogan said, and the state has launched a $2.5 million partnership with the University of Maryland School of Medicine “to provide the technology to launch a large-scale COVID-19 testing initiative, which will enable their lab to run up to 20,000 tests per day.”
The state is also launching COVID Connect, a registry for people who have recovered from COVID-19.
By the end of the day Friday, that will include about 400 people in Maryland, said Fran Phillips, deputy health secretary for public health.
“What has been so striking is their interest in giving back and sharing their experience in helping other people who perhaps are experiencing isolation, helping them the patients and their families, and also to be available for research studies as we begin to understand this new virus to understand how we can test for it and ultimately how we can develop vaccines,” Phillips said.
People can sign up on a voluntary basis to be part of the registry at https://health.maryland.gov/covidconnect.
Hogan also confirmed that voting in the primary election on June 2 will occur mainly by mail, in line with what the State Board of Elections recommended last week. There will be a small number of polling places for voters who need to cast a ballot in person, but Hogan urged everyone who can to vote by mail.
Finally, Hogan urged residents to continue social distancing, even as many families — his own included — celebrate Easter this Sunday.
“Easter really is a day of hope, which is something that all of us could desperately use right now,” he said. “So this weekend, I ask all Marylanders regardless of their faith to reflect on that spirit of hope and to carry it forward in these difficult days and weeks ahead.”
And for those who are celebrating Easter, Hogan officially declared the Easter Bunny an essential worker.