Gov. Larry Hogan gave legislative leaders a preview of his budget Tuesday morning at a breakfast meeting.
Though the Republican executive didn’t release any budget documents, he promised a smaller overall budget with no tax increases and no major spending cuts. He said the budget would maintain level funding for most services and increase spending on public schools, as required by state law.
“It sounds too good to be true, but it is true,” he said at a press conference Tuesday. “There are no serious cuts. Almost every service and everything that was in last year's budget is increased or level-funded."
He also promised increases in spending for law enforcement and tax cuts for police, firefighters and military veterans. And he promised to increase funding for state colleges and universities to give students a smaller-than-anticipated tuition increase of 2 percent.
“It was a very rosy picture,” Senate President Mike Miller said of the presentation legislators received over a breakfast meeting with the governor.
The full budget is expected to be released Wednesday morning.
Though legislators' meeting was light on specifics, Hogan did say he would pay for the budget in part with $170 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, Miller said.
But the lack of details has left lawmakers speculating on the other ways the governor plans to pay for the new spending and fill a budget gap estimated at more than $400 million.
"What I know so far is all the wonderful things we're supposed to know about the budget, which is it funded education, funded jobs, is doing a lot of great things in public safety,” said Baltimore City Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “But what we don't know is where did that money come from?”
Hogan has offered a few hints.
For a second year in a row, Hogan is criticizing state laws that require annual spending increases, so-called “mandated spending,” which he says account for 83 percent of the budget. On Tuesday, he said the General Assembly ignored his calls last year to cut back on these mandates.
"They added $519 million in new mandated spending that we told them they could not do and that we could not afford,” he said. “Some of that won’t get funded.”
He suggested that some new Baltimore City programs that legislators passed last year will be on the chopping block.
“We've put more money into Baltimore City than anywhere else,” he said. “They'll get increased funding. ... But they asked for a whole lot of other new spending that there won't be money for."
McIntosh said that likely means no new money for programs such as extended public library hours, summer school, and grants that encourage development in low-income neighborhoods.
Hogan also said he plans to introduce two bills aimed at reducing state spending in future years.
One measure would deposit surplus revenue in good economic times into the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” rather than making it available for new spending.
The other, which the Hogan administration also introduced last year, would reduce state spending requirements in years when revenues fall short.
“Our state has a bunch of formulas that drive our spending every year,” said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, who represents Anne Arundel County. “But those formulas grow at such a high rate that our revenue, the money coming into the state, will never be able to pay for the things that those formulas want.”
The bill makes the cuts automatic, taking them out of legislators’ hands, which Kipke said makes sense.
“It would limit the amount of partisan politics that gets played with the budget,” he said.