Gov. Martin O'Malley Focuses on Education, Public Safety in 2009 Budget

By KELLY WILSON, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS (Jan. 16, 2008) - Gov. Martin O'Malley increased education and public safety spending, while calling for $550 million in cuts in his budget for fiscal year 2009 released today.

The general fund budget calls for a 2.9 percent increase in K-12 education spending to $6.6 billion. That increase is slightly lower than had been planned years ago.

O'Malley's budget includes cuts of 500 positions statewide, all vacant, which are expected to save $21.5 million. In addition, the governor made a number of other cuts, including reductions in the budgets of independent agencies and the departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

O'Malley also said he plans to ask the General Assembly to continue an in-state tuition rate freeze at Maryland's public universities for a third straight year.

The proposed capital budget would include $628 million to construct new, or improve existing, education facilities.

Over the past few days O'Malley has announced several public safety initiatives, including $1.3 million for the elimination of a 24,000-sample backlog of convicted felons' DNA to be entered into a database for analysis. O'Malley also wants $3.1 million for a High Risk Offender Supervision Program, which includes a GPS system to minimize repeat offenses.

"It's amazing how much information we have in different departments," he said. "And yet we do nothing to target repeat offenders."

O'Malley outlined more than $4.8 million to fund behavioral health programs and scholarship opportunities for Maryland veterans and National Guard members returning from overseas. He also included $124.5 million to expand health care coverage and $50 million for the new Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund.

At the end of the day, O'Malley said, the state will be able to add $177 million to its rainy day fund, which has been drawn down in recent years. That will bring the fund balance to $739 million.

The budget comes in the wake of polls showing a drop in O'Malley's approval rating and voter disapproval of tax increases coming out of November's special legislative session. The state faces a $1.7 billion budget shortfall which will be met through taxes and the spending cuts, some of which were proposed by the legislature during the special session.

Though he acknowledged the unpopularity of the taxes O'Malley stood by them, saying the decision behind the hikes was made for the long-term benefit of Maryland residents.

Despite the governor's talk of reductions in spending, Delegate Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert, said the proposed budget would surpass the previous budget by $1.8 billion.

"After taxing the hell out of the citizens of Maryland, how can they come in here with a budget that grows by $1.8 billion?" O'Donnell said. "It's outrageous."

But O'Malley and his supporters said the budget invests in programs that will benefit the state in the future, including education, the environment and public safety.

"I think that it's fiscally responsible while at the same time providing the necessary funds for the state's priorities," said Sen. Robert Garagiola, D-Montgomery. "Obviously there were a lot of difficult decisions that were made during the special session that set forth the long term budget balancing both in additional revenue and in reductions."

Total spending for the general budget is $15.2 billion, which, under Maryland law, legislators can reduce but not increase. Including the capital budget and other funds, the total budget is $31.5 billion.

The governor's cuts are in addition to $280 million in reductions made in July through the elimination of 147 state government positions, 130 of which were already vacant, and 35 contractual positions.

How Governor O'Malley Highlights his New Budget

Protecting Maryland Families and Our Quality of Life

Protecting our families – and maintaining our quality of life – is a key component of the FY 2009 budget. The budget includes $124.5 million to expand health care coverage and provides additional funds to improve access to oral health care, expand community placements for those under the State’s care, enhance substance abuse treatment programs, and continue advancements in the promising field of stem cell research.

Improving K-12 and Higher Education

An educated workforce is central to economic growth and improving Maryland’s competitiveness in the global economy. The FY 2009 budget includes investments in K-12 education, higher education, technical and professional training, adult training and literacy programs, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) readiness, and business growth and job development.

Building on a $400 million investment last year for school construction, the FY 2009 capital budget includes $333 million for new schools and school renovation projects in local jurisdictions. The budget includes an increase of $184 million for K-12 Education, including an unprecedented $75.8 million for the Geographic Cost of Education Index. The budget includes $54.9 million from the new Higher Education Investment Fund to keep college tuition affordable, and address enrollment growth, the achievement gap, and workforce capacity. Earlier this week, Governor O’Malley announced a tuition freeze for higher education in Maryland for the third consecutive year.

Growing Maryland’s Middle Class: Workforce Creation

The FY 2009 budget makes strategic investments to continue Maryland’s economic growth – and expand opportunity for our neighbors in every jurisdiction, including $72.5 million for business development programs (including $18.4 million to support small or minority business entrepreneurs), an increase of $2.3 million for Vocational Rehabilitation programs, $23 million for stem cell research, $6 million for Biotechnology Investment Tax credits, $5 million in the capital budget to continue development of the East Baltimore Biotechnology Park, and $2.4 million for the Nano-Tech Biotechnology fund.

Protecting Our Environment

Maryland has tremendous opportunities for growth and economic development in the year ahead, but we also face the tremendous challenge of managing growth and development in a more sustainable way to preserve and protect our natural resources and the quality of life that we enjoy as Marylanders.

To meet these challenges, the FY 2009 budget includes $156 million for nutrient removal from wastewater treatment plants, $50 million for the new 2010 Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, $45.7 million for agricultural land preservation, and $45.6 million for Program Open Space.

The FY 2009 budget also provides funding for energy efficiency and conservation programs to help the State meet its “Empower Maryland” goal of reducing energy consumption by 15% by 2015, including $481,000 and 7 new positions for the Maryland Energy Administration to help move toward more sustainable energy use; $5.5 million for weatherization assistance for low income homeowners; and funding for capital projects to incorporate “green” or sustainable features into State buildings. Under the Clean Cars initiative, the FY 2009 budget also allows the Maryland Transit Administration to purchase 30 new hybrid-electric buses for the Baltimore Metro area; and $621,000 is included in the capital budget to construct statewide infrastructure to support ethanol fueled vehicles.

Improving Public Safety

Public safety is the foundation of the quality of life we enjoy in Maryland and is the primary responsibility of any government to its citizens. Security integration – the sharing of law enforcement resources, data and intelligence – is essential to making our neighborhoods and communities more secure.

To this end, the FY 2009 budget supports coordination of state and local law enforcement efforts across jurisdictional lines, including wireless interoperability projects, new offender monitoring programs to improve public safety in our communities, an expansion of DNA analysis and sampling for those arrested for violent crimes, and improved detention facilities and treatment programs for inmates.

The FY 2009 budget also includes substantial funding to support and improve the quality of life for Maryland National Guard members and U.S. armed services veterans. A new Reintegration Program receives $800,000 in General Funds to assist Maryland National Guard members returning from overseas deployments in readjusting to life at home.

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