Maryland Lawmakers Gear Up for Budget Work - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Maryland Lawmakers Gear Up for Budget Work

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Maryland State House (Courtesy: Erin Erkun) Maryland State House (Courtesy: Erin Erkun)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Gov.-elect Larry Hogan said Thursday that he will propose tax cuts in his first legislative session as governor, despite a roughly $750 million budget hole he will have to fill. Democratic legislative leaders, however, urged caution in pushing to cut taxes this year as Maryland faces budget challenges.

"No question that, our initial first session, we're going to have some tax cuts," Hogan said at a news conference where he introduced four new Cabinet members.

Hogan, a Republican who campaigned on cutting taxes, declined to elaborate on what his plans for cuts will be. The incoming governor said he would have more details in two weeks, after he takes office on Jan. 21.

House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller questioned whether this year would be the best time to cut taxes, as Maryland continues to wrestle with less-than-expected revenue collections. For one thing, Busch said in an interview with The Associated Press, it's unknown whether Maryland could have to make more budget adjustments this year, if revenue estimates drop as they have in recent months.

"Not everything has to happen all at once," Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said. "You know, you have to look at this as a distance run and not a sprint. It's a four-year period of time, and I think if you're going to service the citizens appropriately, you have to take a look at how to best do that."

While Miller commended Hogan for focusing on making the state more attractive to businesses, the Senate president also said he believed tax cuts likely need to wait. Miller emphasized the need not to cut back on investments the state has made in education in recent years.

"The governor is not going to be able to cut the sales tax or income tax anytime soon, because of the budget situation, but as we move along, as the economy continues to improve, it will be something we'll look at in the future," Miller, D-Calvert, said.

The state budget is expected to be a main focus of the session. Charter schools, bail review and sick leave are among others to be debated.

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Miller said he believes lawmakers will consider legislation to ease restrictions on charter schools to make them better able to flourish in Maryland. Busch said lawmakers will entertain dialogue on charter schools, so long as any proposals fit well with the existing structure the state has for them.

BAIL REVIEW

Neither Miller nor Busch expect strong support for a big overhaul of the state's bail-review system. Efforts to push major reforms after a ruling by the state's highest court fell apart in last year's session. "It was one of the most contentious issues last year, and the practitioners of law in the General Assembly all had different ideas and it was tough to build a consensus around everything," said Busch, who expects tweaks to the system without a major overhaul.

TAX CREDITS

Busch expects a review of tax credits in the state, including the controversial film-tax credit, to prioritize the importance of each tax credit and which ones could be cut. Miller said the future of the film-tax credit will depend on how much Hogan supports it in the budget.

SICK LEAVE

Legislation to require employers to provide sick leave is expected to return after failing to pass last year. Miller and Busch both have doubts about its chances this year. "I think its chances of passage at the present time are fairly slim," Miller said.

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