Maryland Senators Argue Over Skipping Budget Breakfast - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Maryland Senators Argue Over Skipping Budget Breakfast

Posted: Jan 17, 2018 1:01 PM Updated:
Maryland Legislative Hall (Photo: WBOC) Maryland Legislative Hall (Photo: WBOC)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP)- As Gov. Larry Hogan released the state's $44.4 billion budget, two senators publicly argued in the Maryland Senate on Wednesday over a decision by the legislature's top leaders to skip the governor's traditional breakfast briefing on the budget.

The spending plan for the next fiscal year, which will be worked on by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for most of the session, is an election-year budget, with record spending on education that the Republican governor emphasized at a news conference Tuesday with highlights from the proposal.

A coalition of behavioral health care groups criticized a reduction in rate increases for community behavioral health providers from 3.5 percent to 2 percent.

"In the midst of a deadly opioid crisis and with rising demand for mental health and substance use disorder treatment, we are deeply disappointed that the budget shortchanges the urgent needs of Marylanders who desperately need treatment," said Howard Ashkin, president of the Maryland Association for Treatment of Opioid Dependence.

Shareese Churchill, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said if the legislature finds another way to fund the providers, the administration is ready to make it happen.

"Governor Hogan agrees that this is an incredibly important issue, which is why our administration has provided more than $500 million over the last three years to fight the heroin and opioid crisis and for substance abuse efforts," Churchill said. "Unfortunately, due to the legislature forcing state spending to grow faster than incoming revenues, we could only provide rate increases that were allowable within the constraints of revenue growth."

While lawmakers began absorbing the budget details, the breakfast snub was the talk of the statehouse, a week after the General Assembly's 90-day session opened amid talk of bipartisanship.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, told the Senate that leading Democrats didn't feel they needed to attend the breakfast at the governor's mansion, because Hogan already briefed certain people and announced highlights at a news conference a day earlier. Republican Sen. J.B. Jennings, the Senate minority leader, said he was disappointed Democrats did not attend.

"As you said the first day of session, we have big issues before us," Jennings said. "We all need to be rowing the boat the same way, and not having some people there made it a little tougher."

Miller told Jennings, "Senator, you're my friend, but you're not Sean Spicer," a reference to President Donald Trump's former press secretary.

"It's impossible to defend the indefensible," Miller said.

The Senate president also said it has been a tradition for governors to invite Democrats and Republicans to the breakfast "prior to announcing the budget."

"He does not have five white men at the breakfast when he explains the budget," Miller said. "He has a diverse group."

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said it's the Senate president who picks the leaders of fiscal committees, not the governor.

"We're just going to assume that the Senate president forgot that he is the person who picks the people who head the committees," Mayer said.

A spokesman for the Senate president said people who have been invited before did not get invited this time. And the presiding officers received 24-hours' notice this year, rather than a week as usual.

But Mayer said complaints about the breakfast invites are "exactly the kind of silliness that Marylanders are sick of."

He described it as "crying over cracked eggs."

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