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Legislators bristle at budget

2015-01-29

ANNAPOLIS – In the words of more than one Montgomery County delegate, Governor Larry Hogan’s proposed budget for fiscal 2016 is “disconcerting” – mainly because Montgomery County Public Schools will be taking a $17 million cut to its educational spending.

The proposed budget, unveiled last Thursday, calls for a 50 percent reduction in the geographic cost of education index (GCEI) among a laundry list of other reductions to erase a projected shortfall of about $800 million next year.

“Obviously it’s a huge concern that one of the highlights that the governor highlighted was what is a real cut to the Montgomery County Education Funding,” said Delegate Marc Korman (D-16), who also sits on the state’s appropriations committee. “Montgomery County’s brand is education and it’s really important to maintain that brand. Cuts to education don’t help that, we need increases and we have real needs in a lot of areas.”

Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-39) said MCPS superintendent Joshua Starr put the proposed cut into perspective during a meeting with the Montgomery County delegation last Friday.

According to Reznik, Starr said the $17 million was equivalent to that of 250 teachers’ jobs or 400 support personnel.

Along with the cut to the GCEI, delegates such as Reznik see a problem with the proposed amount of capital funding for school construction.

“$280 million for statewide school construction as a supplement to what we’ve been doing… that’s great, but it’s not going to be enough,” said Reznik. “We expect more new students in the Montgomery County Public School system than the entire student population of Garret County. And when we’re growing as fast as we’re growing, you can’t cut our legs out from under us when it comes to that funding.”

Delegate Shane Robinson (D-39) said he and the Montgomery County delegation came into the new session with hopes of getting funding for more than 20 shovel-ready projects in Montgomery County to help alleviate the overcrowding issue in MCPS.

Robinson said the proposed funding for construction and educational cuts would only make matters more difficult for MCPS.

“With cuts like this, and if we are not able to get school construction funding, our problems are just going to get worse. Overcrowding will get worse and we’re just digging a deeper hole for ourselves to get out of later,” Robinson said.

Robinson also criticized Hogan’s proposed across-the-board 2 percent reduction in state agency spending.

“To me it’s a rather unsophisticated approach to make across-the-board cuts,” he said. “I think we need to go service by service if we’re going to triage spending.”

State employees will feel the biggest impact of the 2 percent reduction. As of Jan. 1 state employee salaries increased by 2 percent – if Hogan’s proposal were to pass, employee salaries would drop back down by July 1.

 “It really feels like state employees are the whipping boys of the state and are constantly the ones that we adjust our budget issues on the backs of,” Reznik said.

As soon as Hogan released the proposed budget, Reznik said he began hearing from disgruntled constituents and friends who are state employees.

“I’m already hearing that they’re not happy about it. I’ve already heard from the folks at the (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) who represent our state employees who are disappointed. It really is a constant ‘first you give us, then you take away’ situation,” Reznik said.

Jeff Pittman, communications director for AFSCME, said both Republican and Democratic employees were “mad as hell” at the proposed cut. Pittman said Republican employees felt “blindsided” because they did not believe this is what Hogan campaigned on.

But Korman and Reznik said there is some good to the budget.

“On the more positive side, the governor did not act rashly on the Purple Line and that’s really important to the economic success of our region and so that’s good news,” Korman said.

“In the grand scheme of things, am I relieved that the budget is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be? Sure,” Reznik said. “But at the end of the day I think there are better ways to fix our budget problems than on the backs of our school kids and on the backs of our state employees.”

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