Monday, January 9, 2017

Balt. Sun: Maryland lawmakers face budget gap, political warfare in new session

Lawmakers left Annapolis last year with a modest budget surplus and talk of a bipartisan tax cut.
This year, they return to dismal financial prospects, readied for partisan warfare.
The surplus has evaporated, as have the calls for cooperation that heralded the start of the past two General Assembly sessions.

Leaders of both major parties fear policy debate could be overshadowed by political maneuvering that jump-starts the 2018 campaign season.

"The claws are coming out, and this isn't going to be pretty," said Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican.

The agenda Maryland lawmakers will consider in the annual 90-day session that begins Wednesday is sprawling and has implications for families and businesses across the state.
It includes budget cuts, forcing many businesses to offer paid sick leave, and addressing the escalating opioid epidemic. Lawmakers also plan to tackle inequity in the criminal justice system and the lack of diversity among licensed medical marijuana business owners. And they will wrestle over environmental policy, particularly a ban on the natural gas extraction method known as fracking...

...With state revenue falling short of projections, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and leading Democrats in the legislature must agree on $544 million worth of spending cuts for the next year — 3 percent of the state's $17.2 billion general fund. Those tough budget decisions will take place amid a potentially toxic political climate...

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