Md Assembly one week in: struggle over Hogan budget begins

After a week of the General Assembly session, progressive agendas are taking shape up against the Hogan budget's cuts to people programs and favoritism to his base. In an election year, the action is getting as hot as could be expected.


 

The General Assembly, one week in, has been hustling to keep the Trump effect from hurting the state – especially where punitive and inequitable tax law changes are concerned – and teeing things up for a big-time, money-burning struggle with Gov. Hogan as he prepares to run for another, probably even more ruinous, four-year term. Democrats are concerned (as they are in every state in the country) to keep Hogan from being able to re-arrange the congressional districts that have kept Maryland largely a blue state. The effects of GOP gerrymandering throughout the red-state portions of the US have severely reduced the number of US House seats that are actually competitive.

FIGHTBACK ON THE BUDGET

Maryland, a strong-executive state, gets a budget submitted by the Governor that the Assembly can move around but is very constrained on increasing. Larry Hogan’s $17.7 billion budget was dropped yesterday (Wed., Jan 17) with big shortfalls in progressive priorities like education and fighting the plague of opioids and big windfalls for business and commerce, as if they were not riding high already.

Across the state, Baltimore gets cuts and Anne Arundel County gets increases (except for its community college); Frederick County and especially Washington County get increases (showing Hogan knows where his base is). Hogan has already made clear his preference for building more highways over mass transit – pretty much the reverse of what the state needs.

DEFENDING HEALTH CARE ADVANCES

The Trump administration’s perverse move to eliminate penalties for not having health care coverage – a linchpin of the Affordable Care Act – could cause premiums to rise across the board for ACA-related coverage policies. Proposals are in the works in Maryland to take state-level action to keep this from happening.

Capital News Service reports on the Health Care For All Coalition’s proposal to control prescription drug prices in the state.

And did you know that many of your pharmacists are contractually prohibited from telling you if your prescription can be filled more cheaply with a generic version? Maryland is looking to join five other states in banning this “gag rule” enforced by companies’ contractual requirements that many pharmacists are forced to accept as part of their access to the company’s products.

PROGRESSIVE LEGISLATIVE AGENDAS

The Legislative Black Caucus agenda for the 2018 session includes full funding of education in step with the Kirwan Commission findings; further reform on bail, police conduct and mass incarceration; support for increased goals on renewable energy; and defense of the state’s health care system with an emphasis on economic justice and equity. An agenda endorsed by Our Revolution Maryland and legislators allied with it will push for the $15 minimum wage statewide, debt free community college access, advancement toward a single-payer/Medicare for All health system in Maryland, the Trust Act to defend immigrant communities, a stronger renewable energy goal and criminal justice reform that codifies the court finding that cash bail is generally unconstitutional.

STATE PRIORITIES

A study by a state agency, the Department of Legislative Services (which works for the General Assembly) found that state agencies have lost thousands of positions over three different administrations (Ehrlich, O’Malley and Hogan) in the past 16 years and that it has cut muscle. The state is less able to serve its citizens than before, most acutely in corrections and health care, and urgently needs about 1,600 vacancies filled.

DAY TO DAY

The everyday work of the Assembly goes on – Capital News Service rounds up a typical day’s activity in Annapolis. A Thursday (Jan. 18) hearing schedule shows that legislators continue to review less-controversial bills and get reports on state agencies and commissions since last year before launching action on the bills that will make or break the session's outcome.