Budget expected to dominate 2015 session

As the Maryland General Assembly convenes Wednesday, state spending and taxes are expected to dominate. It’s hard to predict what else might happen when there’s a new governor, a break in dominance by Democrats and the biggest freshman class of lawmakers in decades. These are some issues legislative leaders and advocacy groups expect to at least talk about during the 90-day session.

The whole session is going to center around the budget.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D)

Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan campaigned almost exclusively on economic issues, promising to curb state spending, roll back taxes and improve Maryland’s business climate. When he takes office on Jan. 21, he’ll face a $750 million budget shortfall — and has cautioned residents to prepare for painful cuts.

Hogan has declined to reveal what those cuts may be, but many in Annapolis expect local governments to get less cash, colleges to face reductions that might cause tuition rates to rise, and key projects such as the Red Line to be postponed or scrapped. Other vulnerable areas include how much the state pays doctors for treating Medicaid patients. Hogan has said his new budget would include some form of a tax cut.

Criminal justice
If you're going to make large cuts, you have to make cuts in places like higher education, K-12 and health care.
— Mathew Palmer, Maryland Chamber of Commerce
top issues
higher education
K-12 education
charter schools
Maryland saw record funding for education during the O’Malley administration, and education advocates are girding for a budget fight as Hogan looks to trim spending. Colleges have received big subsidies over the past eight years to stave off tuition increases, and some advocates believe the higher education system is especially vulnerable. For K-12 education, legislative leaders expect debate on whether to continue using an optional geographic cost-of-education formula that gives more money to some districts, including Baltimore. Hogan has also said he plans to push for changes to encourage more charter schools.
some key stakeholders
Maryland State Education Association
Maryland Chamber of Commerce
Additional stakeholders: Community colleges, local governments, parents, charter school advocates
The No. 1 goal for 2015 is to keep the progress we've made
— Vincent DeMarco, Maryland Health Care for All
top issues
insurance exchange
A spike in deaths from heroin overdoses and rising crime linked to the drug prompted Hogan to promise action when he takes office, though he has not offered specifics. Legislative leaders expect debate on how best to combat the epidemic. Among the options: tougher penalties for dealers, more resources for police and better treatment for addicts. Health reform advocates hope to continue expanding access to insurance through a state-based exchange. The state’s medical society fears that cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates could make it hard for low-income patients to find doctors.
some key stakeholders
Maryland Health Care for All
MedChi (state medical society)
Additional stakeholders: Local police departments, drug addiction workers
We may have to spend more time defending the progress we’ve made.
— Dru Schmidt-Perkins, 1000 Friends of Maryland
top issues
rain tax
fertilizer runoff
Fracking, the “rain tax” to fight storm-water pollution and new rules to prevent farm waste from fouling the Chesapeake Bay are expected to be the top environmental issues. Business groups and others hope to move forward with fracking in Western Maryland, while some environmentalists hope to pass a moratorium on that natural gas drilling method. Hogan has been clear that he will seek to repeal the storm-water fee, but key legislators will fight to keep it. New regulations designed to curb the use of chicken manure on farm fields have become controversial, pitting environmentalists against farmers who say they are too costly.
some key stakeholders
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
1000 Friends of Maryland
Additional stakeholders: Farmers, local governments, business groups
I'm hearing from Purple Line advocates every 15 minutes. I'm exaggerating a bit but not by much.
— Del. Kumar Barve, Montgomery County Democrat
top issues
gas tax revenue
rural roads
mass transit
Legislative leaders expect a fight over how much money from Maryland’s higher gas tax should go to mass transit projects versus roads and bridges. Hogan has promised to focus more on the needs of the rural areas and give local governments more cash to pay for roads and bridges. He has questioned the wisdom of costly rail lines already in the pipeline — the Red Line in Baltimore or the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. Business groups and environmentalists have both pushed for them.
some key stakeholders
Maryland Chamber of Commerce
Additional stakeholders: Local governments, mass transit activists
criminal justice
Most of our agenda is about making sure the police are accountable to the people they serve.
— Sara Love, ACLU of Maryland
top issues
officers' bill of rights
body cameras
Police accountability is expected to be a major issue. Lawmakers expect debate on proposals to weaken the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which police defend as necessary and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says makes it hard to discipline officers. State funding for police body cameras could emerge as another area of debate. Key lawmakers plan to revisit last year’s law that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana but did not cover pipes and other marijuana paraphernalia.
some key stakeholders
ACLU of Maryland
Fraternal Order of Police
Additional stakeholders: Local governments, medical marijuana advocates
More General Assembly coverage:
Gov. Hogan promises tax relief in State of the State
Leading Democrats say most of the Hogan agenda won't pass