Maggie’s Legislative Update: March 11, 2011

Posted by Matt on March 11, 2011  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update: March 11, 2011

Dear Friends:

This has been a momentous (and very, very busy) week in Annapolis. In my committee, Environmental Matters, we held hearings on dozens of bills and had state Treasurer Nancy Kopp, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, and Governor O’Malley all stop in to testify on various bills. The big news this week is, of course, the floor debate on same-sex marriage, but I also wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the sacrifices our state employees have made to keep Maryland in good financial shape, give you an update on the funding situation for Baltimore City schools, and explain how school construction funds are allocated.

Same-Sex Marriage:

As a cosponsor of the marriage equality bill – as well as one of the few openly gay members of the General Assembly – it has been a great comfort to receive so many letters of support for this legislation. Though I advocated tirelessly for this bill among my colleagues, this afternoon the House of Delegates decided to recommit the Civil Marriage Protection Act to the Judiciary Committee. While SB 116 was not defeated, it likely means marriage equality legislation will not pass this session.

I am going to make a confession here.  Rarely, rarely, am I reduced to tears or rendered speechless in Annapolis-but today I was.  This has been an emotional roller coaster yet today I have never been so moved by my colleagues both gay and straight.  Ten years ago I “came out” and was for a time the only openly gay member of the Maryland General Assembly.  Today I am one of seven.  At that time colleagues of mine and I were fighting to have discrimination ended in housing and employment.  Think of it: just 10 years ago employers, landlords, and others could discriminated solely because they knew or thought you were gay. That was legal!

Today I sat as dozens of my colleagues spoke in favor of Marriage Equality.  I cannot tell you how proud I am of Delegates Heather Mizeur, Bonnie Cullison, Mary Washington, Luke Clippinger, Anne Kaiser, and Peter Murphy.  All told their personal story, all moved the fight for equality forward.  I am so honored to be here, serving Maryland, with them.

Today we made history.  We must celebrate!  For the first time in Maryland history, Marriage Equality had a favorable vote in the Senate and would have fallen only a few votes short of passing in the House.  So why should we celebrate?  I will tell you why – today the atmosphere, the debate, and even more importantly, the hearts and minds in our chamber were forever altered.  Once altered, history will march on, and we will see Marriage Equality become law very soon.

Maggie with activists from Equality Maryland

Activists from Equality Maryland visit me during their lobby day.

Baltimore City School Funding:

Many of you have written to me to express your support for the Baltimore City Public School System and concern about the leveling of state-wide school system funding proposed in the Governor’s Fiscal year 2012 budget. As a former teacher I know the importance of public education to families and the community, and as a Delegate from Baltimore City I will defend the interests of Baltimore City’s schools on the floor of the House of Delegates, in delegation meetings, and among the House leadership.

Governor O’Malley and the General Assembly have made education a priority while guiding the state through this recessionary period. While many other state programs are losing funding or being eliminated outright, the Governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget calls K-12 education funding at $5.7 billion and fully funds GCEI. Since 2002, state funding for city schools has increased by 92% while enrollment has decreased by 13%. Baltimore City schools also receive the highest percentage of State funding of any school system in Maryland with 74% of BCPS’s funding coming from State funds. I have included some charts here that show the unprecedented investment the state has made in Baltimore City schools since 2002.

Still, while there may be less funding available that in the recent past the Governor’s budget allowance is providing 98.2% of “full funding” for the City School System. When federal Race to the Top grant funding is factored into next year’s allocation, Baltimore City will receive 99.7% of full funding. This does not include $5.9M in federal Education Jobs money that BCPSS will receive.

I understand that the proposed state budget includes less funding than school system administrators were hoping for. I will continue to raise this as an issue for our children.  However, I want to be honest: this year any increases are going to mean cutting other vital services.  At this point the funding committees have not found other cuts to restore the K-12 budget.  I will keep you posted as we proceed.

School Construction:

Artist's rendering of the new Waverly K-8 school

This Summer we’ll break ground on the new K-8 school in Waverly. I could not be more excited about this project and wanted to take this opportunity to let you in on how school construction funding is determined. Over the past 5 years Maryland has spent $1.5 billion on school construction across the state.

Each year, the Interagency Committee on Public School Construction (IAC) makes recommendations to the Board of Public Works on school construction allocations based on eligibility, design completion, enrollment growth and local funding effort. Projects are scored as an “A”, “B”, “C” or “D”, depending on construction readiness and the IAC then funds projects within a jurisdiction from that priority list. The first 75% of funding is allocated during December and the Bureau of Public Works hears local appeals in January.

This week, the IAC issued its 90% recommendations to the Governor and Presiding Officers. There is still $25M left to allocate for FY12. A total of $612 million was requested state-wide with $25.6 million being recommended for Baltimore City.

State Employees:

Like many of you, I have been watching what has been going on in Wisconsin and elsewhere as state employees have had their rights attacked in the name of fiscal responsibility. While many other states are debating public employee benefits, it is a good time to remember the sacrifices that Maryland’s state employees have made over the past few years to balance Maryland’s budget. The average State employee (making $48,500) has given back over $3,100 in salary in furloughs over the past three years. Coupled with reductions in benefits and lack of cost-of-living increases and any kind of merit increases, State employees have absorbed more than $580 million of reductions during this global recession.

The Governor has negotiated a $750 bonus for State employees next year, in lieu of a COLA or merit increases. In budget terms, this has less of an impact to the State’s General Fund than do other options. The Governor also established a voluntary separation program to achieve additional budget savings for FY12. So far, 653 employees have participated in this program.

Our employees are one of State government’s most valuable asset and my colleagues and I will continue to support them. While we undertake pension reform in the coming weeks, it is important that we balance the commitment to state employees, teachers, and public safety employees with the need to ensure the long-term financial security of the State’s pension system. I will keep you updated as pension reforms and the state budget move to the House floor for debate in the coming weeks.

As always, it is my honor and privilege to serve as your voice in Annapolis. As we continue on with the legislative session, please feel free to contact me about any bills or issues you feel strongly about.

Sincerely,

Maggie McIntosh