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Maryland Gov. Wes Moore testifies on ENOUGH Act, receiving praise and facing questions about state budget shortfall

Sam Janesch, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

BALTIMORE — An hour into hearing mostly glowing comments about his plan to invest in Maryland’s most impoverished neighborhoods, Gov. Wes Moore was posed a question Wednesday that brought to the forefront a topic he and other Democrats have largely avoided in this year’s session of the Maryland General Assembly.

How does he justify the new spending — even at only $15 million per year — when the state is facing billions of dollars in shortfalls in the coming years and is not actively considering ways to raise new money?

“It keeps me up at night thinking next year we come, having passed this bill and been very pleased with ourselves, like the Blueprint [for Maryland’s Future], only to have to cut it, only to have to cut the program, cut the Blueprint,” Del. Ben Barnes, a Democrat who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, told the governor, referring to Maryland’s expensive long-term education reform plan that the state doesn’t have a way to fully fund.

“It would be a shame, a damn shame, if we had to cut any of these programs,” Barnes said.

The Democratic governor was testifying before Barnes’ committee on the ENOUGH Act, his top policy priority of the year. The bill would provide up to $500,000 grants to communities with at least 20% of children living in poverty — a step Moore has said will continue the state’s path toward his goal of eliminating child poverty.

“Let’s be clear,” Moore responded to Barnes, holding up a map depicting concentrations of child poverty across Maryland. “This is an economic drain on the entire state — that we have so many communities that are so deeply neglected.”

 

Even in times of economic uncertainty, the Democratic governor said, “we cannot continue looking at children who are continuing to be condemned in pockets of poverty and say, ‘Well, they’re just going to have to wait.’”

The program has wide support and is expected to pass easily before the session ends in April.

It has a relatively small fiscal impact in the $63.1 billion state budget Moore proposed earlier this year. That plan resolves an immediate $1.1 billion cash shortfall by reducing some programs, pulling from the state’s reserves and borrowing more, though it leaves the state on the hook for a structural deficit expected to hit $3 billion in four years.

“We’re not just going to spend smarter our way out of $3 billion,” Barnes told the governor, who responded that he is “active and eager” to continue conversations.

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