This newsletter will provide you a summary of major issues hat came before the General As- sembly this past session. Not every Senator voted for every issue on this list, we hope this communication will help you better understand and appreciate what we were able to bring back home.
PASSING A BALANCE BUDGET
As unemployment continues to drop (currently at 5.7%), revenues rise, and we emerge from the great recession, the legislature continued to manage the State's budget in a fiscally responsible manner, while focusing on job re-creation. Wherever the legisla- ture could find waste in the budget, it was cut, and the legislature significantly reduced the structural deficit. Throughout this term, we have cut over $3.5 billion of projected spending to ensure a lean and fully functioning state budget for years to come while protecting the priorities of our state and its residents:.
State Aid to Baltimore
Education $913,764,000; Health $8,365,000; Libraries $6,035,000; Disparity Grant $79,051,790; Transportation $136,102,428; Roads (pot holes) $818,461; Recreation Open Space $3,314,625.
East Baltimore Historic Library $100,000; Arena Play House $200,000(operations); Great Blacks in Wax $250,000(operating); Prince Hall Masons $300,000 Kappa Alpha Psi Foundation of Metropolitan Baltimore $200,000.
Funding our Public Schools
Our schools are considered among the best in the country, having been ranked #1 in the nation for five years in a row. To continue this success, it is critical that we protect the State's investment in our classrooms. K-12 education continues to represent 40% of our operating budget. All told, we invested over $6.1 billion in K-12 education.
Strengthening our investment in Pre-K.
This session, the legislature took another step toward affirming its support for Pre-K. With this legislation and the combined funding, over 30,000 Maryland children will be in Pre-K.
Building and Renovating
This year, we invested over $275 million in funding for school construction. This investment brings the total capital investment in our schools during this term to over $1.3 billion. The capital budget also in- cludes over $373 million for higher education projects across the state, including over $65 million for capital projects at our Community Colleges.
Building Infrastructure and Creating Jobs
This year's capital budget includes almost $4 billion for road repairs, library and hospital construction, school construction, and other projects that improve our quality of life and create jobs in the state's con- struction industry. This bill will support the creation and retention of over 48,000 jobs.
Protecting healthcare for low-income Marylanders and expanding healthcare for all Marylanders
Our budget investments will make sure that all Marylanders who need health care can access it. This year's budget will help over 1.1 million Marylanders gain health insurance through Medicaid and other programs. Concerning the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, the budget includes funding for the exchange, but with greater oversight.
Long Term Investments
In addition to these investments, we set aside $794 million in the State's Rainy Day Fund and left an ad- ditional $84 million general fund balance — for a total of over $1 billion in reserve to make certain that Maryland will be able to mitigate the effects of the Federal Sequester and other federal budget inactions, and keep Baltimore from becoming another Detroit.
Investing in job creation
Maryland continues to make strong strides in recovering from the great recession. Over the last twelve months, Marylanders have created over 7,600 jobs — a vast majority of those from the private sector. In addition, we have recovered all of all jobs we lost during the recession and have our lowest un- employment rate in four years. In fact, Maryland is still creating jobs while other states, including Vir- ginia, are losing theirs.
This year we continue our commitment to make Maryland a more business friendly state. In addition to our investments in education, transportation and public safety, we invested in tax credits to bring new and innovative economies and industries to our state. These include tax credits for our burgeon- ing biotechnology industry, cyber security industry and to sustain and grow our film activity industry.
Keeping Higher Education Affordable
We continued our historic investment in higher education by budgeting over $5.53 billion for our public colleges and universities. In addition, we increased funding to our community colleges by almost 5%. These investments will help to prevent drastic tuition increases and help our students prepare to compete in Maryland's increasingly high tech economy. For six years now, Maryland has had tuition increases kept at just 3% a year, making our colleges more affordable and accessible for all.
Raising the Minimum Wage
Raising the minimum wage is essential to helping Marylanders and Baltimore Citizens who are living paycheck-to--paycheck to put food on the table for their families and ensure that they are able to keep a roof over their heads. The average age of minimum wage employees are 35 and over 55% of are women, many of which are raising families on their own. As passed, the minimum wage will be phased in to $10.10 by July 2018, in a manner that is foreseeable for businesses and good for work- ing families.
Expanding Tax Credits to take families out of poverty
One of the most important tax credits we provide as a state is the Earned Income Tax Credit. This tax credit helps to bring thousands of families out of poverty and strengthen the middle class. Legislation passed this session will expand the refundable Earned Income Credit from 25% to 28% when fully imple- mented for FY2019.
Paying our DDA Providers a fair wage
As we moved to raise the minimum wage, the Senate remained committed to ensuring that our DDA service workers were not left behind. By working with the administration, the Senate amended the minimum wage bill to make certain that our DDA providers would get an increase in funding, while al- so providing safeguards to guarantee that those increases went to the hard-working service providers that care for many of our state's most vulnerable.
Keeping our roads safe
Over the last several years, we have taken steps to ban certain forms of distracted driving in- cluding concerning the use of a cell phone. This session, we took the step to increase penalties for drivers who cause serious or fatal accidents while using a hand-held cell phone. These penalties can include up to a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail.
Creating a more sensible drug policy
This year, for the second year in a row, the Senate passed legislation to create a more sensible enforce- ment policy by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This legislation will help the state treat drug addiction as a health issue as opposed to a criminal justice issue. As passed, this legislation will decriminalize possession of less than ten grains marijuana and provide fines for offend- ers and drug counseling remedies if the court judges it necessary.
Taking Steps to secure Maryland’s correctional
Last year, the State uncovered some mismanagement and issues in the State's prison system. In re- sponse, the legislature passed a budget that increases staffing levels, upgrades cameras and video recording systems at prisons, and targets and expands anti-contraband efforts. In addition, the legisla- ture passed legislation to streamline intelligence gathering, increases the use of polygraphs, and improving the correctional officers bill of rights. Additionally, legislation was passed to increase penal- ties for contraband possession.
Better protection for victims of domestic violence
This session, the legislature took action on several bills to help victims of domestic violence. After years of Senate effort, the House finally passed legislation to lower the burden of proof for peace orders and pro- tective orders from clear and convincing evidence to preponderance of evidence. Maryland remains the only state in the country with this level of proof to help more victims of domestic violence find peace from their abusive situation. In addition, the legislature broadened the conditions under which a permanent final protective order may be granted, and increased penalties for crimes of domestic violence committed in front of minors .