ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — In a year of extraordinary budget surpluses, Maryland lawmakers are planning to set aside $800 million to cover future costs of the state's sweeping education reform law known as the Blueprint for Maryland's Future.
As the Maryland Senate neared a vote on the state budget for the next fiscal year, Sen. Guy Guzzone said the decision was made in recognition of last week's announcement that revenues are projected to be $1.6 billion higher than previously estimated, on top of a budget surplus that already was huge.
Guzzone, the Senate budget chairman, said the bill also would help "to avoid previous missteps in not properly allocating resources up front for education reform."
The reform blueprint for the state's K-12 schools is being phased in over a decade, with costs rising in later years. It focuses on expanding early childhood education, increasing teachers' salaries, and providing aid to help struggling schools adequately prepare students for college and careers. While lawmakers had already set aside funds for the initial years, added costs in later years have remained unaddressed.
The budget bill now before the Senate also sets aside $350 million for tax relief, a provision that remains to be decided before the General Assembly's scheduled adjournment April 11.
The budget includes more than $3.3 billion in cash resources: $2.3 billion in the state's Rainy Day Fund, which represents 10% of the general fund, and $1.1 billion in the general fund balance.
The budget surplus is the result of massive federal aid during the coronavirus pandemic and better-than-expected state revenues.
Maryland lawmakers focused on using the surplus to make one-time expenditures, including infrastructure investments.
The spending plan shifts $700 million of capital projects from general obligation bonds to cash, bringing general fund spending on pay-as-you-go capital projects to more than $1.6 billion.
It also includes $832 million for cost-of-living adjustments, salary increases and bonuses for state employees to attract and retain them in a competitive labor market.
Another $240 million is targeted to support health care workers and businesses that continue to be heavily affected by the pandemic.
The budget bill also includes $110 million to improve cybersecurity in state government.
The House of Delegates will still need to take up the budget bill after Senate passage.
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