Maryland lawmakers reach a budget deal after a debate influenced by fiscal uncertainty and the U.S. Senate race


Financial concerns were only heightened last week by the collapse of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge after it was struck by a cargo ship.

Disagreements between the two chambers, both controlled by Democrats, reached a point where some publicly complained that now was not the time for big tax, fee and toll increases, as former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan As the most competitive Republican candidate in the United States, I have been running for Senate in Maryland for decades.

While the GOP hasn't won a Senate race in Maryland since 1980, Hogan is one of the rare Maryland Republicans to win two terms as governor, largely because of his criticism of tax increases that resonated with tax-weary voters in his surprise victory in 2014 .

“If you look back at 2014 and 2018, I don't think it's brain science to see what happened and how the former governor succeeded in the state of Maryland. “So this context is very real, and we have to be honest,” Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Hogan, who boosted his popularity early in his first term by cutting tolls nationwide in 2015, was quick to condemn the revenue package, which led to a budget dispute between the chambers. On Wednesday, he wrote that the original proposal in the Maryland House of Representatives “would cost us jobs and hurt Maryland families already suffering from historic inflation.”

“Enough is enough,” Hogan wrote on X. “Let’s reject these tax increases and send a message that it’s time to end politics as usual.”

The debate has unusual implications beyond national borders. The Democrats have a narrow majority of 51 to 49 in the US Senate.

A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll late last month found that Hogan remains a wildly popular political figure in Maryland, underscoring his potential to transform a normally solid blue state into a competitive state for Republicans. But while his potential opponents remain relatively unknown, the poll also shows that Maryland voters remain much more likely to favor a Democratic U.S. Senate.

With strong majorities in both the state House and Senate and a 2-1 edge in voter registration statewide, Maryland Democrats typically don't have to worry much about the GOP in the state capital. But Hogan is a rare Republican from Maryland who has won two statewide races. That's something none of his likely Democratic opponents, including U.S. Rep. David Trone and Prince George's County Supervisor Angela Alsobrooks, have done.

Negotiations between the two chambers dragged on so long that Moore issued an executive order earlier this week to extend the session 10 days beyond Monday's scheduled adjournment, if necessary. That won't be necessary.

Under the agreement, new transportation-related revenue will be up to $350 million over three years. This includes an increase in vehicle registration fees to cover the rising cost of emergency trauma services in the state. Also part of the agreement is a new fee on electric vehicles to offset gas tax revenue that drivers don't pay to operate those vehicles.

There is also a new nationwide fee for driving services. The plan also includes new speeding fines that increase as speed increases in construction zones.

The agreement also provides between $80 million and $90 million annually from various tobacco tax increases, including $1.25 on a pack of cigarettes. The money will help fund the state's education funding plan, known as the “Blueprint for Maryland's Future,” funded for the next three years.

Lawmakers still have to work to address statewide transportation funding shortfalls next year.

In December, the state's transportation secretary proposed about $3.3 billion in cuts to Maryland's six-year transportation spending plan as inflationary pressures have exacerbated the problem and traditional revenue sources have not kept up with costs.