January 30, 2023
Governor Moore’s proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Budget was recently released, and the Senate is ready to work collaboratively to face the many opportunities and challenges ahead. The State budget will decrease compared to the previous year due to reductions in federal funding. There are a number of competitive federal programs that Maryland can access in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act related to transit improvements and emissions reductions. Although Maryland has not yet applied for, or been allocated that funding, we are incredibly well-positioned to do so thanks to the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022.

Several key funding decisions included in the Governor’s budget were:  
  • Funding set asides of $500 million each towards the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and transportation projects;
  • An allocation of $2.5 billion to the State’s rainy-day fund in case of a recession; and 
  • Setting aside an additional $820 million of the surplus so the State can respond flexibly to ongoing projects. 

Maintaining these reserve balances is a sign of fiscal responsibility, especially as national economic trends demonstrate a slowing rebound. The Senate will continue working with the Moore administration and House leadership to ensure that legislative priorities are balanced appropriately, and implemented with fidelity.
New MDOT Secretary and Investments in Transit
Increasing access to transportation is one of the General Assembly’s most important priorities this year, including identifying a long term solution to Baltimore’s East-West Corridor transit issues that have only been exacerbated since Governor Hogan’s 2015 decision to cancel the Red Line project.

Last week, Governor Moore selected transit veteran Paul Wiedefeld as the new Secretary of Transportation. With budgetary increases in transportation projects and new political momentum, I am hopeful that Mr. Wiedefeld will provide the leadership needed to reprioritize transportation projects across the State. The nominated Secretary's background in mass transit as the former head of both BWI and WMATA will serve him well moving forward. 
Federal investments will play a critical role in the Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) mission. President Biden visited Baltimore today to promote federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to replace the roughly 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, the largest bottleneck for rail commuters between Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. MDOT has said MARC express trains will be able to travel between Baltimore and Washington in less than 30 minutes once this project is completed.
Changing Executive Appointments
Governor Moore’s recent appointee announcements coincide with other leadership changes in the State as he withdrew 48 interim appointees named during the final months of Governor Hogan’s tenure. The Governor’s letter to the General Assembly stated that he would offer replacements next month. 

Many executive appointees will be subject to a confirmation vote by the Maryland Senate. The Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee is its work began its work in earnest today as it heard from newly nominated judges. The Committee’s significant responsibility will ensure that our State's future public servants are qualified, vetted, and prepared for their future work.
Joint Senate Committees Hearing on Maryland 529
In a hearing in front of the Senate Budget & Taxation and Education, Energy, & the Environment Committees last week, Maryland 529 leadership acknowledged a need to improve communication while resolving interest calculation issues that left families unable to pay tuition and fees. They told the members of the two Senate committees that the agency would be looking to other states with 529 plans as models as the agency works to help families unable to access their Maryland Prepaid College Trust balances or whose accounts failed to accrue promised interest. The Board will convene today ahead of its scheduled February 23 meeting to discuss further efforts to resolve this problem.
More News
As President of the Maryland Senate, increasing access to participate in the legislative process is a core goal. If you would like to provide written or oral testimony for legislation under consideration, please view this video tutorial and create a myMGA Account before you sign up for Witness Testimony. Thanks to the Maryland Association of Counties for this helpful “Cheat Sheet”.

The Maryland Board of Public Works (BPW) met last week for the first time with Governor Moore and Comptroller Lierman as two of the three voting members. I was encouraged to see the BPW call for increased efforts to ensure expanded participation in State contracting by minority- and women-owned businesses, a promise our State has fallen short on for too long. 

The Maryland Supreme Court has announced that it will hear an appeal from the Comptroller’s office on a law requiring massive digital ad platforms to pay taxes to support Maryland's public schools. The law, passed in 2021, is estimated to raise $250 million annually to help pay for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The Court has scheduled its hearing for May. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court reverses the lower court's decision, thereby allowing greater fairness between corporate giants and small businesses.

Maryland students’ English scores rebounded to pre-COVID-19 levels last year. However, math scores continue to be a cause for significant concern across the State as they remain lower than those recorded in 2019. State Superintendent Choudhury said the results would be addressed “with urgency” to ensure that all students, especially underserved students, make up for learning losses due to the pandemic.

Maryland must pay over $600,000 to settle violations under the Hogan Administration regarding misspent federal grant money from the AmeriCorps program. An investigation found “widespread” issues, including that tickets meant to reward volunteers went to ineligible individuals, including State employees. Moreover, State employee salaries were charged to AmeriCorps without proof those employees worked on the AmeriCorps grants.

Congratulations and welcome to Asma Naeem, the new director of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Pakistan-born, Ms. Naeem is the first person of color to lead the institution in its 109-year history. 

Baltimore City's Restaurant week started on Friday and runs through February 5. Foodies can choose from more than 75 participating eateries in the City to enjoy prix-fixe brunch, lunch, and dinner menus priced from $20 to $55.

Anyone who lives in Baltimore City knows we have some of the best restaurants in the country. Baltimore has three restaurants on the James Beard Awards semifinalists list this year, including two in the Fightin’ 46th Legislative District. Charleston was nominated for an award in the Outstanding Hospitality category and two local chefs, Chris Amendola of Foraged and Steve Chu of Ekiben, are semifinalists for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic.
If there is anything we can do to help, please do not hesitate to contact my office via email, bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us, or by phone, 410-841-3600.