The 2016 General Assembly Session came to a close at midnight Monday. It is an honor to serve in the state Senate. My goal is to keep you informed and be your voice in Annapolis. There is always a wide variety of legislation and activity during the 90-day session.
Gov. Larry Hogan has completely changed the conversation about spending and taxes in Annapolis. The governor's fiscal year 2017 budget reduces the size of government while allocating money to key priorities such as education — including a $5.2 million increase for Carroll County Public Schools over last year — combating the heroin epidemic, and making road and bridge improvements. We have largely eliminated long-term structural deficits, are fixing our state's underfunded pension system and are reducing fees that were raised artificially high under Gov. Martin O'Malley. This budget builds on last year as we continue to force state government to live within its means.
I was hoping to be able to celebrate the first broad-based income tax cut in a generation. Our entire Carroll County delegation sponsored legislation with Gov. Hogan to cut income taxes for everyone. Different versions of the proposal passed both the House and the Senate, meaning the two sides had to conference together to negotiate. Unfortunately, there were a lot of games played by the majority party to try to add other things to the bill. The two houses could not agree on a compromise, so the legislation did not get a final vote before the end of session. The fact that we were even able to get an income tax bill passed by both houses is pretty earth-shattering for Annapolis. We will certainly make this a top priority when we return next year.
I was pleased that we were able to pass legislation to increase penalties for second-degree murder and drunk driving, two bills I co-sponsored with a bipartisan group of senators. We did this while passing reforms to the criminal justice system to make sure that nonviolent drug offenders get treatment rather than ineffective (and expensive) jail time.
Once Gov. Hogan put the funding in his budget proposal, it was the responsibility of Carroll's senators and delegates to fight to protect it during the General Assembly budget process. We were able to do that by working with the chairmen and other members of the House and Senate budget committees. We certainly appreciate receiving a fair shake in the budget process.
Also, we passed two different bills that will provide about $400,000 in annual savings to the county that can be put toward education. One bill transferred some personnel at the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office to the state of Maryland payroll because they are performing a state function, and the second bill allows the school system to be reimbursed for school bus gas taxes every year.
Finally, there were several poor proposals that we were able to defeat, including severe firearm restrictions and a bill to automatically register people to vote who show up at different government agencies for services. This might not sound like a bad thing, but there were a number of privacy concerns and if you didn't want to be registered you had to jump through hoops to opt out. We ended up passing a bill that makes voter registration more accessible through state agencies but got rid of the automatic provision.
We should be able to count on elected officials to work tirelessly to improve our state. I'm doing my best to stand up for lower taxes, spending restraint, and common sense in government.
Please feel free to contact me any time you have a concern, a question, or an idea. You can reach me at 410-841-3683 or Justin.Ready@senate.state.md.us. I look forward to hearing from you.