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$300M Baltimore aid package in legislature

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Posted at 6:43 PM, Mar 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-25 18:43:48-04

Members of the state General Assembly want to send nearly $300 million over five years to Baltimore City for outreach and the attraction of businesses to blighted areas.

With just a few weeks to go in this session, legislative leaders have high hopes for the chances of the package of legislation being passed into law.

The package of bills was immediately touted by leaders in both legislative chambers as a shot in the arm for Baltimore after it was announced earlier this month. After moving through the house and clearing a senate committee Thursday, they are expected to be taken up before the full senate Monday.

"This $50 million each year, it's real money that can move a city," said Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, a member of the senate budget and taxation committee.

The legislation comes in eight separate bills, totaling close to $290 million to go toward Baltimore initiatives. They seek to create a grant program for summer and after school programs at schools, provide state assistance for the demolition and renovation of vacant homes and set-up scholarships for eighth grade students who commit to pursuing higher education after high school.

Libraries would also stay open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day -- seven days a week -- among other initiatives.

"The key is that we have to invest in people," Ferguson said. "It is very purposeful and the city has to demonstrate its priority towards these initiatives by matching those funds."

But the bills challenge a stance carved out this session by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan due to spending for the programs set through mandates tied to the state budget.

A Hogan spokesperson said he has taken no official stance on the bills.

"We clearly share many of the same objectives on issues like blight, but we can't help but have concerns about the hundreds of millions of dollars in new, required spending in these bills," said Hogan spokesperson Shareese Churchill in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Democrat representing Baltimore City and running for the city's mayor, expects the bills to pass with a veto proof majority.

"We want to build off of our anchors in our city and enhance those neighborhoods that have not been enhanced. That's certainly not the wish of the general assembly ... we think that not just the empathy is there, but the understanding of how important Baltimore City is to the rest of the state."

The legislation is expected to be taken up on the senate floor Monday. From there it could be headed to Hogan's desk as early as Friday, senators said.