MARYLAND — A coalition of state and local leaders are calling on Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to tap Maryland's reserve funds to help cash-strapped residents and business owners during the coronavirus pandemic.
At a virtual event on Wednesday, Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) said he has identified more than $2 billion in reserves that could be sourced from the state's FY 2020 general fund balance and rainy day fund.
"Marylanders and small businesses need help and they need action from Annapolis now," Franchot, the state's tax collector who is running for governor in 2022, said. "Those are two chunks of unallocated, available money right now."
Of the unallocated reserves, Franchot said $1 billion should be distributed to people and businesses affected by the public health crisis.
"I'm not talking about a tax increase ... in mandated spending," he said. "I'm talking about something which is one time for emergency use. It's there and it was put there for this purpose."
State Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D), U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D), and local elected officials and community members from Maryland's largest counties were among those who also spoke during Wednesday's meeting.
Presenters underscored the need for Hogan to dip into the state's reserves to supplement the $900 billion stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this week.
Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D) said he was pleased that Congress passed the economic relief package, but was worried that it did not offer state or local aid.
"The absence of local aid from the federal relief package will have a devastating impact on our residents and struggling businesses," he said. "Without additional support from Gov. Hogan, our local governments will be forced to cut spending on critical programs that people rely on every day, like food relief, rental assistance, and hazard pay for our first responders."
According to Hucker, one in every four business owners surveyed said they're likely to go out of business in the next six months.
Eddie Wingrat, the president of Flowers and Fancies in Owings Mills, said this has been the most devastating year for business since it started in 1971.
Detailing those struggles, Wingrat said he had to lay off almost all of the 45 employees he hired at the beginning of March to cover his losses due to event cancellations.
"We have no road map and the uncertainty of financial assistance has created a roller coaster of endless choices and emotions for all of us," he said.
Hucker, who served in the Maryland General Assembly from 2007 to 2014, said it's the state's responsibility to help residents and small businesses that are struggling to make ends meet.
"There is no reason that we should have hundreds of thousands of residents hungry and facing eviction, and hundreds of small businesses closing for good while those state funds sit idle," he said.
When asked for comment, Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci told The Washington Post that the state must first see what federal aid is offered. He then pointed to a statement Hogan released this week on the federal stimulus package.
In the statement, Hogan said he was disappointed that the package did not include support for state and local governments.
"More still needs to be done, including by Congress, to help our economy and our workforce," Hogan said. "And when the General Assembly returns to work for the 2021 session, we will be proposing a larger economic and stimulus relief package to provide further support to our struggling families and small businesses."