Last week, Governor Larry Hogan announced that he would not spend $80 million that the General Assembly had “fenced off” and demanded be spent on certain education expenses – or not at all. Hogan chose “not at all.”
revenue lagging behind projections, Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget chief said Wednesday the governor would not spend $80 million the General Assembly authorized him to use this year to reduce violence, renovate older schools and fund other programs.
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The administration’s decision to not spend the $80 million set aside by lawmakers — Hogan’s choice was to spend all or none of it — sets up a confrontation with the Democratic-led legislature, which in recent years has tried to force spending on programs it prefers by redirecting money from the governor’s budget proposal.
Under the Maryland Constitution, the legislature cannot add spending to the governor’s budget — it can only cut money and request that it be spent elsewhere.
Despite all the talk of budget restraint, Hogan did manage to find $5 million to spend on scholarships for private schools.
In response, the ACLU and the state teachers union (MSEA) issued a press release calling on Hogan to withhold the $5 million for private schools or to use it for public school purposes.
This morning, Senator Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery-District 18) joined ACLU of Maryland and the more than 72,000 educators of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) in calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to withhold $5 million set aside for private school vouchers as part of the FY2017 budget. Earlier this week, the governor claimed the state is facing declining revenues in deciding to withhold $25 million that had been set aside for public schools, yet did not decide to hold back funding reserved for private schools. The groups asked the governor to instead send the $5 million in taxpayer dollars to public schools to offset some of the damage from the cuts Gov. Hogan made earlier this week.
“If the state of Maryland cannot afford to spend taxpayer dollars on fixing aging school buildings and preventing class size increases, we certainly cannot afford to help subsidize tuition for those who are already enrolled in private schools,” said Sen. Madaleno. “Budgets are about priorities, and it’s disappointing that the governor is choosing to siphon funding from public schools to help private schools.”
This is the second consecutive year that Gov. Hogan has decided to withhold school funding despite projected budget surpluses. Last year, he withheld $68 million passed in a bipartisan budget from thirteen counties that saw increased class sizes, eliminated educator positions, and cut programs. This year, he held back $25 million in funding that would have supported the maintenance of aging school facilities and helped counties pay for educator pensions without cutting funding levels for classroom instruction.
“We’re disappointed that the governor is more concerned with winning a political argument with Democrats in the legislature than focusing on ways to improve our public schools,” said MSEA Vice President Cheryl Bost. “It’s yet another year of schools trying to do more for students with less help from the state than they expected.”
As a result of Gov. Hogan’s proposal to create a private school voucher program, a $5 million line-item in the budget was included to send taxpayer dollars to private schools. Advocates of the budget move argued that the funding would help students in “struggling” public schools leave for private sector options. However, the administration of that program so far shows that the vast majority of those who will receive vouchers already attend private schools: 79% of those applying and 71% of applicants who will receive vouchers attended private schools last year.
“This is a poorly veiled way of subsidizing private schools,” said Bebe Verdery, Education Reform Director for ACLU of Maryland. “The truth is, this money would go a lot further to help low-income students if it was spent in our taxpayer-funded public school system to improve dilapidated buildings and support student programs.”
Hogan lashed out vitriolically at this action, at one point referring to education advocates as “union thugs,” which went over about as well as you might imagine.
“We provided record funding for education two years in a row and protected your pensions,” he wrote. “Don’t believe this phony ‘cut’ propaganda from the union thugs.”
Up to now, pretty much the usual mud slinging between the union and the governor, although Hogan was totally out of line with that last comment.
Today, however, comes news that his refusal to spend money allocated by the General Assembly has had, and will continue to have, real world repercussions for Baltimore City and 21 of Maryland’s 23 counties.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to withhold $25 million that would have helped local governments pay education costs is not helping the credit of Baltimore and most of Maryland’s 23 counties.
Moody’s, one of the nation’s three large bond rating agencies, said Thursday that the governor’s refusal to spend the money the General Assembly allocated for teachers pensions and aging schools is a “credit negative” for 21 counties and the city.
The governor’s move was part of a larger decision to forgo spending $80 million that lawmakers had “fenced off” to fund a variety of programs — some favored by the legislature and some proposed by Hogan. The budget bill specified that Hogan had to spend all of it or none of it.
The governor’s office had no immediate comment, but has previously criticized the Democratic-led legislature for using budget “gimmicks” to try to force Hogan’s hand.
Not very fiscally conservative, Mr. Hogan. Who’s playing politics with education spending now, hmmmmm?