Kamenetz calls Baltimore County schools top priority, readies to fight Hogan

Kamenetz vows to fight — against Hogan, if necessary — for Baltimore County school money.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is gearing up to fight for construction money for the county's aging schools in the General Assembly session that opens Wednesday.

Ensuring that the county gets its fair share of school money is Kamenetz's top priority and he's willing to do battle with Gov. Larry Hogan if necessary, the county executive said during an interview outside the State House on Tuesday.

The two men have fought repeatedly over the past year on a variety of issues, including Kamenetz's policy of installing central air conditioning in hot schools instead of portable units.

"We need the state to continue its contribution, and without any type of intimidation from the Board of Public Works," he said.

The Board of Public works is a three-member panel chaired by Hogan that gives the final approval on many state projects. Hogan and his ally on the board, Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot, withheld money from Baltimore County and Baltimore city last year over the air conditioning issue.

Hogan also is requiring county school superintendents to meet with the Board of Public Works later this month to answer questions about their school construction request. State lawmakers voted to end the official practice — known as the school funding "begathon" — but Hogan is summoning the superintendents to Annapolis anyway.

"I'm a little concerned that the governor is using the Board of Public Works as this opportunity to somehow berate his political enemies and reward his friends, as opposed to focusing on the independent recommendations of the state committee on school construction," Kamenetz said. "They're the experts. They're the ones who have approved Baltimore County's program, and I hope the governor's not going to try to withhold money again just to satisfy his own political concerns."

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor and the other members of the Board of Public Works take their roles as fiscal watchdogs seriously.

"It is unclear at this point what the county executive doesn't understand about the proper role and function of the Board of Public Works … When hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent every year by the state, the governor and the comptroller are going to continue to demand proper oversight of those funds," Mayer said.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, has said he is weighing a run for governor against Hogan, a Republican, in 2018.

Asked if he would try to work out the disagreements with the governor, Kamenetz said none of his phone calls or letters to the State House have been answered.

Mayer responded: "We've invited county executive to come to the Board of Public Works and he's never showed."

In addition to the school construction issue that's been the subject of so much political wrangling, Kamenetz announced a few other priorities for the legislature.

He said he supports bills that would clarify the legal definition of rape in hopes of making it easier to prosecute rapists; set standards for when police should keep rape kits in storage; extend a ban on hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" of natural gas; combat price gouging by drug companies and overhaul the state's cash bail system.

In addition to pushing his own priorities, Kamenetz is expected to appear in Annapolis frequently in his role as president of the Maryland Association of Counties.

pwood@baltsun.com

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