General Assembly leaders ask Hogan to double emergency aid for Baltimore school heating projects

A bipartisan group of Maryland General Assembly leaders is calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to double the financial aid he pledged for Baltimore school heating projects, money that would come from an emergency fund that the legislators control.

Hogan offered the city school system $2.5 million last week after a recent snap left students huddled in classrooms wearing winter coats. The cold closed schools for days to allow for emergency heating work. Hogan said it was the result of financial mismanagement on the part of the school system.

But in a letter to Hogan, a group known as the Legislative Policy Committee is urging him to spend $5 million instead.

“The images of our children in our schools shown across Maryland and across the country are an embarrassment to all of us,” wrote House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. “We respectfully request that you consider amending your request to the Legislative Policy Committee to $5 million to address this exigent need.”

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor “is more than willing to consider” the request. “However,” he added, “we are concerned that it is still unclear whether or not they are willing to move forward on the original emergency funding for these projects.”

The letter does not permit or deny the governor’s original $2.5 million pledge, but thanks him for his “immediate attention to this urgent request.”

Baltimore schools officials estimate that they need $38 million for work on boilers and other heating, ventilation and cooling systems, the letter says. The school system has a backlog of repairs in part because the city has had to forgo $66 million in state aid because projects came in over budget or were too delayed.

The committee’s 10 members are appointed by Busch and Miller, who serve as its co-chairs. Three members are Republicans and seven are Democrats.

The governor needs the panel’s permission to spend money from what is known as the Catastrophic Event Account, an emergency fund that has been used to help communities around the state recover from natural disasters. The fund provided $2.5 million to Ellicott City, flowing through the state Department of Housing and Community Development, as it recovered from a historic July 2016 flood.

The fund contained $7.1 million as of June 30. It is replenished as needed during the budgeting process with general state tax revenues.

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