Maryland Governor Larry Hogan insists education cuts aren't coming

Gov. Larry Hogan insists education spending isn't on the chopping block.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan insisted Wednesday that education spending isn't in the cross-hairs as the General Assembly prepares to convene for the 2016 legislative session.

Despite suspicions of Democratic legislators that the governor hopes to make long-term cutbacks in state education aid formulas, Hogan boasted that he is fully committed to funding Maryland schools.

"We've had drastic increases in education in spite of fantasies to the contrary," Hogan said during an appearance on the Marc Steiner radio show.

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch, of Anne Arundel County, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, of Calvert County, were unimpressed by Hogan's claims that he was spending more on education that any previous governor. Busch said the record spending Hogan proposed last year and has announced for this year are less of an achievement than it may appear.

"Every governor's going to make a greater contribution than the year before because enrollment goes up," Busch said as he and Miller followed Hogan on Steiner's Annapolis Summit kickoff to the session.

Hogan backpedaled somewhat on comments he made at a news conference Tuesday, during which he detailed some of his tax-cut proposals. The governor described his planned tax and fee cuts for low-income families, retirees and small businesses as "common sense"  and said “anyone that isn’t in favor of that probably doesn’t deserve to be in the legislature.”

After lawmakers bristled at the remark, the governor insisted Wednesday that his words were taken out of context and that his statement was an "off-hand remark."

"We were talking about the fact that our tax plans were based on Democratic ideas," he said. "I said anybody who doesn't care about struggling seniors or working families or small business doesn't deserve to be in the legislature."

The governor, Busch and Miller found common ground on at least one point. Though teachers and other activists pledged to push for action in 2016, the three agreed that this is not the year to take up the issue of over-testing of children in Maryland schools.

They agreed that they want to wait for the recommendations of a commission studying the issue, which would likely push any legislation into the 2017 session.

"It's on our radar screen. It's not a priority for this session," Hogan said.

Hogan and the Democratic presiding officers remained far apart on the issue of spending mandates -- the statutory requirements adopted by the legislature requiring the governor to budget minimum amounts for the state's basic education funding formula and other priorities.

The governor has announced a plan to seek a rollback of certain mandated spending in years with revenue shortfalls but hasn't released details.

Miller, however, said that while mandates generally are "not good government," sometimes the legislature has to resort to imposing them.

Busch said lawmakers turn to mandates when the governor ignores their priorities.

"When there's abuse of that discretion, then mandates come into play," he said.

The speaker and Senate president complained that they had not been briefed by the administration in advance of recent gubernatorial announcements, such as Hogan's unveiling of plans to fund demolition of vacant buildings in Baltimore and the roll-out of his tax proposals.

"Government is a team effort," Miller said. "You have to be able to communicate to make things happen."

Miller and Busch predicted the Assembly would override several of Hogan's vetoes next week.

"We will give strong consideration to overriding six vetoes," Busch said.

Hogan expressed his strongest objections to an override of his veto of legislation that would allow felons to vote as soon as they are released from incarceration -- rather than having to wait for their parole or probation to expire.

"Politically and legally, I just think it's a bad idea," he said.

However, Busch pointed out that the bill received 84 votes in the House last year. He predicted that proponents would pick up the 85th vote they need for an override in that chamber.

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