Gov. Larry Hogan praised the bipartisan efforts during the General Assembly. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)
Gov. Larry Hogan appeared to soften his stance Tuesday on spending $200 million the General Assembly set aside for education, employee pay and health care, saying his team would review the budget and "see how much money we have to spend on what."
The night before, amid an acrimonious debate on the budget, Hogan told reporters he was "very unlikely" to spend that pool of cash.
But during a Tuesday news conference at which he said he has taken the state "in a new direction," Hogan signaled that he would at least consider whether to prevent a pay cut for state workers.
"We're going to do everything we can to make sure they're rewarded for their hard work," Hogan said, adding that he wasn't sure the state could afford it.
Groups who felt short-changed by Hogan's budget said they plan to launch a lobbying effort to persuade the new Republican governor to release the money — and if he doesn't, pledged to embark on a door-to-door campaign to let constituents know the impact of his decisions.
"We're certainly going to pressure him," said Charly Carter, executive director of the political advocacy group Working Families. "It makes no sense to have money sitting in an account somewhere when we're cutting teachers and we're cutting health care," among other programs, she said.
Hogan unsuccessfully pushed the legislature to shore up the state's pension system with $75 million before it spent more for K-12 education, health initiatives for the poor and avoiding a 2 percent pay cut for state workers. Instead, the Democratic-led General Assembly set aside $200 million for those programs, which Hogan does not have to spend but cannot use for any other purpose.
"Overall, this budget does not provide the fiscal discipline that Maryland taxpayers expect and deserve," Hogan said.
The unions that represent Maryland teachers and state employees plan to lobby the governor.
"We're not done and finished," said Sean Johnson, assistant executive director of the state's teachers union, which wants Hogan to spend $68 million the legislature set aside for school districts.
"These are not just numbers on a spreadsheet that make Governor Hogan's math add up," Johnson said. "These are real students, real teachers and real programs. These are at risk if he continues to grandstand."
The leaders of Maryland's largest state employee union promised action to shake loose the money to avoid a pay cut otherwise scheduled to take effect July 1.
"We're going to be all over the state talking about how the governor's not changing Maryland, he has short-changed Maryland," said Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3.
The post-session lobbying push appears to be one of several lasting consequences of the 90-day session, which began with pledges of bipartisanship and ended in recrimination.
Less than three months after taking office, Hogan said he had "changed the debate in Annapolis" and took credit for a budget he said reined in spending.
He promised to revive all of the tax credit proposals the Assembly killed this year and bring even more to the table when it convenes next year.
He acknowledged that one of his key goals — rewriting the tax code — would require the cooperation of the legislature, which refused to pass most of Hogan's initiatives and watered down those it did.
Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the way the session ended with the unraveling of an apparent budget agreement could impede Hogan in the future.
"The speaker and the president are not going to fully trust him, and if you can't trust somebody it's hard to work with him," Norris said.
Maryland's top Democrats were mostly conciliatory in their public remarks as Hogan signed some of the bills passed by the legislature, including authorization for a tax break for people living near a landfill in Baltimore County and another break for grocery stores that open in Baltimore's "food deserts."
But the Democrats also suggested that the rift that emerged over funding was due in part to Hogan's inexperience as a politician. While he has worked in and around politics for most of his life, Hogan, a real-estate executive, had not held public office before his inauguration in January.
"This is going to be a feeling-out process for him," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat. "This is very new to Governor Hogan. ... Democracy doesn't work like private business."
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, said the end-of-session fight "left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people who put the budget together."
Busch said he hopes the governor reconsiders whether to spend the money the legislature identified for education, pay raises and health care initiatives for the poor after he hears from the public.
"You're hopeful that after the governor gets out of Annapolis and goes around the state, he would get a reaction of, 'Why didn't you fund public education?'"
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said he was torn about whether the governor should spend the $200 million or stick to his guns and keep the money parked in the treasury.
"I think we've got to take some time, let the dust settle," the Baltimore County Republican said. "This budget doesn't take effect until July 1. So take a little time, decompress, see where the numbers are exactly. ... Let cooler heads prevail."
Baltimore Sun reporters Michael Dresser and Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.