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Tomlinson: Regarding expensive Kirwan bill, Democrats need to understand ‘we cannot afford it now’

More than 108 years ago, in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, the ocean liner and pride of the White Star Line, HMS Titanic, was crossing the North Atlantic when it struck an enormous iceberg, took on water and sank, taking over 1,600 souls to a watery grave. Reports of survivors indicated that the ship’s band played on during the sinking — first by playing bright music, dance music, comic songs, only to change the tunes later to hymns as the grim reality set in.

Early in the 2020 legislative session of the General Assembly the good ship Maryland was steaming along a sea of job growth, prosperity and increasing tax revenues. But not for long. The Democrats in the legislature proposed The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act to implement the recommendation of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission.

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The bill provides for salary raises for teachers, creates college and career readiness pathways, allows for more counselors and health professionals to be hired, and expands pre-kindergarten programs. The bill, however, comes with a price tag to Maryland taxpayers of approximately $32 billion over the first 10 years, and a funding mechanism to pay for this new costly public education system has not been established. 

Unexpectedly, the lady Maryland hit an iceberg in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, forcing the General Assembly to cut session short for the first time since the Civil War. One day before adjourning, despite concerns expressed by Gov. Larry Hogan, Republican legislators, and taxpayers across the state, the Democrats decided to continue playing the same song and passed the Blueprint bill. Democratic legislators were essentially telling themselves, “Ignore the water that is creeping up over our ankles — we have to pick out new deck chairs!”

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Forget that the Democrats put nothing in place to pay for the Blueprint, and forget that Comptroller Peter Franchot recently declared that Maryland stands to lose $2.8 billion in estimated revenue in the next few months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Democrats continue to carry the same tune — that Gov. Hogan needs to sign the Blueprint into law.

Hogan recently announced that he was freezing spending in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and said it was unlikely any legislation sitting on his desk that increases spending in the future would be signed into law. It is highly probable that Blueprint bill is one of the pieces of the legislation that the governor will veto in early May. 

The presiding officers of the General Assembly announced last week that there will not be a special session in May. However, the Democrats will still have an opportunity in January, when Session 2021 convenes, to override the governor’s vetoes, and have the numbers to do so.

The Democrats in Annapolis need to get on board and change their theme and not override a veto of the Blueprint bill. For the foreseeable future, the focus of the General Assembly should be on damage control to right the ship of Maryland’s economy. To even consider implementing the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission in this current economic climate is extremely irresponsible.

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“We absolutely need to revisit this massive education spending bill under these circumstances,” said Del. April Rose of Carroll County. “We could not afford it before and without question, we cannot afford it now. We need to go back and look at common-sense revisions to education policy that we can enact without a huge fiscal impact.”

Democrats not only failed to provide a funding mechanism for the Blueprint, but also left it to the counties and Baltimore City how to fund their portions of implementing the scheme. This was before the impact of COVID-19 left local governments all over the state adrift in debt and struggling to stay afloat due to a drop in tax revenue.

Much like the state, Carroll County’s government is facing the possibility of declining revenues as the pandemic keeps businesses closed and folks from working. Ted Zaleski, the Director of Management and Budget for the County recently told the Board of County Commissioners during a budget work session that, “We believe that as long as we remain in this shutdown period, we could be losing something like $4 million a month of revenue.”

The lady Maryland has now sunk to the bottom of the ocean and state and local government budgets are clinging to the scattered wooden debris hoping to simply survive. Unfortunately for Kirwan, there is no room left on the wreckage and no promises to “never let go.”

Christopher Tomlinson, a member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, writes from Melrose. Email him at CCTtomlinson@gmail.com.

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