Gov. Larry Hogan reacted Friday to opponents of his decision not to fund two education-related programs by calling some of the critics "union thugs."
Hogan's jab came a few hours after the Maryland State Education Association joined with Sen. Richard Madaleno and the ACLU of Maryland in issuing a news release calling on Hogan to withhold money intended for private school scholarships as long as he was declining to spend $25 million the General Assembly earmarked for the two programs.
The MSEA is the state's largest union representing teachers.
Earlier in the week, Hogan announced a decision not to spend $80 million the legislature blocked him from transferring to a state reserve fund and urged him to spend on a variety of programs -- both his own and ones favored by lawmakers. The General Assembly made Hogan's choice an "all or nothing" decision, blocking him from choosing among the programs.
Hogan decided to spend none of it, including $19 million to help localities pay for teacher pensions and $6 million for the Aging Schools program.
But he allowed $5 million to be spent on a private school scholarship program, which wasn't part of the $80 million in all-or-nothing spending.
The teachers' union was harsh in its reaction, noting Hogan also withheld $68 million in spending the legislature set aside for an education formula benefiting high-cost school systems last year.
"We’re disappointed that the governor is more concerned with winning a political argument with Democrats in the legislature than focusing on ways to improve our public schools,” said MSEA Vice President Cheryl Bost. “It’s yet another year of schools trying to do more for students with less help from the state than they expected.”
Hogan came back with even harsher language.
"We provided record funding for education two years in a row and protected your pensions," he wrote. "Don't believe this phony 'cut' propaganda from the union thugs."
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said Friday night that "the governor's words are the governor's."
Mayer said Hogan respects the work of the state's teachers but believes the leadership of their union long ago "stopped truly representing" them and schoolchildren.
The governor has publicly advocated bipartisanship and civility, but Mayer backed his use of strong language in this case.
"For the last two years they've waged a full-time political campaign to spread disinformation," Mayer said. "Sometimes you've got to draw a line in the sand."
A spokesman for the teachers' union could not be reached to comment, but Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, called Hogan's remarks "disappointing."
"He tries to distance himself from Donald Trump but he sounds more like Trump every day," Madaleno said. The Republican Hogan has said he will not vote for Trump or the GOP presidential nominee's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Spending levels for K-12 education aid in Hogan's first two budgets have set records, reaching $6.3 billion this year. But Madaleno said Hogan deserves no credit. He said the spending increases are driven by formulas based on enrollment and other factors and are mandated by the legislature.
"The governor wants a medal for doing what he's required to do by law," Madaleno said. "I know the governor wants credit for it doing it, but it's not like he's doing a penny more than he has to."