A new digital ad released this week by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan calling on voters this fall to approve a so-called “lockbox” to ensure casino revenue increases funding for public schools is rankling Democrats.
The state’s Democratic Party argued Tuesday that Hogan is taking credit for their work with the six-figure ad buy and misrepresenting his record on public education.
In the ad, the governor asks Marylanders to “vote yes on the Hogan lockbox initiative” at the ballot box in November.
“Maryland voters were made a promise by the previous administration, and the governor believes it is long overdue that this promise was kept,” Hogan campaign spokesman Scott Sloofman said in a statement about the ad. “With the passage of the education ‘lockbox’ in November, an additional $4.4 billion will go towards Maryland’s public schools and the governor is encouraging all voters to support this important initiative.”
But on Tuesday, leading Democrats argued Hogan already has the power to increase education funding without the lockbox — and the constitutional amendment he signed wasn’t his failed proposal, but a Democratic initiative.
The General Assembly in April approved a mechanism known as a “lockbox” to prohibit the state from spending casino revenues dedicated to the Education Trust Fund on anything other than K-12 education. To establish the mechanism voters must approve a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The amendment calls for a phase-in period under which those annual casino revenues, projected to be about $517 million a year by the 2023 fiscal year, would have to be devoted to supplementing education spending by July 1, 2022, when that year starts.
The legislature bypassed proposals, including Hogan’s, that would have adopted a similar “lockbox” requirement by state law. Lawmakers decided those approaches would make it easier for future legislatures to raid the “lockbox.”
Maryland Democratic Party chairwoman Kathleen Matthews, state Sen. Rich Madaleno of Montgomery County, state Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore and Maryland teachers’ union president Cheryl Bost hosted a call with reporters to “set the record straight” about what they called Hogan’s “misleading” video.
“The constitutional amendment is necessary in large part because Hogan has siphoned off casino revenue that should have gone toward education to backfill $1.4 billion in general funds re-directed to non-education purposes in his four budgets,” the Democrats wrote in a news release.
“I was the lead sponsor of the House bill on the lockbox,” McIntosh said. “The digital ad that is up from the Hogan [campaign] … it’s outright wrong. Gov. Hogan did not propose a constitutional amendment. He opposed the constitutional amendment up to the very end.”
McIntosh said many of her colleagues were surprised to learn last year that casino money was supplanting existing funds for education and some school systems were facing cuts. That’s when she and her colleagues began working on a legislative fix.
“There was always the expectation from the public this was to enhance education,” she said. “The governor acts as if this was his idea and his initiative. It wasn’t. This was a Democratic initiative he opposed all along.”
The Baltimore Sun reported in 2017 that Maryland’s six casinos had pumped more than $1 billion into the state’s Education Trust Fund — the financial windfall that advocates for gambling promised would go to the state’s public schools. But casino funds have not gone to bolster school budgets more than what the state already was required to spend — and some jurisdictions, including Baltimore, suffered funding cuts.
Before casinos opened in 2011, Maryland spent 21 percent of its $31 billion general fund revenue on public schools. In 2017, with revenues at $42 billion, the state spends just 18 percent of its general fund on public schools. The casino money allowed general funds to be spent elsewhere.
Doug Mayer, deputy campaign manager for Hogan, said Democrats in the General Assembly who approved casino gambling in 2008 didn’t require that school aid keep pace with the growth in gambling revenues.
When the problem was brought to Hogan’s attention, the governor took steps to fix it by supporting an education lockbox, Mayer said. Hogan’s version of a fix did not pass. But when another bill that proposed a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval did pass, the governor signed it — even though his signature was unnecessary — and is pushing now for its passage, Mayer added.
Mayer said he encouraged Hogan’s Democratic challenger Ben Jealous to join the governor in running ads supporting the amendment.
“The education lockbox is a top priority of the governor, that’s why he proposed his own legislation that would have created one immediately, supported the ballot initiative, and was proud to sign it,” Mayer said. “Most importantly, he is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure Marylanders vote for it this fall, including using his own political and financial resources to get it done.”
In a statement, Jealous called himself "the only candidate in this race who has been consistent about the need to keep the promise made to voters and ensure casino and lottery funds go to increase education funding.”
“Unlike my opponent, I believe in doing the right thing the first time so you don’t have to spend millions of dollars during an election year distorting the facts like the Hogan campaign,” Jealous said.