Not long after all the banners, red carpeting and other trappings related to Inauguration Day in Annapolis were put away, Gov. Wes Moore and state lawmakers were quickly turning to crisis management. In the House of Delegates, legislators were grilling top officials from Maryland 529, the independent state agency that is struggling to fix the broken Maryland Prepaid College Trust, which shortchanged hundreds of families of their college savings (and whose chair would resign a day after the hearing). Then Maryland’s MARC trains were shut down, stranding thousands of commuters in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, before a systemwide communications problem was fixed later that morning. And even before Governor Moore could submit his $63.1 billion budget for Fiscal 2024 there was the matter of releasing $69 million in funds from the current budget that were unwisely frozen by his predecessor. The funds are intended to start a statewide family leave program, begin the process of overseeing the sale of marijuana for adult recreational use (as approved by state voters last November) and provide money to train certain medical providers to perform abortions.
Every problem has its own history, of course. There are mistakes of omission, such as not adequately overseeing the Florida-based company running the college savings plan. And then there are more deliberate errors, like denying money to legislative programs that you weren’t especially happy to see enacted, as Gov. Larry Hogan likely did with abortion funding, for example. But there are also various permutations of the deliberate and the careless, and there is no small body of evidence showing that the Hogan years in Annapolis produced quite a banquet of this sort of half-baked stewardship. Must we name-drop Roy McGrath? He’s the former Hogan chief of staff accused of illegally engineering a sweetheart $233,647 severance payment from the Maryland Environmental Service, allegedly fabricating a memo that said the governor was fine with it. Was the fault entirely McGrath’s or did a lax approach to monitoring MES play a role?
Of course, maybe that was just one greedy person (if guilty) or one example of executive disinterest. But, what then, would you call these?
- A Maryland Department of Health’s computer system dealing with behavioral health claims by a contractor, Minnesota-based Optum, wasn’t properly vetted The result? Tens of millions of dollars in claims were inadequately documented, causing the state to miss out on $28.8 million in federal reimbursements, according to a legislative report.
- Or there was the state’s unemployment insurance scandal in which thousands of people couldn’t collect the claims they were due — for months in many cases.
- Nor should anyone forget about mishandled emergency procurements during COVID, including that unfortunate misadventure with $11.9 million hastily spent on test kits from South Korea, many of which proved useless and had to be replaced.
Piling on? We haven’t even mentioned yet the misadventures of the state-funded Purple Line, the suburban D.C. light rail project that is not only 4-and-a-half-years delayed and $1.46 billion over its initial budget (it is now facing another seven months of delay). Or how Hogan deliberately slowed the rollout of Maryland’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board — at no small cost to its own workforce in higher drug costs. And speaking of state employees, the most troubling circumstance of all may be in the extraordinary number of vacancies in state government. Reducing the 13.4% vacancy rate (instead of the normal 6% or so) is already high on the Moore agenda, and it will have to be if his goal is to get the kind of service, equity, efficiency and accountability he promised on his first day on the job.
Democrats in the General Assembly shouldn’t get too smug about these past failures. They may reflect poorly on the Republican administration that just left Annapolis after eight years, but they don’t exactly show lawmakers fulfilling their oversight role either. Democrats controlled the legislature during Hogan’s eight years. One way to save face might be to form an independent commission to study state government effectiveness and efficiency. Such a group could look back at these mistakes and determine how to prevent them from happening again and how to improve function going forward. Otherwise, Governor Moore and his cabinet will be left to fix the mess alone with most Marylanders largely unaware of these challenging circumstances.
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