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Hogan’s flurry of vetoes is certain to raise a winter storm | COMMENTARY

Gov. Larry Hogan holds a news conference at the State House in Annapolis on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, the day before he vetoed the Blueprint for Maryland's Future (aka the Kirwan Commission plan for K-12 education reform) and other legislation passed by the General Assembly weeks ago, many on the grounds that they were not affordable during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Larry Hogan holds a news conference at the State House in Annapolis on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, the day before he vetoed the Blueprint for Maryland's Future (aka the Kirwan Commission plan for K-12 education reform) and other legislation passed by the General Assembly weeks ago, many on the grounds that they were not affordable during the coronavirus pandemic. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun)

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial contained an incorrect dollar figure for the plan to settle the HBCU lawsuit. The Sun regrets the error.

There can be little doubt that in three short months, the coronavirus outbreak has fundamentally altered the public policy landscape of Maryland, as it has much of the nation and the world. But Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto Thursday afternoon of dozens of bills — ranging from a generational overhaul of K-12 public education to a much more modest $3-million-per-year effort to prevent crime in Baltimore, starting in 2022 — can’t be justified by the pandemic alone.

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Trim state spending? That’s sensible. Abandon important components to Maryland’s post-pandemic revival? That is ill-advised. Yet the flurry of vetoes cast down by the state’s chief executive on the last possible day to do so seemed to be exactly that, along with punitive and partisan, qualities Mr. Hogan had studiously avoided during much of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Gone was the Governor Hogan of the afternoon news briefings, cautiously relaying health care strategy, sticking to facts, seeking consensus with county executives and other local leaders from both parties while keeping more than a social distance from the bizarre bloviations and schizophrenic policy shifts coming out of the White House. Returned was Governor Hogan, the Republican politician positioning himself as anti-tax and anti-government, yet lacking vision for the long-term needs of his state. Whatever spending excesses may come out of the Democratically controlled General Assembly (and they surely do from time to time), many of the bills vetoed Thursday deserved more serious consideration than Mr. Hogan and his team were apparently willing to give. The nixing of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, or more commonly referred to as the Kirwan Commission plan, was not entirely unexpected given his past opposition to the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission.” But to stand in the way of Maryland’s historic black colleges and universities seemed more capricious than conservative.

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The good news is that the most important legislation to emerge from the pandemic-shortened legislative session, the Kirwan plan, won’t be shelved for long. Lawmakers, who had originally contemplated a special session to overcome a possible veto this month but decided not to because of the pandemic, can simply return in January and override Mr. Hogan (by lopsided margins in some cases, we’re predicting). They certainly should have the votes. Meanwhile, while Kirwan’s $4 billion price tag is high, that number is actually highly misleading given it represents both state and local dollars 10 years out. Lawmakers may yet consider delaying implementation if tax revenue continues to decline in the eight months ahead. Yet some reforms, like universal pre-K are moving forward anyway, veto or no. And revisiting the issue next session is not entirely a bad thing given, for example, how Kirwan had little to say about distance learning. Suddenly, making sure every Maryland student has a computer and access to the Internet seems a whole lot more important than it did weeks ago.

Vetoing the HBCU legislation, however, seems reckless considering how the $580 million plan settled long-standing lawsuits that could have proven far more costly. And its spending is similarly spread across a decade-long time frame. What makes the veto especially repugnant is that these same schools that already have suffered historic discrimination when it comes to the state budgeting process are now facing challenging economic times because of the virus. Whatever financial challenges state government as a whole confronts right now, schools like Coppin State and University of Maryland Eastern Shore likely face worse. Meanwhile, in a bit of welcome news, Governor Hogan did not veto the $375 million legislation to renovate the Pimlico and Laurel race tracks and keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore by allowing the carefully negotiated measure to become law without his signature. Clearly, the racing industry has more pull on the second floor of the State House than educators or those trying to make prescription drugs more affordable given his veto of a modest fee on drug companies to pay for that particular regulatory effort. Another head-scratcher? Vetoing legislation that allocates a mere $3 million a year more toward crime prevention in Baltimore. Because it isn’t comprehensive enough or doesn’t follow the governor’s particular crime-reduction strategy? Seriously? His veto of $5.5 million in aid to the struggling Baltimore Symphony Orchestra spread across five years and of mandatory background checks for rifle and shotgun purchases rounds out his apocalyptic view of Charm City living.

It’s clear that state government is facing a financial crisis the likes of which have seldom been witnessed before. If Washington fails to come forward which much-needed help for state and local governments, it could prove absolutely horrific. But there’s a difference between addressing a short-term crisis and looking out for the long-term needs of your state. The average economic recession is over in a year. Committing to a decade of improvements in education isn’t just a sensible course of action in a recession, it’s a necessity to keep Maryland economically competitive in the post-pandemic recovery. Want to cut spending? The governor ought to consult with legislative leaders and make prudent trims, as needed, through the Board of Public Works over time. With these vetoes, he kept legislative leaders guessing until the final hours. Senate President Bill Ferguson reports he spoke to the governor a whole 30 minutes before the veto letters were posted online. That isn’t helpful in building a productive relationship with lawmakers of the opposing party. But it does seem suspiciously like the behavior of that other, more mercurial fellow 40 miles down the road. We hoped our governor was cut from different cloth.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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