Gov. Larry Hogan says he supports the goals of the Kirwan Commission education reforms, but now he's raising dark money to scare legislators away from implementing them.
Gov. Larry Hogan says he supports the goals of the Kirwan Commission education reforms, but now he's raising dark money to scare legislators away from implementing them. (The Washington Post)

According to the Washington Post, Gov. Larry Hogan is seeking to raise $2 million in unregulated funds, potentially from undisclosed donors, in part to prevent the state from giving all Maryland children the education they need to succeed. Just let that sink in for a minute. Mr. Hogan is soliciting big checks from people with who knows what motives to stop a once in a generation effort to fix our wildly inequitable and overall mediocre system of K-12 education.

That’s not the only terrible thing about Mr. Hogan’s plan to ramp up issue advocacy through his Change Maryland organization and a new super PAC, the Change Maryland Action Fund. The guy who said he would stand up to the Democratic machine and push good government policies like non-partisan redistricting is now, ironically enough, planning to advance that idea through the horrible government tool of dark money. He also wants to push his plans for adding express toll lanes to the Washington Beltway and I-270, a proposal we had reservations about even before he turned it into an opportunity for deep pocketed special interests to buy his favor. Surely no highway contractors would have any interest in cutting the governor’s advocacy organizations undisclosed, unlimited checks, right?

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But the use of those outside groups to raise money for an “education and mobilization effort” to stunt the education of vulnerable Maryland children is truly outrageous. Mr. Hogan just won re-election last year in part by emphasizing the record investments he had made in K-12 education (true but unexceptional; every Maryland governor since at least the early ’90s could say the same thing). He says he is supportive of the goals of the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, better known as the Kirwan Commission. But now he plans to raise and spend millions “to direct the public to call, email, crowd hearing rooms and put pressure on their legislators” not to implement Kirwan’s findings. We weren’t thrilled with the Kirwan funding workgroup’s decision to hold a closed meeting to discuss possible funding formulas to carry out its plans, but that represents the pinnacle of transparency and virtue compared to what Mr. Hogan is doing.

The politician who first won office on a disingenuous campaign against what he mockingly called the “rain tax” is now set to launch a disingenuous campaign against our kids. How do we know he won’t be making a reasoned argument about the costs and benefits of Kirwan? Because he’s already resorting to scare tactics instead.

Mr. Hogan has been going around claiming that funding Kirwan would require the state to increase its income tax by 39%, its sales tax by 89% or its property tax by 535%. That’s not really true. The Kirwan plan would require Maryland to spend about $3.8 billion more per year on education than it does now when it is fully implemented a decade from now. The kind of increases Mr. Hogan is talking about would cover more than that this year. Education funding increases every year because of inflation, enrollment growth and other factors. (That’s why Mr. Hogan can claim record education spending every year.) What Kirwan would actually require is for the state to spend about $1 billion more a decade from now than it would if we leave our funding formulas alone. If we achieve modest, 2% average annual growth in our income tax collections, we’ll be collecting an extra $2.3 billion from that source alone a decade from now with no tax increase whatsoever.

Obviously, there will be many demands on that money — other state services from health care to public safety will get more expensive during that time, too — but the point is that if we actually want to achieve the goals of Kirwan, we can have a conversation about the choices that will require in terms of spending and taxes that’s nowhere near so dire and outlandish as Mr. Hogan is making it out to be.

But that’s just the thing — Mr. Hogan has shown no indication that he actually cares about making Kirwan happen. You can’t say you support the goals without at least trying to have a reasonable discussion about how to make them happen. And now, instead of doing that, he’s turning to anonymous, fat cat donors to shut the conversation down. Is that the legacy he wants to leave?

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