You might have missed the press release from Gov. Larry Hogan’s office Tuesday about the first anniversary of a program called SmartBuy 2.0, which allows Marylanders to pay off their student loan debt of up to $40,000 through the purchase of a state-owned home. As a matter of policy, it’s a pretty interesting idea to tackle both rising levels of student debt and low levels of homeownership among millennials.
As a matter of politics, though, we couldn’t help but notice an aside the administration included several paragraphs down in the release about another Hogan proposal to make student loan debt fully deductible on Maryland income taxes (within certain income limits), to expand the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship Program to include four-year Maryland public institutions and to increase deductions for investments in the Maryland Prepaid College Trust. “Governor Hogan introduced the Student Debt Relief Act for both the 2018 and 2019 legislative sessions,” the press release reads. “The legislature failed both times to act on these proposals.”
That bit of criticism is fair enough, except for one thing. Two weeks ago, Governor Hogan slammed the Democrats in the General Assembly as being irresponsible for trying to appropriate about $200 million in the fiscal 2020 budget for school construction, technology upgrades for the Baltimore police, youth jobs programs, testing rape kits, providing additional support to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and other priorities. Because of the way Maryland’s budget works, he had to approve the expenditures, and he refused, calling the Democrats “reckless” in the face of a projected imbalance between spending and revenues in fiscal 2021 of nearly $1 billion.
But the Student Debt Relief Act Mr. Hogan championed wasn’t cheap either. According to the state’s non-partisan fiscal analysts, it would have cost the state $10.6 million in lower revenues and added expenditures in fiscal 2020 and nearly $30 million in fiscal 2021. The money the legislature sought to spend was fully offset by other cuts in Governor Hogan’s budget proposal, and it was all one-time spending. The Student Debt Relief Act, by contrast, would have committed the state to an ongoing expense that added up to almost $135 million in its first five years.
And that’s not the only expensive legislation Mr. Hogan pursued this year. He introduced 15 bills this year that would have either reduced state revenues or increased expenditures in the fiscal 2021 budget that he now claims to be so worried about. The Democrats rejected 14 of them with a total fiscal impact of $157,676,600. If Maryland’s fiscal situation is as dire as he says, shouldn’t Governor Hogan be thanking the legislature for its prudence?
Apparently the rule in Hogan-land is this: The legislature is reckless if it tries to spend money on things it wants and obstructionist if it stops the governor from spending it on what he wants.