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Maryland governor is running an inept state government | COMMENTARY

At a press conference last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan admonished lawmakers for not passing his crime bills, and also said he's opposed to expanding the sales tax to apply to services.
At a press conference last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan admonished lawmakers for not passing his crime bills, and also said he's opposed to expanding the sales tax to apply to services.(PAMELA WOOD/Baltimore Sun)

This month, The Baltimore Sun reported that Maryland is warehousing dozens of foster children in psychiatric and medical hospitals for months on end — although they are not mentally ill or injured or sick. The Maryland Department of Human Services is just incapable of figuring out where to place the vulnerable juveniles in its care.

This demonstration of incompetence is just one example of the staggering ineptitude displayed daily across Maryland’s government. After five years of Gov. Larry Hogan’s mismanagement and indifference, our state government is falling apart.

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A review of what has been uncovered in the just the past few weeks tells the story:

  1. A $750,000 grant to purchase a country club approved by Governor Hogan’s Opioid Operational Command Center was referred to the Attorney General’s Office for a criminal investigation. Legislative auditors also found that 96% of a grant issued to an out-of-state nonprofit was transferred to a private company owned by the nonprofit’s management.
  2. Doctors who provide mental health and addiction services have not been paid millions of dollars they are owed because a state Medicaid payment system is malfunctioning. This bungling has affected about 2,500 doctors, hospitals, clinics and other facilities in Maryland.
  3. The state Department of Corrections and Public Safety spent $129 million on overtime last year, because agency leaders have allowed 20% of jobs to go unfilled. Overtime spending has more than tripled in six years. Our often violent prisons, which are charged with rehabilitating incarcerated citizens to reenter society, are about 1,000 employees short staffed.
  4. Maryland’s well-regarded chief medical examiner quit due to a crisis caused by understaffing and a crushing caseload driven by rising violent crime and opioid overdoses. The agency is at risk of losing its accreditation because of the staffing shortage and a leaky roof at its headquarters.
  5. With billions of federal dollars at stake, census preparations lag far behind as the April 1 count approaches. A director with no prior census experience was hired in late January — only following press inquiries about the job vacancy. Advertising has not begun, with contracts not yet finalized. And grants to local governments to boost response rates have not been distributed.
  6. And the Baltimore Police Department reported that 30.5% of murder victims and 26.7% of arrested murder suspects were under the supervision of the state’s Department of Parole and Probation. In other words, these victims and perpetrators were arrested by police and convicted by prosecutors and the courts. And then the state failed to keep track of them to keep them from killing or being killed. As violent crime has increased, the number of parole and probation agents has decreased.

The sad thing about the crisis of incompetence is that there are many good people giving their all throughout our state government. But they aren’t in top decision-making roles. This deterioration of Maryland’s government is occurring through neglect and inattention, not through any discernible plan. Perhaps Governor Hogan is distracted by the need to improve transportation for his real estate projects.

This lack of accountability is unlikely to improve. Unlike his predecessors, Governor Hogan does not take responsibility for fixing the growing number of problems that are becoming apparent the longer he serves in office. But the sheer volume of evidence pointing toward mismanagement continues to pile up.

In the five years prior to Governor Hogan taking office, the state of Maryland averaged 389 homicides per year. In the five years since he took office, Maryland has averaged more than 532 murders — a 37% increase.

In his 2020 State of the State address, Governor Hogan rightfully called violent crime in Baltimore an “urgent crisis.” But Governor Hogan has not mentioned how he intends to staff up the Department of Corrections and Public Safety or the Department of Juvenile Services — which is the primary way the state can help reduce violence. Nor has he put forth a plan for increasing staffing, interagency coordination or compliance at Parole and Probation, which interacts every day with violent offenders and could help prevent murders.

This month, the Hogan administrations ineptness became a national embarrassment, as National Public Radio broadcast the sad story of Maryland’s needlessly hospitalized foster children. However, that story is yet another indication that the media and the Maryland General Assembly are increasingly paying attention to the cost of Governor Hogan’s incompetence. The taxpayers and citizens of our state should hope that, over the remainder of his term, they continue to combine to hold him accountable.

Patrick Moran (pmoran@afscmemd.org) is President of AFSCME Maryland.

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