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Governor Larry Hogan has made it clear where he stands when it comes to improving education — and it’s not with Maryland students.

For the past three years, the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education has undertaken the most important examination of our educational system in history and has developed a thoughtful plan to improve our schools and make them competitive both nationally and internationally, while preparing students for 21st century jobs that will build our state’s economy.

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What has our governor said about it? He’s resorted to Trump-style rhetoric to call it “half-baked” and committed to killing the reform effort. Indeed, Mr. Hogan is secretly raising a $2 million war chest to fight the reform package.

This week, the governor will be consorting with big business leaders and some of the wealthiest Marylanders to raise “dark” money to kill the reform effort during the 2020 General Assembly session. They will gather in, of all places, the Live! casino at Arundel Mills for a fundraiser, with the proceeds pledged to fight the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations.

And the public will have no clue who is funding the effort. Mr. Hogan is exploiting a loophole in state campaign law to avoid disclosing the names of his dark fund donors. And the loophole allows the fattest of Maryland fat cats to make donations of any size.

Screenshot - This is an ad for a fundraiser at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland for Gov. Larry Hogan's fight against the Kirwan Commission.
Screenshot - This is an ad for a fundraiser at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland for Gov. Larry Hogan's fight against the Kirwan Commission. (screenshot)

Shame on Governor Hogan for violating the spirit of our campaign laws with this secretive big-dollar, anti-education fundraising.

Just as troubling, Mr. Hogan is abdicating his leadership role as the General Assembly works to pass education reform and find a fair revenue package to pay for it. As former county executives, we know what it takes to be a leader and work to improve the lives of your constituents.

Instead, Mr. Hogan is staying on the sidelines, playing politics and resorting to scare tactics about tax hikes. Maryland, one of the wealthiest states in the nation, can’t afford to improve our schools, our governor asserts.

Meanwhile, Maryland schools continue to drift and, in many cases, decline. The recent National Assessment of Educational Progress test results showed that reading scores in Maryland showed a troubling drop this year. As of 2014, we were considered the highest-ranked school system in the nation; under Mr. Hogan’s watch, our ranking has dropped to fifth, a troubling and unacceptable downward slide.

So, let Mr. Hogan play with the high-rollers and abdicate responsibility for bolstering one of the most important institutions in our communities. Education reform is not only needed to strengthen our economy and create opportunity for all students, it is extremely popular with Marylanders. They want the best for our schools and our kids. And recent polls show they support raising taxes in a fair and balanced way to pay for education reform.

Governor Hogan has for months cited absurdly exaggerated tax scenarios to frighten voters about funding the Kirwan reform package. In reality, there are fair and sustainable tax changes that will raise significant revenue without adding to the burden of low- and middle-income families.

We can start by closing enormous loopholes that allow big businesses to avoid Maryland taxes. That includes requiring national companies pay taxes on the income they earn in Maryland – something our current tax code allows many to avoid.

Giveaways to industry that fail to spur investment must go. We can also require the richest Marylanders to pay more in income tax, reform the estate tax and make sure high-income financial managers pay their fair share on capital gains. And we should move forward and tax new economic arenas, including cannabis and sports gambling.

As we look at such a revenue package, we should also take steps to reduce taxes paid by lower-income taxpayers. In all, such a revenue package would make our system fairer while generating enough funding to pay for the Kirwan recommendations.

We have new legislative leaders — House Speaker Adrienne Jones and incoming Senate President Bill Ferguson — who are deeply committed to education reform. We urge them and their colleagues to stand tall and lead the state, while our governor stays on the sideline lobbing insults and failing to promote solutions.

Let's finally realize the dream of a great public education by fully funding the Kirwan recommendations and giving every child in Maryland the opportunity to thrive.

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Rushern Baker (rushbaker@bakerstrategygroup.com) is the former Prince George’s County Executive. Don Mohler (don@donmohler.com) is the former Baltimore County Executive.

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