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Hogan presses for vote on 60 percent tax credit on school donations

Gov. Larry Hogan stepped up his pressure on Speaker Michael E. Busch Wednesday to allow a vote of the full House on a long-stymied bill that would provide businesses with a 60 percent tax credit for donations to schools.

Speaking to an overflow crowd of private school students in one of the State House complex's largest meeting rooms, Hogan called on the General Assembly to pass the Maryland Education Credit as a way of promoting alternative educational choices for Maryland families.

The legislation would allow businesses a tax credit of up to $200,000 for donations to what are known as student assistance organizations, which can provide aid to either public or private school students. The concept is especially popular with operators of private schools, including the Catholic church and other religious groups. Opponents predict it would do little for public schools because it directs spending to purposes already financed by the state.

Hogan said similar legislation has passed the Senate in past years only to be "bottled up" in a House committee. Asserting that the bill has majority support in the full House, Hogan called on Busch to allow to get it out of committee and receive a floor vote.

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"This year, with your help, we are finally going to get the House of Delegates on board," Hogan told hundreds of students, teachers and parents who came to Annapolis to stage a rally and lobby legislators. As lawmakers streamed toward the State House Wednesday morning, they were greeted with chants of "Give Kids the Credit!"

The program would be capped at $15 million a year in lost state revenue, but even that relatively small program could be difficult to pass when the legislature is considering Hogan's proposed cuts to state aid formulas for public education.

It was the second time in the past week that Hogan has publicly called out the speaker over the legislation, identifying him as the chief obstacle to the passage of the credit bill.

Busch said the credit bill has never been able to muster a majority in the House Ways & Means Committee. He said the measure must go through the same process as any other legislation -- which requires committee approval before a floor vote. The speaker said committee members still have reservations about the legislation.

"It's hard for the legislature to fund private religious schools when Governor Hogan fails to fully fund the public education system," said Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Busch said the fundamental question was whether Maryland taxpayers should be financing transportation, tuition, tutoring uniforms and other costs at private schools.

"If Governor Hogan believes that, let him put in a direct appropriation," the speaker said.

Hogan insisted the state's public education budget issues should not be a bar to passing the credit bill, which gives schools that serve lower-income students priority.

"This bill does not take money away from public schools," he told the group.

Joining Hogan to support the bill were Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and  Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who told the crowd that the credit is especially needed to help the Catholic church keep inner city schools open.

"Our schools educate the entire child -- body, mind and spirit," Lori said.

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