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Miller, Busch plan spending mandate for new Prince George's hospital

Frustrated that Gov. Larry Hogan has yet to provide funding for a new teaching hospital in Prince George's County, the two top leaders of the General Assembly plan to introduce legislation requiring the governor to put the money in the budget he introduces next year.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat whose district includes part of Prince George's, said he's already gathered 30 signatures on legislation that would make the spending mandatory in the budget that starts in July 2017. That's one more than the number needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

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The new facility, known as the Prince George's Regional Medical Center in Largo, has been the top priority of Maryland's second-largest jurisdiction for more than a decade. It would replace the aged, financially struggling Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly. The new $650 million, 231-bed hospital would become part of the University of Maryland Medical System.

Miller said the county government, the university system and then-Gov. Martin O'Malley reached an agreement two years ago on financing for the system. But so far, Hogan hasn't included the operating money to finance the transition to university control in his budget. Miller said the project needs that money by July 1.

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The Senate president predicted that if the Republican governor doesn't include the money in a supplemental budget, mandate legislation would pass the Senate and the House. If the money isn't provided this year, the mandate would call for two years' financing, or $30 million, next year.

Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch agreed with the plan, saying he would sponsor identical legislation in that chamber. The presiding officers' plan comes at a time when Hogan has been decrying the existing spending mandates in the state budget and calling for legislation to roll back those requirements.

Matthew A. Clark, a Hogan spokesman, said the state spent $220 million on the Prince George's hospital between 2012 and 2015 -- primarily on O'Malley's watch -- and that the governor had included $27 million for the hospital next year. However, that money is capital funding and can't be used to pay for operations. The governor did not provide the funds in the 2016 budget year and refused to spend the money after the legislature cut other spending and reserved money for the project.

Clark declined to say whether the operating money would be included in an expected supplemental budget.

"The issue of more funding -- beyond $27 million that's already in the budget -- has come up in the governor's meetings with the presiding officers, but resorting to threats of even more mandated spending just 10 days into the session seems a little premature," Clark said. "There's plenty of time to work through the legislature's budget concerns, or issue additional threats if they choose."

Miller said he would regret having to pass a mandate.

"It didn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be that way," he said. "It should be done with a wink, a nod, a handshake."

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