Gulf widens between Hogan and Democrats

The rift between Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic lawmakers over the state budget widened Thursday, with the governor and House Speaker Michael E. Busch digging in their heels and making provocative moves and statements.

Hogan submitted a supplemental budget that pointedly ignores the top priorities of General Assembly leaders — restoring money for K-12 education, health care and a pay raise for state employees — and instead seeks to reverse changes made by the Democrats.


Specifically, in what a Hogan spokesman described as "drawing a line in the sand," the governor's latest budget would reverse the Assembly's decision to divert $75 million in scheduled payments to the state employee pension fund to other legislative priorities.

And the Republican governor pointedly said on Twitter that some in Annapolis "want to keep pushing the same failed policies" that got the state into a budget mess.


Meanwhile, Busch was drawing lines of his own, refusing to let his chamber consider recent Hogan budget proposals,

"It's a fair assessment to say that the members of the House, the people's House, would like to see some kind of indication from the administration and the governor of their intent to fund the programs that were passed overwhelmingly in the state budget this year," Busch said.

Busch noted that Hogan began the session saying he would "reach across the aisle" to Democrats. "It's kind of baffling to me why the governor ... sees their priorities and then basically ignores them," he said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller continued to stake out a middle ground, encouraging compromise.

"There are the makings of a very positive outcome," Miller said. "There's just one or two sticking points, and if we get past those sticking points we can all declare victory." Hogan, too, predicted an amicable outcome.

The maneuverings by Hogan and Busch are understood as snubs in the Annapolis political world. Miller said the refusal to consider a governor's supplemental budget was a rare move lawmakers try to avoid. Busch said he had never seen a case in which a governor used a supplemental budget to try to reverse a decision approved by both chambers.

"It's something the governor believes in," said Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer.

The first legislative session of divided government since Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. left office in 2007 has not gone smoothly. Both the House and Senate have largely rejected or watered down the proposals Hogan outlined as priorities in his State of the State address — among them tax cuts for first responders, a halt to further gas tax increases and changes in state law to encourage more charter schools.

Hogan, meanwhile, has not acceded to the Assembly's request to reverse cuts in Medicaid coverage for some pregnant women, maintain a 2 percent pay raise for state workers and restore more than $138 million for Maryland's public school systems.

The Assembly's annual 90-day session is scheduled to end at midnight Monday, so time is running out.

After Hogan's office announced his latest budget proposal Thursday, the governor held a brief news conference during which he predicted the session would end with the "bipartisan solution" he has been promising since taking office in January.

"We're not going to get everything we hoped for. They're not going to get everything they hoped for," he said.


But he held fast to his pension proposal.

"Our main concern is fiscal responsibility, and most people agree that robbing the pension fund is not a good idea," he said.

Both chambers trimmed $75 million from the $150 million supplemental pension payment Hogan proposed in his budget. Legislative leaders deny the move is irresponsible, noting the state puts about $1.7 billion into the fund each year.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the remaining pension funding is still consistent with a larger plan to put the retirement plan on a sounder footing.

"That is a major step forward for our pension system," she said,

McIntosh said Hogan's recent budget proposals show "they really do not want to fund the priorities that all but 10 members of the General Assembly have voted for and care about."

She was referring to the fact that the Senate passed its revised budget unanimously, and only 10 Republicans opposed it in the House – an unusual level of support.

The Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee said Hogan was "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."

"If he thinks this is the change that people voted for, I think he's sadly mistaken. People weren't talking about cutting state employee pay. I don't think people were talking about cutting funding for K-12 education," Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. of Montgomery County said.

Recent days have brought a spate of polarizing comments. Busch allies have been quoted as questioning Hogan's grasp of the legislative process, while the Republican governor has suggested Democrats Miller and Busch didn't have to compromise under the O'Malley administration.

"For the past eight years, they pretty much did whatever the governor told them to do. This time, they started out saying they weren't going to do anything that the governor wanted," Hogan said at his news conference.

The day before, Hogan's political organization Change Maryland sent out a tweet giving an implicit warning to the two legislative leaders.

"We won Miller and Busch's districts overwhelmingly — hopefully they're paying attention," the tweet said.

Busch said he the message was "certainly not helpful" as the legislature and the governor struggle to resolve their differences. But the speaker said he was not concerned about the message's political overtones.

"I think both President Miller and I have weathered many storms and won numerous elections," he said, noting that he has been elected in his Annapolis district eight times and that Miller has had a more than 40-year legislative career. "When Governor Hogan can win more than one election in a row, let him and his staff comment on other elected officials."

Miller said he remains committed to working with the administration to bring the session to an amicable conclusion Monday night, but he questioned the timing of the Change Maryland comment.

"There's a time for governance and a time for campaigning," he said.

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