Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that he would not release $245 million the legislature put into the state budget for various projects — including school construction, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and summer jobs for Baltimore youth.
Though the General Assembly approved a balanced budget as required by the Maryland Constitution, Hogan argued the state shouldn’t fund the legislature’s priorities because of a possible $960 million shortfall next year.
His decision prevents the release of $127 million for school construction, raises for correctional officers and hundreds of thousands of dollars for community colleges in Hagerstown and Prince George’s County.
Other funds being withheld are $2.5 million for a rapid transit project in Southern Maryland, $750,000 for a prescription drug affordability board, and $200,000 to expand Maryland’s free tax preparation and filing services for poor people.
“We pledged to bring fiscal restraint to Annapolis and we have,” said Hogan, a Republican. He accused Democrats in the General Assembly of being “reckless” and playing “budgetary shell games,” saying the legislature should not have cut $90 million from the state’s “rainy day fund” and $50 million from the pension fund.
Even so, Hogan said he is instructing state agencies to look for ways to fund public safety and health programs by finding savings — without using the money set aside by the Assembly. The governor pledged agencies would find a way to pay for $7 million in technology upgrades for the Baltimore Police Department and $3.5 million for testing rape kits as requested by the legislature.
The governor’s announcement drew backlash from Democrats, who argued he is endangering vital programs.
State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp expressed disappointment with Hogan’s decision. Kopp suggested Hogan simply didn’t like Democrats making changes to his budget — even though the budget the Assembly approved is slightly smaller than Hogan’s original proposal.
“Governors never like legislatures putting their imprimatur on the budget,” Kopp said. “It’s not the governor’s budget. It’s not the legislature’s budget. It’s the state budget.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, said he would urge Hogan to change his mind.
“I am extremely disappointed that the governor is not choosing to fund many worthy projects, including some that were originally in his proposed budget, and some that were added based off testimony from many Marylanders to the legislature,” Miller said in a statement.
Miller met with Hogan last week, asking him to release the money.
“Based on my conversation with the governor, I was under the impression that he intended to review the list closely and that deserving projects would proceed with funding,” Miller said. “While the governor has made his announcement today, he is certainly allowed to change his mind.”
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, took issue with Hogan’s description of the legislature. The budget passed both chambers with robust support from Republicans.
“These aren’t Democratic priorities — these are the people’s priorities: voted on by Democratic and Republican legislators,” Jones said in a statement. “ ‘Reckless’ is NOT testing rape kits to find rapists. ‘Playing games’ is when you pretend to care about school conditions, but then don’t put the money up for new school construction.”
Hogan said he would resubmit his plan to step up funding for school construction — using revenue from casinos — in the next legislative session in January. The General Assembly did not pass that measure this year.
During this year’s 90-day session, the legislature amended Hogan’s proposed $46 billion operating budget for the year that began Monday. Legislators made close to $300 million in changes to the budget Hogan introduced, deleting items he favored and replacing them with items they preferred.
But under state law, Hogan doesn’t have to release the money the legislature “fenced off” — or restricted — for its chosen programs.
Hogan agreed earlier to release such funding for school operating costs, which will help implement recommendations from the so-called Kirwan commission. He waited until Wednesday to announce his decision on the other items the legislature sought to fund.
Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Harford County Republican who is Senate minority leader, said he believed Hogan would come up with the money needed for important public safety programs.
Jennings said other items funded by the Assembly were wasteful. Jennings argued, for instance, that $1.6 million from the state for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra would do little to resolve its problems. The BSO is in dire fiscal straits, and management has locked out musicians as both sides attempt to negotiate a new contract.
“With regards to the BSO, they are way out of touch with where they need to be fiscally,” Jennings said. “The governor had no alternative. He is going to come in and trim and make sure the important stuff gets funded.”
Hogan has withheld smaller amounts from the legislature’s budget in the past.
The last time Hogan refused to release money legislators fenced off was in 2016, when the governor said he would not spend $80 million the Assembly authorized to reduce violence, renovate older schools and fund other programs. At the time, the legislature’s chief budget analyst estimated revenue to be $150 million short of projections, and Hogan’s budget secretary, David R. Brinkley, said it would be “shortsighted” to spend money that should go into the state’s savings account.
Sen. Cory V. McCray, a Baltimore Democrat who pushed for $1 million in the latest budget for Baltimore YouthWorks, said the withheld money will result in about 600 fewer teens having a summer job. McCray noted the city is unable to provide jobs for thousands of the more than 11,000 youths who apply to the program.
“I find it unconscionable that we can’t supply young people with a job,” McCray said. “That’s thousands of kids that wanted to do something productive.”
Del. Shelly Hettleman, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored legislation to provide more money to test rape kits, said the funding is needed to ensure kits don’t go untested or get thrown out.