A month ago, Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he was forming a national organization aimed at promoting bipartisanship. “An America United” would encourage the idea of Democrats and Republicans “working together,” he said.
But last week, Hogan announced that he was refusing to release funding for more than 70 of Maryland Democrats’ favored initiatives in the state budget — including more than a dozen that would have benefited deep-blue Baltimore. He called the lawmakers “reckless” for trying to spend $245 million to provide summer jobs for city youths, bolster the struggling Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, build new schools across the state and give raises to correctional officers, among other proposals.
In return, Democrats accused the governor of being a disingenuous hypocrite.
In Maryland, things clearly weren’t so bipartisan.
“He has a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to how programs get funded,” observed Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, director of the Maryland Democratic Party. “His love of bipartisanship seems to have gone out the window.”
Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen said, “You don’t get to claim to be a moderate hero that can unite communities and then disinvest from your largest city.”
In Hogan’s first budget cycle since winning reelection, the Republican governor said he would refuse to spend the $245 million the Democratic-controlled legislature earmarked for its priorities. Though the General Assembly approved a balanced budget as required by the Maryland Constitution, Hogan argued that the state shouldn’t fund the programs in this year’s budget because it faces a possible $960 million shortfall in next year’s.
Others pointed out that as the ongoing cost of government rises, it’s not unusual for lawmakers to go to Annapolis in January needing to find cuts before the following year’s budget can be hammered out. And the spending plan the Assembly approved this year was actually a little smaller than the governor’s overall proposal.
But Republicans heralded the governor’s action. State Sen. Andrew A. Serafini, a Western Maryland Republican, said Hogan’s decision to hold back money will be well received by state residents who want spending cut to avoid raising taxes.
“We’re going to be looking under every rock for money next year,” Serafini said.
Baltimore, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-to-1, was disproportionately affected by Hogan’s decision. Programs in the city that won’t receive funding include:
» $1 million to help 600 city teens get summer jobs through Baltimore YouthWorks
» $600,000 to provide aid to parts of Southwest Baltimore damaged by flooding
» $200,000 to help pay for hazardous material cleanup on a Harford Road property
» $150,000 for security for senior citizen apartments in the city.
» $25,000 for a Morgan State University task force to study racial equity issues
Hogan administration officials argue that the governor isn’t being partisan. They say Marylanders expect Hogan to hold the line against the spending impulses of the legislature.
Mike Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, emphasized that the Assembly proposed paying for its priorities in part by cutting $90 million from the state’s so-called “Rainy Day” fund and $50 million from the pension fund. Ricci also noted that Baltimore receives the second-most state aid of any jurisdiction in Maryland, after Prince George’s County.
“As entirely tiresome as it is for Democrats to make this a partisan squabble, Governor Hogan’s decision is about common sense and fiscal responsibility,” Ricci said.
Even as he announced withholding the funds, 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. Hogan also said he would reintroduce next year a bill to increase funding for school construction projects using revenue from the state’s casinos.
“There are tremendous opportunities for common ground in the next legislative session,” Ricci said.
Throughout his tenure as governor, Hogan has oscillated between forging bipartisan alliances — such as crafting a reinsurance plan with Democratic leaders that lowered some health care premium costs — and clashing with rivals across the aisle.
Donald F. Norris, professor emeritus of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Hogan can legitimately point to instances of bipartisan work with Democrats.
For instance, Hogan joined with Democrats to ban fracking, provide free community college for many students and back a Justice Reinvestment Act credited in part with lowering the state’s prison population.
But there are also numerous examples of Hogan bashing Democrats, particularly in the legislature, Norris noted.
In his first term, Hogan compared lawmakers to rowdy students on spring break who throw beer bottles off balconies. He called his critics in the teachers union “thugs.” And earlier this year he accused the legislature of being “pro criminal.”
Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary's College, said neither side in Maryland politics always behaves in a bipartisan manner.
“Anytime one side says, ‘The other side isn’t being bipartisan,’ that means, ‘They aren’t doing what we want them to do,’ ” Eberly said.
Even so, Eberly said, he thinks Hogan made a mistake by not announcing dedicated funding for rape kit testing before withholding the money.
“If you’re looking for an issue that rises above partisanship, it’s the rape kits,” Eberly said. The administration “should have known from the beginning that would open them up to a very powerful counterargument.”
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.
Under state law, Hogan doesn’t have to release the money the legislature restricted for its chosen programs.
Councilman Cohen argued that Hogan’s withholding of funds is just the latest of his decisions that have hurt Baltimore, including his canceling of the Red Line light rail project early in his first term.
“For someone who touts himself as a bridge builder who can connect communities across the country,” Cohen said, Hogan’s decision to withhold funds “displays a contempt for the state’s largest city.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
In contrast, Serafini wrote a letter recently to Hogan asking him to withhold the money. The Washington County senator noted that Democrats are looking to ramp up education funding dramatically in the next few years to implement recommendations of the so-called Kirwan Commission. So the state needs to hold back every dollar it can, he said.
“Looking at where we are with the projected deficit and what’s coming with Kirwan … how are we going to find a billion next year?” he asked.
In June, Hogan said he was starting An America United and will consider a presidential campaign in 2024, after his term as governor ends. He has ruled out running for president or the U.S. Senate next year.
Rockeymoore Cummings said if Hogan is eyeing a national role in the Republican Party after his term is up, he might have reason to act in a more partisan fashion with Maryland Democrats.
“There is a scenario where him being more confrontational with state Democrats makes him more appealing to his party’s base nationally,” she said.
But Norris said he suspects Hogan will continue his pattern of working with Democrats on certain issues — and then bashing them when it suits him.
“He likes having his cake and eating it, too,” Norris said.