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Funds for Maryland school construction, BSO, youth jobs in doubt as Hogan considers whether to release money

Funds for Maryland school construction, BSO, youth jobs in doubt as Hogan considers whether to release money
As the fiscal year began, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan hadn't said Monday whether he will release millions of dollars for programs the legislature added to the state budget — leaving school construction projects, the testing of rape kits and summer jobs for Baltimore youth in doubt. (Kenneth Lam / The Baltimore Sun)

As a new fiscal year began, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had yet to announce whether he will release millions of dollars for programs the legislature added to the state budget — leaving school construction projects, the testing of rape kits and summer jobs for Baltimore youth in doubt.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the lack of a decision by Monday impacts real people and projects that face an uncertain future.

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“It plays havoc with local governments and nonprofits’ budgeting process,” McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said. “It’s not a logical or rational thing to do to these folks.”

During this year’s 90-day General Assembly session, the Democrat-controlled 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 the Republican governor introduced, deleting items he favored and replacing them with items they preferred.

But under state law, Hogan does not have to release the money the legislature “fenced off” — or restricted — for various programs. The money in question includes funds for technology to help improve the Baltimore Police Department, support for community colleges, funds for the financially struggling Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, aid for a summer youth jobs program in Baltimore and money to expand Maryland’s free tax preparation and filing services for poor people.

Hogan administration officials say the governor is concerned about spending the money, considering the economic outlook. The state is projected to face a $961 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.

Hogan could release money for some programs, but not others. The governor said last month he would “probably not” release money for the BSO, which is facing deep fiscal problems.

Del. Shelly Hettleman, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored legislation to provide $3.5 million to test rape kits, said she was “cautiously optimistic” Hogan would eventually release that amount so the kits don’t sit on shelves or get thrown away. She noted the governor had signed a bill that creates a fund for the money.

“The fund is only useful if it has resources in it,” Hettleman said. “He saw the importance of creating. I don’t think he would have signed the bill if he wasn’t going to put any resources in it.”

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said in mid-June that Hogan would make a decision on the fenced-off funding “in the coming weeks.”

Ricci argued Democrats failed to win the governor’s support for their priorities before amending the budget.

“Governor Hogan has repeatedly warned the legislature against playing political games with the budget and jeopardizing funding for critical programs,” Ricci said. “They simply aren't taking fiscal responsibility and accountability seriously, and now the state faces a $961 million budget deficit."

Del. Marc Korman, a Montgomery County Democrat, tweeted last week that Hogan is attempting to create a “false narrative” about the need for fiscal restraint in Maryland. By law, the state must pass a balanced budget each year, and the spending plan the legislature approved actually is slightly smaller than the one Hogan introduced.

Korman noted the budget had the backing of the majority of Republicans in the General Assembly, as well as every Democrat.

Hogan last week met in Ocean City with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is encouraging the governor to release the money.

“Those are real kids who are not going to get summer jobs in the city,” McIntosh said of the $1 million the legislature included in the budget for the city’s YouthWorks program. “This is meaningful for these kids. We have more applicants than we have slots to fill.”

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For weeks, Democrats in the House of Delegates have been trying to pressure the governor to release the funds through a social media campaign.

“Let's #FreeTheFunds for programs with bipartisan support like school construction and rape kit testing that were a part of the balanced, bipartisan budget passed by the General Assembly,” Korman tweeted June 25.

Some Republicans recently have urged Hogan to take the opposite course.

Sen. Andrew A. Serafini, a Washington County Republican, wrote Hogan last week asking him to refrain from releasing the “fenced-off” funds. In his letter, Sefarfini acknowledged that would stop some funding for Hagerstown Community College in his county. Nevertheless, he wrote, “I have grave concerns for the fiscal and financial condition of our state.”

The last time Hogan refused to release money fenced off by the legislature was in 2016, when the governor said he would not spend $80 million the General 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.

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