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Democrats push Hogan to release money for school construction, community colleges, rape kit testing

Democrats push Hogan to release money for school construction, community colleges, rape kit testing
Gov. Larry Hogan is still deciding whether to release more than $200 million the General Assembly amended into the state budget, including funds for school construction, police technology and Baltimore's orchestra. (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan continues to review more than $200 million in funding for projects the legislature amended into the state budget — including funds for school construction, community colleges and testing rape kits — as Democratic lawmakers ramp up calls for him to release the money.

For weeks, Democrats and advocates for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have called on the Republican governor to release $1.6 million for the financially struggling orchestra that lawmakers included in the budget that takes effect next month.

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But those funds are just one request of nearly 50 items still awaiting the governor’s decision.

For instance, Hogan has yet to decide whether to release $127 million for school construction; $7 million for technology for the Baltimore Police Department; $3.5 million for testing rape kits; and hundreds of thousands for community colleges in Hagerstown and Prince George’s County.

The legislature voted to include funds for those projects in the budget, but needs Hogan to agree to release the money.

This week, Democrats in the House of Delegates took to Twitter to try to put pressure on the governor.

“There's no good reason to hold these funds hostage,” Del. Stephanie Smith of Baltimore tweeted. “@GovLarryHogan show Marylanders how much you support school and community safety by releasing these funds now.”

The Maryland House Democrats’ Twitter account argued: “Despite the backlog of rape kits in Maryland, Governor Hogan refuses to release $3.5 million in this year’s bipartisan budget to get more rape kits tested and ensure victims voices are heard.”

Hogan has said he plans to release money for school operating costs — which will help implement recommendations from the so-called Kirwan commission — on July 1, but he’s yet to decide about other measures.

“Governor Hogan is reviewing all fenced-off funding decisions, taking into account our fiscal challenges and his commitment to protect Marylanders from tax increases,” his spokesman, Mike Ricci, said Friday. “He will make a budget announcement in the coming weeks.”

Under Maryland law, Democrats can make changes to the $46 billion budget Hogan introduced — deleting items the Republican governor favors and replacing them with their own — but Hogan does not have to release the money to fund those programs.

Hogan administration officials say the governor is considering projections that the state will face a $961 million deficit in the next fiscal year. Administration officials argue the restricted money could be needed if the economic forecast does not improve.

Ricci said the Democrats in the legislature failed to work with Hogan to gain his support for their priorities.

“The legislature does not collaborate with, inform, notify, or send carrier pigeon, to alert us to their intent to fence off these dollars,” Ricci said.

But Democrats argue the fate of real programs — keeping the orchestra open, building new schools and putting laptops in police cruisers — hang in the balance while the funds are in limbo.

“I really think he has this attitude that ‘It’s my budget’ and he doesn’t want to take our suggestions,” said Del. Maggie McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “Ninety-nine percent of his budget went through as written. I just think it’s disheartening.”

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