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Maryland Gov. Hogan vetoes bills on $15 hourly wage, pre-Labor Day school start, Franchot's enforcement powers

Maryland Gov. Hogan vetoes bills on $15 hourly wage, pre-Labor Day school start, Franchot's enforcement powers
Gov. Larry Hogan, shown in this 2016 file photo from Ocean City, has vetoed three bills passed by state lawmakers, including one that would allow local school districts to decide when the academic year should start in each county. (Caitlin Faw / The Baltimore Sun)

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed bills Wednesday passed by state lawmakers seeking to increase Maryland’s minimum wage, allow local school districts to decide when their academic years should start, and strip State Comptroller Peter Franchot of his alcohol and tobacco enforcement powers.

The Democratic-led General Assembly passed the three bills by veto-proof margins and is expected in the coming days to vote to override the vetoes.

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In a letter to legislative leaders, Hogan said gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour would “cost us jobs, negatively impact our economic competitiveness and devastate our state’s economy.”

Hogan touted his proposal to instead increase the minimum wage to $12.10 and allow further increases only if surrounding states raise wages, too.

“Making Maryland’s minimum wage more than double that of Virginia could be too much for our economy to bear,” Hogan wrote. “How can we place Maryland’s workers at risk and Maryland businesses at so much of a disadvantage?”

Virginia follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

The veto was embraced by groups representing businesses.

“This was the right thing to do,” said Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Sen. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the minimum wage bill, said he was disappointed the governor vetoed it.

McCray said passing the bill sent a message that Maryland “values working-class families who play an invaluable role in our economy but are struggling to afford basic living expenses.”

He was hopeful a veto override vote could take place as soon as Thursday.

The bill would increase the hourly minimum wage gradually from $10.10 to $15 an hour. Businesses with 15 or more employees would follow a schedule that reaches $15 in 2025, while smaller companies would have to pay $15 starting in 2026.

Hogan called the other two bills he vetoed “politically motivated.” One would undo his 2016 executive order that the public school year in Maryland must start after Labor Day. The other would move enforcement of alcohol and tobacco laws from Franchot’s office to a new, independent commission.

Hogan said the school bill “runs directly counter to an action favored by the vast majority of Marylanders.”

“This unfortunate legislation unravels years of bipartisan work and study by seeking to reverse the post-Labor Day start for public schools,” Hogan wrote in a letter to legislative leaders explaining his veto.

The Republican governor said there has been “an incredible amount of misinformation” about the debate over the school start date. He criticized what he described as “intentional deception by special interest groups” — an apparent reference to the statewide teachers union.

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The state Senate and House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed the “Community Control of School Calendars Act.” Furthermore, they made it an emergency measure. That means that if they override Hogan’s veto, the legislation would take effect in time for school districts to adjust their 2019-2020 calendars, if they want to.

Hogan’s order mandated that public schools start after Labor Day and end classes by June 15, picking up on an issue that had been championed by others, including Franchot and Ocean City politicians.

The move was seen as a way to boost tourism at the beach and proved popular with Marylanders. A Goucher College poll right after Hogan signed the order found 68 percent support for starting school after Labor Day.

But as school districts wrestled with how to fit in 180 days worth of classes, holidays and teacher workdays, some parents and educators grew frustrated. A poll this month from Gonzales Research & Media Services found 56 percent of respondents supported starting school after Labor Day, and 40 percent supported allowing local school districts to make the decision of when to start.

In his veto letter to the General Assembly, Hogan called out some lawmakers for making a “blatant and misguided complete reversal” on school calendars. He said many lawmakers from both parties voted in 2013 to create a task force to study the idea of a post-Labor Day school start. That task force recommended the later start, but lawmakers never acted. Some of those same lawmakers who supported the task force voted this year to undo Hogan’s executive order.

Hogan also criticized lawmakers for not considering his “compromise” bill that would have allowed school systems to start the school year before Labor Day, but only if they got approval from voters during an election.

Lawmakers insist it’s not appropriate for an elected official — in this case, Franchot — to oversee such matters. They note that most other states don’t have a politician overseeing such enforcement. And they point to a task force that reviewed the state’s alcohol laws and recommended the change.

Franchot, a Democrat, has said he believes the bill is retribution for his advocacy for the craft beer industry. He said there have been no complaints about his office’s field enforcement staff.

Hogan, who often sides with Franchot despite their being from different parties, chose to support Franchot on the matter. Hogan wrote that the bill would take a “well-respected and award-winning” operation and replace it with “a Rube Goldberg contraption creating needless administrative and bureaucratic chaos.”

Franchot thanked Hogan for vetoing the “unnecessary, reckless and tremendously expensive bill that would put the regulation of alcohol and tobacco in the control of a politically appointed board that is unaccountable to Marylanders.”

Franchot claims it will cost the state $50 million to create the commission. Nonpartisan analysts estimated it would cost the state $4 million in the first year to set up the commission.

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