Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller plans to meet Tuesday with Gov. Larry Hogan over breakfast to ask him to release millions of dollars for projects the legislature amended into the state budget, including funds for Baltimore police reform, school construction and testing rape kits.
In a letter to the Senate, Miller asked his fellow senators for their best arguments for the “high priority” items in their districts so he can make the case to Hogan.
“While I do not know what the governor will end up doing, I intend to make the case for our shared priorities,” Miller wrote.
Democrats in the legislature this year made close to $300 million in changes to Hogan’s $46 billion budget, deleting items the Republican governor favored and replacing them with their own.
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, $1.6 million for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and hundreds of thousands of dollars for community colleges in Hagerstown and Prince George’s County.
Under Maryland law, Hogan does not have to release the money to fund those programs for the budget that takes effect July 1.
Hogan administration officials say the governor is concerned about spending the money, considering the state’s economic outlook. The state is projected to 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. Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said legislators “keep trying to spend more than we can afford.”
“They simply aren't taking fiscal responsibility and accountability seriously, and now the state faces a $961 million deficit,” Ricci said of the legislature. “That said, Governor Hogan certainly looks forward to catching up with President Miller."
Hogan and Miller will meet during the Maryland Municipal League conference in Ocean City.
State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who is vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said money to upgrade technology in the city police department will help track officers and prevent corruption — a pronounced problem underscored by the federal crimes committed by the Gun Trace Task Force.
“It’s important to remember that this money is required as part of a federal consent decree,” Ferguson said. “This isn’t an arbitrary request.”
Among the money at stake is a “early warning system” that will help the brass identify bad cops, Ferguson said. The technology will also free up police from time-consuming paperwork, allowing them to more quickly respond to reports of crime, he added.
“I’ve become increasingly convinced that the cultural problems within BPD can be attributed to lack of management oversight,” Ferguson said. “This $7 million is a critical first step to reforming BPD and creating a safer city.”
In his letter Sunday evening to senators, Miller wrote that the budget passed by the legislature had overwhelming support from Republican legislators, and contained ample money in the state’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund.”
“In addition to passing a balanced budget, and preserving 6% in the Rainy Day Fund, the Senate unanimously, and the House with strong bipartisan support, fenced off funds for more than 50 items to ensure our priorities and the priorities of our constituents are watched out for,” Miller wrote.
For weeks, Democrats in the House of Delegates have been trying to pressure the governor to release the funds through a social media campaign.
Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, said she’s particularly concerned about whether the money for school construction will be released. Lierman noted Democrats are not asking for more money than what Hogan initially proposed to spend in his budget.
“There is every reason to release the money,” she said. “Failure to release the funding that a bipartisan General Assembly passed would be devastating to our school construction program. If the governor wants to make sure every school has a working HVAC system and high-quality learning environment, he should release the money.”
In March, after the House of Delegates voted to increase money for school construction — but did not take up Hogan’s smaller proposal to do so — the governor praised the move.