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Hogan questions legality of education spending bill

Hogan questions legality of education spending bill

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ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan is expressing concerns about the legality of a bill that is meant to force the Republican governor to spend money earmarked for a non-mandatory spending formula.

Education advocates and lawmakers Tuesday demanded that Hogan agree to spend the money that the legislature fenced off in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. At the same time, Hogan is considering a veto of separate legislation that would make the formula known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index a permanent mandatory formula if he fails to spend the additional $68.1 million.

The governor’s concern over the bill appears to center around concerns that the legislature is creating another spending mandate. Hogan in the past has been critical of spending that is required by legislation, citing its effect on growing costs within the state budget.

“The governor is required by the state constitution to propose a budget,” said Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman. “If everything is mandated is the governor still proposing a budget?”

Hogan, in a meeting with reporters, said the bill would create additional pressures when it comes to controlling state spending. Currently, 81 percent of the state budget is required by law.

“We had to somehow close what was a $1.2 billion shortfall that O’Malley left us with the 19 percent that was left,” said Hogan. “So mandating even more future increases in spending is a bad idea.”

Some legislators credit Hogan for a unique argument but said legislatures in the past have acted to mandate spending without running into legal challenges.

“It’s not like we’ve somehow done this behind the backs of previous governors,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery County and vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Madaleno said the governor’s concerns should open up a conversation about restoring the ability of the legislature to add to the budget. A 99-year old amendment to the state constitution created the current system in which the governor proposes the budget and the legislature may only cut the budget.

Prior to 1916, the legislature could add to the state spending plan. The changes were driven by a large deficit that was blamed on the legislature.

“If (Hogan) wants a different set of conditions, I’m all for putting that on the table with a full conversation about the powers that are reserved to the legislature and executive branch,” Madaleno said. “He wants fewer mandates? I think he needs to open the door to us having some additional, somewhat equal, powers to help establish the budget.”

As the governor considers his options, lawmakers, local government officials and education advocates joined together Tuesday to demand that Hogan release money designated by the General Assembly to fully fund a non-mandatory school formula.

“We’ve funded the money,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch. “We’ve made it available. County governments are getting ready to do their budgets and need to know that the money is there for them.”

Hogan, a Republican, has yet to say whether he will spend $68 million that was fenced off by the General Assembly to fund a formula known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index that provides additional money to 13 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions. Hogan proposed funding the program at about 50 percent.

The legislature cannot force Hogan to spend the money but can restrict him from using it for other purposes.

Advocates say that if Hogan does not spend the money it will force school systems to trim as many as 1,200 teaching positions.

Baltimore City, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties combined account for nearly $49.7 million or 73 percent of the additional money earmarked for the formula.

“We want our money,” said Verjeana Jacobs, president of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. “Our children need it.”

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