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Illustration by Maximilian Franz

Democratic leaders: Hogan’s putting the squeeze on urban Maryland

ANNAPOLIS — Democratic leaders in some of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions say Gov. Larry Hogan is squeezing them in the budget and using their money to favor Republican areas.

From left, Montgomery county executive Ike Leggett, Baltimore County Executive Keven Kamenetz, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, and Prince George's County Executive Rashern Baker, held a news conference Wednesday, in which they said Gov. Hogan was not coming through with his spending promises. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

From left, Montgomery county executive Ike Leggett, Baltimore County Executive Keven Kamenetz, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, and Prince George’s County Executive Rashern Baker, held a news conference Wednesday, in which they said Gov. Hogan was not coming through with his spending promises. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

During Martin O’Malley’s eight years as governor, rural areas loudly proclaimed there was a war on rural Maryland. But times have changed, and while no one is using the exact phrase, a number of prominent Democrats are decrying Hogan for what they describe as a war on the urban, central Maryland because those areas are run by Democrats.

Still others say that Hogan is merely living up to vision of “One Maryland” espoused by O’Malley, his Democratic predecessor — a philosophy that some say fell short when it came to rural, more Republican areas of the state where there were fewer votes to be had.

“You can make a pretty good case that some of rural Maryland has been ignored for the last eight years,” said Sen. James “Jim” Brochin, a Democrat and chairman of the Baltimore County Senate delegation. “I don’t think O’Malley paid as much attention to that area as he should have.

“I don’t think [Hogan] is hurting anybody,” added Brochin. “It’s just a different philosophy and it’s taking some people a long time to get used to.”

Other Democratic officials in Maryland say Hogan, through his budget priorities, has slighted Democratic-voter rich jurisdictions such as Baltimore city as well as Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in the name of changing how state government works.

“The challenge is when the reality and rhetoric don’t jive,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said last week at a news conference prior to Hogan’s State of the State speech. “When you take transportation funding that the Republican counties voted to have repealed and then you divvy it up to your friends, that’s a problem. That’s not reducing government. That’s just spreading it a little differently. Spreading it to his, I guess, his peers.

“When the dollars come to Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Baltimore city — that’s not charity – that’s our tax money,” Rawlings-Blake continued. “So you can’t take it from us, give it to someone else and think that’s a better way to run government.”

Seeking accountability

Rawlings-Blake said Hogan swooped in to save Baltimore during the riots in April but his proposed $700 million for demolishing vacant housing in the city, among other promises, has not materialized.

“This is about the reality of putting the funds where your mouth is,” she said. “We’re here to hold you accountable. We’re here to make sure you represent all of Maryland. Not the select few who happen to be Republican. This is bigger than Democrats and Republicans. This is about making sure the whole state of Maryland moves forward.”

At the same news conference, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker said the concerns of his county and others have “fallen on deaf ears.”

“You got the second-largest jurisdiction with our tax dollars going to the state and you give me a little bit of it and you tell me I should be happy,” said Baker, who is seen as a potential Democratic challenger to Hogan in 2018. “I can’t be happy if I go back to the citizens of Prince George’s County and I tell them why they can’t have teachers in their classrooms. I can’t go back to our people and say, ‘Accept zero’ year after year. It’s unacceptable.”

Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, said Maryland jurisdictions – including Democratic bastions — are doing better across the board.

“The budget book doesn’t lie. The numbers are the numbers,” Mayer said, highlighting some proposed spending within the governor’s proposed budget.

Rawlings-Blake and others are “attacking the Hogan administration over what they claim is a lack of funding for their priorities,” Mayer added.

Mayer said Baltimore city would receive 19 percent of the statewide aid to local governments. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties get nearly 18 percent and more than 12 percent, respectively.

‘Double whammy’

Baltimore is flat-funded this year, due in part to a reduction of about $24 million in proposed education aid because of a formula that bases funding on a jurisdiction’s income and property tax base and pupil enrollment. The city saw increases in the first two categories while school enrollment dropped — a “double whammy,” according to Warren Deschenaux, that legislature’s top budget analyst.

“There’s nothing nefarious in how that happened,” Deschenaux said. “It’s an operation of our education funding formula. That formula is driven by two principal things — enrollment and wealth.”

But three rural and Republican counties — Carroll, Garrett and Kent — have seen school enrollment declines yet are slated to get nearly $6 million in state education grants despite the fact that the formula suggests a decrease.

Hogan has promised that some additional aid would be forthcoming in future supplemental budgets including money for demolishing vacant, blighted properties in the Baltimore. On Friday, Hogan said he was waiting for the city to sign off on the agreement and have it approved by the Board of Estimates.

He also announced a supplemental budget request for $55 million over five years to fund Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center — a promise Hogan made earlier.

Red Line wounds

But it’s what is not in the budget that rankles some leaders.

Since taking office, Hogan has made a number of budgetary decisions that have angered Rawlings-Blake and her peers, including the cancellation of the $2.9 billion Red Line project that stretched from east Baltimore to western Baltimore County and refusing to spend $68 million in optional supplemental education aid that would go to 13 jurisdictions including the city, Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore counties.

The state money for the Red Line was redistributed to other projects — mostly road and highways around the state, including rural areas – to fulfill Hogan’s promise of restoring aid to local governments that was slashed during the O’Malley administration.

In Montgomery County, money promised for the construction of a garage to support the Universities at Shady Grove has been delayed. Funds for an interchange at Watkins Mills along the I-270 corridor was not in the governor’s proposed budget.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Legget, who joined Rawlings-Blake and Baker last week, said he and other Democratic leaders agree that expanding the tax base and creating jobs are important.

“The question is, how do we best get there?” Leggett said. “My view is that you can’t get there if you do not invest in a timely fashion in transportation in the level we believe is necessary to move this along. You can’t get there if you’re not investing in the infrastructure for our colleges as well as K-12. We differ on how we get there and the governor has taken an approach that I think takes too long and will not be as productive and will not achieve the objectives which he is seeking and we all agree upon.”