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Legislators press Hogan to sign college affordability legislation

The Towson University campus. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

The Towson University campus. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — Two leading Democrats are calling on Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to sign a bill they say will ease the burden of costly college educations for middle-class Maryland families.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery County, and Del. Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County, stood outside the governor’s mansion across from the State House and called on Hogan to sign the College Affordability Act of 2016. The bill, which was a priority for legislative leaders this session, creates new mandatory programs providing matching grants for college savings plans and a tax credit for students with large student debt-to-earnings ratios.

“I’m sure (Hogan) will want to do this,” said Jones, who was joined with a handful of college students who support the bill. “We wanted him to know ahead of time that these students are depending on it and families are depending on this very important bill.”

Both Jones and Madaleno said that the governor has given them no indication about his intentions for the bill.

“Like on so many bills, the administration declines to participate with us and they abdicate their involvement with the legislature,” Madaleno said. “So here we are, just days before the bill signing and we want an answer from the governor. We’ve got people who want to give him the petitions. We’ve got young people and legislators saying, ‘It’s time to make a decision and sign this bill now.'”

So far, Hogan during four previous ceremonies has signed roughly 500 of the 834 bills passed this session by the General Assembly.

The ceremony on Thursday is the last officially scheduled bill signing for the governor. He has until the end of May to make final decisions about any remaining bills that he will veto or allow to pass into law without his signature.

Sen. Rich Madaleno. (File)

Sen. Rich Madaleno. (File)

But the sticking point for Hogan could be in language that requires the governor to set aside $10 million in the first year of the two programs, a mandate that increases to $15 million by the third year.

Not signing the Senate bill or the identical version passed by the House of Delegates could set up a potential veto override vote next year. Both the House and Senate bills passed with veto-proof majorities.

Hogan, since his election, has railed against mandated spending items. This year he unsuccessfully sought approval for legislation that would allow the state to flatten spending on mandated items such as education and health programs in years when state revenues fell short of projected funding requirements.

But Hogan has also allowed some spending mandates to become law. Earlier this year the governor allowed a package of bills providing aid to Baltimore City to become law without his signature. In most of those cases, Hogan had vowed to pay for the programs but the legislature used language to mandate that he do so.

Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for the governor, said Hogan was still in the process of reviewing bills and had not yet made a decision on the College Affordability Act.

As part of the mandated funding, $5 million annually would be set aside as a fully refundable tax credit that could be claimed by students who have at least $20,000 of student loan debt. The fund could help an estimated 1,000 such students annually based.

Another $5 million would be set aside in the first year of the program to establish an annual matching grant of up to $250 per student for contributions made to the state’s college savings plans.

Those filing a single tax return of under $50,000 or married and filing jointly with under $75,000 in annual income could contribute as little as $25 a year to such a plan to be eligible for the $250 annual match. Higher wage earners could be eligible for the match by contributing between $100 or $250 annually to such a plan.

It is estimated that 20,000 beneficiaries could receive matching grants in fiscal 2018, the first year of the program. That number would grow to 40,000 when the mandated funding reaches its maximum amount of $10 million annually in fiscal 2020.

Currently, 12 states offer some form of state match for contributions to college savings plans.