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Hogan takes page from Democrats, proposes education ‘lockbox’

hogan-franchot

Gov. Larry Hogan, joined by Comptroller Peter Franchot, Wednesday called for gambling revenues targeted for education to be put in a ‘lockbox’ to ensure they’d be used for no other purpose. His plan is similar to one backed by Democratic legislative leaders. (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Taking a page from the Democratic playbook for the 2018 session, Gov. Larry Hogan proposed his own education bill “lockbox” for the state share of gambling revenue.

Hogan vowed that his plan would pump billions into classrooms and school construction over the next 10 years without the need to place the issue on the November ballot.

“The additional revenue that was promised for the classrooms should be required to go into the classrooms, and the people of Maryland and our children should not have to wait for another election in order to fix this important issue,” Hogan said.

Hogan was joined by Democratic Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, a longtime opponent of gambling, who once called claims that casino revenues would supplement education funding a “fiscal fairy tale.”

“The proposal, slots for tots, was a fraud,” Franchot said. Everybody knew it was. It had a nice name, a catchy name as the governor said.”

The comptroller said Hogan’s plan could help fund school construction needs, including improving city schools where children had to wear coats in classrooms because of heating problems.

“This legislation will provide the much-needed and long-overdue funds to support these critical capital improvement programs as well as putting a significant amount of money into school operating budgets,” said Franchot.

Hogan said his proposal would pump an estimated $4.4 billion into supplementing education spending by phasing in revenues from casinos over the next four years, with about 20 percent going to school construction.

Under the governor’s plan, $100 million would come directly out of the education trust fund annually and be directed toward school construction funding.

The balance, about $400 million, would be phased in over four years.

Hogan said his bill wouldn’t require a referendum.

“The voters have already voted on this,” Hogan said. “They were already promised. I don’t think we have to go back again and asked them what to do with the money.”

Soon after the announcement, the state’s largest teacher’s union called on Hogan to provide an additional $364 million to schools — money the union said was the difference over four years between what was collected in the education trust fund and what was spent on education.

“He’s got the budgetary authority to do it now,” said Sean Johnson, director of legislative affairs for the Maryland State Education Association.

The teacher’s union supports the Democratic plan, which includes a referendum.

Johnson said without a constitutional amendment, the additional money called for in Hogan’s proposal could be reduced or eliminated through budgetary procedures.

The state provides about $6.5 billion to education in 24 jurisdictions under the provisions of a formula. Included in that amount is about $500 million that comes from gaming revenues placed in the state’s Education Trust Fund.

Democrats two weeks ago said their proposal would require the state to fund the base formula, and its annual increases, from the General Fund. The money in the education trust fund, phased in over four years, would be provided in addition to the formula-driven aid, which would likely require future governors to sharpen their pencils to balance the budget.

The Democrats said their bill creating the lockbox would require an amendment to the state constitution and a referendum vote later this year.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch told reporters the referendum was needed as a transparency and accountability measure.

“I think for our purposes we wanted to make sure that the money was put away and the general public knew it was going to be above the constitutional amount we have to put into K-12 education,” said Busch.

It’s not the first time Hogan has adopted ideas from Democratic lawmakers.

Hogan has announced two counter-proposals to a paid sick leave law even as Democratic lawmakers passed their own.

Hogan announced earlier this year that he would support a legislative initiative to strip parental rights from rapists that leaders in the General Assembly said would be their top priority — that bill was signed into law Tuesday.

Last year, he announced in the waning days of the session that he would support a full ban on fracking as a bill languished in committee.

Another commonality between Hogan and legislative Democrats is that neither had a school funding bill that was publicly available at the time of their respective announcements.

Busch told reporters after Hogan’s announcement that lawmakers have not had discussions with the governor about the issue.

“Look, I didn’t know about the press conference today,” said Busch. “Certainly if someone were to have called me or the president of the Senate, I certainly think we’d be supportive. The fact of the matter is this is a direction we took a month ago.”

When asked if he felt that Hogan was attempting to out maneuver Democrats and their previously announced proposal, Busch said: “I’ll leave that up to the general public to determine.”


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