ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday vetoed a bill that would remove a 50-year old process of school construction oversight, replacing it with one that gives the legislature more say and eliminates the Board of Public Works’ oversight role.
Hogan vetoed the “this last-minute, secret bill” during the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday. The move was not unexpected. The governor vowed to reject the bill even before the House and Senate completed work on the legislation.
“The people who perpetrated this scam admitted it wasn’t about policy. They clearly stated it was about politics and childish personal vendettas. But it is serious business that will have a devastating impact on education and on Maryland taxpayers,” Hogan said, adding it would remove authority and oversight of school construction from the three-member board he leads.
Hogan said the bill wasn’t all bad and the original version “would have streamlined and modernized school construction. It was an important proposal and one we would have been proud to support.”
While Hogan spoke, Treasurer Nancy Kopp could be seen shaking her head and mouthing objections.
In a moment of theater, Comptroller Peter Franchot, whose actions on the board lawmakers said was the reason behind the bill, co-signed the veto, writing his name on a hand-drawn line. Next to it, he wrote “for the people.”
Franchot’s signature is not required.
Franchot has come under fire for his advocacy to force school systems to install temporary air conditioning units in classrooms and replace entire high schools he says are substandard and a health risk. He and Hogan have often used the board to call school superintendents to task for a lack of building maintenance and for health concerns related to mold in Howard County.
“Can someone please tell me why in 2018 my own party believe it is politically objectionable for kids to be able to go to school without getting sick,” Franchot said.
Kopp could be heard saying, “Well that’s ridiculous.”
Kopp later disagreed and called Hogan’s and Franchot’s actions Wednesday “the most amazing rerun of Kabuki theater I’ve seen in sometime.”
“I understand why you had to veto it today,” Kopp said. “I just wish we could cut the theater and get back to work.”
She said the bill was focused on removing politics from the panel injected by Franchot, though she did not mention him by name.
“I think that this system we have now could work well, but it hasn’t,” Kopp said. “It’s been slipping toward a different, not financial, but political corruption.”
Kopp said decisions should be made by local school officials in concert with professional staff at the Interagency Committee on School Construction.
“We disagree on this, and I really regret that it’s turned into this kind of theater,” said Kopp.
Hogan pushed back.
“I appreciate your opinion,” he said to Kopp. “I feel bad that they made you say things like that. I know that you don’t believe it.”
The veto sets up an expected override attempt before the General Assembly concludes its work Monday night.
As introduced, the bill created a more streamlined and modernized process for the approval and funding of school construction projects across the state as well as recommended $400 million annually be earmarked for school building and renovation.
Sweeping changes incorporated in amendments remove all authority oversight on school construction funding by the Board of Public Works, a three-member panel that includes Hogan, Franchot and Kopp.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the amendments were needed to remove the politics from the system that she said had been injected by Franchot, whom she described as having meddled in local school system affairs for too long.
Franchot has been criticized for his involvement in demanding new schools be built in areas of Baltimore County and for siding with Hogan in temporarily withholding funds from Baltimore County and Baltimore City schools because of dismay at the pace of installing air conditioning in some buildings.
The bill flew through the Senate without even a public hearing.
Franchot publicly called out Democratic Sens. Kathy Klausmeier and Jim Mathias, of Baltimore County and the Eastern Shore, respectively, and asked them to “do the right thing” and vote to sustain Hogan’s veto. Both are expected to face tough General Election challenges and represent districts Hogan has identified as part of his plan to increase Republican members in the Senate by five.
Kopp said the two senators were strong and could speak up for themselves.
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