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Democrats pressure Hogan for tax pledge to pay for education improvements

Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association (right) and Sens. Paul Pinsky and Will Smith, Democrats from Prince George's and Montgomery Counties respectively, call on Hogan to back funding billions in forthcoming education recommendations including possibly raising taxes. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association (right), and Sens. Paul Pinsky and Will Smith, Democrats from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties respectively, call on Gov. Larry Hogan to back funding billions in forthcoming education recommendations, including possibly raising taxes. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

OCEAN CITY — Surrogates for Democratic gubernatorial challenger Ben Jealous called on Gov. Larry Hogan to commit to fully funding potentially billions for an as-yet-unwritten plan to improve education in Maryland.

The demand Saturday from Democratic lawmakers and teachers’ union officials comes as Jealous skipped the annual Maryland Association of Counties’ convention for campaign stops at Lexington Market in Baltimore and in Frederick.

“Is he committed to the Kirwan Commission and underwriting the costs for it?” asked Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, of Hogan. “Now that might imply raising new money to pay for it. Where is he on that?”

Pinsky said the forthcoming recommendations expected before the end of the year “will be transformative” for the state’s public education system.

“It’s going to cost,” said Pinsky. “You can’t get something for nothing.”

“I understand we don’t want to require someone to sign a blank check,” he added, “but are they willing to raise revenue, significant revenue, even if it’s much more modest, and commit to that today.”

Pinsky made his comments hours before Hogan was set to deliver closing remarks to the annual convention on the Eastern Shore that was meant to be a forum with Jealous.

Democrats supportive of Jealous are hoping to turn the tide on a two-week period of bad news for Jealous that included a highly-publicized cursing incident and an independent poll putting him 16 points behind a first-term Republican in a state where Democrats hold a 2-1 voter registration advantage. The focus on education was a pressure point highlighted in a 1,400-page opposition report on Hogan commissioned by the Democratic Governors Association.

“We’re going to listen to the governor, but we feel we’re going to hear the same old sound bites that he has said but no real commitment to improving public education here for our students,” said Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education, the state’s largest teachers’ union, which has endorsed Jealous.

Amelia Chassé, a Hogan spokeswoman, said Hogan has committed to paying for early recommendations by the Kirwan Commission.

“The Kirwan Commission hasn’t come out with final recommendations,” said Chassé. “He will review them when they come out.”

Hogan ran on an anti-tax platform in 2014 and has repeatedly expressed his opposition to new taxes.

Pinsky and others acknowledged the Kirwan report “is not fully formed.” Even the final tally on costs are unknown. Some with the association of counties worry the final plan, fully loaded with universal all-day kindergarten and other aspirations, could balloon from a widely repeated $2.9 billion price tag to as much as $4 billion — two or three times higher than the Thornton education funding plan enacted in 2002.

“Not everyone agrees with every proposal Ben Jealous is putting out, but he’s putting forward a vision to pay for Kirwan,” said Pinsky. “He’s committed to it.”

Jealous’ plan, announced in May and available on his website, clearly expresses support for the coming Kirwan recommendations and for increasing teacher’s salaries by 29 percent. The 13-page white paper is thinner when it comes to paying for the recommendations. Jealous proposes paying for expanded pre-kindergarten through a “pot for tots” plan and with taxes from the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Former Del. Heather Mizeur proposed a similar plan during her unsuccessful 2014 primary campaign for governor. The proposal raised questions about whether the revenues would ultimately cover expanded pre-kindergarten once it is fully implemented.

Pinsky said he had his own ideas on how to pay for some of the Kirwan recommendations and said the legislature would likely weigh in. He declined to elaborate on his funding ideas.

“Our charge is to come up with a new funding formula and a proposal to transform our schools,” said Pinsky, who also serves on the Kirwan Commission. “The commission was not given the charge to come up with how to pay for it.”

Similarly, Pinsky said, Hogan has yet to say how he would pay for his desire to expand free college tuition at community colleges to public four-year institutions in the state.

“I think when he speaks he has to be held accountable to the voters of Maryland,” said Pinsky.

Jealous’ absence at MACo gave Hogan an opportunity to take a 17-minute victory lap recounting to county officials highlights of his last three years rather than answer a set of identical questions posed to both candidates. He offered no new policy initiatives as he has in the past at such forums.

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