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Hogan, new legislative leaders debate education funding

Hogan Annapolis Summit 2020

Gov. Larry Hogan spoke at the Annapolis Summit Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, hours before the Maryland General Assembly opened the 2020 session. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

ANNAPOLIS — Just hours before the opening of the 2020 Maryland General Assembly session, Gov. Larry Hogan set the stage for a showdown with the legislature’s new leaders over their proposed $4 billion-per-year program to improve public school education in the state.

“Increasing education in Maryland we all agree on,” Hogan said Wednesday morning. “There is no formula for where the money comes from. It’s all make-believe at this point.”

Hogan, a Republican governor facing a Democratic-controlled legislature, said the Kirwan Commission education reform proposal has a total price tag of $33 billion.

“I am anxious to hear and anxious to work with the leaders of both houses,” Hogan said at the annual Annapolis Summit session sponsored by The Daily Record. Hogan and the legislative leadership — House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, and incoming Senate President William “Bill” Ferguson, D-Baltimore — participated in two question-and-answer sessions

The governor wondered aloud how that money can be raised without significant tax increases, which Jones and Ferguson said they are loath to press for.

“Where is the $33 billion going to come from?” Hogan asked. “What (programs) are we going to cut? The money is not magical money.”

Hogan added that he is “concerned not just (about) how much we spend, but how do we get better results? How do we get better results in Baltimore city? How do we give those kids the education they deserve?”

House Speaker Adrienne Jones and incoming Senate President William "Bill" Ferguson take questions on Jan. 8, 2020, during the Annapolis Summit. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

House Speaker Adrienne Jones and incoming Senate President William “Bill” Ferguson take questions on Jan. 8, 2020, during the Annapolis Summit. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

During their interview session Wednesday morning, Ferguson and Jones offered few specifics on how additional funds would be raised but stressed the importance of education for Maryland’s economic health in the future. They said discussion of funding mechanisms will be a major part of the reform debate this session.

“The cost of doing nothing is something the state of Maryland cannot bear,” Ferguson said. “This (education reform) is how we define our future. We have to be creative. We can do what we need to do to prepare our state for the 21st century.”

Jones said a review of existing and proposed tax credits would be part of the funding discussion.

“They are our future,” Jones said of public school students. “It doesn’t matter where their ZIP code is located. We cannot let the children fail.”

Hogan said the No. 1 issue in the state is crime, in particular the wave of violence that has swept through Baltimore in the last five years.

“Baltimore city is one of the most dangerous cities in the world,” Hogan said. “We have to do something immediately to stop people from being killed and shot on the streets of Baltimore city.”

Hogan said that while long-term solutions — job training, mental health treatment, prisoner re-entry counseling — are important, the most pressing need is ending the deadly violence. He has proposed legislation that would require stiffer sentencing for violent offenders and programs to combat witness intimidation and to enhance judicial transparency.

“If the legislature does nothing else in the next 90 days, they need to pass our crime package,” Hogan said.

The 90-day legislative session will play out in a General Assembly under new management.

The death of former House Speaker Michael Busch and the decision of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. not to seek re-election to a position he has held for more than three decades will likely have profound effects on how business is conducted. Miller will still serve as a senator.

Many questions remain to be answered, including: How will Jones handle the politics of the job? Will she and Ferguson move their respective chambers more to the left? How does Baltimore fare under presiding officers from the region? And how do other larger jurisdictions preserve their places at the table?

Hogan also was asked about a recent story in the Washington Monthly that reported on transportation projects approved by the Hogan administration that benefited his real estate development company’s projects and that questioned the governor’s ongoing role in his company’s operations.

Hogan said the state’s ethics commission had reviewed and guided how he handles the issue of disclosure. Hogan said he had been “completely transparent” about his holdings and had released his tax returns in that spirit.

On Route 5 improvements in southern Maryland, which had been one of the focuses of the article, Hogan said the project enjoyed overwhelming support from local political leaders in both parties and had been on the planning boards for years.

Asked whether they thought Hogan’s handling of his businesses while governor should be investigated, Jones and Ferguson indicated that legislative committees plan to examine those issues, though both appeared reluctant to offer any further comment.

Any legislative scrutiny of the governor’s businesses and financial disclosure reports would come at a time when Hogan has proposed tougher ethics rules for state legislators, citing what he calls a pervasive “culture of corruption” manifested by a string of recent indictments of former state lawmakers.

On another issue, the new legislative leaders expressed a strong desire to reach a settlement to the years-long litigation alleging that Maryland has engaged in racial segregation in higher education by allowing traditionally white schools to duplicate programs that had been unique to the state’s historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.

The state had maintained unsuccessfully in court that its colleges had fully been integrated and objected to proposed remedies that would spread programming among schools. Settlement talks between the state and the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education have stalled in the absence of a legislative solution.

Jones, in voicing strong support for the coalition’s position, called an out-of-court settlement essential because she said she fears the coalition’s equal rights argument might fail in the U.S. Supreme Court if the case is appealed.

Maryland’s four HBCUs are Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.