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Hogan vetoes Kirwan, HBCU, tax bills

Bryan P. Sears//May 7, 2020

Hogan vetoes Kirwan, HBCU, tax bills

By Bryan P. Sears

//May 7, 2020

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks during a news conference on April 24, 2020 in Annapolis. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)
Gov. Larry Hogan speaks during a news conference April 24 in Annapolis. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday announced he had vetoed more than two dozen bills, including a measure that would have massively expanded education funding, tax increases to pay for that plan and a measure to end a long-running legal dispute between the state and its historically black colleges and universities.

Hogan was required to decide the fate of more than 600 bills by the end of the day. In all, just 25 of more than 680 bills were vetoed because of concerns expressed by Hogan. Five more were vetoed because they were duplicative.

By far the most significant veto was that of the Kirwan Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which when fully phased in would have boosted education spending by almost $4 billion a year and which had been the top priority of Democratic legislative leaders last session.

The vetoes follow through on a threat by Hogan, a second-term Republican, to block bills that had significant spending requirements in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that shortened the 2020 General Assembly session by 19 days. The governor also has repeatedly objected to and vowed to veto tax proposals.

All of Hogan’s actions were announced via a statement Thursday afternoon.

Hogan said the legislature passed a number of “bills worthy of consideration” but added that the COVID-19 virus “caused sudden and unprecedented economic turmoil.” The effect, he said, are potentially worse than anything seen in nearly a century.

“The economic fallout from this pandemic simply makes it impossible to fund any new programs, impose any new tax hikes, nor adopt any legislation having any significant fiscal impact, regardless of the merits of the legislation,” Hogan wrote in a veto letter to House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson.

Jones, Ferguson and other supporters of the Kirwan plan were quick to express disappointment in Hogan’s vetoes.

“While we are in the midst of a public health and economic crisis of an extraordinary magnitude, stopping progress on education and school construction puts us even further behind,” Jones said in a statement. “We know that there are students across this State that are losing millions of hours of learning. The result of this short-sighted action is Maryland will continue to graduate students that are not ready for the real world.”

Ferguson, in his statement, decried the veto saying that the legislature had taken steps to ensure the state would emerge from the pandemic in a stronger position.

“The governor had a choice today to reject traditional politics and work together to adjust shared visions and build a strong future after this crisis,” Ferguson said. “Instead, he chose to foreclose hope, leaving Maryland families and historically black colleges and universities with an open question for the future.”

Both legislative leaders said they would consider the next steps. Lawmakers were initially expected to return for a special session at the end of the month but that has been canceled because of the pandemic. It is unclear if the General Assembly will meet before January.

Lawmakers had hoped Hogan would allow the bill to become law after they added triggers that would halt spending if revenues dropped severely.

“I am very disappointed in Governor Hogan’s decision to veto the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, especially since the legislature had the foresight to suspend funding for it during the kind of fiscal downturn we are experiencing at the moment,” said William “Brit” Kirwan, who chaired the education commission. “As funding permits, this legislation is designed to close Maryland’s achievement gaps and provide world-class schools for every student in the state. If anything, the disparate impact of COVID-19 on low income and minority communities only reinforces the need and moral imperative for the provisions in the bill.  The governor’s decision is especially unfortunate because the bill contains no cost actions that could begin to make a difference in the quality of education our children receive.”

Also included in the bills rejected by the governor was a measure that would have provided $577 million over a decade to the state’s HBCUs. The funding was to settle a long-running lawsuit brought against the state in 2006.

The governor rejected legislation that would have provided $5.5 million in funding over five years to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which has struggled financially and stopped performing during a contract dispute with musicians last year.

Hogan also vetoed increased taxes on tobacco and e-cigarettes, a tax on online advertising and a tax on digital products such as books, music, movies and games.

Lawmakers said the tax proposals would generate nearly $350 million a year. They hoped to avoid a veto by dedicating a portion of the money in the first year to help pay for the response to the COVID-19 virus.

Hogan also vetoed bills that would have $3 million annually for additional crime-fighting measures for Baltimore City and legislation requiring background checks for purchases of long guns and rifles similar to those required for the purchase of a handgun.

Also vetoed was legislation imposing a fee that would be used to fund the state’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board.

But not all bills with large price tags were rejected.

Hogan allowed to become law a deal to redevelop Pimlico Race Course as well as a $2.2 billion plan to pay for nearly every school renovation or construction project in the state.



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