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Franchot, Hogan clash over issue of police funding

Gov. Larry Hogan, left, and Comptroller Peter Franchot in 2018. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, who often have been allies on the Board of Public Works, are at sharp odds over the governor’s comments last week about police funding.

Hogan, in an announcement last week and subsequent fundraising email, described calls to defund or abolish police departments “left-wing lunacy.” Franchot, a Democrat running for governor, chastised Hogan Wednesday and pointed out the governor’s own recent cuts to public safety.

“Pouring gasoline on an already raging fire of political discord is not going to solve our crime problem or any problem for that matter,” Franchot said, speaking to Hogan during Wednesday’s board meeting. “It’s a divide-and-conquer approach that benefits politicians, not the communities we’re supposed to serve. All it does is continue the epidemic of misinformation and worsen our already toxic system. We can and should do better, governor, and we’re looking to you as our state’s chief executive to set the tone for this critically important dialogue.”

Franchot described Hogan’s approach as “a whole lot of finger-pointing and name-calling at press conferences and emails.”

Last week, the governor announced he would increase funding for law enforcement by $150 million. Hogan called the effort “re-funding the police,” a play on the controversial call to “defund” law enforcement as a reform measure following a string of high-profile national cases of police brutality and misconduct.

Franchot noted that during Hogan’s term budgets for the Maryland State Police, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and aid to local law enforcement have all increased from fiscal 2016 to the current year. Local police budgets, including Baltimore city, also saw increases, he said.

“Overall, I think it’s quite a stretch to make the claim that any jurisdiction is defunding the police,” said Franchot.

“I appreciate you pointing out all of our record funding for law enforcement and public safety over the last seven years,” Hogan responded. “I also assume that you do not agree with abolishing the police in Baltimore city.”

The comptroller pointed out public safety spending cuts made last summer at Hogan’s urging during the heart of the pandemic when a historic drop in state revenue was expected.

“Last July we voted on this board a reduction of $6.4 million to the state police budget,” said Franchot. “Same meeting, the administration proposed a separate recommendation to reduce the Department of Public Safety’s budget by $7.4 million. That wasn’t the legislature. That wasn’t the mayor of Baltimore. That was this administration’s recommendation. It’s $13.8 million taken away from state police and public safety budgets but no one was accusing anyone of defunding the police or calling actions like that lunacy. I just urge you, honestly it’s just not helpful and honestly it has to stop.”

Hogan fired back that the cuts came during a much different time and that the comptroller may be to blame for those reductions.

“That was in the middle of a state of emergency based on your false recommendations that we were going to have a $2.5 billion shortfall,” said Hogan “We had to make tough cuts in every single agency and it was voted on unanimously.

“We now are in a much different fiscal situation, which is why we’re not only restoring those funds but we’re adding to it,” the governor said.

Franchot and his agency initially forecast a $2.5 billion shortfall. Hogan enacted hiring freezes and proposed immediate cuts in the budget early in the fiscal year.

The three-member Board of Public Works approved the cuts but not unanimously. Treasurer Nancy Kopp dissented in a split vote.

Projections from the comptroller’s office ultimately did not account for the effect that federal pandemic aid had on the state economy. The $2.5 billion shortfall became a $2.5 billion surplus, with another nearly $2.5 billion projected in the current and next fiscal years.