Md. governor’s proposal would ensure casino money funds school construction, instruction

In this Feb. 1, 2017 file photo, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Maryland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a new education spending plan that he says would deliver on a promise made when Maryland passed legislation allowing gaming in the state a decade ago.

At a news conference at the State House in Annapolis, Hogan described his “Commitment to Education Act of 2018.” He said the bill would add $4.4 billion to public education spending over the next 10 years.

Hogan said his bill will create an education “lockbox” and make sure that revenues from casinos — money intended for education — could not be siphoned off for other purposes.

Hogan added that under his proposal, the first 20 percent of casino revenues would go toward school construction and an additional $100 million would go to K-12 operational spending.

Last month, Democratic lawmakers — including House Speaker Michael Busch — announced their own education funding bill, saying it would create a lockbox and fulfill the promise of using revenues from the state’s casinos to fund schools.

Hogan says unlike the Democratic proposal, his bill wouldn’t require a referendum.

“The voters need to get what they were promised,” he said, noting that his proposal, if passed, would take effect once signed into law.

Asked if failing to hold a referendum to get a constitutional amendment would render his bill a lockbox in name only, Hogan told reporters, “Yes, some future legislature and future governor could pass a new law saying we’re not going to fund education, but I think that’s an unlikely occurrence.”

Hogan appeared at the news conference with his Budget Secretary David Brinkley and Comptroller Peter Franchot. As he referred questions to Franchot, who sits on the three-member Board of Public Works alongside the governor, Hogan joked: “It’s Happy Valentine’s Day! My bromance with the comptroller is well known.”

Franchot, who’s joined Hogan in grilling Baltimore County and Baltimore City officials over school construction funding when they came before the Board of Public Works, said he had long been skeptical of using casino money to fund schools. But he called Hogan’s bill “a great proposal.”

Franchot said Hogan’s proposal is “long overdue.” Making reference to the lack of air conditioning in Baltimore County schools and a lack of heat in many Baltimore City schools, Franchot said: “That is simply unacceptable. And this legislation will supply the much-needed and long-overdue funds to support these critical capital improvement programs.”

“The fact of the matter is that this is a direction we took about a month ago,” said House Speaker Busch when asked about Hogan’s proposal.

Busch was referring to the legislation that he supported — and that was announced at a news conference on Jan. 30 — that would call for a referendum in order to wall off casino money for education spending. The Democrats, in announcing their bill, referred to that as creating a “lockbox.”

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the referendum on education spending is a necessary part of guaranteeing that education money actually makes it to the classroom.

“Put it on the ballot, let the voters lock it through a Constitutional amendment,” McIntosh said. “And that way, the legislature can’t change it, the governor can’t change it — only the people of Maryland can change it.”

Wednesday evening, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker issued a statement in response to Hogan’s proposal.

“Governor Hogan could have locked this fund three years ago, but has chosen not to until now. This appears to be yet another example of Governor Hogan playing election year politics. Our students, parents, and teachers are counting on this funding without any political games.”

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