Instead of going before the three-member Board of Public Works, in what local school officials often referred to as a “beg-a-thon,” decisions on school construction spending will be made by a commission that comprises appointees selected by the governor, the House speaker and the Senate president.
Opponents of the bill said that while the legislation contained some needed reforms on how decisions regarding school construction are made, they said that stripping the Board of Public Works of its authority was a naked attempt to deny input from Comptroller Peter Franchot.
As a member of the Board of Public Works, Franchot has worked alongside Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Treasurer Nancy Kopp. Franchot, a Democrat, and Hogan, a Republican, have taken school officials to task over spending priorities in recent years, in particular singling out Baltimore County for scrutiny over the lack of air conditioning in schools.
Hogan and Franchot said taking control from the Board of Public Works and giving it to a commission of appointees removes transparency from the process and makes it less accountable to the public.
During the debate on the bill Thursday, state Sen. Justin Ready, a Republican, said the bill had some positive features, but that removing the Board of Public Works from the process “smells funny to people.”
He told his colleagues, “We’re taking away an important part of transparency and accountability that we’ve come to rely on in this state.”
Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat, supported the bill, saying the current structure of determining funding is “broken.”
Speaking in favor of the legislation, Ferguson recounted a time when he helped his wife, a teacher, shovel snow from the inside of her classroom, where it had piled up during a storm because one of the windows wouldn’t shut.
“Where was the BPW then?” Ferguson asked, referring to the three-member board.
The bill passed on a 29-14 vote. Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, who offered his resignation before pleading guilty to wire fraud Thursday morning, was not present for that vote.
When the Board of Public Works met Wednesday morning, Hogan called the provision to strip the board of its authority “simply outrageous.” At the same meeting, Franchot said it was “utterly shameful” that the legislature would “hijack” the process.
Hogan has indicated he would veto the legislation.