Gov. Larry Hogan has waved the no-tax flag in front of his base at the Maryland Association of Counties beach blast in Ocean City. Assembly Democrats are digging in for a fight to improve the state's schools in spite of Hogan's resistance.
/By Woody Woodruff/PM BlogSpace report/ If you pick your audience, you can get the response you want. Gov. Larry Hogan followed that rule and waved the threat of higher taxes and spending in front of the public officials representing Maryland’s county governments at the Maryland Association of Counties lobbyfest in Ocean City last weekend. “Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) issued dire warnings Saturday about the prohibitive cost of proposed education reform in Maryland, vowing to oppose any measures that would result in higher taxes or budget deficits,” Maryland Matters reported.
He was talking to his base. Though Dems picked off some GOP-leaning county exec seats in 2019, more than two-thirds of the state’s 23 counties, MaCo’s members, are run by the GOP and in deep-Red territory in Western Maryland or the Eastern Shore.
This is the Larry Hogan, of course, who submitted a budget in deficit for the 2019 session. The Assembly reduced the deficit but torched the Guv by fencing off some revenue for spending only on their favorite projects, which he had ignored in his budget. Hogan, in turn, is refusing to release those restricted funds.
But it’s no accident that he chose that sympathetic crowd to wave the no-tax banner at the close of the MaCo beachfest, “where how to pay for the recommendations of the so-called Kirwan Commission to boost public education has been a hot topic,” Maryland Matters reported. “Hogan faulted the legislature for advancing “well-meaning but half-baked, fiscally irresponsible” proposals that could bankrupt the state” and promoted some quite wild estimates of what funding Kirwan could do to Maryland’s (actually quite regressive) tax structure.
Battle lines were drawn, perhaps more starkly than Democrats expected.
On the Monday morning after the MaCo summer conference, Democrats told the Baltimore Sun that they weren’t cowed by Hogan’s vow to fight against new taxes or deficits. The Dems vowed to move forward with finding funding for an overhaul to make Maryland schools ‘world class,’ rejecting [Hogan’s] remarks to county officials that raised the specter of massive tax increases to pay for the plan’s goals.”
The Sun quoted Del Eric Leudtke of MoCo: “It’s clearly fear-mongering. …We’re one of the richest states in the country and we can afford to do right by our kids. And it isn’t going to require a $6,000 tax per person [as Hogan claimed].”
Maryland Matters quoted State Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s) on Hogan’s “political talking points.” Hogan is “not going to take any leadership on [Kirwan’s proposals],” Rosapepe said. “That’s not news.” Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) said Hogan’s remarks were “not surprising…. He doesn’t say anything about whether or not Kirwan is needed – nothing about the substance of the proposal, other than we don’t have the money… It’s a nihilistic approach to government: I don’t have the money, therefore the problem doesn’t exist. It’s frustrating,” the Maryland Matters account said.
The Democrats were, and are, girding for a tough fight in which all of their caucus is not 100 percent on board for full funding of the Kirwan proposals. But the unkept promise of the Thornton Commission – achievement of equal and remedial funding for Maryland’s range of well-off and poor school districts – was abandoned during the 2008 recession. The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — nicknamed the Kirwan commission after its chairman, former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan. – was empaneled almost two years ago and did a bottom-up review of the state’s conduct and support of its secondary schools.
The collapse of the Thornton plan of a decade ago for revenue reasons has meant the Kirwan commission is tasked with planning the way to pay for the improvements in an era when Hogan’s tax-averse rhetoric has proved to have superficial electoral appeal.
The tax structure in Maryland has already come under tough scrutiny from the Maryland Center on Economic Policy in a report published at the beginning of the 2019 Assembly session. New House Speaker Adrienne Jones has, likewise, declared her intent to review all of the state’s many tax breaks on the premise that significant revenue can be recovered.
As the MCEP report suggested, lots of revenue has already been given away to potentially non-needy recipients who have the advantage of being able to afford the services of Maryland’s high-priced lobby firms.
As Kirwan said in June, the dirty little secret is that Maryland’s schools, about which many are complacent, are nowhere near as good as many Marylanders have been led to believe they are – and that’s just compared to schools overall in the US, which fall well short of competitiveness when set up against school systems in other advanced nations.
And after the MaCo attack from Hogan, Kirwan noted in a Sun interview that “Compared to other states in the nation… studies have shown Maryland is near the bottom for the amount of its gross domestic product spent on education.”
In the same Sun article, “Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, called Hogan’s comments “disappointing.”
“McIntosh said more than half of the state’s African-American students attend schools that are underfunded, while fewer than 10% of white students attend underfunded schools.”
It was that finding – no secret to many – that led the Kirwan commission to recommend significant funding increases for high-poverty schools in every jurisdiction, in the form of a “community school” initiative. Progressive Maryland has joined a coalition of activist groups – in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and eventually in others – called the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools (AROS) to make sure that community schools, with their wraparound services and efforts to make sure students enter the school door ready to learn, are fully implemented and not nickel-and-dimed by local authorities.