Assembly OKs Capital Budget: Seeks to Diminish Hogan’s Role in School Construction

The General Assembly adopted a capital budget Wednesday that would cut Governor Larry Hogan out of the process of approving the state’s school construction plans.

The House of Delegates and state Senate gave final approval to revised version of the governor’s nearly $1.1 billion capital budget, which funds building projects.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

Lawmakers approved $285 million for public school construction but added a provision that eliminates the role of the Board of Public Works in reviewing the statewide spending plan approved by the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC).

That provision diminishes the role of the governor, who chairs the board that also includes the comptroller and treasurer.

Sen. Ed DeGrange, who chairs the Senate’s capital budget subcommittee, said the IAC should have the final say on how school construction funds are allocated.

“The IAC has an expertise in these projects, they review this,” the Anne Arundel County Democrat said. “This is where we’re putting our trust.”

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer called the move “absolutely outrageous.”

“We think it’s very possibly unconstitutional and could possibly be challenged in court,” Mayer said.

By removing the public works board from an oversight role on school construction, lawmakers would end any reason for holding the annual “begathon” — a winter ritual in which school and local officials from around the state appear before the board to justify their construction requests.

The legislature attempted last year to put an end to the practice, which fell out of favor under Gov. Martin O’Malley, but didn’t end the board’s oversight role. Hogan insisted that the begathon continue this year.

The governor has the power to veto line items in the capital budget, but the legislature can override those vetoes. By completing their work on the bill this week, the Assembly’s Democratic leaders have ensured they will have time to hold override votes before the session ends April 10.

The $1.065 billion capital budget exceeds Hogan’s request of $995 million by $70 million, but DeGrange said the outlay still remains within the limits set by the legislature’s Spending Affordability Committee.

Mayer criticized the increase.

“Maryland debt payments have skyrocketed over the last decade,” he said. “We’ve made good progress in the recent past and we need that to continue.”

The budget includes several big-ticket items the governor did not include in his capital proposal.

Perhaps the most controversial is $4 million toward what eventually would be a state commitment of at least $15 million to a new hotel-convention center in downtown Frederick.

Hogan had proposed cancelling authorization for the project, which Republican senators led by Frederick County’s Michael J. Hough criticized as a wasteful subsidy for a risky venture. But Sen. Ron Young, a Democrat whose district includes the city of Frederick, presented the project as a catalyst for economic development.

Lawmakers also added $8 million toward a $60 million renovation of Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, and $5 million for environmental cleanup at the old Rosewood Center in Baltimore County.

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