In a politically-tinged power struggle, the Maryland General Assembly overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto Thursday and stripped away his role in awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in school construction projects.
The veto override ends a whirlwind political spat and changes a decades-old process to determine when schools across the state get built or repaired.
The state had relied on the three-member Board of Public Works to make the final decision about school construction projects. Starting in June, that power will rest with a new commission made up of appointees of the governor and top legislative leaders.
The board is composed of the governor, the comptroller and treasurer. The legislation will turn those decisions over to an expanded and reconstituted version on what is now the Interagency Committee on School Construction.
Hogan, who has contended the board’s role is vital in ensuring tax dollars are not wasted, reacted bitterly to his legislative setback in a posting on Facebook.
“They overrode this veto and have opened the door to corruption in the school construction process, and again, it will not stand. We will repeal this next session,” he said.
The Republican governor then listed the names and contact information of the 29 senators — all Democrats — who voted to override.
“Remember their names,” he told his followers.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, one of those whose names Hogan listed, said he had a cordial discussion with the governor just before the morning session. He said Hogan is a different person on social media.
“His Facebook news spew hate. They spew anger,” Miller said.
In recent years, Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, have used the Board of Public Works as a bully pulpit as they’ve questioned school officials about how they picked which projects to build.
They focused particularly on how quickly Baltimore County and Baltimore City should install air-conditioning, voting to withhold money when they did not comply with their timeline. It was an action some leading legislators viewed as overstepping their bounds.
The measure downgrading the board’s role is a small part of a much larger bill overhauling the state’s antiquated school construction process and setting a new target of $400 million a year in construction spending. Except for the part about the board, it was the bipartisan product of a two-year study by a commission established to determine how to build schools more efficiently and economically in the 21st Century.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, was a prime advocate of the provision taking school construction oversight away from the board. She has said publicly that Franchot’s handling of school construction issues have helped drive the legislature’s actions.
In addition to his push for faster air-conditioning, Franchot has openly criticized Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democratic rival, contending he has failed to act quickly enough to replace Dulaney High School and Lansdowne High School.
The comptroller’s advocacy has won him friends in those communities, but many lawmakers have expressed opposition to his intervention into the decisions made by the local elected officials who have to set spending priorities. Meanwhile, Franchot has accused lawmakers of politicizing school decisions and eliminating transparency from the process.
“Marylanders deserve and expect better from their elected officials,” Franchot said in a tweet.
Miller, who led that chamber in its 29-15 override vote, said the school construction process has become overly politicized.
“Public schools need to be based on meritocracy,” the Calvert County Democrat said.
The 29 votes to override were the minimum needed.
The House of Delegates earlier voted 90-48 to defy Hogan.
Via Baltimore Sun