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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Governor Hogan Wants To Do What?

Last week Governor Hogan caused a big stir in MD politics when he announced that he was moving ahead with a plan to reopen the Annapolis State Police Barracks and add 100 officers - even though the General assembly never considered, let alone approved, his supplemental budget request to do both.

Hogan announced that he would pay for the initiative by line item vetoing a $2 million earmark in the Capital Budget that was supposed to finance improvements at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. A Hogan spokesperson said of the plan "This demonstrates Governor Hogan’s overall commitment to general savings for Maryland taxpayers..."

The decision represents quite a few things, but a commitment to cost savings clearly ain't one of them. This audacious proposal has so many problems that one really needs to question just who has been advising the Governor.

Consider - during the legislative session, the Governor sent the Assembly a supplemental budget for the State's Operating Budget (which funds day-day operations of the state) requesting $8 million to reopen the Annapolis Barracks and hire 100 new troopers. House Speaker Michael Busch did not brings the supplemental to the floor for consideration.  Hogan is now proposing to delete $2 million in spending approved in the Capital Budget (which funds construction and infrastructure) so that he can use those funds to move forward with the barracks reopening and the new hires.

In only three sentences, the prior paragraph has laid out multiple problems in Hogan's plan. Consider first the question of math. Hogan estimated the cost of reopening the barracks and hiring the troopers to be roughly $8.2 million. He now plans to pay for the $8.2 million plan via the cancellation of a $2 million project. I'm not quite clear how a cost deficit of $6.2 million demonstrates an "overall commitment to general savings."  But the issue of cost is actually not the biggest problem with the proposal. As Governor, Hogan has the authority to strike an item from the Capital Budget. But he cannot then take that money and spend it something not already in the Capital Budget. Nor can he - as is the crucial point here - take money allocated in the Capital Budget and transfer it to the Operating Budget. Which is exactly what he would need to do in order to fulfill his plan. Oh, and he can't spend money in the Operating Budget that wasn't authorized by the Operating Budget - so he can't add money to the authorized budget for the state police.

So Governor Hogan wants to transfer $2 million out of the Capital Budget and into the Operating Budget (which he can't do) in order to fund an $8 million program (which $2 million can't do). So unless the Governor's advisors have discovered a previously unknown section of the Maryland constitution this plan is going nowhere and may prove to be the most significant unforced error yet committed by this young administration.

So if the $2 million can't really be used to pay for the barracks and the officers what else could be the motivation for the plan? The likely answer is very disturbing and very unfortunate. The Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is in Speaker Michael Busch's district and the Speaker has been a tremendous benefactor over the years. Hogan has made clear that he is unhappy with Busch. Hogan blames Busch for the agenda failures he endured during the legislative session and called Busch "petulant" for refusing to allow consideration of Hogan's supplemental budget proposals. By claiming $2 million in savings from an earmark that is insufficient to fund the barracks and unavailable to the Operating Budget, Hogan did little more than take a figurative swing at Speaker Busch (a man without whom Hogan can never achieve his legislative goals). What a ridiculous motivation.

I admit to being generally supportive of Governor Hogan and I have (justifiably) defended his actions on many occasions. But this bizarre proposal is simply beyond my comprehension. If the Governor has some larger plan or some clear legal guidance that would better explain how the $2 million for the Capital Budget can have any impact on his plans via the Operating Budget then he owes it to everyone in the state to release that information as soon as possible. But if he is moving forward with this based solely on the idea that saving $2 million from the Capital Budget would produce general savings to the state in order to offset new spending that he is not authorized to spend, all in an effort to hurt Speaker Busch, then I'm left with the quote from the esurance commercials so aptly applied to this situation by Bryan Sears of the Daily Record - that's not how any of this works. And It's certainly not what voters were looking for when the rejected politics as usual last November.