At some point in this legislative session, I expected Gov. Larry Hogan to put pressure on state Sen. Jim Mathias to align with him on an important matter. It seemed logical for the Republican governor to do so considering he wants to see Mathias, a Democrat, bumped out of office by Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, a Republican, to eliminate the legislature’s veto override ability. What I didn’t expect was for Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot to also put pressure on Mathias.
Hogan, Franchot (a Democrat) and the Maryland Republican Party have gone after Mathias hard on his support of legislation calling for a policy change in the way school construction projects are reviewed and approved at the state level. The legislation approved and then vetoed by the governor calls for a new and larger commission be created to hear all school construction matters. Currently, the three-person Board of Public Works has the final say on major school construction projects. The new legislation eliminates the comptroller from the discussion.
On his Facebook page, Hogan said this week, “Today, I vetoed legislation that would give political appointees and lobbyists control of billions of dollars in school construction funding. This tone-deaf, partisan bill was one of the most outrageous and irresponsible actions ever taken by the Maryland General Assembly; it was passed at the last minute, in secret and was rammed through with no hearings, no public input, and no notice in smoke-filled back rooms. This legislation was passed by 29 senators, three of whom we had high hopes would not bow to political pressure from the Senate President, but they folded. However, Senator Jim Mathias, Senator Kathy Klausmeier, and Senator Ron Young have a chance to redeem themselves and prove that they serve their constituents and not their short-sighted political agenda. Call them and tell them that you’re watching yet again, and you WILL hold them accountable for the choice they make during the veto override vote.”
The legislators did not change their vote and the veto was overridden by a 90-48 vote.
In a Delmarva Public Radio interview Thursday, Mathias defended his position.
“I actually think it’s a good bill and a good move,” Mathias said. “This brings more engagement and more oversight to what our school facilities are going to be. Currently it’s the Board of Public Works that has three members – governor, comptroller and state treasurer. This board would now be expanded to nine members of which the governor or whoever he or she may be has five appointment slots. The governor still maintains control in that regard and what it adds is the people. The governor has an oversized role here with five representatives. The Senate president is able to appoint two citizens and the [House] speaker adding two.”.
Regarding the backroom politics accusations, Mathias said it’s untrue, pointing to the new commission having to operate under Open Meetings laws.
“This didn’t happen with one amendment. It has been going on for two years. This change was anticipated. This bill codifies recommended changes by a commission,” Mathias said. “I don’t have a quarrel with the three leaders there [on the Board of Public Works]. I am refraining from this political tension. This political tension has been there for quite some time … Let’s be honest there’s always tension where there’s authority and when there’s consolidated decision making. There was tension going back to Governor O’Malley. Sure there’s tension … we need to be focused on school safety, focused on 21st century schools not focused on micromanaging a certain district’s what they have and don’t have. The tension has been there, it’s been ongoing. Now is the time we are making policy changes to school construction … now is the time to make these changes after years of discussion by these commissions.”
For her part, Carozza, who was endorsed by Hogan at her campaign announcement event, testified on the House floor to sustain the veto.
“This has not been a fair process,” said Carozza. “This is a major government change that we’re moving forward with without public hearings and a public process. Because of that, I cannot support this bill and I will be voting to sustain this veto.”
It was really just about the start date.
That much is clear now since Gov. Larry Hogan did not oppose legislation granting school systems flexibility when it comes to wrapping up their school calendar years.
Hogan’s mandate about school starting after Labor Day across Maryland included a provision that school be done by June 15. The legislation approved this week eliminates the June 15 mandate, allowing school systems to add as many as five days to the school year if weather is uncooperative.
The legislature is expected to approve this bill as emergency legislation so it goes into effect immediately.