By Katherine Brzozowski
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS — Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would strip the state’s Board of Public Works of its power to oversee school construction funding, and was particularly aimed to take power away from Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat.
Last week, Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore) added amendments to House Bill 1783, which provides at least $400 million for public school construction annually, including $10 million for school safety improvements, according to state documents.
The amendment streamlines the state approval process for school construction projects, stripping it from the three-member Board of Public Works and putting it in the hands of the public Interagency Commission on School Construction.
If passed, the bill would go into effect June 1.
Five members of the new commission would be named by Hogan, and Democrats Speaker of the House Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller would each appoint two, according to the bill.
McIntosh told Capital News Service last week that the amendment is a direct reaction to what she believes is Franchot’s meddling in local matters, including heating and cooling issues in some schools.
Hogan criticized the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for approving the measure without a public hearing on the amended version of the bill.
“The fact that the legislature would choose now to corrupt a process that has worked effectively and delivered transparency, accountability, and oversight on these expenditures for 50 years, is simply outrageous,” Hogan said at a March 28 board meeting.
“Their stated purpose is simply that it’s politics and it’s a personal vendetta against my colleague, the comptroller,” Hogan said.
Miller (D-Prince George’s, Calvert and Charles counties) said this bill isn’t about straight politics: “It’s about schools being built where schools are supposed to be built, based on the merits of the schools and not based upon the whim and the caprice of elected officials.”
In the past, some public officials have been critical of what has become known as a “beg-a-thon,” where local school officials come before the board to justify their requests for construction funding from the state.
“Educators are professional people. They shouldn’t have to come down here on hands and knees begging… I think the comptroller is a tax collector,” Miller said Wednesday. “He should not be making decisions on schools that the Board of Education and county council and county executive working with the superintendent of schools have made.”
Franchot, for some time, has made clear his displeasure at a lack of adequate heating and air conditioning at some schools, particularly in Baltimore County. He is a Democrat and a former legislator who often agrees with Hogan on fiscal policy, drawing the ire of some lawmakers in his party.
Hogan called House Bill 1783 an “unmitigated disaster” before vetoing it during his opening remarks at Wednesday’s board meeting. He was joined by Franchot, who drew a signature line for himself on the bill, and endorsed the veto with his signature “for the people.”
Franchot’s signature is not necessary for the veto to be recognized.
Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a Democrat, declined to sign and said that in recent years the board has been used as a platform for “political theater.”
Though she says the board’s current system could work well, it has been slipping toward “political corruption” in recent years.
“A new system that is accountable and transparent and professional could turn out to be a very good thing,” Kopp said. “The governor will have as strong or stronger input into the new (commission) system if approved, because he will be appointing more than half of the members.”
McIntosh said what her committee did “was actually very substantive and the right policy,” and only had one word to describe the veto, signed by the governor and the comptroller: “Theater.”
“We take public school construction and the needs of our local schools a lot more seriously than that,” McIntosh told Capital News Service on Wednesday.
The bill will next go back to the House of Delegates, and if that chamber overrides it, it will then go to the Senate, where Miller said he expected the body would override it. A three-fifths majority in each chamber is needed to override a veto.
Time is tight: The legislature is scheduled to come to a close on Monday night.
Capital News Service correspondent Layne Litsinger contributed to this report.