The Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly are going out of their way to politicize all the things these days, especially when it comes to education:
Sweeping changes to how state school construction funding is approved would take power and the bully pulpit away from the governor and comptroller under a bill being considered in the House of Delegates.
Changes to a bill meant to streamline and modernize a sometimes labyrinthine process by which the state Interagency Committee approves and funds hundreds of millions of dollars of construction projects statewide suddenly turned political, according to some. The Democratic chair of the House Appropriations agrees but said it’s in response to a member of her own party – Comptroller Peter Franchot.
“We didn’t make this political,” said Del. Maggie McIntosh, the committee chair. “The comptroller made it political. We’re trying to take the politics out of the process.”
It’s always easy to decide which side made things political because it’s usually the side that starts off with “We didn’t make this political.”
The real meat of the changes, of course, transfers power from the Board of Public Works to a committee beholden to Legislative Leadership:
But Tuesday, McIntosh presented sweeping changes not covered in the Knott Commission report, including removing all authority oversight on school construction funding by the Board of Public Works, a three-member panel that includes Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Franchot and [State Treasurer Nancy] Kopp.
The Interagency Committee on School Construction would be renamed as the Interagency Commission and be made fully independent of the Board of Public Works, which created the five-member panel in the early 1970s when then-Gov. Marvin Mandel created a system of state aid for school construction and renovations.
The Democratic leadership in the General Assembly is acting out at this point. Why? Because the Democratic Party has shown itself to be incapable of positive leadership when it comes to schools.
Remember, this is the same Democratic Caucus that just last week rejected Governor Hogan’s school security measures. And why did they do that? No reason, just politics.
There’s a perfectly good reason as to why the Board of Public Works is involved in school construction dollars, and it has to do with the role of the Board of Public Works itself. The Board is required to approve expenditures above a certain threshold. School construction dollars that are augmented by the state of Maryland all flow to projects that would naturally be above this threshold. BPW has the capability of outsourcing some of this legwork to the Interagency Committee because it works under the auspices of BPW. BPW is still required to approve these school expenditures due to the cost of the projects being discussed.
What the General Assembly is ultimately trying to do is to circumvent the State Constitution by vesting that power in another entity. This power grab is, like most of their power grabs, unconstitutional.
That the General Assembly, and not just the General Assembly but legislative leadership, is taking such bold steps to circumvent the Constitution and to politicize school construction is very telling. It says that the Democrats realize how much they have failed the people of Maryland when it comes to school construction (look no further than Baltimore County and Prince George’s County for that).
It says that legislative leadership does not respect the role of the executive branch. They push back on Governor Hogan and Comptroller Franchot any time they challenge the General Assembly on anything
Finally, it says that Democrats realize that the 2018 gubernatorial election is looking bleak for them. Democrats never want to take power away from the office of the Governor when they believe that a fellow Democrat will be occupying it. The notoriously weak Democratic field gives the Democratic leadership no reason to think that Governor Larry Hogan won’t be re-elected this fall.
McIntosh and the rest of the General Assembly leadership is trying to get Governor Hogan to veto this legislation and try to give them a wedge issue for the campaign, somewhat of a political hail mary for this fall’s election. And Governor Hogan very likely will veto the legislation. But if the Democrats in the General Assembly are really thinking that a veto is going to help them politically, they can think again. The public will understand very quickly that the Governor wanted to sign the legislation but the Democrats unconstitutional attempt at a power grab to diminish the influence of their elected officials for nakedly partisan reasons. The people aren’t going to buy what the Democrats are selling.
When it comes to education and when it comes to the State Constitution, the Democrats show that nothing’s sacred for them.