ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Maryland Democratic leaders on Monday called on Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to restore about $68 million in education funding, saying the state's revenues have turned out better than expected with a $520 million working surplus this fiscal year.
House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the surplus means it's wrong for the governor to refuse to spend $68 million that lawmakers set aside in the last legislative session to fully fund an education funding formula that steers more money to parts of the state where education costs more.
"We're asking the governor to take the money that's already been appropriated by the Maryland General Assembly, release it to the school systems, let them use it in the classroom, make sure the resources are there for every child in the state of Maryland," Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said.
Miller said while he considers the governor a friend, he was standing against Hogan's position not to spend the money.
"It's up to the governor to do his part," said Miller, D-Calvert. "Give the money back to the kids."
Hogan, who campaigned on bringing greater fiscal responsibility to the state capital and pursuing tax cuts, showed no signs of budging. Doug Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, said Maryland faces deficits in future years.
"Now is not the time to abandon common sense," Mayer said. "As both Senate President Miller and Speaker Busch know, Maryland is still facing a nearly $1 billion cumulative deficit over the next five years."
Mayer also noted billions of dollars in unfunded state pension liabilities that the governor wants to work harder to address.
"Despite these obvious financial constraints, this administration funded education at record levels this past year, and it will remain a top priority going forward," Mayer said.
Sen. Richard Madaleno said the decision not to fully fund the formula has resulted in school employee layoffs in large jurisdictions like Montgomery County and the city of Baltimore.
"You know, Gov. Hogan, Halloween is over, and stop trying to trick the people of the state of Maryland into believing we don't have the funds," said Madaleno, D-Montgomery.
Debate over whether to fully fund the funding formula known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index was one of the biggest points of contention in the last legislative session. It has been a discretionary part of the state aid formulas that provides added funding to local school systems where costs are above the state average. It had been fully funded each year since fiscal year 2010.
Facing a state budget deficit on entering office in January, Hogan funded the GCEI halfway, allocating about $68 million instead of $136 million. Aides to the governor point out that he is the first Maryland governor to fund the GCEI in his first year.
The Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, passed a measure this year to mandate full GCEI funding in future years, if the governor did not fully fund it this fiscal year.