Two of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Cabinet secretaries received paychecks that were lighter than usual on Wednesday, as a spat over their confirmation — or rather, lack thereof — came to a head.
Two days of pay was not included in the paychecks of Planning Secretary Wendi Peters and Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader. That’s because the General Assembly passed budget language eliminating their salaries for the current fiscal year.
The Maryland Treasurer’s Office removed the payments this week before issuing the checks, based on an opinion from the state attorney general.
“The advice was that the payments could not legally be made,” said Susanne Brogan, deputy treasurer for public policy.
The treasurer’s office removed the two days’ pay from each paycheck after receiving a “warrant” for a full 10-day paycheck from Comptroller Peter Franchot’s office. Last week, Franchot (D) said his office would continue to process paychecks normally and urged the attorney general to seek judicial review to resolve the dispute.
But it’s the treasurer’s office that ultimately releases payments, and the salaries will not resume until the treasurer is advised that it’s legal to pay Peters and Schrader.
The state treasurer, Nancy Kopp (D), is elected by members of the General Assembly and serves a four-year term. She has held the office since 2002.
It’s the latest development in a twisting saga between the state’s executive and legislative branches that could soon invoke the judicial branch as well.
During the 2017 General Assembly session, Peters received an unfavorable vote from the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. Hogan withdrew Peters’ nomination that same night, before the full Senate likely would have voted Peters out of the office later that week. The governor withdrew his nomination of Schrader for health secretary in the waning days of the legislative session, citing the committee’s lack of a vote after their final scheduled meeting.
But both of the secretaries remained in their positions and were reappointed by Hogan after the Legislature recessed.
Anticipating that move, Democratic lawmakers approved budget language that specifically targeted this year’s salaries for any recess appointees who were withdrawn by the governor before full Senate action.
The state fiscal year started July 1. The first paychecks, which include two days of work in fiscal 2018, were issued Wednesday.
In response, Hogan’s office said it was “exploring all options, legal or otherwise,” to ensure that Peters and Schrader are paid.
“The treasurer’s action is unprecedented and flat-out wrong on a number of levels,” spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said. “Secretaries Peters and Schrader are legally serving in their roles, and we have a legal obligation to pay them, as we do all hardworking men and women who work for this administration.”
She said those in government who were still seeking to block the salaries needed to consider “who they are truly serving — the people of Maryland, or their own petty political agenda.”
But lawmakers have said that Hogan’s actions during the confirmation process were also unprecedented.
The Maryland Constitution states: “No person, after being rejected by the Senate, shall be again nominated for the same office at the same Session, unless at the request of the Senate; or, be appointed to the same office during the recess of the Legislature.”
But because Hogan took action when he did — after a committee vote on Peters but before final action by the full Senate chamber — it was lawful for the governor to reappoint both secretaries.
“Nothing prevents the Governor from choosing as his recess appointee the person whose nomination had been submitted but then withdrawn,” an Office of the Attorney General letter to Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, stated in March.
An opinion from Attorney General Brian Frosh last week focused exclusively on the budget language.
“The budgetary restriction included within the Budget Bill is a valid exercise of the Legislature’s power,” Frosh wrote.
Peters previously served as Maryland’s deputy planning secretary and on Mount Airy’s Town Council, Board of Appeals, and Planning Commission.
Her annual salary is $137,749, and Schrader’s is $174,417.
There was no apparent legal action relating to the squabble as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Hogan is scheduled to be out of the state on Thursday for a three-day visit to the National Governors Association summer meeting in Rhode Island.