Gov. Larry Hogan made the right call in vetoing the major education bill passed by the General Assembly in the last session.
We were not in favor of the bill during the session, fearing that the huge price tag — rising to a whopping $4 billion a year in new spending over the coming decade — was just too large to absorb while meeting the other needs of the state and local communities.
But the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic made the question moot in our mind. With so much uncertainty, now is not the time to commit to massive spending increases in the future, no matter how well-intended.
The Democratic leadership of the legislature signaled it will consider seeking to override the veto by the Republican governor, assuming the General Assembly will reconvene next January in some kind of session. We hope they will defer, at least until we have a better idea of what the future will hold.
No one knows what shape our state and indeed our country will be in when the calendar turns to 2021, much less how long the aftereffects of the pandemic will last.
“The economic fallout from this pandemic simply makes it impossible to fund any new programs, impose any new tax hikes, nor adopt any legislation having any significant fiscal impact, regardless of the merits of the legislation,” Hogan wrote in his veto letter.
Hogan and other governors have been pleading with the federal government to rescue the financially strapped state and local governments, but we have no guarantee that will happen. For now, President Trump and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate have said they are in no hurry to bail out states, especially blue states like Maryland.
Last month, the governor announced that the state faces a potential revenue loss of up to $2.8 billion this fiscal year because of the economic impact of the pandemic. In addition, the state is incurring much higher expenses from fighting the disease.
Hogan said at the time it was “very unlikely” he would sign legislation with a significant cost.
The education measure, called the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, was based on recommendations from a state commission known as the Kirwan Commission after its chairman, former University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan.
The plan made several recommendations for increased state spending on education, including expanding early childhood education like pre-K and increasing teacher salaries.
The General Assembly already approved money to fund the first three years of the plan. But the 2020 bill went further by phasing in more funding over the next decade. The additional $4 billion in fiscal year 2030 would be shared by the state and local governments, but the majority would come from the state.
The governor had opposed the proposal during the session, saying it was “well-meaning,” but would have to result in large tax increases. We were especially concerned about the mandated local share, which would cost counties like Frederick hundreds of millions of dollars.
The bill originally passed both houses of the legislature with enough support to override the veto when it is able to meet again. But we hope that the leaders will wait until the smoke clears from this battle before deciding how to proceed.
Clearly, we are in a much different world from the one that existed last winter. Caution should be exercised before forging ahead to unknown territory.