By Bruce DePuyt| Josh Kurtz
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who has been quiet about the developments taking place in the General Assembly for the first nine weeks of session, re-engaged with a vengeance Monday, ripping lawmakers’ spending priorities, legislation to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the legislature’s criminal justice agenda.
Speaking at a State House news conference – his first since early February – Hogan used a critical legislative deadline, “crossover day,” to slam lawmakers, accusing them of endangering the state’s economy, sidetracking key portions of his agenda and naked partisanship.
Hogan said the “reckless, unsustainable and irresponsible” spending plans making their way through the Democratically controlled legislature “threaten to make this the most harmful General Assembly session ever for Maryland taxpayers.”
Hogan was sharply critical of the funding the legislature is making available for the Kirwan Commission recommendations to improve public education in the state – though the House and Senate have not yet agreed on a final budgetary figure.
And Hogan had choice words for other Democrats and their initiatives, juxtaposing their record this year with his oft-cited personal popularity.
“The people of Maryland are now more encouraged about the direction of our state than they have ever been in recorded history,” he said. “Only 16 percent of the people in Maryland disapprove of the job that we’ve been doing – but it appears that all of them are serving in the Maryland General Assembly.”
Here are some of the issues Hogan raised at his news conference:
‘The most pro-criminal group of legislators I’ve ever seen’
Hogan accused the General Assembly of turning a blind eye to the ongoing spasm of violent crime in Baltimore.
The legislature has yet to act on a key Hogan priority — a measure (SB 166 and HB 236) to establish mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed with a firearm. Under his proposal, unveiled early in the legislative session, gun crimes would be classified as felonies, with five-year prison sentences for the first offense and 10 years for second and subsequent offenses.
“If you’re a repeat violent offender who continually gets arrested for committing violent crimes with a gun, you need to go to jail,” Hogan told reporters.
“To say that we don’t want to do anything about the people who are committing those violent crimes… [is] outrageous and unacceptable.”
The governor also denounced as “silly” the legislature’s pursuit of a ban on firearms created from 3D printers, a technology not yet perfected.
“No one has ever committed a crime in the history of the state with a 3D-printed gun,” he said.
“Sure, let’s do it. Let’s step away from the copier. But what are we going to do about the people actually committing violent crimes with real guns? We need to get them off the streets.”
Lastly, Hogan called it “crazy” that there would even be a debate about whether to allow school resource officers — local police — to carry firearms in Baltimore City, as they do in some other parts of the state.
Hogan has also urged the Assembly to create a State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to give the public greater insight into how individual judges mete out sentences in crimes of violence. That bill had a hearing in January but has also not received a vote.
“This seems to be, like, the most pro-criminal group of legislators I’ve ever seen,” Hogan said.
In an interview with reporters Monday evening, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) rejected the governor’s characterization of the legislature.
“We’re not protecting criminals,” Miller said. “In fact, if you look at the bills coming out of the [Senate] Judicial Proceedings Committee, they’re tough on crime.”
Miller predicted the Assembly will approve tougher sentences for people who use a handgun in a second-time offense, and tougher sanctions on drunk drivers.
Del. Luke V. Clippinger (D-Baltimore), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said Hogan’s fiery rhetoric is not going to make neighborhoods safer.
“I know he’s good at staying on message, but that’s not going to stop violent crime in Baltimore City and around the state,” he said.
‘I don’t think it was late in the game at all’
Hogan said the bill to raise the state minimum wage from $10.10-an-hour to $15-an-hour would isolate Maryland because surrounding states have lower minimum wages.
“Small mom and pop businesses would be facing ruin,” he said.
About 10 days ago, Hogan wrote to the presiding officers of the General Assembly, suggesting a “compromise” minimum of wage of $12.10 an hour, to be fully implemented in 2022. But he did not offer any alternative legislation.
“Over the next three weeks our entire team will continue to work hard and reach out” to the legislature to reach a compromise, he said Monday.
Asked at the news conference whether he had waited too long to unveil his proposal, Hogan said administration officials wanted to see how the minimum wage bill emerged from the legislature.
“I don’t think it was late in the game at all,” he said. “We were responding to something that they had done.”
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said lawmakers expected Hogan to introduce a bill to achieve the lower minimum wage and were surprised when he didn’t.
“I think everybody did a good job on the minimum wage bill,” he said. “It has a lot of exemptions in there. It tries to protect small businesses. It’s something that needs to be undertaken. We’re having a greater divide between the haves and have-nots in society. And one thing about the minimum wage legislation – that the people who make the [greater] minimum wage put the wages back into the economy.”
Hogan did not say whether he planned to veto the legislation. “We’ll take a look at it,” he said.
The House and Senate each passed the $15 minimum wage with a veto-proof majority. The two houses will still have to take the legislation to a conference committee to iron out differences between the two versions: principally, the Senate version slows down the full phase-in date for small businesses.
‘You guys better get some funding’
Hogan said he will be meeting with the state’s congressional delegation regarding a range of issues — including the deterioration of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway – later this month.
He said the U.S. Department of the Interior — which owns and operates the road — is doing a “terrible” job of keeping the parkway in good condition.
“It’s not been maintained and the federal government is doing nothing. They haven’t funded it, they’re not capable, they’re not focused.”
Hogan has had conversations with the Trump administration about transferring control of the parkway to the state, but on Monday he disclosed that some members of the state’s Hill delegation oppose that effort.
He did not name them, but he said he will have a message for the state’s senators and House members when he meets with them: Get on board or work with the Trump administration to secure the funds needed to maintain the roadway properly.
“Either let us have the road or you guys better get some funding and pressure the administration to get this road fixed because it’s unacceptable to our Maryland taxpayers who are having to drive on that mess,” he said.
The National Park Service reduced the speed limit to 40mph on March 1, because hundreds of potholes and craters have made it dangerous and damaging to drive at the posted speed.
‘Outrageous and unacceptable’
Hogan and Miller praised Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) for resigning from the University of Maryland Medical System’s Board of Directors Monday. Her decision to step down — to give her more time to focus on being mayor, she said — came in the wake of conflict of interest allegations that have been raised against nearly a third of the board.
Pugh pocketed $100,000 when the system purchased bulk copies of a children’s book she wrote.
The system’s CEO, Robert A. Chrencik, has repeatedly defended the system’s decision to maintain financial arrangements with several members of its board, saying UMMS would be unable to attract savvy business leaders to the panel if strict conflict of interest rules were put in place.
After meeting with board Chairman Stephen A. Burch on Monday, Miller predicted that other members of the panel will follow Pugh out the door.
“This is a great board, but decisions were made… that were very unfortunate. There are going to be a number of resignations announced” Tuesday.
Miller also said there will “probably” be an audit to determine how many board members have contracts or other financial ties to the system, and he urged a new policy to discourage most board member conflicts.
According to news reports, nine of 30 UMMS board members have some financial tie to the system.
“The decision to reward certain members of the board, that the other members of the board don’t know about, was a tragic mistake that we need to make sure does not get repeated,” Miller said.
Hogan, Miller and Busch will meet with the board’s executive leadership team on Wednesday.
“We’re going to push for major reforms,” Hogan told reporters. “We’re going to make sure that people are either going to terminate their financial relationship or terminate having them on the board.
“We’re going to make sure that these kinds of things don’t happen in the future. It’s outrageous and unacceptable.”
Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) has introduced legislation to prohibit UMMS board members from benefiting from their service.
Miller said any reforms need to distinguish between those board members who benefit personally from the system’s relationship with a private sector firm and those that are more tangential.
“For example, one of the members is a banker. He doesn’t benefit personally, but they use his bank on the board. There need to be common sense exceptions.”
“In terms of members who are actually getting paid [or having] jobs, I don’t know if they’re make-work jobs or they’re actual jobs, but before people are hired to do work, all the board members should know about it,” Miller said.
Busch noted that the questions surrounding the University of Maryland Medical System board follow on the heels of the controversy involving the university’s governing Board of Regents.
“(It) makes the entire University system look corrupt,” Busch said. “I cannot remember a scandal of this scale taking place since I’ve been in office.”
Miller said that if he gets another opportunity to select a member of the UMMS board, “It would be somebody like (former Maryland Attorney General) Steve Sachs [or] (U.S. Deputy Attorney General) Rod Rosenstein — somebody that would add stature to the board but at the same time would make certain that something like this doesn’t happen in the future.”