One day after signing his first piece of legislation from the 2019 General Assembly session, Gov. Lawrence J Hogan Jr. (R) vetoed three high-profile bills on Wednesday, labeling them political stunts destined to damage the state.
The three bills were top priorities of Democratic legislative leaders, starting with a measure to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. Another bill would give local school districts control over their academic calendars, while the third would strip Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) of major regulatory duties.
Due to the timing of the legislative action on these bills and Hogan’s announcement, the legislature will have an opportunity to override the vetoes between now and the end of the legislative session on April 8. All three bills passed with veto-proof majorities, suggesting that overrides on all three measures are likely.
In a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), Hogan said the minimum wage legislation “could cost us jobs, negatively impact our economic competitiveness, and devastate our state’s economy. Normally, we have been able to come together to achieve bipartisan solutions, but this legislation misses the mark and entirely disregards my common sense compromise proposals.”
The “compromise” Hogan is referring to is his proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12.10 an hour by 2021. But while Hogan threw out the suggestion earlier this month, he made no visible public effort to engage lawmakers or convince them to meet him halfway.
In his veto message, Hogan warned that a $15 minimum wage could cost the state 99,000 jobs.
“Small businesses faced with the choice between a $7.25 wage in Virginia or $15 in Maryland will be forced to create jobs in the lower cost location and possibly reduce jobs or eliminate operations in Maryland,” he said. “Making Maryland’s minimum wage more than double that of Virginia could be too much for our economy to bear. How can we place Maryland’s workers at risk and Maryland businesses at so much of a disadvantage?”
The bill as currently constituted would gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 on Jan. 1, 2025 – or on July 1, 2026 for businesses with 14 employees or less.
The measure that has passed through the General Assembly is already a compromise: many Democrats preferred a bill that enacted the $15 minimum wage sooner and provided for automatic increases based on the federal cost-of-living index.
Democratic lawmakers and advocates were critical of the governor’s decision.
“This is very disappointing,” Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) said in a statement. “The Fight for $15 sends a message that the State of Maryland values working class families who play an invaluable role in our economy but are struggling to afford basic living expenses. Like the majority of our State’s voters, the Maryland Senate recognizes that now is the time to raise the minimum wage to $15.”
Jaime Contreras, vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ suggested Hogan’s veto may have been motivated by the attention he has been receiving as a possible GOP primary challenger to President Trump.
“With a presidential bid in mind, Governor Hogan couldn’t resist the lure of industry lobbyists whose self-interests are out-of-sync with the needs of Maryland’s working families,” Contreras said. “Working men and women need and deserve a responsible lawmaker not a perpetual politician.”
But business groups applauded Hogan’s decision.
“Our hope is legislators realize that tens of thousands of jobs are likely to be eliminated, and hours cut—leaving those they intend to help with no paycheck,” said Mike O’Halloran, state director for the Maryland Federation of Independent Business. “We ask them to sustain the governor’s veto.”
School calendar, Franchot
The school calendar veto was an attempt by Hogan to preserve one of his signature initiatives – which mandates that the school year start after Labor Day throughout the state and end no later than June 15. Hogan in 2016 issued an executive order to impose the school calendar he desired, but local school officials and many lawmakers argued that school districts ought to have the flexibility to start the school year earlier if they so desired.
“This unfortunate legislation unravels years of bipartisan work,” Hogan wrote in his veto message to Miller.
The third bill Hogan vetoed would strip the comptroller’s office of the ability to regulate alcohol and tobacco in the state – and give the responsibility to a new commission appointed by the governor. Like his ally Franchot, Hogan called the bill wasteful; Franchot’s office has estimated that the switchover would cost taxpayers $50 million over a five-year period, though an analysis from the legislature suggested it would be more like $4 million initially – and less in subsequent years.
In his veto message to Busch, Hogan said the legislation “is not necessary, serves no purpose, will waste taxpayers’ money, and disrupts a well-ordered and completely functional regulatory system. House Bill 1052 is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist.”
Franchot has had an uneasy relationship with his fellow Democrats who control the legislature, particularly over the issue of the state’s alcohol laws. Franchot on Wednesday struck back angrily at his former colleagues – he spent 20 years in the House of Delegates.
“I commend Governor Hogan for vetoing this unnecessary, reckless and tremendously expensive bill that would put the regulation of alcohol and tobacco in the control of a politically-appointed board that is unaccountable to Marylanders,” Franchot said in a statement.
“In light of the outrageous improprieties of several University of Maryland Medical System board members, it’s especially brazen and irresponsible for leaders of the General Assembly to use the legislative process to carry out political vendettas that lessens oversight and enables special interests to handpick their regulator. Now more than ever, legislative leaders need to take steps to restore faith and trust in our government, and this bill flies directly in the face of efforts to make government more transparent.”
If the legislature manages to override Hogan’s veto of the bill impacting the comptroller’s office, it will mark the second time in as many years that lawmakers have diminished Franchot’s power. Last year – in another measure that Hogan unsuccessfully sought to veto – the legislature cut out the Board of Public Works, consisting of the governor the comptroller and the state treasurer, from overseeing school construction projects in the state.
But these indignities are just rocket fuel for Franchot’s longstanding crusades against the “Annapolis machine,” waged by a man who has 32 years in state office under his belt.
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