Hogan Declines to Address Kirwan Commission, Tensions Simmer

Commission on Innovation and Excellence Chairman William E. "Brit" Kirwan, left, invited Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to address a commission meeting, but the governor has declined. File photos.

Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. won’t accept an invitation to address a state commission proposing far-reaching education reforms.

William E. “Brit” Kirwan sent a letter to Hogan late last week inviting the governor to address the full commission “to find common ground” on the policy recommendations and a new education funding formula to pay for them.

Hogan declined to meet with the group Wednesday through a letter from Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley, the governor’s appointee to the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.

The letter states that the commission’s “sole focus” for the rest of its meetings through November should be on financial transparency and accountability.

“I look forward to continuing to discuss these matters on the governor’s behalf,” Brinkley wrote.

His letter rehashed Hogan’s concerns that the price tag for the reforms – estimated to cost $2.8 billion for the state and $1.23 billion for the counties annually within 10 years – can’t be met without tax increases.

“Governor Hogan has been clear and consistent that there will be no massive tax increases to pay for the Commission’s recommendations. In fact, he is just one of numerous elected officials across the state who have expressed serious misgivings about the costs of these proposals and the potential for tax increases,” Brinkley wrote. “As the Commission nears the conclusion of our work, I will continue to press for more openness and transparency with regards to how the State and the counties can possibly afford this price tag.”

The governor’s decision not to attend a meeting sparked a reaction from some commission members.

“I’m saddened that we can’t have that conversation about whether this is an important path to proceed on or not, on the merits of the proposal,” said state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s). “…The governor has chosen not only not to appear, not to engage, but not to even write a letter to us.”

Other members said the debate over the Kirwan Commission recommendations should come down to more than just a discussion about money.

Scott Dorsey, CEO at Merritt Properties, said the debate has devolved into two simplistic camps: “We just can’t afford this,” and “On the other hand, we can’t afford not to do this.”

While the plan assumes that economic growth will fund at least some of the commission’s proposed reforms, that doesn’t just happen, and the state has to be very intentional about creating growth, he said.

“We need to do both. We need to do the work this commission is suggesting, but we also need to do everything we can to make sure that economic growth to create the revenue to make it happen is achieved,” Dorsey said.

Hogan’s spokesman, Michael Ricci, issued a statement in response Pinsky’s comments on Wednesday afternoon, saying it was a “preposterous” attempt to divert blame.

“Marylanders know where Governor Hogan stands: he has provided historically high funding for education, and protected against massive tax increases,” Ricci said. “With his absurd comments, Senator Pinsky is trying to turn this into a political spectacle, and distract from the truly disheartening reality that there is still no clear plan for how either the state or the counties can afford the Kirwan Tax Hike Commission’s price tag.”

The commission will hold a public hearing at the end of its Nov. 12 meeting to get public input on the funding proposal.

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