Del. Stephanie Smith: Hogan Makes It Clear We Were Never ‘All in This Together’

Smith op-ed

Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed hundreds of bills passed by the Maryland General Assembly. With the stroke of his pen, thousands of hours of legislative work and common-sense governing to support the lives of Marylanders were erased.

Most troubling, Hogan prioritized striking down two pieces of landmark education legislation and a suite of bills to improve public safety.

The current public health threat has dismantled lives and highlighted preexisting economic inequities. That’s why Gov. Hogan will need to demonstrate bold vision and nuanced fiscal stewardship to best position our state through this emergency response.

Maryland’s economic fate will not be steadied nor improved by scrapping the education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, overdue funding for Maryland’s four public Historically Black Colleges and Universities and public safety legislation rooted in prevention.

What the governor fails to understand is providing adequate educational access, preventing violent crime and ensuring higher education resources for our chronically underfunded HBCUs are critical components to maintaining community stability through this pandemic and beyond. Every single decision made by this administration is a part of the COVID-19 response and not just the ones that give them sympathetic headlines like the overpriced and unused 500,000 COVID-19 test kits.

Hogan’s vetoes were a test of what it truly means to comprehensively respond to the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 and he failed, miserably.

In January 2020, Gov. Hogan publicly claimed fighting Baltimore’s homicide rate was his top priority for the 2020 Maryland General Assembly session. Even during this pandemic, too many lives are still being lost to violence.

While the General Assembly advanced several bipartisan bills with evidence-based solutions, Hogan vetoed these violence reduction bills simply because they weren’t his own ideas. One vetoed bill — the Public Resources Organizing to End Crime Together, or PROTECT, Act — would have established 10 high crime micro-zones for holistic interventions and enhanced parole and probation oversight.

As murders mount, Gov. Hogan decided to retreat from addressing violent crime because of a bruised ego. This inaction will not make violence-plagued communities any safer. What Maryland needs is grown-up leadership that resists the urge to score cheap political points while lives hang in the balance. There’s no unity in immaturity.

Smith op-ed
Del. Stephanie M. Smith (D-Baltimore City)

A key element to building safer communities is a better educated populace.

In fact, providing a free and adequate public education to Maryland children is an obligation under the state’s constitution and a matter of economic sustainability. The education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future was the result of years of research and public input to determine the best ways to enhance the overall delivery of Maryland’s public education. Schools with the highest concentrations of poverty, many of which are in Baltimore, stood to gain considerably.

Now that in-person instruction has been suspended for the remainder of the school year, the digital divide may render education altogether inaccessible to Maryland’s most vulnerable student populations. K-12 distance learning inequity means we are also in an education crisis that has already resulted in millions of lost instruction hours. Nonetheless, Hogan vetoed a plan that targets educational investments and interventions, based on need, with no alternative proposal or plan put forward.

That is simply irresponsible.

While all Maryland public higher education institutions will have to tighten their belts, some were already subject to depressed financial support in the best of times. Gov. Hogan vetoed a bill to settle a 13-year lawsuit concerning inequitable state funding for $580 million over 10 years. The state faces a potential $2 billion judgment without this settlement.

Denying Morgan State, Coppin State, Bowie State and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore adequate capital and programmatic resources holds back the economic mobility of the students they serve and the communities they call home. Hogan’s veto stymies the catalytic educational and economic impact of simply settling long overdue debts with an eye toward justice.

The past two months have posed unprecedented challenges to everyone’s way of life. For communities that never experienced the full promise of pre-pandemic Maryland, the governor’s COVID-19 response is policy abandonment masquerading as fiscal prudence.

Through it all, my neighbors took the sacrifices of social distancing in stride because our governor repeatedly mouthed “we’re all in this together” — right? Wrong.

–DEL. STEPHANIE M. SMITH

The writer is a Democratic member of the Maryland House of Delegates who represents District 45 in Baltimore City and serves as chair of the Baltimore City delegation.