For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) will preside over a meeting of the state’s powerful Board of Public Works.
The session, to be held Wednesday, will include a vote on his proposal to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending.
Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said on Monday that the governor “always planned” to lead the session, but that account was immediately disputed by Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot’s office.
Franchot’s spokeswoman Susan O’Brien told Maryland Matters that they received a text message Friday from Hogan’s liaison to the board indicating that Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) would chair the meeting.
That message prompted Franchot (D) to publicly call on Hogan to chair the session himself.
“Given the magnitude of these proposed budget reductions and their inevitable effect on state employees and our essential public priorities, the comptroller believes that Gov. Hogan himself should make the case directly to his colleagues and to the people of Maryland,” O’Brien told The Baltimore Sun early Monday.
Rutherford has chaired online meetings of the board since March 18, shortly after Hogan put him in charge of the non-COVID portions of state government so the governor could focus full-time on the health crisis and the economic challenges that soon followed.
Franchot is an announced candidate for governor in 2022; Rutherford is expected to consider a bid as well. Hogan is term-limited and is scheduled to leave office in early 2023.
The governor has proposed $1.45 billion in spending cuts to offset a steep decline in revenue due to the downturn in the economy. Fiscal 2021 begins Wednesday, the day the board votes on his proposal.
Some of the budget actions Hogan is seeking, $672 million, will be voted by the board, which has the power to reduce agency spending up to 25% when the legislature is not in session.
Most of the remainder require a vote of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to return to Annapolis in January.
Some lawmakers and program advocates have urged the panel to defer action two weeks, until July 15, when income tax withholding numbers — a key barometer of the economy — come in.
O’Brien said Franchot supports taking a first whack at spending now, as long as the governor is leading the conversation.
“We need to make cuts immediately based on the numbers we do know now,” she said.
“If he doesn’t have the time to explain his thoughts and the basis for the proposed budget cuts that his administration has put together, then maybe the proposal itself is premature to bring to the Board of Public Works,” she added.
O’Brien said Franchot would oppose any move “that takes money out of the pockets of public servants. … We’re not going to balance the budget on the backs of teachers.”
In a follow-up text, Ricci wrote, “We can all agree that who presides over the meeting is much less important than who is affected by it.”