One day before the Board of Public Works considers large cuts to the state budget, Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) is poised to dramatically block a large portion of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s plan to curb spending.
The state’s four-term tax collector, who serves with Hogan (R) and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) on the panel, served notice on Monday that he will vote against 20 of the governor’s recommendations, totaling $205 million, according to a document obtained by Maryland Matters.
Top Hogan aides, Department of Budget and Management officials and Kopp’s staff were briefed on the comptroller’s objections late Monday.
Broadly, the cuts Franchot said he cannot support involve education spending, teacher and state employee pay and retirement, programs that benefit young people, and supplemental aid to counties that lack the ability to raise large sums through the property tax.
The plan drafted by the Department of Budget and Management would slash $1.45 billion from the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget, to offset a steep decline in revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Board of Public Works will consider $672 million in cuts on Wednesday morning. The Maryland General Assembly will consider more than $700 million in additional cuts in January.
Franchot’s declaration that he cannot support large chunks of the administration’s proposal does not doom them to defeat. But he is frequently the swing vote on the board. It’s likely that Kopp, a former state delegate from Montgomery County who is the legislature’s representative on the board, strongly will consider siding with him.
An announced candidate for governor in 2022, Franchot publicly called on Hogan to chair Wednesday’s meeting, telling the Baltimore Sun on Monday morning that the magnitude of cuts he’s proposing necessitate a public explanation directly from him.
Since mid-March, when the coronavirus epidemic first flared in Maryland, Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) has chaired BPW meetings and handled other, non-COVID matters, to allow Hogan to focus on the health crisis and the resulting shock to the economy.
After the Sun story appeared online, a top Hogan aide said the governor “always planned” to chair Wednesday’s meeting, though Franchot spokeswoman Susan O’Brien subsequently told reporters that the administration informed them on Friday that Rutherford would lead the session.
Rutherford is also believed to be considering a run for governor in 2022.
In urging the governor to chair his first BPW meeting in nearly four months, Franchot, through an aide, said Maryland would not be solving its budget woes “on the backs of teachers” at a time when educators are struggling to adapt to distance learning.
It’s believed he is also concerned about the gap between government and private sector pay and the role consumer spending plays in any economic recovery.
Unions representing state workers have objected vigorously to the proposed salary cuts and the elimination of cost-of-living raises, arguing that they should be negotiated, not imposed. Organized labor is a potent force in Democratic primaries in Maryland.
Hogan aides told top lawmakers late last week that they have designed a three-part plan to reduce spending over the course of FY 2021. The cuts will be made as needed, depending on the pace of economic recovery — particularly income tax withholding and sales tax receipts — and whether Congress approves additional aid to states and localities.
Hogan is finishing a year-long term as head of the National Governors Association and has vigorously lobbied in favor of such assistance.