House GOP Sounds Discordant Note on BSO Funding

    Now that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has drastically scaled back its summer performance schedule, House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) and Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) have sent a letter to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) asking him to hold the additional funding for the BSO that the legislature allocated earlier this year.

    Citing the BSO’s ongoing financial struggles, the General Assembly passed House Bill 1404, providing $3.2 million in additional funding for the BSO over the next two years. The first half of the funding, $1.6 million, is set to be released July 1. In canceling most of its summer schedule last week, the symphony revealed that it has lost more than $16 million in the last decade.

    “Our members were divided in their support of House Bill 1404,” Kipke said. “While we all appreciated the history and importance of the BSO, and want to see it thrive, the state cannot throw taxpayer money at the problem. There is clearly a serious problem within the BSO and that needs to be addressed before any more funding is provided by the state.”

    According to the House Republicans, the Department of Legislative Services has found that over the last 10 years, the BSO has received an average of $1.9 million a year, which increased to over $2 million in the last three years. More than 15 years ago, the state spent $100 million for the construction and renovation of Strathmore Hall in Montgomery County, whose primary tenant is the BSO.

    “That the BSO could still lose millions of dollars even while being supplemented by taxpayer dollars leads us to believe we must now tread carefully when considering investing additional taxpayer dollars,” Szeliga said. “[Last week’s] revelation that the BSO’s musicians continued to receive 9-week paid vacations during the times of fiscal hardship should certain give us pause. Our hardworking taxpayers should not be on the hook for these extravagant expenses.”

    While Republicans are questioning the funding commitment, several high-profile Democratic leaders in the Baltimore region told The Baltimore Sun over the weekend that they want Hogan to release the funds quickly, to help the struggling symphony.

    The legislation providing extra funding for the BSO creates a workgroup to make recommendations for cost containment strategies and audience development. The workgroup must report its recommendations in a financial report to the General Assembly by Oct. 1.

    Click here to read the House GOP’s letter to Hogan.

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    Josh Kurtz
    Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.