The Maryland Senate on Thursday voted to eliminate a decades-old state process for prioritizing the building and repairing of schools by stripping the governor, comptroller and state treasurer of their role in approving projects, a move Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called a “personal vendetta” against his ally, Comptroller Peter Franchot (D).
The 29-14 vote, with one abstention, came after a brief filibuster and long debate about why the Democratic-controlled legislature pushed so hard to eliminate Franchot from the school construction process.
Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said the bill, which requires standards for school buildings and assessments of school structures as well as a plan to spend $400 million a year on projects, will help to remove politics from the process. The legislation also includes $10 million for school safety enhancements.
“The system has been broken,” he said, noting the condition of some Baltimore City schools. “Parents across the state are clamoring for better schools for their children.”
But Republicans said the new process is likely to create bigger problems.
“We’re taking away an important part of the transparency and accountability that we’ve come to rely on in this state,” said Sen. Justin D. Ready (R-Carroll), who voted against the measure.
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor will veto the bill. But the move would be symbolic; both chambers have passed the measure with a veto-proof majority.
“In what is surely one of the least transparent episodes in legislative history, 29 senators voted today to take away critical oversight and give authority over billions of taxpayer dollars in school construction funding over to an unelected, unaccountable group that includes lobbyists, partisan operatives and political cronies,” Chasse said.
The legislation sets up a commission, composed of appointees by the governor, Senate president and House speaker, to handle decisions involving school construction that are currently made by the Board of Public Works.
On Wednesday, at the start of the bimonthly BPW meeting, Hogan called the legislative action and the amendment, which was added onto a popular school construction bill, “simply outrageous.”
Franchot said it was “utterly shameful” that the legislature would “hijack” the bill to strip him and the rest of the panel of its authority. He said he was not apologetic for taking county and school officials, including those from Democratic-run jurisdictions, to task over the “inhumane conditions” of the schools and how they spend state taxpayer dollars.
“I’m not going to apologize for this board’s advocacy,” he said in a nearly 10-minute speech at the beginning of the meeting.
Sen. Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) on Thursday read Franchot’s entire speech on the Senate floor.