Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp is refusing to pay two members of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Cabinet whose appointments were not confirmed by the state Senate, ratcheting up a battle between the Democratic-majority legislature and the Republican chief executive.
Susanne Brogan, the deputy treasurer for public policy, said Wednesday that acting health secretary Dennis Schrader and acting planning secretary Wendi Peters could be paid only through June 30, the end of fiscal 2017, because of a provision in the budget bill that prohibits paying the salaries of acting secretaries who do not receive Senate confirmation.
The language was added to the bill by Senate Democrats in the final weeks of the legislative session.
On advice from Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), Kopp (D) deducted two days’ worth of pay from the checks issued to Schrader and Peters on Wednesday, which cover the two weeks that ended Tuesday, July 4.
“These payments could not be legally made,” Brogan said. “The treasurer took an oath to uphold the laws of the state and the constitution.”
Schrader’s annual salary is $174,417, and Peters’s is $137,749.
Kopp’s decision is the latest punch thrown in the battle between the Republican governor and the state’s Democratic-majority legislature over the Senate’s role in the appointment process.
Hogan pulled Schrader’s nomination late in the legislative session; the Senate Executive Nominations Committee had not scheduled a vote on the appointment, and Hogan’s spokesman said the governor thought it would be blocked. He withdrew Peters — who worked as a paralegal before becoming deputy secretary of planning in 2015 and had served on a local government planning board — after the panel rejected her as unqualified.
After the session ended, the governor reappointed both of them in an acting capacity.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan (R), called the decision not to pay Peters and Schrader “unprecedented and wrong on may different levels.”
“The fact is both these secretaries are legally serving in their positions, and the state has a legal obligation to pay them,” Mayer said. “The individuals who have spent countless hours in an effort not to pay these public servants should be ashamed of themselves.”
Mayer said the governor was told by Frosh’s office this year that he had the authority to withdraw the names of Schrader and Peters from consideration and reappoint them in an acting capacity after the legislative session ended.
But that legal advice did not address whether the two appointees could be paid under the budget language passed during the legislativesession.
The governor’s chief legal counsel, Robert F. Scholz, argues that the budget language violates the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government. In a July 6 letter to Frosh, Scholz questioned whether the General Assembly had the constitutional authority to include the language in the budget bill.
“We are exploring all options, both legal and otherwise,” Mayer said.
Last week, Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), whose office processes the state payroll, said the state would pay Schrader and Peters “absent any judicial action,” suggesting that someone would have to sue the government to get the budget language enforced.
Franchot’s office also sent a letter to Frosh asking him to seek judicial review of the situation, given the conflicting positions of the executive and legislative branches.
Kopp’s office, which disburses the paychecks, then notified the comptroller’s office of its decision to deduct two days’ pay from the checks issued Wednesday.
Deputy Comptroller Sharonne R. Bonardi said the comptroller’s office is “caught in the middle” of an “unprecedented situation” and was concerned about possible legal ramifications if the office denied payment.