Gov. Larry Hogan threw his support Wednesday behind establishing a statutory “lockbox” to ensure that revenues from Maryland’s six casinos are used to enhance public school funding — not just to meet the state’s minimum obligations to finance education.
The governor said at a State House news conference that his proposal would result in an extra $4.4 billion for K-12 education over the next decade — $1 billion of it for school construction.
Hogan presented his proposal as the fulfillment of promises made to voters in 2007, when the General Assembly first approved casinos, and in 2012, when it authorized their expansion. The referendums approved by voters in 2008 and 2012 dedicated portions of casino revenue to an Education Trust Fund, but did not ensure the new money would be used to supplement rather than replace existing dollars.
“This legislation will fix a flawed bill that was enacted in 2007,” Hogan said, casting blame on the Democratic-led legislature and his predecessor, Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Hogan is jumping on a bandwagon that legislative leaders have been riding for months.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who chairs the Senate committee overseeing education, announced in December that they would introduce legislation to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to phase in a requirement that casino money be dedicated to providing money to schools beyond the state’s basic education funding formula.
That formula determines most of the money Maryland provides to local school districts — $6.5 billion in the current budget submitted to the legislature.
The legislature’s top leaders, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, last month endorsed the proposal sponsored by the two Baltimore lawmakers.
Hogan said he would introduce his own alternative bill. The key difference with his legislation is that it would take the form of a statute and would not require voter approval. It would also have to meet a lower threshold for enactment — a simple majority in both chambers. A constitutional amendment requires a three-fifths vote in both the Senate and the House.
The downside of the statutory approach is that any future legislature and governor could, in effect, pick the lock with a simple majority vote, while a constitutional amendment could require a supermajority.
Hogan expressed confidence that a future governor or legislature would not dare to try to escape the lockbox.
The governor’s legislation would mean that the state would have to fund the entire minimum education formula — which prescribes how much money must go to each county and Baltimore — out of non-casino revenues.
Hogan said he did not believe the proposal would require any increase in taxes.
The Republican governor was joined at his news conference by Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot, who gave the measure his enthusiastic endorsement.
Busch said Wednesday that he had not been consulted about the governor’s plans or informed about the news conference.
“The fact of the matter is this is the [position] we took a month ago,” the Anne Arundel County Democrat said.