Update – 3:45 p.m. – Montgomery County state representatives are railing against a decision by Gov. Larry Hogan to delay $72 million in funds that were supposed to enable The Universities at Shady Grove to begin constructing a new biomedical sciences building at its Rockville campus this year.
Local lawmakers are saying Hogan pulled the previously authorized funding for the school, part of the University System of Maryland, in order to help fund a new $480 million Baltimore city jail.
“We came to Annapolis to improve lives, not to focus on incarcerating more people when we should be educating more people,” Del. Shane Robinson (D–Montgomery Village), chairman of the Montgomery County House delegation, said in an interview Friday.
Robinson said the governor has yet to meet with the delegation to explain why the funding was pulled from the fiscal 2017 capital budget. Under Hogan’s budget plans the school wouldn’t receive the money until 2020. That means officials would have to delay a planned groundbreaking at the school that would have taken place this year after the completion of a $26 million parking garage paid for by the county to support the expansion.
Robinson said members of the delegation are frustrated with the apparent politics of the situation, especially considering that the county contributed $26 million of its own funds for the parking garage with the expectation the state would approve the funds for the new science building.
“It’s funny that Montgomery County is being targeted—the county with the largest tax base that’s sending more money to the state than any other county,” Robinson said. “This is our money that we want to be able to use to improve the quality of life in our jurisdiction.”
Robinson also said the $162 million school building, which will house technology, engineering and agriculture programs, will help create jobs and develop the workforce in the state. He said the expansion aligns with the governor’s stated goal to improve Maryland’s economy. The state had previously planned to fund construction of the building with $72 million in fiscal 2017, $68 million in 2018 and $14 million in 2019. Construction was scheduled to begin this year and it was set to be completed in 2018, according to school officials.
A spokesperson for the Universities of Shady Grove declined to comment on the issue, citing ongoing negotiations over the funding. Patrick Hogan, the governor’s brother, who serves as the University of Maryland’s vice chancellor for government relations, did not immediately return a call about the funding issue Monday morning.
In an email, Hogan’s spokeswoman Sharees Churchill said the governor has made clear that the state has borrowed too much in recent years and is looking to identify ways to reduce debt payments.
“The fact is, very soon our yearly debt payments will be greater than what the state can afford in new school construction,” Churchill said. “That should be a scary thought for everyone concerned about providing quality education to Maryland students and it’s why Gov. Hogan has made the responsible decision to limit the amount the state borrows this year.”
She said that the Universities at Shady Grove project will still be funded and completed.
Del. Marc Korman (D–Bethesda), a member of the House appropriations committee, said that the governor’s proposed budget is less than what the debt affordability guidelines allow the state to spend, meaning there could be room to add the project back into the capital budget this year.
“There may be some changes to what the governor is proposing,” Korman said.
In a letter signed by 30 members of the Montgomery County delegation that was sent to Hogan Friday, the elected officials expressed their disappointment in the funding delay.
“It is a sad, unfortunate and startling fact that Maryland spends more on corrections than it does on higher education,” the legislators wrote. “This is exacerbated by your decision to fund the Baltimore City jail over higher education. Again, we understand there is a clear need for a new correctional facility in Baltimore. However, there is a capital improvement plan in place for such a new facility.”
Hogan closed the Baltimore City jail in August, citing deplorable conditions at the facility. The state had already vetted a plan to build a new jail over the next 10 years for $780 million, but Hogan scrapped that to put forth a new plan that would build a $480 million jail in five years, according to The Baltimore Sun. In addition to delaying the Universities at Shady Grove expansion, Hogan’s budget proposal would also delay a business school project at Coppin State University by two years and projects at the University of Maryland and Morgan State University by a year.
A spokesman for the governor told The Sun in January that Hogan wasn’t interested in waiting 10 years to build the new jail.