Since taking office, Gov. Larry Hogan has made a variety of small mistakes, such as the Jon Stewart bait of a press conference at the start of the Baltimore riots (“When the Mayor called me, which quite frankly, we were glad she finally did.”). Overall, however, he has avoided major unforced errors as he moved forward in shifting Maryland towards his priorities. Until now.
Yesterday, Gov. Hogan announced that he would withhold $68 million in funding allocated by the General Assembly for education. The money would have gone to fully funding the program that sends extra money to the school systems in the state that are the most expensive to operate. In policy argot, the program is known as the GCEI, or Geographic Cost of Education Index.
Education is Maryland’s brand–we have consistently had the best schools in the nation. Moreover, as a high income state, we are only going to continue to grow incomes and economically with an ever more highly educated and skilled workforce.
It’s an even bigger political mistake. Gov. Hogan has generally been successful in using his position to focus debates and draw lines of comparison between him and his opponents. This time, he drew the line in a way that benefits his opponents.
He may think that he just alienated the teachers’ unions and their Democratic supporters. But education is widely popular around the State and currently by far the best issue going for the Democrats. Instead of missing a chance to undercut them completely by releasing the funds, he handed them an issue.
Even if he had released just one-half of the funds, as widely expected earlier in the day, he would have totally undermined the Democrats. Though they still would have bitterly complained, the public would have discounted them heavily as he moved halfway. He also hurts himself with the General Assembly as he had repeatedly made noises about releasing the funds during the session.
This decision will go down particularly poorly in Montgomery County in which education is like religion. Though he didn’t carry it, Hogan made inroads into Montgomery in the County in 2014. His brand of avoiding social issues like abortion and gay rights but pursuing center-right economic policies positions him well to extend those gains in 2018.
But not if keeps handing the Democrats education as an issue.