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Legislature Reverses Hogan on Annapolis Arts Center

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Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, in Annapolis, will get an additional $2 million from the state after all, after the legislature overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s unusual veto of that item.

The vote to override was as lopsided as the votes on Hogan’s six other policy vetoes. Almost all Democrats voted to reject the governor’s actions, and the 50 Republicans voted to sustain his vetoes.

But the item to help further renovate the former Annapolis High School was unusual in that there was practically no discussion on it in the House or the Senate, and there was a lone Republican defector, Del. Herb McMillan, who represents that district.

This $2 million item was part of a tiff between the governor and House Speaker Michael Busch, who also represents the Annapolis district. Hogan had actually put $500,000 in his capital budget for the hall; its theater is used for many public events, such as County Executive Steve Schuh’s inauguration, at which Hogan spoke.

The hall, which now includes many art studios and practice spaces, has had broad bipartisan support, and over the years it has gotten $5.7 million in state capital funding.

The House Appropriations Committee quadrupled the amount in Hogan’s original request to $2 million. The committee provided a slim, one-sentence justification for boosting the amount; it simply stated in its report that the funding was “for the continued investment in the infrastructure and improvements to the gallery and theatre spaces.”

Hogan used the committee’s action increasing aid to the speaker’s favorite projects to justify the rarely used line item veto. That veto was seen by most legislators as a slap at Busch, who had been critical of Hogan’s budget plans last year on several fronts.

A budget analyst said: “Future phases will replace remaining windows; construct a new loading dock and freight elevator; improve restrooms, lobby and hallways; and construct a multi-purpose performance space.”

There had been no specific plans on how to use the extra money, but many parts of the school, like the men’s bathrooms, remain vintage 1932, when the school was built.

Between a Rock and …

McMillan explained his vote to constituents in an e-mail: “The veto of Maryland Hall funding puts me between a rock and a hard place. I appreciate the concerns underlying the governor’s veto and empathize with them; but on the merits of this issue, I cannot support the veto.

“Maryland Hall’s $2 million in funding is the only line item veto in a $900 million Capital Budget. This funding is programmed to provide the disabled access to a facility that supports free activities and programs for the Boys and Girls Club, Seeds for Success, We Care and Friends, and local school children,” he said. “Maryland Hall is worthy of this funding, which most legislators in both parties supported when they voted for the Capital Budget.”

McMillan, a reliable conservative vote on most issues, went on: “I strongly support Governor Hogan’s fiscal agenda, and remain united in purpose with my party to achieve it. But as we say in the Navy, ‘Mission first, people always.’ I fully support our mission; but I must always do what is right for the people I represent.”

McMillan is a Naval Academy graduate and a former Navy pilot who now flies for American Airlines.

Dem Delegates Break Ranks

McMillan wasn’t the only one of the Anne Arundel County delegates to break ranks with their party on Hogan veto overrides.

Three county Democrats, Ned Carey, Mark Chang and Ted Sophocleus, joined three other Democrats and all 50 Republicans in voting to sustain Hogan’s veto of a bill to restore voting rights to felons let out of prison. The defection by the Democrats over this veto — the one most fiercely defended by Hogan and his aides —produced the closest vote in the House, 85-56; 85 votes, three-fifths of the House, was the bare minimum needed to override the governor’s vetoes.

Chang and Sophocleus represent District 32, which includes BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, Arundel Mills, Fort Meade and the Jessup prison complex, and it is considered one of the few remaining swing districts in the state.

The principal argument against released felons from voting is that they are still on parole or probation, and haven’t technically completed their sentences. Democrats maintained that restoring voting rights is part of bringing the ex-offenders back into the community.

Concluding the debate in the House, Minority Leader Nic Kipke, of Pasadena, argued that far more important in keeping the ex-inmates from returning to prison are training, jobs and housing.

The vote in the Senate on the veto override was likely to be so close that Senate leaders delayed the vote to Feb. 5, waiting for the arrival of the replacement for Sen. Karen Montgomery, a Montgomery County Democrat who resigned in December. She will be replaced by Del. Craig Zucker, who voted for all the veto overrides in the House.