June 5, 2015

John Astle: Maryland Hall cut pointless blow at city

I’ve had the great privilege of representing the city of Annapolis for 33 years. During that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work with six governors and with colleagues from both political parties to find common ground on a number of issues. However, when Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed $2 million worth of capital projects for Maryland Hall, I have never felt more personally disregarded or felt that the city of Annapolis had been more disrespected.

Sadly, I, like other elected leaders, had to find out from the media, without so much as a call from the governor or his staff — and without explanation for why Maryland Hall was singled out among a capital budget that included hundreds of projects totaling over $1 billion. As chairman of the Senate delegation and a longtime supporter of Maryland Hall, I joined every other elected legislator, Republican and Democrat in total support of the project.

Maryland Hall is a publicly owned building that depends on support from both the private and public sectors and has a committed volunteer base dedicated to the arts. Maryland Hall has become one of the crown jewels of Anne Arundel County and Annapolis: home to the Annapolis symphony, opera, ballet and chorale; home for resident artists and, most importantly, a partner with Bates Middle School for the Visual Arts and other school programs in the county. It has been a community gathering place for inaugurations for county executives and mayors, and for political debates.

The money in this year’s budget was to address access and other needs for the disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act for a building that was built in 1932. Who would cut funds that would accommodate those with disabilities who want to enjoy the arts? Obviously, Gov. Hogan.

The reason given in the governor’s press release is that he was committed to a police barrack in Annapolis rather than Maryland Hall. We are all committed to a police barrack in the capital city. However, the funding for that project would come from the operating budget, not the capital budget. Under the provisions of state law, the cut to Maryland Hall can’t be redirected to the barrack or any other project.

It is a misrepresentation of the truth to suggest otherwise. To suggest that somehow Hogan’s supplemental budget was not addressed is an even greater misrepresentation: nine out of 12 items in the governor’s supplemental budget were adopted in the final budget passed by the Maryland General Assembly.

The nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services recommended against reopening the Annapolis barrack this year because there had not been a complete assessment of the cost to retrofit the building or to hire, train and operate an appropriate number of troopers out of that facility, given that the Maryland State Police have 200 vacant positions in this year’s budget.

To add salt to the wound, Gov. Hogan came to the legislature on the final day of the legislative session after the capital budget had been finalized and asked the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House to add three of his pet projects totaling $1 million for a stadium and a museum on the Eastern Shore and a facility in Southern Maryland — which they both agreed to. Certainly, making Maryland Hall accessible for the disabled is just as important as these other projects.

The bottom line is that the governor alienated many citizens in the city and this county for no reason — and one of them is me.

Originally published in the Capital Gazzette, available online here.