ANNAPOLIS – County leaders may be feeling a little déjà vu when it comes to funding for the new hospital.
Last year’s General Assembly session opened with county leaders at odds with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) over funding for the planned Prince George’s Regional Medical Center. This year, the governor’s budget again underfunds the project, according to county leaders.
“Gov. Hogan is clearly reneging on his commitment to the regional medical center project, a hospital that will serve the residents of Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland,” said County Executive Rushern Baker, III. “I am concerned that Gov. Hogan continues to be hesitant to fully support bringing the University of Maryland Medical System-affiliated regional medical center to fruition.”
Hogan’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 capital budget includes $11.3 million towards the construction of the new hospital in Largo, with $48 million in FY19 and $56.2 million in FY20 for a total contribution of $208 million. But, in the operating budget, a deficiency appropriation of $7.5 million is listed for fiscal year 2017, “to reduce the appropriation for fiscal year 2017 to reflect the restructured grant payments for the proposed Prince George's County Regional Medical Center.”
That means the hospital will receive $7.5 million less in operating funds from the state than originally allocated in the 2017 budget, which is in effect until June 30, 2017. The Washington Post reported that the fiscal year 2018 appropriation is also cut in half, from $30 million down to $15 million, though the hospital was not listed as an individual line item.
Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, a Hogan spokeswoman, said the decision to reduce the funding for the hospital came after discussion with the University of Maryland Medical System, which is in charge of building and running the new center.
“The funding for Prince George’s County Hospital, reflected in the state’s proposed budget, is exactly the amount of funding the hospital officials told the administration they need for this year,” she said.
During last year’s legislative session, Hogan and county officials clashed over hospital funding. After initially omitting operating funds in the budget, Hogan included $15 million in his first supplemental budget. That document noted, “It is (the) intent of the administration that a grant to the Board of Directors of the University of Maryland Medical System shall be provided from fiscal 2018 to 2021. The grants shall be $15 million in fiscal 2018, $15 million in fiscal 2019, $5 million in fiscal 2020, and $5 million in fiscal 2021.”
However, Baker said the fiscal year 2017 appropriation should be $30 million, to make up for $15 million not included in the fiscal year 2016 budget. The General Assembly agreed, and passed the Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center Act of 2016, which mandated specific operating and capital budget funding levels for the hospital – specifically, $15 million in fiscal year 2018’s budget, or $30 million if the fiscal year 2017 budget did not appropriate $15 million. It also mandates $67.5 million in capital funding this year.
Although Hogan did not sign the bill, it became law without his signature.
Both this year and last, Hogan strongly opposed mandated spending like this, saying it forces the state to grow its spending rate more than its revenue growth each year. Hogan said 83 cents of every dollar spent in the state budget is the result of legislative mandates.
“Every Marylander understands that if you are consistently forced to spend more than you take in year after year, eventually you will have a serious problem,” Hogan said when announcing his budget. “Our administration is once again introducing legislation to control these forced spending increases that exceed revenues.”
That legislation is the Common Sense Spending Act of 2017 and would allow him to be flexible with mandated spending that grows faster than state revenues. A similar measure Hogan championed last year died in the General Assembly.
State Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-27), whose district includes part of Prince George’s County, pledged to ensure the hospital receives the funding required. He, like Baker, accused Hogan of reneging on a promise.
Still, the governor’s office said Hogan remains committed to the project and accused Miller of playing politics.
“The governor fully supports this project and looks forward to seeing it finally completed and delivering the much needed services to the citizens of Prince George’s County,” DeLeaver-Churchill said. “Senate President Mike Miller knows all this information and should know better than to play politics with something as important as a hospital.”